Positive Strokes



I heard a famous football coach once say there are two types of leadership. The key to success is knowing when to use each one.

First, there are the cheerleaders, who motivate the crew with positive strokes. They use phrases like, “This is going to be GREAT,” and, “Make lemonade out of lemons.” They are the glass half full people.


My dad, a Navy veteran, was a cheerleader. In moments when most normal humans would see nothing but a steaming pile of manure, he saw fertilizer. There was no situation that arose in which he could not see the shiny side of the coin. That sort of leadership is contagious, but it has its limitations.

Sometimes you have to be a drill sergeant.

They are the Pattons in life. They employ the Genghis Khan approach to human resource management. If you look up soft and cuddly in their personal dictionaries, both words have been crossed out. They demand perfection and lead through a constant, unwavering aura of intimidation.


They are not bothered by long-term impact. They are focused on the here and now. And although this type of leadership has taken a bad rap over the years, there are times when it can be effective. Perhaps a crew needs to be snapped out of complacency. Maybe dangerous conditions (think combat or underway replenishment) mandate strict adherence to procedures and instant response to orders.

When I was in college and the Navy sent me to Camp Pendleton for a week of “familiarization”, I discovered that a kindly and benevolent Marine Gunnery Sergeant I knew had been sent there on temporary assignment. As our bus pulled up to the base, I had a cat-who-just-ate-the-canary smile on my face. It was going to be a great week.

The beast who greeted the bus that day was not the friendly old man I knew back in college. It looked like him, but demons had taken over his body. He spewed language even a college kid had never heard before. As we scrambled off the bus, I remember some of my fellow Midshipmen unconsciously whimpering out loud as they tried to escape the monster in front of them.


But it worked. We got off the bus (along with all of our luggage) in record time.

Everyone reading this has had both types of leaders in his or her career. Heck, most of us have BEEN both types of leaders. Since hanging up the uniform, I find that I have drifted more toward the cheerleader approach to life. Quite frankly, no one is shooting at me, and the only underway replenishments in my world involve drive-through windows and paper cups.

But the drill sergeant is still there, waiting to be released when the time is right. And I’m OK with that. Life is unpredictable. Things come up.

Because the way I see it, you have to be ready when the fertilizer spread out before you turns out to be nothing more than a big, steaming pile of manure.


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