I was thinking, yesterday, about toughness … it, having tough people, is one of the small handful of things that I regard as absolutely essential elements of a good army. But what bought it to mind was the recent death of a Hollywood actor who portrayed a loud, swaggering, screaming caricature of a US Marine senior non commissioned officer. Mr R Lee Ermey was a real life Marine Corps NCO, he was, in fact, one of the drill instructors that are famous in lore and legend … he was also a good actor. He may, for all I know, have been a real tough guy.
I have known a few tough guys over the years … men (and women, by the way) who were, and still are “tough.” Some, many given my own history, were soldiers, others, including one of my female mentors, were civil servants or worked in the high tech industry.
They shared, it seems to me, a few attributes:
- Most were unfailingly kind, that may seem counter-intuitive but it reflects what I saw over a long life;
- Most were judgemental, they had high, personal and moral standards and they looked for high standards in others, but despite being judgemental they were, mostly, usually, willing to change their minds about people if given enough good reasons;
- Most smiled a lot ~ only a few were “deadly serious;”
- Most were and are good family folks, they are happily married, live in noisy, happy households, coach their neighbourhood hockey or soccer team, help their neighbours shovel the drive way, and, and, and … but
- None are the sort of swaggering, loud mouthed bullies that Mr Ermey portrayed on screen.
Tough guys (including the tough women) were young and old, fat and slim, black and white and everything in between. They were never afraid of a fight, not on a battlefield, not in a boardroom, not even when it was hopeless … but all they asked, demanded, in fact, was that they be on the right side.
Two key lessons, it seems to me, for all leaders, in the military, in the broader public service and in business and industry:
- Pick real tough guys for your team ~ make sure you understand what real toughness is, don’t mistake braggadocio and what one of my old friends called “macho thuggery” for toughness ~ braggarts and thugs are usually not very tough at all; and
- Be on the right side ~ do the right things, If you can manage that then the tough guys (and gals) will be with you and they will see your campaign through to success, or go down trying.