As a general rule, no matter how bad I, or others around me may feel, I find the use of overly sensitive, politically correct feel-good-isms to band-aid the moment a totally insufferable social exercise. This is an essay about my hatred for those language band-aids and those that use them…it is also an essay that presents a positive leadership solution that, like all leadership solutions I have used or continue to use, I have blatantly stolen from someone much smarter than myself.

A based on real-life example of someone I hate using false-language to assuage a real problem.

Situation: John loses his job. Meets his buddy, “Guy”, at the local Starbucks. “Guy” is a save-the-world from his air conditioned apartment on his MacBook Pro type. John is an urban laborer. Not a lemming. Just a normal guy. John tells Guy that he just lost his job. Guy provides his Oprah Winfrey-widsoms.

(John listens)

“Well, John, man, that’s tough, but, ya know, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

(Silence)

They both take a pull from their $4 concoctions and stare at the hot barista, thoughtfully. John leaves with a shrug having gained nothing from Guy’s kind words. Guy feels better about himself, opens his MacBook and blogs about places he’s never seen.

The problem with Guy’s feel-goody response (there are many) is not only that it was a corruption of a very important aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy, but also that it was just plain stupid.

Nietzsche’s point was, ultimately, arguing that suffering is an imperative, not something that could or should be avoided, but rather that it is a natural life’s event that must be endured, embraced and overcome. To the point of being really stupid, Guy’s feel-goody adage-du-jour is so fantastically obtuse that he actually believes that John, who has a wife, two kids, a mortgage, and a mother with cancer that he is supporting, will actually find comfort being reminded that he is not, at this moment, actually dead. Thanks Guy, that helps me out a lot right now. You’re really stupid. I don’t need sympathy. I need a job. Also, your blog sucks.

I don’t say all of this because I’m cynical – I say all this because I’m a believer. I’m a believer in the good fight; I believe that humans can endure, and things can work out, if and only if we admit that it’s not going to be easy. And that’s why I hate Guy…

Such careful idioms and soft expressions are self-serving, indistinct and just plain boring. Feel-good words spoken to instantly connect with another in pain, sadness, or misery do much less to inspire confidence and much more, I think, to highlight a human being’s emotional ineptitude, in general, and our cowardice of character, specifically.

Better I think to shrug when we don’t have the answer and tell that person “I’ll be here for you” than to deliver a professorial speech on why “everything is going to be ok.” I say this because, well, everything is probably not going to be ok. Everything is probably going to be very, very bad. And no, it will not get better soon. Bad things usually get worse (much worse) before they get better. And isn’t it better to hear this from a friend? Or at least NOT hear that things are going to be just fine?

Such undemonstrative word fluff is predicated on the (incorrect) belief that everything in life (literally, every single minute) is supposed to be ‘great!’ (as if being ‘ok’ or, just plain ‘good’ means an unacceptable slip into some state of pre-depression) – this all firmly rooted in the (again, incorrect) belief that the state of nature is, in fact, one of disco, leisure suits, and Picardy breezers (or whatever your particular Utopia might be).

If I tell you that I’m having a bad day, your anemic moralizing does nothing to help me limp into the next minute of my life, collect myself, listen to my heart, gather my strength and continue the attack…that’s what dogs, stiff cocktails and old country music is for. I don’t expect you to have the answer, I just expect you to listen and pay for this round of drinks.

What’s even worse than the language fluff itself is when the person spewing the toxic blather actually believes that what they’re saying makes sense. I’d much rather be lied to for the sake of decorum than preached to for the sake of redemption – but I will listen to both forms of nonsense if you are buying the drinks.

All this leads me to the point of this article: if not PC-sensitivo, then what?

I found the answer to this question in the same place that I found the answer to most of life’s most important questions, in the Marine Corps.

In early 2006 a team of two traveling missionary-visionary-activist-adventurer-patriots came to our combat outpost along the Euphrates. We were all uniquely struck by these two men’s pluck and character. I attended their sermon, despite the fact that I hadn’t been to church since I was a child. They delivered a fantastic talk and what I took from that day I’ll never for the rest of my life forget…

Prior to their arrival that winter, I was a young lieutenant having trouble dealing with the grumblings of the junior Marines. I didn’t like to hear complaining, and it really angered me. Problem was, much of what the grumblings were about were legitimate complaints. I decided I didn’t want to hear it anymore, so I told my squad leaders to make sure no one complained around me. And the Marines, being the disciplined warriors they are stopped complaining within earshot of me. Ah. Much better. No more complaints from the men. (Personal leadership failure #254 that deployment = make decisions that make you “feel better” and leave your men feeling worse.) I’d walk around before a patrol, “hey there, Lance Corporal So-and-so, how are you today?” “Just fine, sir,” he’d reply. “Fantastic. Fantastic.” Then we’d push outside the wire into the strange world we were in, me feeling great about morale, country and Corps and that young Marine feeling terrible and sad because he’d just found out his fiancé was sleeping with the entire starting line up of the AA baseball team in his hometown.

And then I went to that talk by those two traveling missionaries. They told stories about their work in Africa and South America. They regaled us of adventures about some of the most poor and desperate people in the world and how, ultimately, it was a positive attitude and a certain honesty that led them to drive forward. Then they told us one of the most important leadership tools (and life lessons) I have ever heard: “and that’s just the way I like it!”

What does it mean?

Whenever a person has a complaint, they can tell you. Anything. Any complaint under the sun. The only catch is that they have to follow the complaint with the robust and positive affirmation: “and that’s just the way I like it!”

I loved this avowal! It was strong. It was exciting. It was revolutionary.

I rushed to my squad leaders and told them that anyone in the platoon could now say anything about anyone or anything, just so long as they finished it with, “and that’s just the way I like it!”

It changed our attitudes, lifted our spirits, and was, in my mind, a combat multiplier.

“Hey Lance Corporal So-and-So, how’s your day?” “Oh, sir, you know, I haven’t seen my friends or family in 200 days, my old man just lost his job, my boots melted to the asphalt yesterday and I’m about to go on a four hour patrol in 120 degree heat on the most heavily mined city in the world – and that’s just the way I like it!!”

“You don’t say! Well, have a good patrol.”

And then, not being able to do anything about the weather or his father’s job, my platoon sergeant and I could go and put in the paperwork for some new boots.

The Marines now had a vehicle that they could use to voice honest concerns, worries and complaints and get some of that darkness off of their chest, and I not only had the benefit of hearing those complaints as their platoon commander (and thus could be a better steward to them) but also had the advantage of not having to hear their complaints as complaints – they were now, somehow, an aggressively positive affirmation of what Marines believe anyway. That IS just they way we like it.

And so, in a world full of feel-goody false wisdoms and soft band-aid approaches to real problems, I recommend the actual “that’s just the way I like it”-wisdom of two pretty fascinating adventurers. It worked for us in combat. And it works for me today.

And in this way the philosophy of the Marine Corps, the traveling adventurers and Nietzsche are uniquely analogous…they did not promise us a rose a garden. We didn’t get one. And that’s just the way we like it.

 




Posted by Alexander Martin in Marine Corps


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  • http://[email protected] solomon

    help me understand.

    one of your men complains to you that his wife is screwing the entire base, and thats ok as long as he ends it with “thats the way i like it”?

    weird leadership style but to each his own…i guess.

  • BJ Armstrong

    Solomon, nice job trying as hard as possible to miss the point…

  • http://[email protected] solomon

    then stop being a wise ass and explain yourself more fully.

    when i read this article all i’m hearing is someone that doesn’t want to deal with issues that are popping up in his command head on.

    false bravado was the solution? a company wide lie being told by the troops was the proper medicine.

    you had me fully on board with not accepting politically correct verbiage but then you veered off into a type of falsehood thats disturbing.

    this sucks but thats the way i like it!????!!!

    if you had stopped at…yeah this sucks but this is what you signed up for, then yeah. I’m with you 100%. but enough of the rant.

    explain.

    and don’t assume that i’m trying to miss your point.

  • BJ Armstrong

    Solomon, I won’t speak for the author of the essay, since I didn’t write it.

    Lets just say that I took a much larger philosophical point from the piece than zeroing in on the specifics of the leadership challenge that the author freely admits he had a difficult time dealing with.

  • Alexander Martin

    Solomon, author here. I didn’t have the answer as a green 22 year old Lt leading battle hardened Marines back then…and I didn’t ever get the hang of it 3 deployments thereafter. I tried my best, but surely fell short of what those men deserved.

    Attitudes of men in a small unit in combat, as you probably know, require unique approaches to complex solutions and personalities. Different leaders, different styles. I found humor to be a critical factor to my leadership style – not to be funny per se, but to encourage humor to grow and inspire and take the edge off. A sense of humor, as General Mattis has said, is our best armor.

    That was the larger point of my story, though seemingly poorly made since I’m wholly perplexed by your criticisms.

    “That’s just the way I like it” is precisely what you articulated…this is what we signed up for! And that’s a life lesson learned well, and hard, in the Marine Corps.

  • http://[email protected] solomon

    Alexander.

    now that i get. i missed the humor part of the whole thing.

    that was the critical disconnect. i’ll take a part of the blame on that, but i’m of the opinion that the Marine Corps is facing a make or break time in its history and you hit on what i believe is one of the fatal flaws that’s creeping into its body. PC thinking.

  • W.M. Truesdell

    I missed the humor also. When put in that context, you can understand the missionaries intent, that there are some things you can’t do much about, so “that’s the way I like it” transfers it from a negative to a positive. Also, it is a good way for someone to open up and let go of their problems to their boss so the boss is informed but it is not whining but restorative. The problem is not bigger than you are.

    We all have our own leadership styles to get the troops to open up and not let stuff fester, and this is a good one.

  • Rottundan

    Great article. On the wall in front of my desk is my favorite quote.

    “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.”

    My father used an even better line that always comes to me when I start complaining, “Life isn’t fair so shut up and get in the car.”

    Nice article Mr. Martin

  • http://[email protected] solomon

    amazing.

    Mission accomplishment first.

    Troop welfare second.

    Your guys bitch and moan about something and instead of huddling up with your SNCO’s and either determining whether its legit or they’re just mouthing off, its hey STFU and drive on and I don’t care what you’re dealing with.

    AMAZING.

    I don’t know if this is a rally round the author point or if you guys are serious. Either way its disturbing. THIS IS WHATS WRONG WITH THE CORPS RIGHT NOW. Believe it or not this is a serious leadership point that was touched on here but I leave without any further insight, no clue on how to do it better and when I complained I was told that it was a point of humor and you don’t know why I missed it and then another commenter comes back and states If you don’t like it change it and if you can’t change it change your attitude…don’t complain????!!!

    And you wonder why the SSGT in Afghanistan went off? I bet someone in his command told him to suck it up, drive on and don’t complain instead of hearing him out and trying to help with the situation.

    My two cents but if this is the attitude for the majority here then many need to resign. You’re in the way and not part of the solution.

  • Great Preble’s Ghost

    Yes, yes, Solomon is right. Lets not concern ourselves with that pesky “mission accomplishment.” We should all make sure that we have our AFN tuned to The O Network so we can watch Dr. Phil tell us how to help our Marines and Sailors change the military and strategic policy that the President is setting in the White House. Cancel that patrol Top, we need to have a roundtable on how our rifle squad can fix American global grand strategy and while we’re at it, we’ll fix how crappy MRE’s taste. The mission can wait! Solomon’s right you know, everything in our lives is within our control to change at all times, and especially in the control of our Officers and especially our SNCO’s. Solomon, do you happen to own a Mac Book Pro and enjoy $4 coffees?

    We’re all walking around using the Frank Castanza method of leadership…”Serenity Now! Serenity Now!” Yep, that’s it exactly, very astute. You’ll have my letter of resignation in the morning.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    The solution is to gripe. Gripes only move up. Never gripe down.

    Answer to gripe is NOT “I feel your pain”. Answer is “I hear you”. Next step, do something helpful for the troops, if you can. Promise nothing, do anything positive which makes good sense every single time you can. If only to gripe (up) about the raw deal your troops are getting. Better, write out a little essay in the following format:

    Executive Summary: (the title, goes below that line “Memorandum”, no more words until after…).

    Situation: (just the facts, hard, demonstrable facts).

    Problem: (What’s gone wrong, no more).

    Discussion: (Your opinion why it went wrong. KISS. Stick to observed behaviors, known decisions. No speculation, stone impersonal.)

    Course(s) of action. (Feasible, possible actions to correct or improve within the power of the addressee. KISS.)

    Recommendation. (What you want to the boss to do. Pick something or two. Don’t throw the kitchen sink at it first try. Get what you can, hold what you got, come back for another bite at the apple later… Mixed.Metaphor.Warning.Warning…: Remember you can’t eat an elephant in one bite.)

    (Optional) Justification. (Why this is a good idea because what good will happen, or bad will be prevented.)

    Thank you for your consideration.

    The Boss may reach you (where, when, how) should there be any question.

    Very respectfully.

    (sign your name, rank and job title).

    If you ran on to a second sheet, you did it wrong.

    Type it, spell check it, have someone better at it than you proof it and correct spelling and grammar. Put it away for twenty four hours and read it again.

    Two block bravo and forward it, if you got the guts.

    Best of luck.

    The troops will think well of you if you don’t tell them what you did, they will find out you tried to make it better.

    Alternative? Y.A.A.R.A.R., Sir. Three bags full.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    P.S. If you can do it on your own and it isn’t forbidden, specifically forbidden, do it. On your own.

    Be careful about that. “Major Smith” it, and have your top hand, if discreet, give it a sniff test.

    If you don’t embarrass the boss’s boss (in which case you are a dead duck) Permission is harder to obtain than forgiveness (or somebody stealing the credit.)

    Chorus…Hi hippity hee, a Sailor’s life for me… and etc.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Very interesting concept that Alexander has presented and I appreciate the real-world example. I’m not convinced it’s THE way to go, and it probably wouldn’t work for every leader nor every unit, but if it worked for Alexander in a combat zone, who am I to second-guess that?

    And really, how different is it from the age-old idiom, “a bitchin’ Sailor (or Marine or Soldier) is a happy Sailor.” As leaders we know troops are going to complain, so we listen; as followers we know leaders can’t do much about most of the complaints, but we keep complaining.

    I will say that the benefits of both concepts above are two-fold. First, your troops already know that you can’t fix everything, especially what’s going on back home, but they appreciate a leader who’s willing to listen. Just being able to vent (especially to someone other than your Shipmate who probably has the same issues to deal with) is of great benefit. Second, it allows you a chance to hear the complaints you can do something about, as Alexander did by actually listening. He then took action on the gripes he could do something about which was surely also very appreciated by his Marines…and the sign of a good leader.

    I would imagine it’s tough to sell your troops on “and that’s just the way I like it!” initially, but I would also imagine the phrase became a quite an inside joke for the unit; perhaps even somewhat of a rallying cry.

  • USNVO

    Great Post,

    Another thing that I find works is to allow any complaint as long as it is accompanied with a recommendation of how to change it. You would be surprised by some of the innovative and effective solutions that Sailors and Marines can think up. Don’t forget to adopt some of them and give credit and a reward to the one who thought of it.

  • ASM

    Sage wisdom from Grandpa Bluewater and Fouled Anchor!

  • Uncle Bob

    I like Alex’s approach – take the situation seriously, but not yourself. “Just the way I like it” – is another version of “Embrace the suck” because it’s “just the way I like it.” Yeah, it may not always work, but what always works?
    I think this approach has a lot of merit in a lot of circumstances, and I plan on using it myself, to help me keep a little perspective on the things that annoy me – Traffic, whining workmates, telemarketers, too many BS emails – “Just the way I like it!” Alex is probably reading Solomon criticize his approach to leadership, and while listening for what he might learn from that criticism, is also saying to himself, “and this is just the way I like it.”

  • Philthy Dawg

    The author and I appear to have been fortunate enough to have similar professional backgrounds. I intrinsically “got” his post, and even had a laugh while reading it and thinking back on some of my own “that’s how I like it” experiences.

    I couldn’t put words to my thoughts until I read Uncle Bob’s comment about taking the situation, but not yourself, seriously. I agree with several of the commenters – and the author himself – in the power of rugged humor in maintaining emotional semblance amongst aggressive men in trying situations.

    The phrase “Officers Eat Last” was often used in my unit to serve as a reminder to the leadership – team leader through company commander – that the needs of the Marines always came before those of the leader. My favorite example of the power of humor in combat came from an Iraqi Officer, with whose unit we had conducted a particularly intense week-long joint patrol. As we awaited a goat being cooked by his countrymen upon our return to base, we told him of our reminder that Officers Eat Last (the saying applied literally in this case); he turned to his exhausted troops, translated the phrase, and responded to his men with “Fine with me, because that goat is going to give us all the s*#ts.”

  • http://www.navycaptain-therealnavy.blogspot.com Mike Lambert

    Alexander Martin,
    I absolutely loved this. Greatly appreciated perspective. It opens up an avenue for the guys/gals to express themselves and get their issues into the open for further discussion and resolution.
    Thanks.

  • RobSanDiego

    I like the idea of using humor to change your mindset from being a victim of circumstance to a conqueror of challenges. I hate the PC friend-as-therapist tripe as much as the author does.

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