I'm finally getting around to answering this one originated by Chris Shaw (@SQLShaw), as I was tagged by Jack Corbett (@unclebiguns) earlier. In addition, Chuck Boyce (@chuckboycejr) tagged me on Friday, so I figured I had better offer some response or fall off the "SQL hotness" chart, as defined by Kendall Van Dyke (@SQLDBA).
Who has been a great leader in your career and what made them a great leader?
I'm going to come at this from a completely different angle from most of the DBA crew. I'm going to pick my first tactical officer at The Citadel, (then) Capt. Stack, United States Army. Capt. Stack had the credentials. He was Airborne. Ranger. Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB). But there are a lot of folks walking around with these awards who aren't great leaders. So let me tell you about why Capt. Stack was to me.
He Was Always Around
This was what we first saw. Even as a fresh little knobbie (freshman at The Citadel), Capt. Stack was around, and around a lot. Subsequent "tac." officers were, too, but for whatever reason, they didn't carry the presence of Capt. Stack. And they were good men. But it seemed like every time we turned around, Capt. Stack was around. He made sure we knew he was going to be around. Not because he was trying to scare us or intimidate us, but because he had understood a very important principle about leadership: your troops need to see you. They need to be able to talk with you. They need to know you care. Capt. Stack knew each one of us. He remembered details. We knew we mattered to him. This was a combat veteran who could have looked at the job as babysitting a group of college, granted military college, kids, but he didn't treat us that way. Whether it was walking around the barracks or accompanying us on P.T. runs or being present when we received awards, Capt. Stack was there.
I've tried to do the same thing. When I was in the military, I made a point of stopping by and talking at least 5-10 minutes each day with my charges. When things were going on in their lives, they knew they could talk to me. If I could help, I would. If I couldn't, I would try and find the person who could. I can remember getting really ticked off at my leadership because my NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) was graduating from a school down in Keelser and no one was going down to see him graduate. They "didn't have the time." So I demanded the day to drive down there, see his graduation, and then drive back. That drive is exactly 233 miles one way (or it was before before Katrina destroyed the roads and bridges). I know, because I drove it every weekend I was in tech school. It was a LONG day. I left out about 6 AM (meaning I got up about 5 AM) and got home about 9 PM that night. But he was one of mine. And I was going to be there for him. I had been taught that by Capt. Stack.
He Was Fair
The Citadel barracks have been rebuilt since my time there, but I lived in Padgett-Thomas barracks, the first one constructed when The Citadel moved to the banks of the Ashley River in 1922. To say it had problems is an understatement. That's what you get when you have a building that old trying to house five companies of insane college men in a military system. I remember standing my first Saturday Morning Inspection (SMI) at The Citadel. Something happened and the Citadel physical plant crew had to go into one of our walls just two days before. My roommate and I spent all Friday night and into Saturday morning trying to clean up the plaster dust, and whatever else had fallen out of the wall. It was still a gaping hole on Saturday morning and it seemed like any time someone slammed a door in the barracks (which happened a lot), a puff of dust came out of the hole. We figured that we were going to get dogged for our first SMI. Demerits, getting yelled out by our sergeants and corporals, doing push ups until our arms gave out, the whole nine yards. But doing SMI that morning was Capt. Stack. He walked into our barracks room, looked at the dust, glanced to his left and saw the hole, and said, "There's not a whole lot you can do with that," motioning over to the hole. With that said, he looked to my company commander, first sergeant, platoon sergeant, and platoon commander and said, "Let's go see the next room."
At The Citadel you often take the consequences even for circumstances beyond your control. That's part of dealing with life and the military system. Combat isn't fair. And The Citadel reinforces that simple fact by putting cadets in what others would describe as unfair situations. We understand (although maybe after we graduate) that it is all part of the training to prepare us for life and for the potential of going into combat. When the enemy outnumbers you and the bullets start flying, you can't beg out of the firefight by saying, "This isn't fair!" But I think Capt. Stack could see my roommate and I were exhausted. He probably could figure out that we had been up all night trying to get our room in shape. And he showed us understanding, as if it say, "You did everything you could have done in a bad situation. I'm not going to punish you any more than you've already suffered." I remember that day well. My roommate and I talked about it after SMI was over. We had respected Capt. Stack before. But after that day, he could have asked us to do anything and we would have, without hesitation.
When I've been assigned personnel, whether at The Citadel as a cadet NCO or officer, or in the military as the officer in charge, or as an infrastructure architect and team lead, I've tried to be fair. If someone has had a new baby, I try to reassign tasks to others to help that person out. If someone isn't pulling their weight, I pull them aside privately and have a talk with them. I try to understand the circumstances and apply that knowledge to the situation. I learned that from Capt. Stack.
He Was Calm
Capt. Stack was one of the calmest men I've ever met. Don't get me wrong. He could get fired up in order to motivate you to finish the last part of a PT run stronger than when you started. And he could get after you when you were in the wrong. But otherwise, he seemed unshakeable. When there was busyness and confusion and chaos, there was Capt. Stack as a bastion of calmness and order. I've since learned that as a leader you could be just as worried or confused as your troops. But you must exude a calmness. You must be able to think clearly and efficiently and then give orders and act accordingly. You must bring yourself under control so those around you will see your example and begin to follow it. This takes a great deal of effort. For some, this takes repeated practice and actual experience. This is an area I still need to work on. I'm nowhere close to how Capt. Stack was.
He Knew His Profession
Capt. Stack had the badges and awards. That says a lot, but you can run into those folks who have a bunch of awards but you can't figure out how they got them. Not so with Capt. Stack. You could tell after a brief conversation he knew his profession. He was a soldier. And he knew the fine details. As a tac. officer he knew how the cadet uniform was to be worn, the exact arrangement of the full and half presses, what was allowed in a room and what wasn't. He could have relied on the cadets that inspected alongside of him, but he didn't need to. To be an effective infantry officer he didn't need to know that information. But to be an effective tac. he did. And so I learned that whatever my job is, whether or not it's what I see my future to be, I need to learn it to the best of my ability.