Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 12 we spoke to Max Garcia, the only former US Marine Sergeant Major speaking in Australia.
Max joined the Marines in 1994. In 2003 and 2004, he deployed twice to Iraq and was awarded the combat action ribbon, and a medal for Valor. Between 2012 to 2014 Max served with the Fleet Anti Terrorism Security Team (FAST) in Spain until selection to Sergeant Major, the top enlisted rank in the Marines.
Since writing an Amazon #1 best seller with Joe Vitale, who was featured in the movie “The Secret”, Max has used leadership stories from Iraq and Afghanistan to provide inspiring presentations to audiences like The Wests Tigers, Members of Parliament, businesses, professional golfers, universities, and radio.
In our chat, we spoke about discipline, the importance of leading from the front, and resilience. Find out more about Max and his services through his website.
Authored by retired US Marine Sergeant Major Max Garcia
Growing up, I was underconfident and anxious. Nobody expected me to join the Marines and succeed – and yet, I did. I completed boot camp, graduated with honours, and later became a drill instructor myself. Despite friends and family placing limiting beliefs on me, I thrived. You see, limiting beliefs are only there if you believe in them. By shifting your mindset to one of discipline and resilience, you can identify limitations and transform them into your driving force. Subtle shifts in perspective will revolutionise your leadership strategies and empower your small or medium-sized business to prosper.
After working my way up the ranks, I retired as a Marine Sergeant Major and have learnt many important life lessons from my time in the Marines. Now, as the owner of my own business, I continue to implement these lessons. In this article, I am going to share what the Marines taught me because these lessons will help strengthen your leadership as a small or medium-sized business owner.
As I progressed through the ranks, the most important thing I learnt is the need to create systems that foster a sense of discipline and loyalty, both within yourself and your team. To achieve discipline, it’s best to start with the basics. From showing up on time to ensuring you are wearing the right work attire, fostering a sense of discipline will enable you to refine your business practices and create a workplace culture of efficiency and productivity.
If you progress outside of your own life, encouraging staff discipline will build loyalty and a commitment to teamwork. However, discipline isn’t automatically achieved – it’s not done by wishful thinking alone. To instil discipline in your team, you need to remind the team to serve and not be served. This is especially true for you as the leader.
In the Marines, discipline is what holds the team together. When you move into positions of authority, you’re awarded a promotion warrant. This promotion warrant states that you have earned this achievement through special trust and confidence. This is the distinguishing privilege of the officer corps because it represents how, as a leader, your fidelity and talents are respected by others.
As a leader in a business setting, you have also been given special trust and confidence. Nobody is in a position of leadership accidentally. By recognising your role and implementing the foundational idea that your role is to serve and not to be served, you will inspire your team and promote productivity in the workplace. This is a key aspect of a servant-based leadership style, which is one of the best ways to create a positive and productive workplace culture.
Servant-based leadership is centred on you helping your employees achieve their goals. You must remove your personal biases and ego if you want to be a servant-based leader. If you can do this, you’ll see why this leadership style is so effective because it builds strong connections and fosters team spirit. Your employees will also see that their wellbeing and personal ambitions are important to you. You aren’t simply there to give orders, you’re there to help, offer assistance, and further develop their talents.
A servant-based leader is dedicated to their team, and their team is dedicated to them. The more you care for your team the more they will place their trust and loyalty in you.
Leading from the front
Leading from the front is all about clear communication and well-defined expectations. Don’t simply hide in your office and reply to individuals through email and SMS. Connect with your team, understand who they are, and what they enjoy doing outside of work. These actions are hallmarks of what is known as an engaged leadership style. A style that will develop strong bonds within your team because it promotes teamwork and collaboration above everything else.
Demonstrating how you expect your team to act and behave is the first aspect of leading from the front. Recognising that how you present yourself to your team influences how your business operates is an important concept to understand. Leading from the front instils a sense of trust and loyalty in your team as they see that you are taking the charge and representing workplace expectations. There aren’t two separate rules for leaders and employees, instead, everyone is on an equal playing field, enabling greater collaboration and fostering a sense of belonging.
Leading from the front is an important leadership concept as individuals won’t be willing to commit to an organisation where the leader doesn’t reflect the values of the business. People want to see a leader as part of their team, not as a distant figure who is only there to give orders.
My proudest moment in the Marines was after I retired. I received a letter from a Commanding Officer who was part of my unit. In the letter, he told me that he had just become a Colonel. He thanked me for helping make this possible because of my leadership style. For me, this letter cements why leading from the front is so critical – you never know what impact you’re having on someone’s life. By embodying everything you expect from your team, you are also influencing them, and this influence can lead to positive developments in their own lives. Always remember that how you lead influences others in significant ways.
Inspect what you expect
When I was in the Marines, I learnt about “inspect what you expect” the hard way. I failed to live up to this concept, and it almost cost my life and those of my team members. I’m telling you this story to showcase how leaders, at every level, make mistakes. Instead of dwelling on these errors, you should accept responsibility and learn from them.
After deployment, you always wash down your equipment. The time I failed to “inspect what you expect” happened when we were moving our amphibious vehicles, made to operate on land and sea, to get cleaned. In the Marines, you must always complete a round of crucial safety checks prior to moving these vehicles. I failed to make sure that the safety checks were completed and, when we were halfway to shore, we realised that our vehicles were beginning to take on water. This was an extremely dangerous situation and we only escaped with our lives because we discovered that the harder we pressed forward, the more our pumps could reduce the water levels.
Now, I take full responsibility for this incident, and I am so fortunate that it didn’t end in disaster. I told you this story to stress that you must inspect what you expect and that mistakes can and will happen. It’s not about how bad you screw up, it’s about how well you recover. People think leaders are perfect, but they aren’t. When mistakes happen, you must accept them, own them, look for the lesson, and then recognise how you can apply that lesson. This is how you continue to innovate and prosper as a business leader.
Resilience isn’t something that you’re inherently born with. It’s like a muscle that you need to constantly train to ensure that you are strong enough to overcome challenging times. The same goes for your employees. You should always be stretching their capabilities and challenging them to do better. This is the only way they can improve and build resilience.
Here’s one way to build resilience in your team: you should always be training people for the next two positions above them. Don’t keep them in their comfort zone, develop their talents and empower them to become stronger in their role. Enabling individuals to expand their capabilities will help challenge their self-perceptions and build confidence in their ability to overcome hardships. This will encourage greater loyalty and trust, and it will also provide your business with an even better team member.
As a business leader, you probably know that there is truth to the old cliché – sometimes, it is lonely at the top. This loneliness, the feeling that you must overcome challenges individually, is how your resilience will be tested. But I want to tell you that asking for help is also an act of resilience. By talking to people, finding someone who is a good listener, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you will become a better leader. Humans have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen to each other’s hardships and to tell our own. Resilience isn’t just about being strong, it’s also about recognising when we can’t be strong and need to ask for help.
The Marines taught me many important life lessons. These lessons helped keep me alive on the battlefield, and they also helped me to develop and strengthen my business.
I understand that limiting beliefs can be difficult to overcome and have the potential of undermining your ambitions. But I implore you not to listen to the negative voices around you and in your own head. Focus on developing discipline in yourself and your team, strengthening your resilience, leading from the front, and inspecting what you expect. By improving in these key areas, you will become the dependable and strong leader you’ve always aspired to be. Constantly look to improve, accept your mistakes, continue to learn, and you will see your business thrive.
Remember, as a leader you’ve been given special trust and confidence, so don’t let limitations or negative voices prevent you from achieving big goals.