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What San Francisco “Hoseman Number 2″ taught Bob Lutz

Leadership Runs Deep

Bob Lutz, the larger-than-life automobile executive and business leader, shared an interesting story to close the chapter titled "Of Management Styles" in his new book Car Guys vs. Bean Counters

While Lutz was in graduate school of business at UC Berkeley, he was a Douglas A-4 pilot in Marine Attack Squadron 133, a reserve unit flying out of Naval Air Station Alameda.

His narrative starts here:

Rumor had it that our new commanding officer was a modest man. He was already older and had received his commission in World War II, on the battlefield. 

He had no higher education. And to top it off, his "civilian" occupation was "Hoseman Number 2" at the San Francisco Fire Department. He had almost no jet time!

The lieutenants and captains in the squadron, all ambitious graduate students at Cal and Stanford, were shocked: the Marine Corps was giving us an uneducated, elderly fireman as a leader.

At the change-of-command ceremony we discovered that our new CO, Art Bauer, was also of modest stature. Truly, an uninspiring sight.

After the formal ceremony, Lt. Col. Art Bauer called the twenty-odd junior officers together and gave the following talk, as I remember it:

Gentlemen, I don't know why the Corps chose me to lead this unit, but chose me they did, and we are all going to make the most of it.

I know my education is far below yours, and my civilian profession, although I'm proud of what I do, is humble.

All of you have recent active-duty experience, and all of you are more skilled pilots and know more about today's Marine Corps than I'll ever know.

So, I'm not going to run this squadron. You each have your squadron roles, be it Intelligence Officer, Operations Officer, Safety Officer, Maintenance Officer or Administration.

I want and expect you to each do your jobs; talk to each other, be a team, and help each other. I'm going to stay out of your way, because you're all more capable than this old officer.

I don't expect you to respect me for my flying ability, because it's not at your level. But I do want and demand your support and respect, not for me, but for the uniform I wear and the rank that's on it.

You, gentlemen, not I, are going to run this squadron, and I don't want you to let me down.

The doubts and secret snickering soon stopped.

Within eighteen months, VMA-133, under command of Art Bauer, was rated number one reserve squadron in the Marine Corps Reserve, with the highest operational readiness, the highest scores in Inspector General inspections, and the highest scores in ordinance delivery.

Those responsible for senior officer selection in the Marine Corps must have been as surprised as  we were that this modest, self-effacing man, of limited skills but the right leadership touch, had attained such a level of success.

Maybe they knew that a leader like Art Bauer was exactly what this squadron of self-assured and cocky aspiring doctors, lawyers, and business leaders needed.

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This message carries value to some of our fire service leaders: Micromanagement is not an effective technique

Mike "FossilMedic" Ward

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Comments - Add Yours

  • http://profiles.google.com/captschmoe Joseph Schmoe

    Do I know a few people who need to read this! Too bad they wouldn’t recognize the significance of it, Micromanagement seems to be coming back into vogue within many agencies, it sure does not seem to foster excellence.

    Thanks for the post.

    • http://www.firegeezer.com Mike “FossilMedic” Ward

      Thanks Joe!  I agree that micromanagement seems to be coming back into vogue in the fire service … which makes me sad.

  • http://twitter.com/MattTheMedic Occasional Hero

    I think the greatest thing I ever learned about leadership came from my time in the Marines:

    Don’t tell a Marine HOW to do something, just tell him you want it done and leave him alone to figure out the best way to do it.