It had been over three weeks since we had showered, it was still spring and the desert sun was only just beginning to really make itself felt. Our existence included living in our charcoal lined chemical suits 24 hours a day. Fortunately, the same charcoal designed to keep chemical agents out also kept the smell of our own body odor in. It was a welcome line of defense against our own lack of cleanliness. Even if the smell hadn’t been masked we had greater problems to confront such as staying alive, watching the roads, the houses and most importantly one another. Next in line was to eat, plan, communicate and finally sleep when there was nothing else pressing that required our attention. We were so occupied with our list of combat necessities that bathing was not a thought that could even be entertained. However, after three weeks we did decide to hold off on everything else and make it a priority. As leaders we decided that it was a worthy investment in our future health and physical condition and enforced the shower rule on not only ourselves but on the entire unit.
In war the simple truth is that infection and disease are the number one killers on the battlefield. Dysentery reduced Napoleon’s army by some 80,000 men in just a month. During the American Civil War malaria caused 10,000 deaths in the union army and similarly hepatitis rendered the Soviet Union’s entire 5th Motorized Infantry Division combat useless during their Afghanistan campaign in the 1980s. So making the investment in our physical condition was necessary to ensure that we would be well enough to create future military success. It took leadership to get the Marines to recognize the importance of the bathing task. It required that they stop doing the things that had an immediate effect on their lives and do preventative maintenance. We took charge and mandated that each individual carry out the order. The return on our investment was calculated out as a zero percent loss of manpower to prolonged illness during the entire tour.
Developing good management and leadership skills also necessitates taking the time to invest in your people. Today’s workforce personnel have full schedules and immediate pressing demands. Leaders that have a clear insight of the company’s long term mission and focus their fellow employees on the common goal are going to have a resounding effect on the performance of the company. Businesses often invest in process improvement and system enhancements. Corporations hire outside consultants to define how improved metrics can be met, similarly they’ll pay top dollar to find and hire the most talented people possible for the company. But what happens in our world of instant online job searches? How do you retain talented people that are being tempted by the next better paying job that is positioned in front of them each time they log on, network or even watch TV? A job needs to mean more than employment. A successful work environment needs to be a place where learning and development not only occur but are continually encouraged. An investment in learning leadership is an investment in your people. These individuals will be responsible for your next corporate evolution. A job that focuses on leadership versus entitlement can realize an immediate return. If a company is to continue to experience success and growth, learning solid leadership principals is a critical path that ensures that your teams aren’t just getting bigger, they are also getting better. The key to development lies in understanding that making an investment in training, though often outside the pressing needs of deadlines, quotas, or day to day performance management, is a critical component of management. Remember in the business world suits are made of wool, not charcoal, so the whiff of missed opportunities will inevitably escape if you’ve ignored a through scrubbing for too long.