Leadership Basics: Encouragement and the Staff Sergeant

This is the third article in a series by Judy Navarrete, SPHR and Operations Manager at SK Textile, Inc.  Navarrete contacted me at Military Resumes to express her interest in sharing her vast human resources and operations management experience and insight into the business world with military job seekers.  Her observations are food for thought as you reflect on your own military experience and how it applies to the business world in preparing your military resume or for an interview.

Read the first article in the series.

Read the second article in the series.


How do you get a team to perform at its best? How do you get normal people to perform superhuman feats?  For answers to these burning questions, look to the United States Marine Corps.  Marines train young high school kids to become leaders by the age of 22 and are often expected to set the stage for the remainder of the armed forces.  Therefore, who better to teach us about the art of motivation?  If the Marine Corps is able to encourage a high school graduate to risk his or her life to accomplish superhuman feats, then we, as managers, can learn to motivate persons with advanced education to accomplish less risky goals.

I have heard talk of the methods the military uses to motivate and encourage service-members.  It is the perception of most civilians that military personnel are motivated through intimidation.  We often see the screaming Staff Sergeant portrayed on the movie screen, humiliating recruits and dolling out harsh punishment to encourage conformance to standards.  In the real-world, this management style is outdated.  Intimidated employees are less creative; less self-directed. In dictatorial environments, employees pay less attention to safety, produce products of poorer quality, use less innovation, possess low morale, and are generally outperformed by employees who are encouraged to participate in the decision-making process.  Leading leadership books tell us that employees need managers to listen, recognize, and appreciate their contributions.  Those companies able to create this atmosphere are usually the most productive and profitable.

So how is this dichotomy – the (perceived) hostile military motivational techniques versus encouragement methods that actually work – reconciled?  I asked a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant for clarification.  What we civilians think is a hostile, degrading environment may simply be a part of military conditioning and training.  Marines are conditioned to withstand a great deal of stress under intense circumstances. If, during training, they are not exposed to hostile environments (such as someone screaming at them), then they would not be conditioned to handle a combat situation.  This conditioning to stress should not be confused with encouragement.

Encouragement is the act of soliciting a desired behavior through positive input.  Encouragement is done to uplift one’s spirit.  So, despite the stereotypes we see in the movies, we must conclude that there must be something else that drives Marines to excel.  Degradation destroys motivation and unmotivated employees or Marines do not succeed. Throughout my interaction with this Staff Sergeant, I have never heard a negative comment.  Rather, he always speaks of positive behaviors and outcomes, and this in turn makes me want to see defects and change my behavior.  I imagine that with his staff, he is the same way.  So ask yourself, “Have I been more receptive to change when scolded?” I am willing to bet you are more apt to change when someone enlightens you in a positive way.

The Staff Sergeant encourages his staff through the following: 1) allowing time for rest and relaxation and considering their life needs as a reward for their outstanding efforts and service; 2) providing a positive recommendation for a promotion or pay grade increase when possible; 3) recommending outstanding performers for medals or awards; and 4) by telling them that they are doing a good job.

In the military, a leader does not necessarily have to “budget” rewards or recognition or apply incentives “fairly and consistently” throughout the workforce.  He or she does not have the ability to increase pay as many of us in civilian business leadership do.  He or she does not worry about being limited by a certain number of rewards.  The rewards and medals are handled by the individual tasked with managing them.  When the Staff Sergeant told me this, I thought to myself, “What a novel idea!”  Why is it that, in business, we think we should “budget” employee rewards and recognition? Why don’t we consider it as a “cost of doing business”?  Why is it that, when sales plummet, we begin to ask, “What can we cut out?”  The answer is almost always training, holiday parties, incentive programs… We forget that people are people.  We forget that people have needs.  We forget that people have the need to be recognized, appreciated, and rewarded.  We forget that people …who are recognized, appreciated, and rewarded, perform… many times at superhuman levels.  We forget that sometimes all that a person really needs is that medal of recognition, additional time off to care for their personal and familial needs, a “good word” to set them up for their next opportunity or pay increase …and at the very least, to hear, “Job well done”.

So in a sense, military leadership differs from civilian leadership.  It is my belief that in some ways, military leadership is more advanced than that of civilians.  We civilians stand to benefit from the concept that rewards, recognition, and encouragement are essential to doing business rather than an “expense” to be minimized during poor economic times.


Judy Navarre, SPHR, the author of this series, leadership basics, is a Human Resources Manager.   She has over 14 years of experience in strategic management and extensive experience in understanding the needs of managers and businesses with respect to staffing and leadership performance.  She has worked in the private sector, union and non-union environments, and for profit companies and not-for-profit organizations.  Her understanding of military training and leadership comes from her conversations with a Staff Sergeant of the U.S. Marine Corps.  This Staff Sergeant’s team is deploying in April of 2010.  Your prayers and encouragement are appreciated and needed.  For more information regarding the information contained in this article, you may contact her at jnavarretesphr@yahoo.com.