More Management Lessons Learned from a Staff Sergeant

This is the second 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 fisrt article in the series.

Training to Read the Signs

I was destined for a location on an unfamiliar military base, in a hurry and desperately attempting to recall the directions given to me by a Untied States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant. But because I was only partially paying attention, I could not recall his instructions and quickly became lost.  When I called him in a panic, he calmly asked me to describe my whereabouts.   I was, as I explained, in the middle of the road, facing the ocean, with a building to my right and a parking lot to the left.  He instructed me to look at the building, read the surrounding signs, then look at the parking lot and read the surrounding signs. “The signs will describe the building or place and, most likely, its purpose; read the signs and pay attention to your surroundings,” he calmly stated.

As an experienced trainer, the Staff Sergeant opted for teaching me the way versus showing me, or asking me to merely follow him.   Although the destination was a quick left, right, another right, then a left into the parking structure, he asked me to turn off my radio and to give him my full attention as he guided me to the destination.  At each turn he instructed me to read the signs, see the markers (buildings) and reminded me as to what his initial instructions were.  Once I reached the destination, he took me back to where I started and guided me through the route, explaining again, the signs and markers.  Because it is my nature to ask silly questions, in an attempt to be charming, I would ask, “Why not go right (instead of left)?” etc.  Rather than lose his patience, as it was getting late and we had been through the route four times, he calmly guided me to the right and showed me where the road ended.  Then he asked me to read the building signs and markers as an indication as to where I was.   I admired his patience through this exercise; at no time did he raise his voice or lose his composure.  Most importantly, although I have not returned to that location in over five months, I am certain that I can recall the directions and would be able to explain to someone else how to get there.

I have used this example of training at work several times.  Employees need verbal instruction, but signage as a reminder is just as important.  Reminders to turn off equipment and lights, work safely, keep isles clean, do not enter, etc. are necessary.  One of the best run tortilla manufacturers in Los Angeles, Mission Foods, has signs all over its shop.  The signs indicate everything from performance, safety and productivity to reminders as to how they should behave.  Umberto, a plant manager, was cited as being the best manager in the US and he ran their best operating plant.  He attributed this to his employee relations skills and communication efforts, the signs and continuous training.  Many leading companies use shop boards to post performance metrics.  Performance metrics are signs that let employees know how the department or company is doing on key measurements such as safety, quality, productivity, etc.  In other words, it tells them ‘where they are’.  This brings to mind the old adage, ‘to get to where you are going, you have to know where you are’.  So to know where you are, you must read the signs.  Then, you can decide what you need to do next.

I also used this experience to relay a training model to a tenured staff.  Conventional wisdom dictates that telling or showing equates to training.  A trainer who simply shows or tells his or her training material to the intended audience, without real learning objectives, may end up wondering why a trainee’s performance is lagging.  Telling or showing someone what to do is an insufficient training model.  The model the Staff Sergeant used speaks volumes about the patience and communication and training skills he learned while in the service.  At no time did he degrade me or lose patience with me, which is important as a trainer.  He simply guided me through the correct method, over and over again, until I committed the process to memory.  He showed me the cons of not following directions, and going down the wrong path.  At the end of his instruction, he explained to me his motivational purpose, which was for me to truly learn my way around base.  The idea is that if a person does the same thing over and over and over again, it eventually becomes habit or an automatic response.

Lastly, this military model of training demonstrates the patience and clarity of communication (instruction) required to train another person.  The Staff Sergeant engaged me in the learning process.  Employee involvement is key to effective employee training. Employees attending training may be preoccupied with their own thoughts and problems. Some may be willing to learn and some may not be.  There are those who are open to new ideas and others who resist.  When the trainer puts himself in the employees’ shoes and shows them what they stand to gain, it helps ensure training success.  In our Staff Sergeant’s example, by showing me the way and illustrating the gain (to be independent in his absence), he was using effective, transferable methods of training.

Key management traits to pull from this article are patience and the importance of clear instructions and signs when training others.  The service teaches servicemen and women how to focus and deal with challenges and calmly teach others to read signs, follow instruction and reach their destinations. Training, through repetition and practice, is a great way to ensure the lesson sticks.  And no matter where you are, whether it’s at work or on base, there will always be signs to train and guide you.

Judy Navarrete, SPHR, the author of this series, leadership basics, is a Human Resources Manager.   She has over 14 years 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, both for profit companies and not-for-profit organizations.  Her understanding of military training and leadership comes from her conversations and interaction with a Staff Sergeant of the US Marine Corps. For more information regarding the information contained in this article, you may contact her at