Leadership Matters: The Lesson Sgt. Lovely Learned A Little Too Late…

Written by Michael Cummings on February 9, 2018

There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.

I first heard this phrase in the cheesy-but-entertaining movie GI Jane, but I recently saw it elaborated in the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

During Navy SEAL selection, specifically Hell Week, SEAL candidates are assigned to a boat crew of seven to participate in a series of sand and surf competitions where being last is a bad thing. One time, when Leif Babin served as the Officer in Charge, the instructors observed one team repeatedly losing. In a place where it pays to be a winner and hurts (a lot) to be a loser, you can imagine the blame game that wove itself around the crew, from leader to member and back. The instructors decided to swap the boat crew leader of the losing team with the leader of the team that was consistently winning.

An interesting thing happened. The winning boat crew leader turned the losing boat crew around, and they started winning. The previously winning boat crew, now lead by the losing boat crew leader, often placed second.

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What caused the change?

I’m sure he didn’t gather them around and say, “Guys, you suck. You should ring out so we can all move on without you.” In all likelihood, it was the contrary. Knowing what people are capable of, especially anyone with the skillset to qualify for BUDs, this man probably fired them up to make the changes necessary to win.

Good leaders of any team – military, company, sports, family – are people that will do the things
required to achieve. When you communicate properly with your team about goals, train members to do their jobs, and trust them to follow through, you will win. Once a team starts winning, individual members take ownership of the team’s success, and don’t settle for substandard performance. We know this in no way means you won’t encounter challenges of varying degrees (some minor, some monster), but good leaders keep their eyes on the goal, and help their teams persevere and adapt.

The opposite is also true. Bad leaders don’t communicate enough with their teams, or they communicate too much. They don’t train team members properly. They also don’t trust their team members as individuals to do what needs to be done and are always looking over their shoulders. When all other options are exhausted, bad leaders don’t get rid of the team members that pull the team down.

Last week we saw an example of bad leadership.

An Air Force sergeant is under investigation for blasting lower-ranking “black females” at Nellis Air Force Base in a profanity-laced Facebook rant, officials said Monday.

Officials at the Las Vegas base said Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely was “removed from her supervisory role” after viral footage of a racially insensitive tirade surfaced over the weekend.

“It pisses me the f–k off that they have no respect and constantly have an attitude,” Lovely can be heard saying in the since-deleted video. “What the f–k is up with that?”

A second version of the footage uploaded Monday garnered more than 900,000 views, according to the Las Vegas Sun. She was wearing her Air Force uniform in the video.

“They’re talking down to me. I’m trying to tread lightly as a higher-ranking (non-commissioned officer) to not blow the f–k up and start a fight club,” she raved in the footage.

“Everytime I f–king talk to them, it’s like I’m just some stupid a— girl that doesn’t even deserve to be talked to as a person,” said Lovely, a member of the 99th Force Support Squadron.

The Air Force has said it will conduct an investigation into the matter. Good. They should. But I hope they’ll move past the notion that Lovely is a racist. She’s not. She’s just a bad leader.

Lovely made a number of mistakes, the biggest being going on social media to whine about those serving under her command and acting as if she just walked out of a bar at closing. Her behavior not only compromised her unit, but the Air Force as well.

There’s no way of knowing but I’m guessing when Lovely is in the presence of her unit, she conducts herself in a less-than-professional manner. Either she is her subordinates’ buddy or, worse, she’s not even likable enough to be friendly with them. Her performance in physical training or in the everyday running of their mission is probably laced with bad habits and sub-standard performance. When people don’t do their jobs, menial or monumental, you can’t respect them – much less be led by them.

Read Extreme Ownership and listen to Jocko’s podcast. I can’t recommend them enough.

photo credit: The National Guard Oklahoma National Guard via photopin (license)

Michael Cummings
Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.


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