Polished Shoes Save Lives

Unique Leadership Axiom: When your life is on the line your habits will save you.

In boot camp old habits die and new habits are born. It’s common for civilians to believe that boot camp is all about squashing initiative. In fact boot camp is about building initiative. Initiative is built on a foundation of self-knowledge. Nature provides us with certain attributes and nurturing makes those attributes useful. Don’t choke on that! Believe it or not boot camp is about nurturing: nurturing self-knowledge, nurturing skill, nurturing an appreciation of standards.

Yes, in boot camp you learn to polish shoes. Why? Because in a good polish job there are no shortcuts.  If you cannot learn to stay with a simple task until the job is perfect, then you have little chance of surviving in combat. For that matter there’s little chance of your surviving in the business world either. Survival and victory are composed of having perfectly executed many small tasks.  We use the words PERFECTLY EXECUTED to mean that the job was done right.  We do not mean nit picking over every detail.

When soldiers are lined up for inspection, a quick look down the line tells you if all the shoes are polished. If they are, you know that these troops know how to do the little things the right way. When recruits have learned to do the little things perfectly, then they are prepared to learn tasks that sooner or later will save their lives.

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is quoted as saying “Polished Shoes Save Lives.” As an Army brat he may have known this before he could read or write. He grew up in an Army family, went to high school at Valley Forge Military Academy and then graduated from The United States Military Academy at West Point.

In Vietnam Schwarzkopf showed that great courage under fire is part of the perfectly executed job. When some of his men were caught in a minefield and one had been wounded, he crawled into the minefield to save his men. He proved that “Polished Shoes Save Lives.”

On December 26, 1943 Marines under the command of Lewis W. Walt (later to become Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps) went ashore at Cape Gloucester in New Guinea. They left their landing crafts in chest deep water. In the time between joining the Marine Corps and stepping off those landing crafts most of them had learned to do little things perfectly.


Step into That Picture. Will you survive, or as some did that day, die? Someday, somewhere you will be confronted with the tests of how well you do all the little things. Did you go to the right boot camp?

Leader’s Focus: winning is a nonlinear function of a lot of small jobs done perfectly.

My Take on Winning: Go to Boot Camp. It will save your life.

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