My parents wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t have children, but I suppose thats what happens when you see intellectual potential in a child: you want to see them reach the pinnacle in a profession that society deems to be challenging and prestigious.
There was ONE small problem: Both professions completely disinterested me.
I lacked direction in high school. I was the student who was smart enough to never study and always get high and still maintain decent grades. This resulted in one mediocre semester full of “Incompletes” before I decided to join the Navy.
Why Navy? Simple, they were the only service that didn’t talk to me like I was an idiot. Really…it’s that simple.
By and large, the Navy was very good to me. The Navy is unique in that you attain rank based on both performance AND a test based on your rating (job). I was an Aviation Ordnanceman (AO). I built and loaded weapons on fighter aircraft and maintained the applicable launch systems….and I was really fucking good at it.
So I made rank quickly.
And quickly learned that leadership was, well, pretty hard.
By the time I was 26 or 27, I was a Chief Petty Officer. It’s often hard to relate what this means to a layperson, but you can Google what a “Chief” is. There are 9 Enlited ranks, E1-E9, Chief is E7…Some people try 20 years to attain the rank and never make it…
I did it in 8 years.
I was AOC(AW/SW) Jonathan Pietrunti. I looked like a little kid in my uniform and still had red service stripes, denoting that I had less than 12 years of service…which looks VERY weird on a Chief. They called me “Petey”, “Baby Faced Assassin”, and other manner of obnoxious shit.
Trust me, all wasn’t sunshine and rainbows. In fact, my first year as a Chief was a complete shitshow.
I don’t care how many books you read on management and leadership, there is no way to prepare yourself to the practical implications…some stuff you just have to learn…sometimes you need to be thrown to the dogs. Sometimes you have to sink or swim.
“Fail. Fail again. Fail better”.
And, please, don’t you dare stop learning.
I learned to surround myself with people who were smarter than me in many areas. I learned to admit what I didn’t know and set up plans to correct my deficiencies. I learned to be humble. To admit when I was wrong. To apologize. To discipline in private. To rain public praise on those deserving.
God help you if you came after one of my Sailors without my approval.
This often meant I butted heads with peers and superiors, but that was of little consequence to me. My people were always the priority.
It always baffles me to work for managers who are insecure and try to belittle employees. One of the biggest lessons I learned, which has made me a better leader AND a better COACH, was to empower people around me. To build a team than was inclusive to all members, and to be humble regardless of the amount of position authority had been handed to me. This isn’t just applicable to military environments or athletics…this is LIFE.
Respect is earned, and to get a little, you had better learn to give a little.
To this day, I still admit that I was clueless my first year as a Chief, any Sailors who worked for me, who happen to be reading this, are probably laughing.
By the time I left I had led Bomb Building Operations for the G-3 Division (over 250 personnel), and eventually managed the QA programs for the entire department (330 personnel). People who read my resume often call references to verify that I’m not embellishing things, but its all true. Little old me somehow got a whole bunch of wild young Sailors to work like the most beautiful machine ever conceived.
What did I do. How did I get this done? Nothing, really. My PEOPLE did it all, and I just provided oversight. If there was success, it was their fault. If there was failure…that was on me.
This is a lesson that many coaches and FitPros don’t get, simply because they haven’t been thrown into the fire and forced to survive.
Fortunately, I was…and I survived…and I learned…and I never forgot where I came from.
Of course, al good things must end…but that’s for another day…