The sun was high in the sky the day when I woke up on a bright Tuesday morning in Kuwait, Camp Arijan. As I walked to work from the barracks, the hot sun was in my eyes. As I looked down the glistening road, I could see the office only minutes away. I could not wait to get into the office to start my day. Excited to be at work, my big smile quickly turned into a frown. As I looked into the office, he was standing there 64, arms folded, grim-faced. That day I realized thing would never be the same again
For a while now the General Service Unit (G6) was short staffed. There were about six Soldiers, all of us were Specialists. We did not have anyone in charge of us, so our Sergeant Major flew a Staff Sergeant (SSG) out to take charge and give us some direction. SSG Thomas was his name. He was not in the country for a whole 24 hours, and I knew something about him was just wrong. The look on his face clearly showed that he did not want to be there in Kuwait with us. In the morning when I would greet SSG Thomas, he would give me a cold stare and say, "Don't talk to me." Sometimes he would not even respond, but I still continued to speak to him on a daily basis. At first, I would get so offend because of his non-responsive answer, but then I learned to not to take his actions towards me so personally.
After a week or so, it was clear there was a significant change in the soldiers morale. For a whole week, it had felt cold and dark and dreary in Kuwait, and I must confess the thought of him being my leader for the next six months filled me with gloom. Instead of us joking around in the office, everyone was serious. We did not want to do anything to anger SSG Thomas. Things just did not feel the same anymore. Instead of me coming to work ready to start my day, I started to dread being in Kuwait. Even worse, I began to regret joining the Army. I guess the famous quote by Maxim Gorky is true, When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is a duty, life is slavery.
Furthermore, SSG Thomas took the position of being in charge on a whole new level. One day he questioned me for standing in a particular spot in the office. He felt like I should move somewhere else and out of his sight because he did not like me standing in that specific area Just for the mere reason that it was near the armory. After dealing with him on previous occasions, I have learned to I approach things more humbly now. Instead of bickering back and forth, I have learned to talk to him with respect while putting my foot down and letting him know just because he outranked me; he would not walk all over me. One time SSG Thomas was unhappy with a chair that he was sitting in. All of the chairs in the office were the same. He would want one of the Soldiers to get out of their chair and let him have their seat. This was an example of toxic leadership at its best! From SSG Thomas, I learned that leaders ought to be available and fun. He could have been part of the gang and lead from within if only he changed his paradigm.
Not only did he misuse his power but he also came up with rules and standards that he did not abide by. Being at work from 0800hrs to 1600hrs, you are bound to have free time. I guess too much free time because it was enough time for SSG Thomas to implement a new rule. The rule was that Soldiers were not allowed to get on any social media websites during work hours. We were not even allowed to check our Gmail and Yahoo accounts. Unsurprisingly, the rule did not apply to him. He would Facebook and Instagram all day long. One day I decided to log into my Facebook account and, boy was that huge mistake. As I looked up there, he was standing over my right shoulder grinning. I knew he was going give me some form of punishment. I felt like he got his joy from seeing the Soldiers unhappy since he was not happy with his life. As my disciplinary action, he placed me on night shift for two whole weeks and edited the privileges on my user account. When I logged into my computer and tried to access the internet, I was only able to get on.Gov and.Mil websites. I then learned that I work unsurpassed under a superior who permits me to make own decisions thereby coming up with ideas for managing my tasks because through it all my peers, and I always got the job done with or without SSG Thomas or social media.
Even though SSG Thomas was hard to us, there are instances in which he made real great judgments. One Friday, we received a call that war had broken out within our area of jurisdiction. The area we were manning was quite expansive, and the war had broken between the rebels and the local community. SSG Thomas tried to contact the authorities back at home to obtain permission for us to intercede. The permission was not forthcoming as they feared that this would indicate an act of war against the Kuwait government.
The rebels could come, rape and execute some members of the local community who never supported them. SSG Thomas had to make a call. He recalled us to the camp. He had opted to ignore the authorities. Life was at stake here, and he had to take chances. His order were for us to intercede with utmost caution without the knowledge of the authorities. We did as per the orders and annihilated the rebels saving the locals. Of all the decisions that he had in his life, I can attest that this, was the bravest of them all.
Although SSG Thomass mission was to come to Kuwait, make a difference, and take charge of the G6, he proved to be an incompetent leader. Uniquely, I have learned so much from him. His actions towards me showed me how I would treat my Soldiers once I become a Non-Commissioned Officer. I understand that treating my Soldiers with the utmost respect is key. Happy Solider, happy life. Effective communication with the soldiers on a daily basis is also important. Comparatively, I learned to be fair with my Soldiers. I would not ask them to do anything I will not do. I guess SSG Thomas being in charge was not so bad after all. Because of him, I have learned some life lessons.
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