The Importance Of Employee Recognition

Editor’s Note: This column, Leadership By Wandering Around (LBWA), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues that may be common to many PRB readers and ask the leaders who are the readers to weigh in and share their knowledge and experiences.

In response to my column in the PRB March issue, I received an e-mail from John Caliri, director of FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness in Pinehurst, N.C. John is a Marine (no such thing as a former Marine!) who also served under the command of General Al Gray.

General Gray was the intrepid enlisted-man-turned-officer who eventually worked his way up to be Commandant of the Marine Corps, and is the man I credit with the LBWA philosophy. It turns out Caliri also served with the general and shared a story that I believe is well worth repeating. It typifies the type of leadership that causes people to go that extra mile, take one more hill in Marine terms, or mow one more field in parks and rec lingo.

Here’s the story in his words (the parenthetical additions are my explanations of some terms a non-military person might not understand):

“I’ll give you my Gen Gray story and share with you how it has impacted me, even 20 years later. While with [the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment], we were in a training exercise in the field at Camp Lejeune [North Carolina].

“I was a squad leader. General Gray showed up, just as you describe, and spoke to us all. Later that evening, he accompanied my squad on a training mission to disable a radar site.

“So here I am, 19 years old, [in a tactical movement] through the woods with my Marines doing a fine job and the Commandant in my hip pocket. When we arrived at our staging location, I set the guys in a defensive perimeter and did a little recon of our target.

“When I returned to the squad, General Gray asked me, ‘What are you going to do Marine?’ Being overly analytical by nature, I gave him about four different options that I thought would work.

“About halfway through my last option, General Gray physically snatched me up by the H harness (torso harness used to carry equipment), looked straight into my eyes and said, ‘What are you going to do Corporal? Your Marines could be dying right now. Make a decision. Now!’ Whew. I made the decision and we carried out our mission without a hitch.

A Shining Moment

“Fast forward to the end of my tour of duty in the Marine Corps. I was TDY (temporary duty) with Division Schools. We were called upon to help with a big ‘dog and pony’ show for some bigwigs from [Washington] D.C. There were Harriers (vertical take off & landing aircraft), tanks, tracks (amphibious tracked vehicles) … lots of good stuff.

“My parents came down to watch and loved every minute of it. The highlight of that day though, was standing behind the grandstand with my Dad. We were just talking about what we had seen and he was asking questions, etc. when out of nowhere I spot General Gray heading our way, with that same swagger you mentioned in your article. I salute, he returns it, then ignores me, walks straight to my Dad, sticks out his hand and says, “You must be Corporal Caliri’s Dad. That is a fine son you have there.” They spoke for a few brief moments and I was floored.

“Out of about 140,000 Marines, he remembered me, my name (even pronounced it right!) and took time out of the whole thing going on to stop and talk to my Dad. No reason to do that, but it sure made an impression on my Dad and on me.

Lessons Learned

“Fast forward again and I am the Director for Health & Fitness for FirstHealth of the Carolinas. We have six medically based fitness centers that serve 10,000 members with just over 300 employees. I take to heart the lessons General Gray taught me, practice them and pass them on to the employees who now I can make an impression on.

· Make a decision–right or wrong, make it and give it everything you’ve got to accomplish it

· Spend time with the folks in the trenches–it means more to them than anything else you can do

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  3. Showing The Colors
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