All Senior Leaders Need a Shirt

That’s right, a shirt.

And no, I’m not changing careers now to sell clothing…

When I was active duty Air Force, my last position was that of a First Sergeant. In the USAF, unlike the Army, this title is a position, not a specific rank. I was a Senior NCO, acting functionally (among other things) as the Commander’s #2 — his chief liaison to the enlisted force.

Translation: I did whatever needed to be done, whenever it needed to be done, and did so without much fanfare. I took care of business, and a good portion of that business was making sure that the troops — the ones actually doing all the work that got us promoted — were operating smoothly.

First Sergeants are typically known as “First Shirts.” “Shirt” for short. The name originated nearly a century ago from work details, where someone would ask for “The Shirt;” the only person wearing a shirt in a hot, laborious work detail, obviously, was in charge.

If only people realized how well that definition fit… but I digress.

So, anytime the “Old Man” (aka Commander) wanted something, he would yell out “Shirt!” or send someone to get me, depending on proximity. I “handled” whatever needed “handling,” and did so quickly, effectively, and — equally as important — quietly.

Multiple commanders have commented to me how their success hinged on the actions of their Shirt. This level of behind-the-scenes, “git-r-done” sort of execution was instrumental in many a commander’s — and organization’s — success.

Hence my title above: Senior leaders need a Shirt. You need someone to take care of things, to fix things (including, yes, your screw-ups from time to time). A go-to sort of person who understands your vision, your direction, your objectives, and is able — and willing — to help you in whatever manner possible.

Having a Shirt will quite literally multiply your executive footprint.

Get one today, if you don’t already have one around. Buy him (or her), grow him, or steal him, but you need one to really be successful around the top of the food chain.

But that’s just me…


Kevin Berchelmann

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