Four years ago, President-Elect Trump was assembling his cabinet. One of earliest calls I can remember him making was to General Jim Mattis to ask him to serve as Secretary of Defense. I recall being excited. I was sure Mattis would do an excellent job.
You see, General Mattis is one of those generals. He rose through the ranks of the Marine Corps on merit and hard work. Long before he got his first star, he was a bit of legend. One superior officer is quoted as having called Mattis “one of the most urbane and polished men” he had ever known. Indeed, Mattis was a soldier-intellectual. Marines in his command were issued reading lists, a practice that Mattis continues today. But Mattis is not bookish or shy. He is a leader who’s been there and back. You don’t get a nickname like ‘Mad Dog’ for being a bookworm.
Recently, I stumbled upon this video, which was published just a few months before he was tapped by Trump to serve as his SecDef. It’s surprisingly intimate: General Mattis, is a beige sport coat and purple tie looks directly into the camera, no script, no filters. He almost feels grandfatherly as he reads names and questions from a small stack of notecards. He has a lisp. His voice is controlled, almost soft.
Somewhere near the middle of the sixteen-minute video he reflects on what makes one unit, one leader, better than another. The difference maker, according to Mattis, is affection. Affection for the leader — not popularity of the leader — is what will drive people to be better, work harder and go farther. “Affection,” says Mattis, “brings out self discipline” which pulls a unit together when things are toughest.
As we prepare for a new administration, take a few minutes to rewatch this video. It will remind you what good leadership sounds like.