"Cigarette Butts and Cold Brass": What Police Call and Football Taught Me About Supervisio

Supervision and Leadership Training Events

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):

1. Leaders must excel at supervision when delegating tasks instead of micromanaging or abdicating.

2. Authority granted must be commensurate with responsibility given.

3. Use the football method to quickly improve supervision skills for individuals and entire organizations.


As an Infantry Unit Leader, I cultivated a passion for developing subordinate leaders. But in my early days as an 18-year-old TOW Gunner (I got to fire missiles at tanks with minimal supervision), I was responsible for far less. As you can imagine, the Marines train hard, and train often in order to be successful in life-or-death combat situations. One of the ways we do that is by firing weapons. Many, many weapons. The mess left behind must be cleaned, especially after firing tens of thousands of bullets for several days. We clean these disasters using a simple process called police call.

Police call is where Marines get on a line from one side of the range and walk, one step at a time, picking up anything that isn’t part of the natural landscape after each step. We use the phrase, “If it doesn’t grow, it goes” to reinforce that just about everything besides rocks, plants and dirt must be removed and put in your pocket or a trash bag. Behind the Marines of lower ranks are the NCO’s, or Non-Commissioned Officers. These are the Corporals and Sergeants who lead their Marines into combat. Their immediate job in this mundane but necessary instance is to supervise the Marines and ensure the police call’s effectiveness; that the range is cleaned to standard. And since we strive to leave things better than we found them, there’s an inherent competition to continually raise that standard of cleanliness.

“Supervision is not micromanaging. It’s upholding the standard to improve results and encourage higher levels of performance from everyone including the supervisor.”

If the Marines slack off, the supervision method increases from taking one step at a time to crawling on hands and knees. This doesn’t happen often, but on occasion it’s necessary in order to uphold the standard. As you can imagine, the Marines quickly improve their performance and attention to detail and do a much better job. The NCO’s are right there with them, picking up trash, in the same heat or cold, and are just as tired. But they’re not present in order to micromanage. Their purpose isn’t to tell the individual Marines exactly what trash to pick up, or how and when. It’s only to supervise the process and uphold the standard.

Marines Crawling and Supervising


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