"I'm not a 'sir'! I work for a living!" Many a service member has heard those words. Sometimes they are shouted and the person, that "not a 'sir'", is red faced and obviously angry. Other times the words are said with less vehemence and the person saying them is obviously trying to teach a lesson. Most often those words are said to a rookie; a new recruit or trainee who thought 'sir' was a term of respect and is now being taught better. HOW he (or she) is taught is what separates the leaders from the ego with rank. What do I mean by that? Well, first off, let's remember that this applies to everyone who puts on a uniform. Law enforcement professionals tend to not be as uptight about it as military service members (unless they are service veterans). But we all remember being the rookie. We remember our first days in the academy and on the job and we remember what it's like not to be sure about very much. Sure, we knew how to do the job but as far as what the sergeant expected or the idiosyncrasies that made each squad unique... those were the things we had to learn. We were ignorant of those particular items. As with all ignorance, nervousness or stress is attached. We want to perform well; we want to fit in properly; we want to be accepted; and we want - in time - to earn the respect of those we work with or for. So, when we do something (or say something) that we believe is proper and respectful but it's not perceived that way, then we need to be taught different. HOW that teaching occurs can impact us in the long term. Just yesterday I encountered a new recruit who was in his third day of training. As he had been raised, he addressed everyone as "sir" or "ma'am" unless he could identify their rank. Due to his family's extensive military background, this young man was well aware of the difference between enlisted and commissioned officers. He could not, however, readily identify the rank of the person he was addressing so he called them "sir". He obviously meant to be respectful. That person, a sergeant with a whopping (maybe) two years of experience, got angry at the "sir". Red faced, he fairly yelled at that new recruit the words this article opened with. The new recruit, not feeling like he'd done anything wrong had no issue with being corrected but took great issue with the anger he perceived. He didn't understand what insult he had made that caused such an angry response from that leader. When he came to me for guidance we discussed how such encounters were part of virtually all new recruit training and that, unfortunately, some people who attain rank forget what it was like when they were the recruits. And that, folks, is where I draw the line between leaders and egos with rank. The leaders remember all too well their days as rookies / new recruits and they remember what it was like to have some people treating them like they were worth less than the melted gum stuck to the bottom of your boots. They learn well the value of education and the responsibility of teaching the new recruits, but they learn and remember the value of doing so with a measured level of respect. True leaders recognize and are motivated by the fact that their responsibilities aren't about them; a leader's responsibilities are about those under his (or her) command. The "leader" who feels the need to yell in anger at a new recruit because the recruit used the incorrect respectful pronoun has forgotten that his responsibility is instructional. He needs to correct the recruit without insulting the recruit. That said, if the recruit refuses to learn as the correction is repeated, instructional tactics can and need to change. I've always found that regular doses of assigned push ups often help improve a recruit's memory. That still doesn't require me to yell at them however. So, think about it and share your thoughts / comments. That particular recruit now understands the difference between leaders and people who are in charge but don't have leadership in their heart. He has vowed to remember these lessons so that, as he grows through the ranks, he doesn't make the same mistakes. What do you think?