Active duty military personnel face many professional challenges as they advance in their careers. Leaders, whether in the field or thumbing through paperwork, are expected to exemplify characteristics that position them as trustworthy, credible and constant even in times of uncertainty.
Levi J. Wilson Sr. is a 30-year retired Marine Sergeant Major, college graduate and ADS Inc. Business Development Manager. Through his story of perseverance and success, he defines leadership and his recommendation for how to exemplify the role of an exceptional boss.
“You maintain credibility when people trust you, and when people trust you, they will follow you.”
– Levi J. Wilson Sr., retired Marine Sergeant Major & ADS employee
- Lead by example
- Are firm, but fair
- Know their job
- Are good followers
- Treat everybody equally
- Are responsive
- Make people feel important
- Have follow-through
- Solve problems quickly and efficiently
Levi Wilson's Biography
I first joined the Marine Corps as a young private right out of high school in St. Stephen, SC. I played football and knew that I wanted to attend college. A high school guidance counselor explained to me that if you spent two years in the military your college would be paid for. Because my family did not have the funds to get me through college, I told myself, “I am going to give that a shot.”
I believe opportunity comes with being in the right place at the right time, but it also comes with having the credentials to fit the space. I was lucky enough to be a part of one of the greatest elites of the Marine Corps (with tours in Desert Storm and Desert Shield), a member of the Marine Corps silent drill team and a member of the Camp David community.
When I first joined the Marine Corps as a private, I didn’t think I would make the rank of Sergeant, let alone a Marine Sergeant Major. I learned early in the Marine Corps that to be a good leader, you—at one point—need to be a good follower.
“While serving at Camp David, I received a phone call—‘First Sergeant, this is the President [George W. Bush]. Want to play wallyball?’ That was the best 4v4 game of wallyball I’ve ever played. He was very good.”
The point is, when the opportunity presents itself, you’re ready for it because you’ve already been a great leader and are setting a great example. I became Sergeant Major while serving at Camp David and then advanced to overseeing the Recruiting Command in Houston, TX. Because of my experiences, I was able to be the kind of leader necessary to become a Sergeant Major.
After 30 years of service, I sometimes pinch myself and say, ‘Wow. How did I get to this point?’ But looking back, I realize there are a few things one must do to get to this point—be credible, know your job and most of all, lead by example.
I became a Marine Sergeant after just two years in the Marine Corps and I decided to stay. After all these years, I am proud to say I’ve also reached my goal of graduating from St. Leo University in April 2016 with a Bachelor of Business degree.
We all have a different journey and that’s how I’ve learned to be the way I am. I came from humbling beginnings, and I knew I could turn that around in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps was my very first job. Working at Blackwater was my first civilian job ever and working at ADS was my second.
You maintain credibility when people trust you, and when people trust you, they will follow you. One of the good things about me was I was always firm but fair. The leadership lessons I’ve learned apply in the civilian world, too. It applied it to the way I treated my children and, now that I’m retired, it applies in the sales community.
The best bosses are the ones who recognize the skills they crucially need in order to lead others to success. Exceptional leaders are firm but fair, know their role and the role of their team, treat everybody equally and are master problem-solvers.
Like Levi, they know that the success of their followers starts with being an exemplary leader. At ADS, Inc., we appreciate the focus and dedication that our leaders bring to our team members every day.