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The WAY of the Muddy Boots Leader

"Character rises out of our values, our purpose, the standards we set ourselves, our sacrifice and commitment, and the decisions we make under pressure, but it is primarily defined by the contribution we make, the responsibility we take, the leadership we show.” From the book, “Legacy,” by James Kerr

For those of you that are initially attracted to the title of this article – you most likely have a good sense of what it takes to be a Muddy Boots Leader or at least you believe you do. The authors ask that you READ ON (if only for self-validation; to “confirm” that you understand the principles of Muddy Boots Leadership and therefore of being a Muddy Boots Leader).

However, if your first thought was to glance down at your feet before pondering if you are a Muddy Boots Leader, you should probably READ ON and determine if you have what it takes. Spoiler: It has nothing to do with your footwear, and everything to do with your heart!

What is a Muddy Boots Leader?

A Muddy Boots Leader can tell their story without saying a word. Muddy Boots Leaders are committed to excellence. A Muddy Boots Leader is a self-starter. They know that they must have the discipline to lead themselves before they are granted the privilege to lead others. They are driven to succeed not for their self-worth but the betterment of their team members. They are not feared by their associates, but rather are respected and admired. A Muddy Boots Leader can lead without reminding everyone daily of their job title, how close their car is parked to the front door, or where they stand on an organizational chart.

What do Muddy Boots Leaders Do?

The Muddy Boots Leader demonstrates the strength of their character. They demonstrate their passion for their people by working alongside them as a teammate. They ensure the climate and culture of their organization will succeed because they intuitively understand the cornerstone values of their organization. They provide a sense of purpose to their organization and inspire others by their selfless example. A Muddy Boots Leader leaves their footprints tattooed on an organization.

The bottom line: There is no field guide, recipe book, or secret sauce to teach you how to be a Muddy Boots Leader.

Muddy boots leadership does not require military or first-responder experience. An organizational chart, a type of job or profession, or your clothes does not define who is and isn’t a Muddy Boot Leader. Your heart (emotional and social intellect) and mind (cognitive), and believing in the principles of this form of leadership are all you need! Leadership positions must be earned and rewarded through hard work, demonstrated potential, and performance. When this happens, your heart should race a little as your leadership journey has just begun. For the authors, this started for each over 30 years ago, and with it began specified and implied tasks that ALL leaders inherit. Muddy boots leaders without exception must be, know, and do the following:

The Principles of Muddy Boots Leaders

  • Care about those in your charge by possessing emotional intelligence, empathy, and genuinely caring about them and their families.

  • Communicate effectively. Listen, listen, and listen some more.

  • Get dirty with those who you lead. This is called leading by example, and your actions should guide the actions of those who you lead.

  • Set the example in values-based behaviors both on/off the clock. Hypocritical leadership must never happen.

  • Empower your teammates and leverage their talents. You do not need to be the smartest person in the room but be smart and humble enough to realize this.

  • Build an extension of your family with your work family!

  • Build better people first by concentrating on character, and employees second by developing cohesive teams.

  • Become invested in the individual development of your teammates. All organizations must invest in their people and have a deliberate Leader Development Strategy.

  • Be a culturally diverse thinker, agile in your working environment, and understand change management.

  • Be genuinely humble, and ask for feedback often. Develop a deliberate culture and climate where ideas are “challenged” often. You can only change an idea, with a better idea.

Ok, none of this was earth-shattering. The secret to providing Muddy Boots Leadership sounds a lot like being an approachable, caring, compassionate, empathetic, intelligent (cognitively, emotionally, socially, and culturally) team builder. Simply put, we believe it revolves around you being a down-to-earth leader of character.

As simple as that was to write, our experience tells us that Muddy Boots Leaders are few and far between. Why, you ask? Because the principles of being a Muddy Boots Leader are not only desired but also required! If you lack any of those skills, our experience tells us that your likelihood of being effective in producing the desired organizational results decreases exponentially, and the organization has a toxic work environment.

We at 5th Principle are Muddy Boots Leaders. Why? The 5th Principle team has walked thousands of miles in "muddy boots," literally, in every environment and location throughout the globe. We bring over 150 years of proven leadership, expertise, knowledge, and advice. What makes us different from the rest? We intimately understand that when you know you can truly count on a leader, the team will succeed. At 5th Principle, we call that the "Can you count on me? Can I count on you?" definition of personal accountability.

At 5th Principle, we believe that the “WAY” to Muddy Boots Leadership is not a gimmick. It is applicable at all levels of leadership in your organization. We know by following the WAY of Muddy Boots Leadership - it will launch you and your team on a path with irreversible momentum into the future.

About the authors: Christopher Greca is the Founder/President and Anthony Spadaro is the VP for Training for 5th Principle LLC. Both are retired Combatant Command Senior Enlisted Leaders serving over 30 years in various leadership/mentorship roles in the Armed Forces. They can be found at: or Visit the website for more information on how the 5th Principle team can help you:

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