A Marine’s Most Memorable Leadership Lessons: Leadership Lessons from my Grandmother—Resolving Conflict

A few days ago a person I have mentored asked me a great question, I was asked–from whom did I receive my greatest leadership lessons?

I have been blessed to wear the cloth of the United States as a U.S. Marine. Over the past 30 years, I have had the opportunity to lead thousands of Marines and civilians both as a Marine Officer and a businessman. I have been trained, educated in the subtle art of leadership as well as having taught, coached, mentored others in refining their leadership skills. Clearly I was going to point to one or a host of experiences in uniform that were most significant in sharpening my leadership skills.

I had to admit, to my mentees surprise, the most memorable leadership lessons I ever had come from my Grandmother. There is no doubt; the leadership lessons from the Marine Corps have proven to be worth their weight in gold. And I would go so far as to say the very best leaders in the world have in common wearing the Marine Corps emblem on their chest, male and female. My first and most memorable lessons, however, clearly came from Mrs. Daisy Ferrine, my maternal grandmother.

I have a top five leadership lessons, for the sake of keeping this read short, I will share only one of those lessons. It is one I find particularly helpful in view of what is going on across the country and the globe. I hope you find it as useful as I have. “Nobody wins a fight—so don’t start one!”

Nobody wins a fight—so don’t start one!

I attended a parochial school as a child growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. We, of course, wore the traditional school uniforms, blue trousers, white shirts, and blue tie with the schools initials embroidered on the center of the tie. I should not forget the shinny black shoes we wore; I was familiar with shinning shoes long before my Marine Corps career began.

It was not uncommon to get into fights with the boys who attended public school. We, parochial school children, stuck out at bus stops and train stations; uniforms were like trouble magnets growing up in the city. After coming home once too often with a bloodied shirt, torn trousers and very scuffed shoes my Grandmother, affectionately called “Mom-Daisy,” sat me down and said “boy, nobody wins a fight. So, don’t start one!”

She listened to my justifications. I was defending myself, the school, and a piece of sidewalk I occupied. She asked me if anyone’s mind was changed? Did the boys I was fighting with suddenly come around to my way of thinking, that my school was better than theirs? Or, did I come around to their way of thinking that their school was better than the one I attended; considering how completely beaten I looked, the latter question seemed more appropriate than the former. The answer in both cases was a sad and very soft no.

She went on to give the remainder of her valuable leadership lesson. “You cannot beat an idea out of a person’s head.” She went on, “you have to give them a better idea. And you do that by making friends, not fighting. Even then, people may not agree with you. But you learn to respect each others differences and go on being friends.”

As I reflect back, we were fighting over which school was better. The reality is it did not matter. We were receiving an education and being set up for future success. Resolving conflict without bloodshed is not hard. Conflict exists for one of two reasons, a disagreement over objectives or how you are going to attain those objectives. Our childhood disagreement was clearly over the “how” not the “what.”

Resolving conflict is a matter of being friends and identifying which of the two areas the birth conflict you may be dealing with—objectives or alternatives, the how.


My grandmother, as I suspect most of our grandmothers, had the wisdom of the ages and was happy to share them. On any given day, the media reports are full of conflict. Understanding and agreeing on objectives the courses of action for attaining those objectives can resolve most if not all conflict.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Most go out of their way to make things complicated. Here is the Col Boggs’ view on resolving conflict: make friends with those you disagree with. It is easier to listen to a friend. Determine what you are in disagreement with-objectives or alternatives. And remember, the best way to win a fight, don’t start one.

My Mom-Daisy would be proud of you.