Bumpin' Tires

by Mark Hennes | Apr 23, 2018

Quote of Note
"A lot of people relate leadership to formalities. They believe that leadership is about being professional and strong and always right and being a booming voice. I just don't buy that. I think that leadership is a soft skill; it's a people skill."
- Jason Fried

The return from a field training exercise for an Army company is a frenetic event. There are muddy vehicles to wash; dirty rifles to clean; unexpended ammunition to turn-in; equipment to inventory; tools to account for; etc. And everyone is tired and everyone wants to go home.

On one such hot Georgia afternoon, I was in my office doing post-training exercise paperwork, when a colleague poked his head in my office door and asked what I was doing. “Paperwork”, I replied. “Nope”, he said, “we’re gonna go ‘bumpin’ tires’”. I was relatively new at my company executive officer (XO) job and had no idea what “bumpin’ tires” was, but he was a more experienced XO than me so I followed him out of the building. Besides, anything beats doing paperwork.

As we walked towards our motor pool, or military vehicle parking area, he explained that “bumping tires” was a quick way to see if a vehicle’s tires are properly inflated. He grabbed a wooden axe handle for each of us from the supply room and then demonstrated how to bump it against the side wall of a truck’s tires. An axe handle striking a tire that is at or near proper inflation will bounce off of it, but a handle striking an underinflated tire will just thud against it. The slender handle is also useful for checking the inner tire of a set of dual tires. These tires are very difficult to reach, so soldiers often neglect to inflate them properly. He showed me how to use my weight to forcefully press the long axe handle against the inner tire sidewall to see if it was near the proper inflation.

Moving from vehicle to vehicle, I took notes for him as he “bumped” for underflated tires, checked for loose lug nuts, and disconnected trailer brake hoses. He showed me which vehicles’ battery cables notoriously came loose, how to properly padlock a truck’s steering wheel, and where people forgot the trash that they’d hidden. He then returned the favor by taking notes and offering advice as I checked each of my vehicles.

I didn’t know it then, but that day he became my coach.

Here are some tips to being a good peer or boss coach:

Relationship: He was genuinely interested in me and always seemed to have time for me. No matter how busy he was with his own responsibilities, he always took my call or invited me in when I dropped by to chat. If something went well in my unit, I could count on a congratulatory phone call or email from him. Similarly, if something went badly, then he would call or stop by to talk me through it.

Listening Skills: He was a really good listener. He asked open-ended questions and paused to listen to my answers. He would let me vent my frustrations, often murmuring or nodding slightly to keep me going. He summarized when I dragged on too long, often turning it back on me to solve: “Here’s what I think you said… now, how might you have handled it differently?”

Confidential: He was outside of my rating chain, so I knew that could talk freely with him. Even though we were peers and we socialized together on the weekends, he reassured me that whatever I shared with him would be confidential.

Non-judgmental: He never made fun of or snickered at my silly questions.

Challenge: He pushed me a bit, when I needed it. I could’ve just sat in my office doing paperwork, but he got me out of my office and showed me something that I didn’t even know that I needed to know. Like any good coach, he would describe some technical skill, demonstrate it, and then have me try it. This gave me the confidence that I needed as a new XO, as well as helped build my credibility with my subordinates.

Now, how can you add some coaching to your leadership repertoire?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CAIU, its directors, or its staff.