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Sorry Sooty, my bad

By Will Martin on 16 April 2021 2:58:51 PM

Some years ago I was in charge of a small section of Navy people. There was me, a couple of other slightly more junior officers and a handful of non-commissioned sailors one of which was an indigenous Australian. As was often the case in those days he’d be ‘given’ a nick-name Sooty, probably on the day he joined the Navy. He didn’t seem to mind being called Sooty but I refrained from doing so as it seemed disrespectful in some way. That might sound like positive leadership behaviour but its not the case. You see I called the other sailors by their nicknames: Smouch, Jacko, Dusty etc but I addressed Sooty as ‘Leader’ which was the abbreviated, slightly formal version based on his rank, Leading Seaman. In trying to be respectful I was in fact excluding him in the way I addressed him.

What annoys me now in hindsight is the realisation that at no point did I ever ask him “are you ok being called Sooty and if not, what would you like me to call you?”. Equally if he’d told me he didn’t like being called Sooty I could’ve stomped on it elsewhere in the workplace. In retrospect, my own lack of leadership confidence and experience turned some potentially strong leadership into something of a fail. Since that time I’ve no longer made assumptions about nicknames. It’s simple and respectful to ask.

So, I’m sorry David.

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Will Martin

Written by Will Martin