This is a simple, unadorned photo. Seemingly ordinary, lacking in action or regard. Maybe unremarkable, at first glance. But the man I’m sitting across from here is anything but these things. Let me tell you a little about him.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Meinders has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan during their surges. As an aviation captain and AH-64D Apache pilot he earned a Distinguished Flying Cross award for heroic efforts in Afghanistan. Currently, Meinders oversees 85 cadets and 12 cadres as the PMS for the UNM ROTC program.
The story of how I met LTC Meinders begins last year - when I had decided to get out of my comfort zone and start working out with local army guys to improve my physical and mental wellness. I had also been struggling with a sense that I was not masculine enough, and wanted to change that.
Though I am still on my journey, working out in this more extreme, challenging way has changed my life in this brief period of time, improving my day-to-day attitudes, and how I understand my own limitations. And I have Meinders to thank for that. The first day I showed up for my first workout, I expected a brute, ruthless military colonel who was there to make me suffer. Who would scream and yell - all in effort to make the experience miserable. But his first words to me were “good morning, sunshine.” And NO, he wasn’t being sarcastic. That impression of him, as unexpected and encouraging as it was, rings true today. Last week I got the chance to sit down with him to talk about about his advice for taking up roles of leadership. What responsibilities do we have to be leaders? What does it even mean to lead others?
These are three points of LTC Meinders’ advice:
1. Challenge your people, value your people, and reward your people.
I think this is a really fascinating idea - in order to lead people, you can’t just expect the world of them without meeting them halfway - without offering yourself in turn. You can’t just challenge them to do your best - you need to communicate how valuable they are to you, and reward them when they succeed. Positive feedback can work in a loop, and create a beautiful system of
progress. Challenge, value, reward - always!
2. Adapt to different leadership environments.
Often times when we enter new organizations, we think that being a leader means being at the very top - and if you’re not there, then you expect someone else to step up. But sometimes being the note-taker of the group is being a leader. Sometimes being the brain-stormer is being a leader. There are a variety of ways in which we can all step up and contribute seriously for one another - we just have to adapt!
3. You can’t mentor everyone, but you can find a mentor for everyone.
This was the most thought provoking for me, because of how it rang true. LTC Meinders has always emphasized to me: “Be the solution.” We’re all called for greatness - we just need to answer its call. We can’t be afraid to step up and make the change we want to see. But, sometimes we can’t always do it. Sometime we don’t have everything it takes. And that’s okay. We can’t always be everything everyone needs. But we can ALWAYS find someone who IS. You may not have the answer someone needs, but you can lead them to someone who does. I believe if more people kept this in mind, we could change each other’s lives in dramatic ways.
His advice is very thought-provoking, and I’m excited with what he does with his team, and how I can apply these ideas and practices to my own life.
As kind as he is fun and hard working, LTC Meinders has a place of very high esteem in my heart. From respecting others, to never ceasing to challenge himself, his attitude of balance, gratitude, and hunger for life is one that motivates me and my own desire to take up leadership in the community.
P.S. Meinders loves duck hunting. I aided him in one of his endeavors — it ended with me cleaning them out gizzards and all (a huge task - especially for someone like me who cannot stand blood).
Fun fact: Some waterfowl are banded with aluminum rings inscribed with an eight or nine digit number. This was developed as a system of tracking migration patterns. You can input these numbers online to track how the animal has travelled. Two of the ducks had bands on them - and this was the first time Meinders shot a duck with a band). We both took a band and currently keep them on a keychain with our truck keys (and we both drive a GMC Sierra).
P.P.S. The moment I knew Meinders was legit:
Colt: Who’s your favorite music artist?
Meinders: You’re going to make fun of me… Taylor Swift.
Colt: No way! I just cleaned my entire kitchen this weekend while watching her Reputation Tour.
Meinders: I’ve remolded a bathroom listening to the Reputation album.