What I learned from Matt Leathers

What I learned from Matt Leathers

The first time I met Matt I was in BUD/s, he was stacking the surf passage boats on the racks. He was already a brown shirt and I as well as the rest of my class were about to go through Hell Week. Matt had a particular very apparent confidence, hidden knowledge only divulged if necessary or challenged. He did not know what the word quit meant and he sure as hell knew exactly what he wanted to do, even if no one else did. After hell week Matt joined our class, and we quickly became friends. We hung out on the weekends, gave each other shit throughout training, we kept each other sane. I knew Matt for the better part of 11 years. I even called him about 1PM PST on February 19, 2013. But little did I know what was most likely already in motion when I called. Shortly after my call to Matt, I received another call from another friend telling me Matt was missing. I immediately scrambled trying to short my thoughts out while still leading my team in San Diego, CA. Calling everyone I knew to no avail. I thought of his family, his kids, his wife, all the things that were about to change.

Teachings of a Master

Matt taught me many things about life, what to do and what not to do. He also showed me more things just by observing him then he was probably aware. Matt had this very serious look on his face at all times. Only when he started to laugh would it dissolve. Many people who were just meeting Matt or were in charge of Matt thought he was giving them attitude. Most of Matt’s quorums came from these people.

No one should have judged Matt for how he looked, it was who he was. However, from my perspective, he was so sure of himself he pushed through these obstacles with ease. I remember one training trip Matt, and I were on together. We chose to drive the gear back together in the Government pickup. It was about an 8-hour drive, so the company was required. We got to talking about how things were going and what his plans were for the future. He was frustrated. Frustrated that leadership treated him like shit, in most cases giving him the short end of the stick because of his so-called, “attitude.” But here is the thing every Team Guy has an attitude we are all type A personalities. Some personalities are quieter than others, and as a leader, it is your job to get to know those personalities. You can then work as a team, which makes leaders even more effective. His leadership failed him because they felt opposition or challenged. Most of these people just wanted guys to do what they were told and not innovate. Now do not get me wrong Matt was not squeaky clean, but none of us were, we all broke a couple eggs to make an omelet. The difference is acceptance, he wanted to be accepted for who he was and not be built into a mold. When his leaders tried to mold him, or oppress him, he revolted even more. In these instances, it was like trying to catch and chain up a wild lion on the African safari. Not easy, nor peaceful.

What I took from this was leadership is a living breathing thing. Ego has no place in a leadership position. You can have confidence, but leave your ego at home. There is no one size fits all for any leader or situation. I have had many teammates I have worked with not agree with me, oppose me, question me and even challenge me. In these circumstances, I remembered the conversation I had with Matt. I would ask myself how can I create a better environment for my team to succeed. It was not how am I going to crush this person, it was entirely the opposite. In almost all cases they just wanted to be heard. By listening effective goals could be created so that progress could be made as a team.

Matt cared for his team

Only after his disappearance and me flying back to Hawaii for his funeral did I understand the full depth of his ability to lead. Everyone on his team had nothing but good things to say. They had his phrases written on the walls, they made a sticker, “Matt would Go.” It was amazing to see. He was their leader, but more importantly, he was a friend and brother. All Matt ever wanted was to be respected, create, be a good father, and make a difference. He got his opportunity in his last platoon as the Lead Petty Officer. He took care of each and every one of his team members. Treated them as equals, not subordinate. He had a leadership style all his own. A method I am sure he had been thinking about for many years. He fully embraced what it is to be a leader. Matt was a servant leader, teaching, mentoring, and guiding his team to perform above and beyond what they ever thought possible. He understood each day was meant to be embraced, and you take care of the ones who will take care of you.

Matt’s wisdom was much more profound then he realized. He was the mean looking dog in the window most people wouldn’t give a chance. Those who gave him a chance were better because of the experience. All my experiences with Matt have been priceless. I would love to thank him I have always carried his teachings forward treating my team members as equals.


A lot can be learned from Matt. As different a guy as he was, he was showing us how to be comfortable in our own skin. His style could not be tamed but only harnessed by the ones he trusted. He was a wise man that had an uphill battle the whole way. He was tested, hammered, and forged in the pit. But every time he came out, he came out stronger. He was the definition of resilient. I miss Matt every day and wish I could just pick up the phone and call him one more time. But, Matt would have said, “get off your ass and stop worrying about the past.”

Thanks, Matt I appreciate that,


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