Max Garcia, the 372nd person I’ve met in my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, rose to the highest enlisted rank in the United States Marine Corps during his 24-year military career.

Max ran a battalion of 1200 marines, which meant he not only had to manage down with the marines under his command but manage up with the officers he advised. That required tremendous communication and leadership skills.

Managing down involved a mix of empathy, flexibility and tough love. Managing up meant learning to push different buttons with different people – talking straight to the officers who wanted blunt counsel and speaking artfully to the insecure leaders so they were able to accept his feedback.

Max moved to Sydney in 2019, after meeting an Aussie woman during R&R in Sydney in 2003 and later marrying her. These days, he works as an executive coach and keynote speaker. I know from experience that Max is an excellent speaker – after watching him present at a conference last year, I knew I had to have lunch with him.

Max is proof that leaders are made not born. When Max joined the Marines, aged 17, he was physically weak, emotionally insecure and unsure what to do with his life – certainly not leadership material. The Marines seemed to offer the security and status he was seeking. During Max’s military career, he served as a drill instructor, fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and took part in countless deployments around the world. Along the way, he became an expert in human behaviour and developed into the leader he is today.