Today is the 237th anniversary of the formation of the Marine Corps. Though I never wore a uniform, I have spent my life as a member of the Marine Corps family and will consider them to be my brothers and sisters, mentors and friends until I pass from this life.
I cannot possibly express my appreciation for all that the Marine Corps has given me. Every ounce of leadership within me was learned at the hands of the Marines I lived and worked with. Over the last 20 years, I have attended training, read books, and been exposed to a number of theories and working models for leadership. No matter how much I learn, I continue to fall back on the tried and true methods of the Marines.
Of all the leadership principles and traits the Marine Corps expects to be modeled and demonstrated, the following are my personal favorites:
Marines must have an abundance of courage to be willing to pick up a rifle and defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But there is also mental courage – the ability to stand for what you believe in or persevere in times of uncertainty, chaos or criticism. Marines encouraged me to stand by my convictions and to do the right thing in the face of adversity.
Anyone that knows me recognizes that I have this one in spades. Marines leaders are encouraged to perform their duties with enthusiasm. Maintaining high energy during long projects or efforts is critical to keeping a team motivated and moving forward.
There is so much that being dependable implies. To be there when needed. To give your word and stand by it. To be a steadying force when things are anything but. My most prized possession is a Tonka tow truck. It was given to me by my Marines when I left for the private sector. They said it was because they always knew I’d be there to get them out of a jam.
Set the example
As a civilian, I could not rely on rank for my Marines to follow me. Instead, I had to be worth following. I modeled my behavior after Marines I respected – those who were out front, taking the hill, encouraging their teams to do the same. If my Marines were working, I was working. If they had to pull an all-nighter, I pulled an all-nighter. If my Marines had to do pushups for being late, so did I – much to the entertainment of the entire unit.
Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
Personal accountability is inherent to all that the Marines are and do. I don’t know any other way. When I first moved into the civilian sector, I had a hard time figuring out what I was accountable for because it seemed like everyone and no one was the answer for “who’s accountable?” I finally asked in the only way my military background knew how – if the project fails and leadership has one bullet, who’s name is on it? When I’m on a project or leading a team, there’s no question who’s name is there.
Know your Marines and look out for their welfare
The Marines taught me to put people ahead of outcomes. By focusing on my team and addressing their needs, they are free to focus on the task at hand. Focusing on the work runs the risk of micromanagement or creating an environment where the team is fearful of making mistakes. Instead, the focus is on people, aligning them to work that will make them most successful, lending a hand when needed, or helping them develop a skill to get to the next step in their career. When teams are taken care of, results take care of themselves.
For any organization to last 237 years, they must be doing something right. I’d encourage all existing and aspiring leaders to take a look at the Marine Corps Leadership Principles and Traits for insight into how you might help your own organization last the test of time.
To all the Marines out there, past and present, have a very Happy Birthday. I may be far from home, but you’ll always be near my heart. OOHRAH Marines!