US and USMC Flags

On Novem­ber 10th the United States Marine Corps will turn 239 years old. The Marine Corp Birth­day is an event cel­e­brated and cher­ished by all Marines. On this day words like Honor, Duty, and Ser­vice will be spo­ken with ref­er­ence to both the past and present. I had the priv­i­lege to serve our Nation as a Marine, and while that ser­vice was many decades ago, I still main­tain some of the lessons learned and try to apply them every­day. Near the top of that list is leadership.

Our recent polit­i­cal cam­paign sea­son included many uses of the words: leader and lead­er­ship.  Ref­er­ences to the qual­ity, styles and effec­tive­ness of the lead­er­ship cre­den­tials of can­di­dates, both at the local to the national level, were tossed about with­out much regard to what is truly meant by lead­er­ship.  No clear def­i­n­i­tion or clar­ity to what is meant by lead­er­ship really emerged from all this.

“The world looks to Amer­ica for lead­er­ship. And Amer­ica looks to its Corps of Marines.”
— Commander-in-Chief Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan

Marines don’t have that prob­lem. They know exactly what lead­er­ship is. Marine cul­ture encour­ages the study, embrace, and demon­stra­tion of lead­er­ship. The accep­tance of lead­er­ship, both from a “to be led” and “to lead” per­spec­tive, begins early and per­me­ates the entire orga­ni­za­tion: every level – low­est to high­est.   Not only are Marines led and lead, they learn what to look for in lead­ers, and the effects and evi­dence of lead­er­ship in orga­ni­za­tions.  In fact, the Marines use basic mnemonic devices to ensure that lead­er­ship is a con­stant and con­sis­tent aspect of their cul­ture.  One of my favorite exam­ples is JJ DID TIE BUCKLE, which is used to recall the Marine Corps 14 Lead­er­ship Traits:

  • Jus­tice
  • Judg­ment
  • Depend­abil­ity
  • Ini­tia­tive
  • Deci­sive­ness
  • Tact
  • Integrity
  • Enthu­si­asm
  • Bear­ing
  • Unselfish­ness
  • Courage
  • Knowl­edge
  • Loy­alty
  • Endurance

Using this and other fil­ters Marines have a con­sis­tent way to assess lead­ers and a way to look for the evi­dence of lead­er­ship.  It is sim­ply a part of their culture.

Cul­ture, when it rises to the very essence of an orga­ni­za­tion, can become an orga­ni­za­tions’ core strat­egy. The Marines have imple­mented a strat­egy of build­ing lead­er­ship at all lev­els, which results in one incred­i­ble organization.

In small busi­ness, strong lead­er­ship is a very pos­i­tive attribute. This is espe­cially true in tur­bu­lent times when with­out strong lead­er­ship, and staff will­ing to step into the roles of lead­ers, many small busi­nesses floun­der and fail. They under­ per­form, lose cus­tomers, miss oppor­tu­ni­ties, and even­tu­ally die. To strengthen a small busi­ness for tur­bu­lent times and sig­nif­i­cant growth, busi­ness own­ers must build a cul­ture of lead­er­ship. This empha­sis can develop into higher lev­els of inter­nal and exter­nal trust, which in turn can lead to higher prospect con­ver­sion, greater cus­tomer reten­tion, more effec­tive oper­a­tions, and higher reten­tion of employ­ees.  These are some of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a great busi­ness and the evi­dence of strong leadership.

A key to imple­ment­ing lead­er­ship in your orga­ni­za­tion is to estab­lish the right frame­work, like the 14 Traits above. You then have to con­stantly and con­sis­tently look for the actions that demon­strate those traits and encour­age them.  For exam­ple, are employ­ees acknowl­edged for demon­strat­ing ini­tia­tive and deci­sive­ness?  Do you look for exam­ples of good judg­ment, integrity, unselfish­ness and loy­alty and then reward those behav­iors? Let­ting your staff know that these actions (traits) are impor­tant to you and that you view them as a demon­stra­tion lead­er­ship will encour­age more of these pos­i­tive actions. This will allow your busi­ness to begin to build a cul­ture of lead­ers and leadership.

Under­stand­ing more about lead­er­ship won’t make you a Marine, but trans­lat­ing your under­stand­ing into action­able ele­ments of your busi­ness will help you build a suc­cess­ful busi­ness cul­ture.  A cul­ture of lead­er­ship can become your company’s strate­gic advantage.

Tuesday, Novem­ber 11 is Vet­er­ans Day.  Please extend grat­i­tude and thanks to those who have served our country.

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