he Marine Corps leadership philosophy is just as applicable in the civilian world as it is on the battlefield, and it is even more applicable than popular nonmilitary thinking on the subject. At any given moment, Marines are willing to go into harm's way and risk their lives to accomplish the mission set before them. Marines throughout history have shown great resolve in the face of adversity to see a job through. Perhaps this is why retired Marine Colonel, Jim Hodges, states that many civilians have a "break out in case of emergency" mentality when employing Marines (Interview, July 11, 2003). When something really needs to get done, it seems intuitive to the business world to get a Marine on the task, explains Colonel Hodges. But after the crisis passes, the Marine in the civilian world is often inexplicably shelved until the next emergency comes along. Thought of as a square peg in a round hole, many civilians hold the belief that the leadership skills learned by the Marine while on active duty, somehow do not translate well to the civilian sector.
It's a good thing no one told that to Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, who acknowledges that the Marine Corps played a vital role in shaping his life. He has also noted the business achievements of other Marines in the corporate world. In a 2001 article in the "Legacy" newsletter, Smith states, "nothing has prepared business leaders better for their roles in business and society than the lessons they learned in the Corps -- lessons of discipline, organization, commitment and integrity." (2001)
for their roles
than the lessons
in the Corps”
founder of FedEx
Common Stereotypes about Marine Corps Leadership
Marines tend to do well when given the chance in the corporate world, but may not be given all the opportunities they should due to negative stereotypes about what it means to be a Marine leader. Many people have the common misconception that Marine leadership is characterized by gravel voiced Marines barking orders at impressionable young people who follow orders blindly. This stereotype is perpetuated in movies like, "Full Metal Jacket," and "The Boys from Company C." While the movies are not inaccurate, they depict a leadership style that is limited to training environments. Consider the following example:
In April of 2002, 80 MBA students of The Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania went to Quantico to participate in two-days of Marine Corps leadership training. The event was called, "Learning leadership and decision-making under uncertainty and complexity." Events of the training are reported in the Financial Times by Paul Sheppard who attended the training (2002).
Throughout the two days, the MBA students underwent obstacles and training normally reserved for Marine officers in training. These obstacles included navigating an 18-foot wall and raiding a machine gun nest. During the course of the training, the students were under the stern supervision of Marine Corps drill instructors. When comparing corporate leadership to military leadership, Paul Sheppard, a Wharton MBA, had this to say:
What lessons in leadership did the business school students learn from the event? There are obvious differences between military and corporate leadership. Modern managers could never adopt the drill sergeant's approach to instilling discipline, nor do they expect employees to subjugate their individuality to that of the team. However, my classmates felt that they had learnt some valuable lessons (Sheppard, 2002).
This observation is misleading. A training environment like the one the MBA students underwent is indicative of the stressful training all Marines undergo during the beginning of their Marine Corps experience but in no way captures the scope and scale of the leadership training that Marines receive during the course of their careers. Specifically, drill instructors are required to assume an abrasive, confrontational leadership style in order to get recruits and officer candidates used to operating under stressful conditions. This leadership style characterizes specific training environments that are a small part of the Marine Corps leadership philosophy. So the question begs to be asked, "What is the Marine Corps leadership philosophy?"
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