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he Marine Corps Leadership System
The United States Marine Corps subscribes to the notion that leaders are made, not born. There are three fundamental categories that every Marine is instructed in: leadership objectives, leadership traits and leadership principles (USMC.mil, 2003).

There are two leadership objectives. The primary objective of Marine Corps leadership is mission accomplishment. This requires a goal-oriented approach. A leader must identify long-term goals for the team and the short-term steps the organization needs to take to achieve those goals. The secondary objective of Marine Corps Leadership is troop welfare -- which can also be described as team welfare or individual welfare. This objective requires empathy on the part of the leader to make sure that the needs of those in the team are looked after. These objectives may be the result of a research program conducted by Ohio State University to identify the functions of leaders where the functions were categorized into initiating structure leadership functions and consideration leadership functions (Schultz & Schultz, 1994). There are 14 traits to which all Marines are encouraged to aspire: They are judgment, justice, dependability, integrity, decisiveness, tact, initiative, enthusiasm, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty and endurance. Marines are encouraged to exhibit these traits and are judged on their ability to do so. The official Marine Corps Web site defines the leadership traits in the following manner:

BEARING is the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control.
COURAGE is what allows you to remain calm while recognizing fear. Moral courage means having the inner strength to stand up for what is right and to accept blame when something is your fault. Physical courage means that you can continue to function effectively when there is physical danger present.
DECISIVENESS means that you are able to make good decisions without delay. Get all the facts and weight them against each other. By acting calmly and quickly, you should arrive at a sound decision. You announce your decisions in a clear, firm, professional manner.
DEPENDABILITY means that you can be relied upon to perform your duties properly. It means that you can be trusted to complete a job. It is the willing and voluntary support of the policies and orders of the chain of command. Dependability also means consistently putting forth your best effort in an attempt to achieve the highest standards of performance.
ENDURANCE is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. For example, enduring pain during a conditioning march in order to improve stamina is crucial in the development of leadership.
ENTHUSIASM is defined as a sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties. If you are enthusiastic, you are optimistic, cheerful, and willing to accept the challenges.
INITIATIVE is taking action even though you haven't been given orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material or methods being available to you.
INTEGRITY means that you are honest and truthful in what you say or do. You put honesty, sense of duty, and sound moral principles above all else.
JUDGMENT is your ability to think about things clearly, calmly, and in an orderly fashion so that you can make good decisions.
JUSTICE is defined as the practice of being fair and consistent. A just person gives consideration to each side of a situation and bases rewards or punishments on merit.
KNOWLEDGE is the understanding of a science or art. Knowledge means that you have acquired information and that you understand people. Your knowledge should be broad, and in addition to knowing your job, you should know your unit's policies and keep up with current events.
LOYALTY means that you are devoted to your country, the Corps, and to your seniors, peers, and subordinates. The motto of our Corps is Semper Fidelis!, (Always Faithful). You owe unwavering loyalty up and down the chain of command, to seniors, subordinates, and peers.
TACT means that you can deal with people in a manner that will maintain good relations and avoid problems. It means that you are polite, calm, and firm.
UNSELFISHNESS means that you avoid making yourself comfortable at the expense of others. Be considerate of others. Give credit to those who deserve it (USMC.MIL, 2003).

Marines are encouraged to memorize and are often required to recite the fourteen leadership traits at inspections, but it is not required for them to memorize the definitions. The Marine Corps would rather its Marines contemplate what they mean for themselves. One might assume the Marine Corps does this to ensure individuals internalize these traits by coming up with their own definitions. The same is true about attaching priorities to these traits. For instance, is judgment a more important trait than decisiveness? The Marine Corps Leadership system doesn't specify, unlike the leadership objectives, which are described in terms of "primary" and "secondary."

The last component of the Marine Corps Leadership system is the set of Marine Corps Leadership principles. Like the objectives and traits, these principles are given to Marines to set goals for their attitudes and behaviors. The Marine Corps leadership principles are as follows:

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Know yourself and seek self-improvement
No matter how much Marines achieve, they believe there is always room for improvement. One can never have too much knowledge nor too many skills. Marines try to live a lifestyle of continual growth.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your employees
No one can be everywhere all the time. By developing responsibility among its entire organization, an individual Marine doesn't have to be. The Marine Corps empowers its personnel to make decisions and holds them accountable.

Be technically and tactically proficient
All Marines are trained thoroughly in the mechanics of their job and are rigorously tested annually in basic skills of their profession.

Make sound and timely decisions
To be effective, Marines couple decisiveness with judgment. Know your employees and look out for their welfare The Marine Corps understands that people are its most valuable resource. By knowing whom best to delegate tasks to, Marine leaders are able to accomplish their missions efficiently.

Keep Your Employees Informed
"Ours is not to reason why, ours is to but do or die." This popular maxim repeated in a scene in "Saving Private Ryan," perpetuates the idea that Marines blindly follow orders. While it is true that time does not allow for an explanation in all instances, when time is available, Marines are told the "why" behind the orders. The Marine Corps ensures that all its troops understand the goals of the organization as well as how they fit into the overall scheme. Marine leaders talk to their troops often, even if it's just to say that everything is going according to plan.

Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
By taking on responsibility Marine leaders show that they have confidence in their own abilities. When Marines make mistakes, they are encouraged to own up to it. Admitting to their mistakes shows integrity and maturity.

Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished
The Marine Corps is very specific about exactly what it wants done and who is responsible for its completion. Marines set deadlines or benchmarks and they follow up. While the Marine Corps is very specific about what it wants done, the how of the task gets pushed as far down the chain of command as possible. This allows for a great deal of flexibility at the small unit level.

Train your employees as a team
If an organization has the best individuals in the world, it will be meaningless if they don't work together in a coordinated fashion. Marines make sure that the lines of communication are open among departments. Marines spend time cross training so that each unit has an understanding of what other units are responsible for.

Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities
The Marine Corps is realistic about the personnel, time and resources it needs to accomplish its objectives.

Set the example
This is the catchall of Marine Corps leadership principles. If a Marine is setting the example, he or she makes sound and timely decisions, and keeps his or her team informed, etc. To lead, a Marine must stand as a gleaming example of what is expected of the team.

These are not idle words that Marines are forced to memorize and recite back. The Marine Corps uses this system as criteria for evaluating its people. For instance, a person can be kicked out of the Marine Corps for lying -- the absence of integrity -- on his or her enlistment papers.


This column was first submitted as a paper for the American Military University, a private institution of higher learning licensed by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, and accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC).

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