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Unit Shirts: Getting Started | Gallery | Pricing | Contact Info At all Costs: Accomplish the Mission by Gannon Beck
hile studying organizations that made the transition from average to great performance, Jim Collins inadvertently found that effective leaders share key traits. All the companies had what Collins labels a "Level 5 leader." A Level 5 leader is described as having a blend of personal humility and professional will. They have ambition for the company (not themselves), a compelling modesty, and an unwavering resolve to do what must be done. They shun credit for their company's successes and accept responsibility for its failures. Collins explains that Level 5 leaders are "fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decision." (Collins, 2001 p.39)

We can conclude that a Level 5 leader -- a leader with proven character traits necessary for success -- is unselfish, with an unshakable focus on accomplishing the mission. The Marine Corps, with its leadership philosophy, is teeming with a Level 5 leadership mindset:

The strong sense of unity within the Marine Corps does not lend itself to the creation of highly visible leaders; it seems to have the opposite effect. Generals, after all, come up through the officer ranks, and Marine Corps officers are quick to give all the credit for any successes to the men they command. Marine officers would surely provide dull interviews, thwarting questions that would imply their personal leadership skills were responsible for the victories achieved. In fact, the whole story of the Marine Corps seems to belie the "great man theory" of history, which attributes the turning of events in human affairs to the strong, charismatic leader who steps forward, ahead of all others, and takes charge. When the Marines go down in history, they do it together.

This is why the names of famous Marine generals are not linked, in the mind of the public, to famous Marine Corps victories. We remember MacArthur vowing to return to the Philippines and Patton turning the tide at the Battle of the Bulge, but what Marine generals were responsible for the victories at Iwo Jima and Tarawa? The most famous Marine leaders are virtually unknown outside of the Corps, and that is how they would want it. It is as if they have been too humbled by the sacrifices of their fellow Marines to accept any personal credit (Carrison & Walsh, 1999).

For the record, one of the Marine generals who commanded the Marines on Iwo Jima was General Clifton Bledsoe Cates. Throughout his distinguished career, General Cates fought at Belleau Woods and other battles in WWI where he was repeatedly wounded and gassed. He commanded Marines in the Pacific, and served as the 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps where his leadership guided the Marine Corps through the Korean War.

Once his term as Commandant was over, General Cates voluntarily went from being a four-star general to a three-star general to remain in the Marine Corps and continue to contribute by commanding the Marine Corps Schools on Quantico (Simmons & Moskin 2003). He was the quintessential Level 5 leader.

The willingness to make sacrifices is an essential ingredient in leadership and the key difference in the two philosophies in question. It is also proven in Jim Collins' study to be a requirement for leadership success. "Win/win if possible but at all costs accomplish the mission" is sound advice in the Marine Corps and in the business world.

For a moment, consider the alternative, selfishness, which manifests itself in the business world as greed. Imagine CEOs -- who make 411 times the salary of the average production worker (Kandel, 2001) -- doing the corporate equivalent of throwing themselves on a grenade. It does not happen often, if ever. In fact, frequently the opposite occurs -- CEOs throw their employees on proverbial grenades. Consider Don Carty, CEO of American Airlines. He convinced union members to accept 1.62 billion dollars worth of annual concessions to avoid bankruptcy. While asking his employees to make sacrifices, he was unwilling to make any of his own; once Carty's lucrative retention bonuses and pension protections were made public, the unions called for new votes on the concessions. As Wendy Zellner in her BusinessWeek article put it, "CEO Donald J. Carty snatched defeat from the jaws of victory." (2000) Perhaps a "win/win" mentality -- without a mission accomplishment qualifier -- ensures that unselfishness will be rare.

“The greatest secret
of winners is
that failure
inspires winning;
thus, they're not
afraid of losing.”
Robert Kiyosaki

"Win/win or no deal" is noble in theory but it allows little tolerance of risk. Often with business ventures, there is no guarantee that the endeavor will be a "win" for any of the parties involved. When things go poorly and losing looks possible or even probable, those scripted in a "win/win or no deal" mentality may be inclined to quit too soon to avoid a loss. Furthermore, it steers people away from failure, which is often a necessary predecessor to success. The Governor of Georgia and former Marine, Zell Miller, captured this sentiment when he wrote, "Everybody wants dessert, but few are willing to eat spinach to get it." As former Marine Robert Kiyosaki puts it in his book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, "The greatest secret of winners is that failure inspires winning; thus, they're not afraid of losing." (1998) Covey's "Win/Win or no deal" principle will either give you a utopian society where everyone benefits, or a stagnate society where, because of fear of losing, no one agrees to do business. An argument could be made that a fear of failure is at least partially responsible for keeping the U.S. economy in a long recession.

The Marine Corps leadership philosophy is character driven and has proven itself in the military and in the civilian world time and again. Although it has many similarities with popular civilian teachings, its mission focus encourages its practitioners to seek out endeavors worth making sacrifices for. Although the leadership system calls for the welfare of all, benefits are secondary to the objectives the organization must achieve. The bottom line is that if you want someone who will get a job done no matter what -- find a Marine -- or at least someone who thinks like one.

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