The 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)

Nothing has prepared business leaders better for their roles in business and society than the lessons they learned in the Corps. - Fred Smith, 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?"

he Marine Corps Leadership SystemThe 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 (, 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:

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.