America’s business leaders could learn a few things from the Marines.
Marine leaders put the mission first, the welfare of their Marines second, and their own needs third. When meals are served, the lowest-ranking enlisted Marines eat first; the highest-ranking officers eat last.
These leadership lessons apply equally from a four-person fireteam all the way up to a combat-ready division comprised of 20,000 men and women. Most applicable are the following three core principles.
Have a clear vision.
Leaders are judged on whether they accomplish their mission. To do that, you need to first identify your mission. Less is more here; the fewer words you use the better. Clearly articulating the mission and your vision will greatly increase buy-in from others, and this will help motivate the entire team or organization. That said, implementing and fulfilling your vision will take more than simply identifying it. Marines constantly drive their people and teams towards their vision. Once you identify the necessary steps you need to take and the resources you need to accomplish the mission, don’t wait. Successful leaders know that, most often, the greatest danger is to do nothing in a world that is changing very rapidly.
Make your team a top priority.
Our motto, Semper Fidelis, means always faithful, and it reflects a mindset and the way we treat each other. As in the Marine Corps, every executive has a responsibility to those below him. Leading from the front is a core component of taking care of your team, and it should be obvious that nobody will follow you if they do not feel that you are willing to make the same sacrifice that you are asking of them. Our battalion commander in Iraq set the example every day, and his Marines knew he always had their backs. They would do anything for him. Leading Marines is a privilege, not a right, and something that has to be earned every day. The same is true in the workplace. Your team is not made up of pawns on a chessboard. It’s a complex and important force, and you need to understand them.
Never stop teaching.
Teaching is a core part of the military philosophy. In the Marines, it’s a constant theme of everything we do. For starters, you have instructors who teach you the basics of handling and using weapons, working as a team and keeping yourself physically fit. But throughout your career in the Marines, the teaching never stops, and the best leaders continually take time to mentor their juniors. By the same logic, corporate leaders should take advantage of every opportunity to teach their employees. A few words of knowledge and encouragement can help your team members grow. Multiple that across your entire company and your business can advance rapidly. Your team members will know that they can come to you with an issue and that you will help them find a solution. You may not be only teaching them a certain skill, you are also promoting trust and teamwork.
As an executive, people will obviously look to you for direction and guidance. How well you let them know your own priorities, and how valued they feel when working for you, will be critical to your success. Define your mission clearly and understand what drives your team, what their values are, and what they are capable of accomplishing with the right support and direction.
This is how you lead like a Marine.