Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - ENDURANCE

The last Marine Corps leadership trait in JJDIDTIEBUCKLE is ENDURANCE, which 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."

This series has been a challenge in ENDURANCE for me, that's for sure! Even though it takes a relatively short period of time to "pen" one of these, finding those precious moments is often difficult.

However, in a leadership regard, the truest sense of ENDURANCE is found at the end of a Marine's tour when they are tempted to "drop their pack" and really slack off. I've found myself guilty of this in the past and am working hard to stave off that temptation as I wind down my time on this duty. Looking myself in the mirror each day and reminding myself of my goals helps me keep going at a consistent pace.

As leaders, we must set the example in ENDURANCE. We must show our subordinates we have the ENDURANCE to see through whatever it is we're doing - whether it's a 36-month duty or a 6-mile run.

Marine Corps leaders are expected to lead by example and, therefore, shouldn't expect anything from their subordinates that they can't do themselves. In talking with a few people from across the civilian job spectrum, it's become apparent that that sentiment is not present in most work places.

If you're a civilian leader (manager, supervisor, etc.), I implore you to consider adopting this sentiment. Lead from the front; lead by example.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - LOYALTY

After having reconstructive knee surgery, I'm finally feeling up to writing again. I've come to find out extreme physical pain does NOT help the writing process!

Last time, I talked about KNOWLEDGE, so next up is LOYALTY. This trait's definition is, "... 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."

This is another trait with which I've had intimate negative experience, so perhaps this story will help illustrate the antithesis of LOYALTY.

When I was a very young sergeant (this was around 2001), I was stationed at MCRD Parris Island and was serving as the webmaster. I came up with the idea of creating a message board where parents of recruits could share their experiences and knowledge. I pitched the idea to the senior enlisted who, in turn, pitched the idea to our officer in charge. It was my understanding, he pitched the idea to depot's chief of staff and/or commanding general and got approval to move forward.

A few months later, drama developed on the message board which lead to a 7-month investigation into me creating the message board using a Marine Corps computer during working hours. See, the OIC never did pitch the project to the chief of staff or CG, and when they asked about it, the OIC threw me under the bus in an attempt (in his eyes) to save his career.

I've carried lessons from that experience with me through the subsequent years and am thankful for the lessons I learned.

As leaders, it's important that we show LOYALTY to those above us as well as those below us.

A hypothetical example will help illustrate. When a subordinate's work performance inexplicably drops, a good leader shows their LOYALTY by trying to figure out what's going on and what corrective actions need to be taken (if any), hopefully stopping the drop in its track, turning it around and getting that subordinate back on their feet.

Meanwhile, a bad leader allows that performance drop to continue unabated, which implies a degradation in performance is acceptable. Inevitably, that leader, having noted the degraded performance, rates the subordinate lower for poor performance on their next evaluation, which takes the subordinate by surprise since the leader allowed the behavior to continue without challenge until the evaluation.

This example highlights the importance of counseling in the leader/subordinate relationship in the Marine Corps, which requires leaders to counsel their subordinates at regular intervals. These counseling sessions, at a minimum, allow the leader to inform the subordinate about good and bad trends in performance and allows the subordinate to know exactly where they stand and make so-called small course corrections.

In the journey that is a career, small course corrections are much easier than trying to do the equivalent of turning an aircraft carrier on a dime.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - KNOWLEDGE

The next Marine Corps leadership trait on our list is very near and dear to my heart. KNOWLEDGE as a leadership trait is defined as "... 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."

I have always taken KNOWLEDGE about my craft very seriously, almost to the point of being called obsessive. But I've come to realize over the years that being a Marine leader is more than just knowing your craft.

Being an effective leader encompasses the trade or craft KNOWLEDGE applicable directly to your job field, but it also means learning about general topics completely outside that field.

In the Corps, things like the promotion board process and various administrative functions can be equally as important. Effective leaders know how to properly evaluate their subordinates (how many Marines outside of administrators know what the IRAM is?), and more importantly, how to mentor them.

A leader's quest for KNOWLEDGE should be almost continous as good leaders realize KNOWLEDGE truly is power.

Part of that KNOWLEDGE must also be learning about the unit commander's intent. A large part of being a leader is applying the unit commander's intent to day-to-day decisions, and it's obviously going to be hard to do that if you don't know the commander's intent.

Once a leader has KNOWLEDGE specific to their job, general KNOWLEDGE about their organization and understands the commander's intent, they should broaden their horizons and start learning other parallel fields or other jobs altogether.

As a non-infantry Marine, I think it's important for me to study strategy and small-unit tactics. Likewise, it's important for me to know some of the processes involved in various administrative functions like awards and charge sheets. At the same time, I probably benefit from knowing about the various force protection conditions.

There isn't a single position in the Corps - nor any business for that matter - that operates completely in a vaccuum. When you possess KNOWLEDGE of not only your job but those around you, you become a better team player, which ultimately leads to the entity (the Corps or business) being structurally stronger.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - COURAGE

COURAGE is next up on our list of Marine Corps leadership traits, and it's defined as, "... 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."

Let's take a look at the first part of that definition - moral COURAGE. This is basically the ability to listen and follow that little voice inside that tells us what's right and wrong. Many people used to call this the "conscience", but a quick look at news from across the country (or close to home like this story about two youths who beat and burned a small dog here in Milwaukee) should reveal the "conscience" is slowly evolving out of existence.

But moral COURAGE is also much more than just listening to your inner self tell you something's wrong. Moral COURAGE is being able to stand up and tell someone else what they're doing or about to do is wrong. This can be extremely difficult when that someone is a boss or someone in a position of power over you. Those who "suck up" to their bosses will most likely never exhibit the "balls" necessary to tell someone above them when they're wrong. That's not to say everyone should always tell their boss they're wrong.

All of us have a boss, and the way I see it, all of us have a responsibility to be some kind of check and balance to our boss. If we see something is wrong, we must bring it up.

Physical COURAGE, to me, is pretty straightforward in appearance. When bullets start flying, can you continue being effective? It's hard to tell until you've been there, and thankfully, I still don't have that answer about myself. I've tested myself in training environments - and I've come out pretty well - but I've never had to put that training to the ultimate test.

A training environment seems to be the best way to develop physical COURAGE and then test it. In a setting like this, mistakes can be made and corrected without putting anyone's life in danger, and hopefully, all parties involved come out better for it.

The Marine Corps has some great training that helps develop physical as well as moral COURAGE, and it all begins in recruit training.

But it doesn't end there; Marines are continually trained on this, and they're continually expected to exhibit COURAGE, both moral and physical. This COURAGE is what allows Marines like Sgt Peralta to do heroic deeds, and it allows countless Marines every day to do the right thing, especially when no one is looking.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - UNSELFISHNESS

UNSELFISHNESS is this week's Marine Corps leadership trait, and it means that, "you avoid making yourself comfortable at the expense of others.; are considerate of others; give credit to those who deserve it."

I honestly believe this trait has pretty much vanished from the vast majority of our society.

In today's day and age of "give me whatever I want whenever I want it," the mere mention of UNSELFISHNESS is sure to draw strange looks and calls of being "old fashioned".

So prevalent is selfishness in our society (and by extension in the Marine Corps), that some of us have repurposed the motto "Semper Fi" into "Semper I".

No matter how jaded I am about this, the fact remains there are acts of UNSELFISHNESS committed every day by Marines across the world. It's unfortunate that these acts are not noticed and appreciated by those who benefit from them (actually a further sign of the disgusting level of selfishness found in some people).

A couple weeks ago, I was reminded of one such UNSELFISH act by a 25-year-old Marine sergeant. An award citation reads:
Clearing scores of houses in the previous three days, Sergeant Peralta’ asked to join an under strength squad and volunteered to stand post the night of 14 November, allowing fellow Marines more time to rest. The following morning, during search and attack operations, while clearing the seventh house of the day, the point man opened a door to a back room and immediately came under intense, close-range automatic weapons fire from multiple insurgents. The squad returned fire, wounding one insurgent. While attempting to maneuver out of the line of fire, Sergeant Peralta was shot and fell mortally wounded. After the initial exchange of gunfire, the insurgents broke contact, throwing a fragmentation grenade as they fled the building. The grenade came to rest near Sergeant Peralta’s head. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, Sergeant Peralta reached out and pulled the grenade to his body, absorbing the brunt of the blast and shielding fellow Marines only feet away. Sergeant Peralta succumbed to his wounds. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Sergeant Peralta reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Sgt Peralta was nominated for the Medal of Honor, the country's highest award for valor; however, it was later "downgraded" to a Navy Cross and posthumously presented to his family, who refused to accept it.

This act of UNSELFISHNESS reads like it came from a hero novel and gives me goose bumps every time I read it. Sgt Peralta's UNSELFISHNESS saved lives, plain and simple, and every one of us should strive to exhibit that level of dedication to our fellow Marines and fellow man.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - BEARING

BEARING is this week's Marine Corps leadership trait, and it's defined as, "the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control."

This trait is stressed by drill instructors continually throughout recruit training. I remember hearing tall tales of experiments resulting in the creation of sand fleas just to test recruits' bearing at MCRD Parris Island, S.C. Of course they aren't true, but the fact remains they do a very good job of teaching recruits to maintain their BEARING.

It is those times of maintaining BEARING that I use to frame my understanding of this trait. A leader must keep their composure by controlling their mind and their body no matter the circumstances.

Which would be more effective: a leader hysterically shouting orders OR a leader calmly directing his assets? The calm, cool, and collected leader will prevail where the hysterical fails every time.

All of us have had to maintain our BEARING at some point in our career, whether it was recruit training or getting a good ol' fashioned ass-chewing from the first sergeant!

Being able to maintain your BEARING in a stressful situation is part of what sets Marines apart from "lesser" services ... where they crumble we prevail!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - ENTHUSIASM

Next up on our list of the Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits is ENTHUSIASM, which 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."

Many who are unfamiliar with the Marine Corps often ask why Marines move around so much, and honestly, I think a large part of it is tied into this trait. It can be difficult to maintain an extremely high level of ENTHUSIASM for your job after doing the same thing in the same place with pretty much the same people for years on end.

Marines changing units and locations allows them to maintain a level of ENTHUSIASM and more importantly should ensure that level doesn't dip way down.

ENTHUSIASM, like many traits, is contagious in both directions. A leader who is enthusiastic will inspire the same from his Marines; at the same time, one who is more apathetic will certainly infect those around him with his apathy and bring a large number of them down.

So how does someone regain their ENTHUSIASM once they've lost it? That can be a very difficult proposition. Most of the Marines I've seen who've lost ENTHUSIASM have done so because they lose sight of the part they play in the bigger picture.

In order to maintain or regain your ENTHUSIASM, you have to understand your role - whether it be a cook, baker, or candlestick maker - and how that role impacts the organization as a whole.

The Marine Corps is full of support roles, and every single one of us plays a role in keeping the wheels turning. Without administrators, Marines wouldn't go on Temporary Additional Duty trips; without disbursers, Marines wouldn't get paid; without supply, Marines wouldn't get the gear they need; without public affairs specialists, the public would completely forget what it is the Marine Corps does which would lead to the Corps' eventual demise.

As leaders, we must ensure those in our charge are constantly reminded of the important role they play, and we must challenge them on a regular basis not only to ensure their growth but also to keep them focused.

At the end of the day, we must remember we all play a part, and our job as is to keep the Marine Corps going in order to make Marines, win battles, and return quality citizens.