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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - INTEGRITY

I believe this week's leadership trait is probably one of the most important in everyday life, and that trait is INTEGRITY, which means, "... you are honest and truthful in what you say or do. You put honesty, sense of duty, and sound moral principles above all else."

This trait is strongly emphasized from day one of the enlistment process throughout the entirety of a Marine's career. A recruit who lies, cheats, or steals will quickly be labeled an integrity violator.

When I was in recruit training, we had an integrity violator in my platoon. Part of recruit training is what we call "fire watch", which is where two recruits stand post for an hour at a time, and they watch for anything that could pose a danger to their platoon.

While my platoon was on the rifle range, we had a recruit who fell asleep on fire watch (the second time committing that violation) and then lie about it to the senior drill instructor the next morning. Not only did that recruit endanger every one of us, but he also lied about it in order to try and save his own skin! That is a textbook example of an integrity violator, and no Marine wants to where that label. Marines are nothing if not honest, and we expect all Marines to take responsibility for their actions.

Once a Marine's integrity is called into question, it is a very long and very hard path to rebuilding the lost trust and confidence. Right or wrong, I've seen Marines who wear the "integrity violator" label through their entire career by way of negative counselings and/or nonjudicial punishment as documented in their service record book.

Marine leaders can and often do "forgive" their junior Marines of many things, but a junior Marine who is willing to violate his own integrity will most likely not be forgiven or trusted for a very long time.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - TACT

After a much-needed break last week, I'm back to talk about TACT, which is next up on our list of the 14 Marine Corps leadership traits. The textbook definition of TACT is, "... 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."

In the real world, TACT usually refers to the ability of one Marine to approach another about a deficiency or otherwise uncomfortable situation without the interaction devolving into an altercation.

This trait can be difficult for some Marines to acquire, especially for those who seem to pride themselves on being brash and abbrasive. Those Marines in particular can find it challenging to flip the switch between "hotshot Marine" and "tactful Marine". I've seen a couple of those Marines get charged with disrespect among other things as a result of not being tactful when talking to a senior Marine.

However, TACT should be a two-way street to a certain extent. A leader has an obligation to be tactful when addressing his subordinate just as the subordinate has an obligation, but obviously, the subordinate bears a larger burden.

I found myself in a position where I, as a leader, needed to be tactful when addressing one of my junior Marines. This particular junior Marine had a bit of a hygiene problem ... and by that, I mean he smelled as though he only took a shower once a week or so despite us doing physical training three or four times a week. Having poor physical hygiene is obviously not good for any Marine, let alone one who often talks with senior leaders (which Marines in my job field do on a regular basis).

At first, I found it challenging to tactfully address the junior Marine in a way that would not create a sour work environment. I firmly believe it the work environment would have been negatively impacted for all the Marines if I had right off the bat abbrasively told the Marine he stank and needed to take a shower. Instead, I pulled him aside, away from his co-workers, and tactfully offered him more time after PT to go to the base gym and take a shower.

I believe that interaction between us - me showing him I respected what could be a very embarrassing situation and tactfully addressing it away from his fellow Marines - earned me a lot of respect from that junior Marine who went on to be my best and hardest working writer.

TACT must be employed by senior and junior Marines if they want to communicate effectively. It helps foster a good work environment and breeds respect among all Marines.

If you think you need to work on your TACT (and most of us do to one degree or another), I encourage you to first think before you speak ... think about what you're about to say and what you want to accomplish with your words; think about how the other person could take it, and make sure what you want to accomplish will not be set back by how the person will most likely take what you say.

Leaders must command respect, and part of that is respecting their subordinates. A leader helps prove that respect for their subordinates by tactfully and respectfully interacting with them (of course, that is unless a real Marine Corps ass-chewing is really warranted).

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - DECISIVENESS

DECISIVENESS is next up on our list of the 14 Marine Corps leadership traits, and in this case, it means, "... you are able to make good decisions without delay. Get all the facts and weigh 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."

DECISIVENESS is basically the opposite of what I like to call "squishiness" or "wishi-washyness" ... which I use to describe people who can't make a decision and just hem and haw.

I've been the subordinate whose leader was indecisive, and it is definitely "no bueno" at all! Leaders who are indecisive do not inspire confidence in their subordinates, which can, in turn, lead to the subordinate questioning every decision the leader makes - something that is definitely NOT a good situation.

Over time, good leaders develop their ability to make timely and well thought out decisions, but it does take some experience, and usually a few bad decisions, to pave the way.

No matter what, once a leader makes a decision based on a set of facts and circumstances, they need to stick to it and see it through unless those facts and circumstances change.

Also, there's a time and a place for getting input from those around you, and there's most definitely a time and a place for just making what we call a "command decision". If one of your subordinates makes a command decision, you as a leader need to provide sufficient feedback afterward to ensure that subordinate grows. Part of our job as a leader is to groom and grow our subordinates to take our place.

Decisiveness isn't just making a quick decision and stubbornly sticking to it no matter what. The decisive leader can quickly evaluate all the information available and make a good decision based off that information. Then, they communicate that decision to relevant parties clearly and confidently.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - INITIATIVE

Next up on our list of the 14 Marine Corps leadership traits is INITIATIVE, which in this case means, "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."

In other words, it means not sitting on your backside waiting for someone to give you something to do, and in this regard, it's a highly regarded trait in both recruits and Marines. Unfortunately, it's also a trait that can get recruits and young Marines in trouble. Many have heard the saying, "good initiative, bad judgment", for intiative without judgment can be dangerous.

Part of initiative in the "middle management" ranks includes some mind reading. A good corporal or sergeant will anticipate the next move/command of their staff noncommissioned officer in charge. It's a beautiful thing when this kind of initiative is mixed with good judgment, because things happen so much more fluidly than they would otherwise. In this environment, there's no more breaking every little step down "Barney style" as we call it ... there's no more hand holding going on or baby sitting.

As a junior Marine, you should work on paying attention to everything that's going on around you and being aware of and doing the things that need to be done without being told. Leaders should encourage their Marines' intiative and mentor them when they fall into the "good initiative, bad judgment" trap.

Leaders should also delegate authority down to their junior Marines (commensurate with their abilities of course). This helps develop and nurture mutual respect and confidence between leader and subordinate, and it helps encourage the junior Marine to exercise initiative in accomplishing the mission.

Regularly exhibiting this trait can be somewhat tiring over the long haul. It means the Marine actually has to think a little bit and be proactive, so leaders also need to watch for burn out. A consistently high level of application can only be sustained for so long before the Marine burns out, and that needs to be nipped in the bud with some kind of change (e.g. time off) to recharge the mental batteries. Otherwise, the Marine will never rise back up to the previously high level.

In today's age of "gimme gimme gimme" and entitlements, I think it's going to get harder and harder to find young people who can exhibit this trait.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - DEPENDABILITY

The third Marine Corps leadership trait in the acronym J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE is DEPENDABILITY which means, "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."

This leadership trait has somewhat of a sliding scale. By that I mean it's expected that a staff sergeant should be more dependable than a lance corporal.

As leaders, we should know our Marines and their abilities, and it's very important to know when a junior Marine is undependable. This, obviously, means the Marine can't handle the so-called "do-or-die" task, but it also may point out a deficiency in our leadership. At the very least, it shows a weakness that needs to be addressed through mentoring, because, while all of the leadership traits are important, a Marine MUST be trusted that he'll keep his word.

I'd like to take a second and highlight something from that last paragraph. An undependable junior Marine can be an indicator of poor leadership, and as a leader, it's incumbent upon us to go through some objective self-examination to see if we enabled that junior Marine to become undependable. Did I accurately convey my intent? Did I give the junior Marine the tools necessary to accomplish the task? Did I adequately supervise (without micromanaging)? These are three broad questions I asked myself when I lost faith in a Marine's ability to accomplish a given task.

Having dependable Marines makes the life of a leader a lot easier. You don't have to worry that an assigned task won't get done, and you don't have to micromanage. Assigning a task becomes almost a fire-and-forget proposition which allows the leader to focus more on their own job while maintaining minimal supervision.

Unfortunately, once a Marine exhibits he is undependable, he brings a good bit of attention to himself until he proves, once again, he is dependable. By bringing attention, I mean he's likely to be ridden like a family car, so to say, until his dependability improves. I'm saying that's necessarily the best way to handle it; I'm saying that's what will happen having been on both sides of that ball.

Within a month of checking into my first duty station, my boss determined I had a horrible time management problem. His solution? I had to account for every 15-minute block of my day, and at the end of each day, we reviewed everything to see where I could have better used my time. To say I was ridden like a family car throughout the day would be putting it mildly, but thankfully, that didn't last long. I hated (still do to this day) being micromanaged, and I did everything in my power to get out from under the debilitating situation in which I had put myself.

All of us, no matter our role, should be where we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there and do what it is we're supposed to do to the best of our ability.

That is dependability, and THAT is what makes Marines so coveted in the civilian workforce.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - JUDGMENT

We explored the leadership trait JUSTICE last week, and this week we're going to look at the trait JUDGMENT, which is defined as, "... your ability to think about things clearly, calmly, and in an orderly fashion so that you can make good decisions."

This is one of those traits that is learned over time through experience and can only really be helped along by a good experienced mentor. I do believe, however, that the uncommon virtue of common sense can help a young Marine leader when short of experience.

I'd be willing to bet every single Marine out there has experienced a lack of judgment some time throughout their time in the Corps. The good Marines learn from those experiences, don't repeat them, and try to pass on some of that wisdom to their junior Marines.

One common display of poor judgment is when a married Marine goes out drinking and ends up going home with a female who is not his wife (or God forbid she's the wife of a fellow Marine). This incredibly poor judgment is no doubt adversely affected by the alcohol, but nothing excuses the Marine from his actions.

Good judgment is exercised every single day by Marine commanders across the globe, but unfortunately, their good judgment is overshadowed by their fellow Marines' poor judgment.

Young leaders looking to improve their judgment are encouraged to take their time in making important decisions and to use common sense. If at all possible, seek the advice and experience of a mentor who has been through the same or a similar situation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - JUSTICE

We took a broad look at the Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits last week, and today, we're going to start focusing on the individual traits.

The first trait in the acronym J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE is JUSTICE, and it's defined in this regard 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."

This concept of merit-based reward and punishment is not new. Sun Tzu's epic text "The Art of War" suggests leaders have an equal system of rewards and punishments.

Leaders must treat their subordinates fairly across the board in both reward and punishment. I do believe there is a time and place for a leader to exercise discretion when doling out punishments; however, if two Marines commit the same "crime", they should be punished in much the same manner.

Likewise - and arguably more important - effective leaders should have a system in place to reward Marines who excel in their assigned duties. If a Marine has a choice between not doing a task and getting punished OR thanklessly doing the task, the Marine will most likely do just enough to accomplish the task without getting in trouble. However, if that Marine has the possibility of a reward in mind as he accomplishes his task, he is more likely to do so better and faster and with more pride. Effective leaders also further this by making the rewards competitive.

I talked a little in a comment to "Today's incentives for a job well done" about competition and how it betters the Marine Corps, and I think it's worth reiterating here.

In the Marine Corps, everything is a competition. From the day a recruit steps onto the yellow footprints until their last breath, a Marine embraces competition as yet another way to prove he is better than someone else at something. Whether it's in an office or on a battlefield, Marines compete against each other constantly, and in the end, the Marine Corps is better for it. That competition pushes each Marine to maintain a high level of proficiency and staves off apathy.

I am certainly not advocating "trinket fixation" as I call it, (something I addressed in my "Today's incentives for a job well done" piece). The key is for a leader to strike a balance between rewards and punishments.

For almost two years, I worked in an environment which had its balance grossly skewed in favor of punishments. The Marines were under what I call "paper-cut leadership", which is the mentality that every wrong can be made right by paperwork and every deficiency must be addressed by paperwork. That environment, in and of itself, was all but devoid of morale, and every one of us did the bare minimum to get by. Once the balance was restored by way of a shakeup in leadership, we saw a huge increase in productivity and morale.

I can't stress enough how important this balance is. The threat of punishment without the promise of reward breeds a horrible work environment. Meanwhile, an environment with pure praise and no punishment will most likely fall into chaos with subordinates exhibiting little or no respect.

After all, young grasshopper, balance is the key to life!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Marine Corps and Black History Month

About one year ago today, we posted about the then-new Marine Corps Black History Month commercial.

Much has been said over the past year about making the Marine Corps reflect the so-called "face of the nation" in its racial make up. As one leader clamors for more black officers, some in the trenches have pointed out the difficulties in recruiting that particular racial group into the Corps' officer ranks.

I constantly have my nose pointing upwind, so I think I know what's coming. Comments have already been made that leaders would like to see an increase in both the number of black officer candidates as well as enlisted recruits.

For months now, I've been drafting my thoughts on the matter, but before I publish them, I really want some input.

Why do you think the Marine Corps has such a hard time getting black officer candidates and enlisted recruits?

*NOTE - Some of you may be "offended" by my constant use of "black" as opposed to "African-American". To that, I must refer to part of a speach Theodore Roosevelt gave in 1915:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. When I refer to hyphenated Americans, I do not refer to naturalized Americans. Some of the very best Americans I have ever known were naturalized Americans, Americans born abroad. But a hyphenated American is not an American at all. This is just as true of the man who puts "native" before the hyphen as of the man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen. Americanism is a matter of the spirit and of the soul. Our allegiance must be purely to the United States. We must unsparingly condemn any man who holds any other allegiance. But if he is heartily and singly loyal to this Republic, then no matter where he was born, he is just as good an American as any one else.

The men who do not become Americans and nothing else are hyphenated Americans; and there ought to be no room for them in this country. The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic. He has no place here; and the sooner he returns to the land to which he feels his real heart-allegiance, the better it will be for every good American. There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.

For an American citizen to vote as a German-American, an Irish-American, or an English-American, is to be a traitor to American institutions; and those hyphenated Americans who terrorize American politicians by threats of the foreign vote are engaged in treason to the American Republic. (Theodore Roosevelt, 1915)

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits - overview

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to examine the Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits. We'll take a look at what they are, define them, apply them to a Marine's life (through real-world and/or hypothetical situations), and then dive into how they can/should be applied once a Marine transitions back to civilian life.

Let's start with a broad definition of the Corps' leadership traits. They "... are qualities of thought and action which, if demonstrated in daily activities, help Marines earn the respect, confidence, and loyal cooperation of other Marines. It is extremely important that you understand the meaning of each leadership trait and how to develop it, so you know what goals to set as you work to become a good leader and a good follower."

(Interestingly, this definition is taken from a page on an Air Force Web site. That's interesting because if you Google "marine corps leadership traits", not a single organic Marine Corps result shows up. It's also interesting because I think guess the Air Force has figured out that we know a thing or two about leadership!)

So basically, these traits help Marines follow their leaders and, when the time comes, to be leaders of Marines. A leader who embodies these traits will have the respect of his subordinates as well as that of his peers.

The key - as I see it - is to achieve a balance among all the traits rather than concentrating solely on a couple of them.

So without further adieu, here is the list of the Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits:

  • TACT
The acronym J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE is used by Marines to help remember these 14 leadership traits.

Friday, January 21, 2011

New Year's resolution

The Midwest Marines' Facebook page recently posted something about new year's resolutions. Unfortunately, it looks like I'm late to the party as usual, so I figured I'd post a little something here about my resolution.

First of all, I want to provide a little background. It's no secret I am a strong proponent of everyone - service members especially - carrying concealed weapons. Unfortunately, I'm stationed in one of only two states in the country that does not currently have a legal provision to do so. I'm hoping Wisconsin will pass a "Constitutional carry" provision this year which will rectify the problem.

But part of what goes along with that right to carry a weapon for self defense is the responsibility to be as proficient as possible, and that's what my new year's resolution is: THIS YEAR, I WILL ATTEND MORE SELF DEFENSE FIREARMS TRAINING.

This to me is more than just a resolution, and it's even more than just fulfilling my responsibility to be proficient.

Each year, men and women from across the country take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and each year, some of those men and women die upholding that oath. This resolution is my way of paying homage to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice; what better way is there to honor their sacrifice than by enjoying the rights for which they died defending.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Today's incentives for a job well done

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a fellow Marine staff NCO about "incentives" for a job well done. He and I joined the Marine Corps around the same time, and we both agreed our incentive to do a good job was little more than the boss giving us a pat on the back. We didn't then, nor do we now, have award or trinket fixation when doing our job.

It's sad that the same cannot be said for what seems like the vast majority of today's youth (wow do I feel old saying that). Nowadays, just to get someone to do their job to a basic level, there has to be some kind of tangible incentive in it for them over and above their base pay and benefits.

This is a completely foreign concept to me. To what does it speak though? Does it speak to how parents raise their children? Or does it speak to the influence TV has on how children are raised?

If this shift has occurred in less than 15 years, I'm honestly worried about the shift over the next 15 years.