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.