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.