Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Marines

November 4, 2014
Mike Stallard

Great leaders know that task excellence alone is not sufficient to achieve sustainable superior performance. They also know that relationship excellence alone is not sufficient in the end. Instead, truly great leaders realize the vital importance of both elements.

The dual focus of task and relationship excellence can be difficult for many leaders to grasp. In our daily lives, we see many illustrations of what it looks like to focus on task excellence and many illustrations of relationship excellence, but it is rare to find examples of leaders who demonstrate both.

For those seeking an example of a leadership model that encompasses both task and relationship excellence, an excellent example is the United States Marine Corps. Colonel J.P. Holder, a retired Colonel and current Marine Corps JROTC program instructor, describes the objectives of a Marine Corps leader as follows:

“There are two leadership objectives. The primary objective of Marine Corps leadership is mission accomplishment. This requires a goal-oriented approach. A leader must identify long-term goals for the team and the short-term steps the organization needs to take to achieve those goals. The secondary objective of Marine Corps Leadership is troop welfare -- which can also be described as team welfare or individual welfare. This objective requires empathy on the part of the leader to make sure that the needs of those in the team are looked after.”

Marine leaders know that while getting the job done is essential, the wellbeing of troops is also vital to long-term success. By looking out for the needs, both physical and emotional, of troops, Marine leaders build highly engaged teams who are well prepared to tackle the difficult assignments they receive on a daily basis.

To achieve this goal, Marines embrace leadership principles such as “be tactically and technically proficient,” “set the example,” “know your Marines and look out for their welfare,” and “keep your Marines informed.”  Living out these principles requires Marine leadership to set and communicate a clear vision, demonstrate that they clearly value their troops, and give troops a voice when it comes to deciding the best way to execute tasks. The result is a sense of connection to the mission and to fellow Marines that inspires superior performance.

For more information about the leadership principles of the United States Marines, see the Marine Corps leadership traits and leadership principles.

Michael Lee Stallard, president and cofounder of Connection Culture Group, speaks, teaches and consults on leadership, organizational culture and employee engagement. He is the author of Connection Culture and Fired Up or Burned Out. Follow him on his blogTwitterFacebookGoogle+ or LinkedIn.

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