Few institutions are as focused on learning and development as military ones. Lives literally depend upon it. One institution with a particularly strong reputation for personal development (in fact, I would suggest that it is core to their brand) is the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps has perhaps unsurprisingly produced a number of very successful business leaders. Fred Smith of FedEx, Russell Meyer of Cessna and Robert Lutz of Chrysler (ok, perhaps a bad example right now) are but a few.
Of the first things learned by Marine Corps Officers are the "Marine Corps Leadership Principles". I believe they are an unbelievable teaching tool for managers. They are:
Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
Be technically and tactically proficient.
Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates.
Make sound and timely decisions.
Set the example.
Know your Marines and look out for their welfare.
Keep your Marines informed.
Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.
Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished.
Train your Marines as a team.
Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities.
Consider just a few of these concepts:
Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Are we aware of our weaknesses and strengths? How do we leverage the latter and compensate for the former? And if we are not seeking self-improvement, who is modeling it for the employees we supervise?
Be technically and tactically proficient. How are our basic skills in our chosen profession? We gain our authority in part on the basis of expertise. If this is brought into question, our authority can be brought into question.
Develop a sense of responsibility among your Marines. Journalist Thomas Ricks, who has covered the military for quite some time, states in his book Making the Corps that one of the big differences when he interacted with Marines versus soldiers and sailors from other branches of the US military is that Marines have a much greater sense of confidence when dealing with journalists. Marines are empowered and entrusted with upholding the brand of the Marine Corps. Not just officers, but every Marine. As business leaders, can we say that we have the same feelings of trust and empowerment among our employees?
Make sound and timely decisions. This is also one of the Es of GE's famous leadership model as well. Indecisive managers can cause work and rework for employees and be a huge morale hurt.
Know your Marines and look out for their welfare. Note that two apparently different principles are tied together in this aspect "Know your Marines" and "look out for their welfare". This underscores a great institutional learning that I certainly need to spend more time on. We can say that we are concerned for our employees, but if we don't know them, it is hard to understand what their real welfare needs are.
Keep your Marines informed. Do we make it a high priority to quickly communicate what's going on in our organizations to the people who work for us?
Train your Marines as a team. This is an interesting institutional learning of the Marine Corps that I have only recently started focusing on. I would love to understand its origins but I am definitely benefiting by practicing it. Training folks as a team rather than individually has some amazing effects. Those who are faster to learn a concept can assist those who are more slow, which fosters teamwork. When a concept is poorly taught, feedback is more readily available to the leader about their teaching. And because the entire team is taught a concept, it enables them all to practice it in the same way which has a mutual reinforcement effect.
Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities. Are we asking to achieve objectives for which they do not have the capabilities? Are we overreaching and thus overstretching the people who work for us?
Translating the Marine Corps leadership principles into daily practice as a manager is incredibly easy. In my experience, it can also serve as a tremendous self-evaluation technique when utilized in 360 feedback surveys.