Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U. S. Marines


What's the best-run enterprise in the world? It just may be the Marine Corps.

Far from being the hidebound, autocratic entity that most people imagine, the Corps has created a stunningly nimble, almost freewheelingly adaptive organization. The result: Though often faced with extraordinarily dynamic and complex challenges, the Marines get the job done every time.

Their secret? Don't think boot camp. Instead, the Marines have refined a ...

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What's the best-run enterprise in the world? It just may be the Marine Corps.

Far from being the hidebound, autocratic entity that most people imagine, the Corps has created a stunningly nimble, almost freewheelingly adaptive organization. The result: Though often faced with extraordinarily dynamic and complex challenges, the Marines get the job done every time.

Their secret? Don't think boot camp. Instead, the Marines have refined a wide-ranging system of management practices that have undergone continuous evolution under the most demanding conditions conceivable. Armed with these straightforward principles, any organization can achieve the high-impact responsiveness demanded by today's ultra-competitive, fast-changing business environments.

In Corps Business, author David H. Freedman brings these principles—and their application to the business world—to light in clear, fascinating form. Freedman brings you along to observe, firsthand the high-speed Marine environment, where you'll take part in urban combat practice maneuvers, sit in on mission planning sessions, spend time on a "floating invasion party," and participate in a live-fire combat exercise. Along the way, you'll tap the wisdom of scores of Marines from three-star generals to grunts. Here are some examples:

Managing by end-state—Tell people what needs to be accomplished and why, and leave the details to them.

The 70-percent solution—It's better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to spend time considering every angle and roll out a perfect plan when it's too late.

Authority on demand—While retaining a strong management pyramid, encourage people even at the lowest levels to make any and all decisions necessary to accomplish the mission when management guidance isn't at hand.

Anyone facing entrenched or predatory competitors, short time frames, chaotic markets, and obstacles in every direction, has a simple choice: Learn to move fast, change on the fly, and inspire employees—or die. The Marines are here to help.

With a foreword by Gen. Charles C. Krulak, Thirty-first Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

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Editorial Reviews

David Lazarus
Freedman has hit upon a novel approach to management guidance. By examining the techniques of one of the most tightly run organizations on the planet, he is able to highlight universal truths about leadership while at the same time offering some unique tips about motivating underlings and boosting morale. —San Francisco Chronicle
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
How can you make your office more flexible, more adaptable to new situations and quicker to react with a higher level of performance? Think and act like the Marines, for one thing.
Charles C. Krulak
Mr. Freedman accurately captures the essence of Marine Corps leadership and thoroughly describes our unique approach to leadership training. Clearly, there is common ground between Marine leadership and business management.
Frederick W. Smith
An excellent book...David Freedman's analysis of the management principles of the U.S. Marine Corps offers a compelling guide...Reading it reminded me how much I have relied upon what I learned in the Marine Corps to build FedEx.
Wall Street Journal
For the current business world ... the Marines do indeed have a better idea.
Robert A. Lutz
This outstanding work reveals the leadership secrets that make the Marine Corps the world's most motivated and successful organization. The lessons are universally applicable.
Andy Cohen
Don't let the title fool you—the book doesn't suggest telling sales reps to drop and give you twenty. ... Freedman takes the basic operating principles of the Marines and translates them into building blocks for management success.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066619781
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

David H. Freedman is a journalist specializing in business and technology. He is a senior editor at Forbes ASAP, and his work has appeared in Inc., the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, Wired, Science, and the Harvard Business Review. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books on artificial intelligence and (with Charles C. Mann) on computer hacking.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

1.Planning and Decision-Making

Hope is not a course of action.
--USMC Colonel Michael O'Neal

The airstream rips through the open bays of the CH-53 Superstal-lion, extorting a layer of tears through which to regard the crumpled-tin-foil ocean, burnished by cloud shadows, streaking by below. Conversation is impossible over the thunderous drone of the convenience-store-sized helicopter, and it's beside the point anyway. Seated shoulder to shoulder in two facing rows are fifteen mostly young people in casually neat dress, as if on a trip to a museum, though that wouldn't explain the several duffel bags stuffed with assault rifles. The job in front of them is a delicate one: upon landing, they will have to thread their way to the U.S. embassy, without attracting the attention of unruly mobs or roving bands of thugs, and set up a communications center that will support the deployment of a few hundred of their colleagues.

At this moment many of those colleagues are just below decks from the helicopter's departure point on the USS Tarawa. Some are trying on the black ski masks they will wear when they storm a terrorist weapons cache. Others are checking the mortars they will use, if necessary, to defend a food supply intended for the starving locals. Still others are going over the maps that will help them locate and rescue the pilot of a downed jet.The Marines are coming.

It's only an exercise--these Marines are invading a portion of the vast tracts of Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego. But no one is taking the missions lightly. For one thing, many of them have been up half the night making plans andpreparations because the mission orders didn't even arrive until late the previous evening. For another, this exercise will provide the challenges of a real mission down to the smallest detail, including the thudding of real bullets into the ground around them. They don't know what awaits them onshore, but they are confident that six hours of planning and preparing have left them better equipped to face whatever it is than most military units would be with six months to get ready. If past experience is any guide, they are right.

Altogether, these Marines will carry out twenty-seven missions during the exercise; each assignment is not onlyplausible but in fact similar to an actual assignment taken on by the Corps in recent years. The missions run the gamut from large-scale combat, surgical strikes, and police actions to search-and-destroy operations, evacuations, and humanitarian assistance.Anyone who wants to get a sense of the extent to which Marines have injected extraordinary levels of velocity, flexibility, and competence into their management practices could hardly do better than to observe a pre-mission planning session. We observe such a session in this chapter, gaining along the way an orientation to the basic Marine operating environment and mindset.

The unlit cigar bobs and jerks in Colonel Thomas Moore's mouth as he surveys the cramped and visibly rocking room. When he finally removes the cigar for a moment, the end is seen to have been ground to the flatness of cardboard. "The fight's on," he rumbles heartily. "How're y'all doin'?" The responses, and Moore's responses to the responses, vary from sounds that approximate a seal bark, a warthog growl, and a foghorn to, most frequently, the sound "oo-rah." Apparently the meeting is in order.

We are in the bowels of the Tarawa, the evening before the helicopter journey. Many of the Marines' theories on decentralization and decisionmaking are about to be put to the test. The players are the members of the Eleventh MEU, or Marine Expeditionary Unit, under Moore's command. ("MEU" is pronounced, deceptively, the way a kitten would say it.) A MEU generally consists of about three ships' worth of Marines, jets, helicopters, artillery, tanks, amphibious and ground vehicles, weapons, and supplies. All Marines consider themselves part of a rapid deployment force. But a MEU is yet another level of rapid response. They are floating invasion parties.

Three 2,000-person MEUs are constantly springing in and out of existence from the pool of Marines at Camp Pendleton, another three out of Camp Lejeune, and three more out of Okinawa. Of the three MEUs associated with each location, one is deployed at sea, one is preparing to relieve it, and one is being taken apart. Of the three MEUs that are deployed, one is ordinarily stationed in the West Pacific, one in the Mediterranean, and one in the Persian Gulf.

Typically the MEUs just float around for most of their six-month deployments while the Marines on board do their best to keep themselves occupied--they don't have many duties, since the ships are run by the Navy, and there isn't enough room for training exercises. So they read, lift weights, and occasionally, as a treat, get to practice their riflery skills on deck. It's a little like prison, except for the riflery part. But the Marines also know that if there's a summons for help, they could be landing on a beach under a hail of machine-gun fire in a matter of hours. Because they're typically the first ones to arrive at the scene of a military intervention, Marines in MEUs like to call themselves "the pointy tip of the spear" (though the term isn't exclusively reserved for MEUs).

Moore's MEU is finishing the end of its training cycle. But before it is allowed to deploy to the Persian Gulf or elsewhere, it has to get through two days of evaluation exercises, during which it will carry out the twenty-seven missions--a seemingly overwhelming number of assignments. At any one time as many as four missions will be under way simultaneously. The goal is to make the exercises more demanding than anything these Marines are likely to see in a real crisis.

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Table of Contents

Foreword: The Leadership Imperative ix
Acknowledgments xv
Introduction xvii
Planning and Decision-Making 1
Mission 19
Structure 33
Educating Managers 59
Developing Managers 81
Directing People 97
Motivating People 115
Culture 139
Tactics 167
Organizational Change 189
Sources 203
The Marine Corps Management Principles 207
Index 211
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2002

    One of the best

    As a wife of a retired Marine Corps Captain, I have utilized many of these principles in my management role. To have these principles in a concise, well written format provides me easy reference to the greatest management principles I've ever read. This is a must read for all managers looking to improve themselves & their organizations! It is required reading for all my managers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2000

    Great applicability to Business

    Just finished reading this new book and have enjoyed it. It has convinced me of the connection between military management principles and the business world. The book is detailed and graphic as to the life of a Marine; this is useful because it vividly demonstrates the beneficial effects of marine-style management.

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