The 9 Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know to Win in Business
By Wally Adamchik
FireStarter Speaking and Consulting Copyright © 2006 Wally Adamchik
All rights reserved.
Integrity is what you do when it doesn't matter, when no one will ever know what you did. Integrity is more than what you do; it is who you are.
John Russell III,
Russell Construction Services
In these perilous times which face mankind and the world over, I would like to stress the moral and ethical side of leadership responsibility. For it is in the area of moral courage, truth, and honor that the fibers of character are strengthened sufficiently to sustain men under the great stresses and responsibility facing our military leaders today.
General David M. Shoup USMC
World War II
In the post-Enron world of the early-21st century, integrity, and its cousin ethics, are words that get plenty of air time and even more lip-service. They're tossed around carelessly, but the deeper, more difficult, dialogue on what integrity is and why it matters is critically absent.
Your own definition of integrity may involve nuances different from the CEO across town. Ultimately, however, the quality of integrity is based on strong values. It is the most-cited response to survey questions of what employees want in a boss. This top-ranking transcends generations and cultures. Universally, people want to work for someone they can trust.
Steelcase, the office equipment manufacturer, regularly conducts surveys of the worldwide office environment. In 1991, being honest, upright, and ethical were very important to 87 percent of Canadians and 72 percent of Japanese respondents. Jim Kouzes and Larry Posner, in Leadership is a Relationship, cite honesty as the most important supervisory trait in every study they have done since 1981. Over the years, no fewer than 87 percent of respondents listed honesty as number one.
In the chapter "Commander's Intent," we will look at the implied trust from leader to follower. Integrity is the corollary to commander's intent. It is the trait that sends the message, "You can trust me to guide you in the right direction and to watch out for you."
The reciprocal of trust is leadership in its most basic form. A leader says, "Here is what I want you to do, and I trust you to do it." The follower says, "I will do it because I trust you to do the right thing."
Those unfamiliar with the military will cite the captive employee aspect that mandates compliance by a subordinate. And yes, unfortunately there are examples of people in leadership positions in the military — and in the civilian sector — who rely on the power of their position to get the job done. These so-called "leaders" are opportunistic and self-serving, and not true leaders at all. Ultimately, the assigned task does get done, but usually less effectively in a situation in which the leader relies on positional power.
The more-enlightened leader uses influence to accomplish the objective and acts with integrity. It is only the weak military leader who resorts to, "I am ordering you to do this." Such comments are more often seen on television than in real life. The captive employee knows the rules and will comply with them. He respects the position occupied by the weak leader but not the leader.
Power comes from several sources. In this case, we are looking at positional power and influence power. Positional power is based on the box someone occupies on the organizational chart. Influence power comes from one's credibility and integrity. It can be exercised at any level of the organizational chart. Think of the old-timer who has been around for years, working in the ranks. Everyone looks up to him because of his experience and character, not his title.
Truly effective leaders don't rely on positional power. They are masters of influence. They do a great job, in the words of Ken Maney, Lt Col USMC, of getting people to want to do something that they might not necessarily have wanted to do on their own. This concept of leadership was offered by many interviewed for this book.
In initial Marine officer training at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, the concept of integrity is so deeply instilled in young lieutenants that their response, even years later, is almost automatic. When asked, "What is the most important leadership trait?" integrity is the universal response. How, then, do leaders manifest it, and how do they measure it in others? Through truth, honesty, consistency, and respect — in public and private.
According to Rob Peterman, Major USMC, "Leaders gain credibility through the truth. They don't get it by exaggerating and they don't get it by sugarcoating. The truth, good or bad, is the key element in building credibility. The people we lead are not stupid. They know some of the truth and they know when a leader doesn't tell them the rest of the story. If that happens, that leader is done."
The leader with integrity does not use the Chicken Little school of motivation — that is, by declaring an emergency of "The sky is falling!" proportions. Nor do leaders cry wolf by generating a false deadline and a false sense of urgency. The leader with integrity assigns deadlines based on the needs and realities of the task at hand, and explains why the task matters and why it must be accomplished by a given time.
We were in the final stages of getting ready for a two-week field exercise in advance of a six-month deployment to the Mediterranean. The Battalion Commander was going to conduct a final inspection on Friday at 11 AM, before we went on a long weekend. When we returned on Tuesday at noon, we would move to the field.
Shortly after this plan was announced, my Company Commander informed us that he would conduct an inspection at 8 AM on Friday, and he strongly suggested that we Platoon Commanders do an inspection the day prior, to make sure all was ready, and then re-inspect early on Friday to make sure all was ready for his inspection. These inspections involved displaying all the gear and equipment we would bring with us to the field, as well as the vehicles we would use. They were time-consuming and quite detailed.
Essentially, the Marines would have to lay everything out and pack it all up several times to be ready for the Battalion Commander's inspection. I offered to my men that I thought we could be more efficient and asked what they thought. They all agreed that one pre-inspection by the tank commanders would be enough. They formulated a plan that would allow them to have everything in place on Friday by 7 AM. I asked if they really thought they could get it done right; they assured me they could. So, I told them to go ahead with their plan.
While the other platoons showed up on Friday at 4 AM, we didn't show up until 6:30 AM. At 7 AM, my guys were as ready as the guys who had been preparing for days. Neither the Battalion Commander nor his staff could find anything wrong with my platoon. The other two platoons each had a few discrepancies — even after earlier pre-inspections.
Now, the overall performance of the Company in the inspection wasn't bad, but the CO wanted perfection, so he made us all come to work at 6 AM the following Tuesday although originally we were supposed to come to work at noon. Yet, in taking more and more free time away from the Marines by adding unnecessary inspections, he was saying, in effect, "I don't trust you to prepare correctly." Further, he was taking them away from their families when, soon, they would be taken away from them for six months. This lack of trust and unfair treatment basically guaranteed things to go wrong. Yet, my guys never let me down. They said, "Trust us." I did, and everything worked out perfectly.
National consulting firm
The leader with integrity delivers personal feedback. Rather than always telling the group some generic or hollow comment, he specifically points out what the group or an individual did. He doesn't say, "Nice job today." He says, "Jim, nice job on the accuracy of the numbers on that report."
This is important because: 1) Jim knows it's true and appreciates the recognition, or 2) Jim doesn't know it's true and needs the positive reinforcement to continue the behavior. But what Jim and his co-workers know for sure is that a generic comment can be applied to anyone for any situation. It makes no personal impact. Good leaders also deliver candid feedback — what I call "brutal honesty." They're not afraid to tell it like it is.
When I am working for someone who has integrity, at least I know where I stand. If I am in good standing, great. I want to keep doing the things I'm doing to stay there. If I am in bad standing, at least I now know it, and I'm able to make changes to what I'm doing.
National technology firm
In fact, those we lead expect to be held accountable. The leader who overlooks problems sends the message that the standards are variable.
It is not all about being a nice guy. When I make my rounds I tell them when things are not right. But I make the situation an instructional one. I may ask a question about why something is not operating correctly, and that leads into a discussion of how to get it fixed or why it's important to get it operating correctly. Our people really do want to do good work. We just need to give them the guidance and encouragement, sometimes in the form of corrective action, to get it done.
People expect to be held accountable. We grew up with the concept. Parents, teachers, coaches all held us accountable. As adults, we want it, too, but we don't want to be treated like children. Of course, for me to hold my people accountable, I must hold myself accountable. Ultimately, excellence is a shared commitment. We know the standards and we work together to achieve them.
Lt Col USMC
People with integrity deliver on the commitments they make and accept by knowing not only their own capability and workload, but also those of their team. They don't over-commit. They are able to say no and explain why. When they do say yes, they get the job done. If they later find that they cannot get it done, they quickly get help and notify the appropriate people.
The company president described himself as a nice guy who wanted people to perform well. His parent company implemented a new procedure that necessitated new reports. The president needed information from his direct reports, the regional managers, to accurately submit his report. He told them he wanted the information by February 7. The day came and passed with no information from the regional managers.
I visited with him on February 23 and he complained about his regional managers. He related that they never gave him the information he wanted on time. I asked if he had talked with them on the days immediately after February 7, and, of course, the answer was no. This was standard practice at this company. He squandered his credibility with his managers because of his failure to hold them accountable. His integrity was suspect, not in the sense that he was a liar, but in the sense that he did not live up to his word or his directives. His behavior then encouraged people to not deliver on commitments and requests because no one was looking for them to do it. Even worse, there were no negative repercussions for failure to perform.
I took over a group of people that was not performing at the level they needed to, or that they were capable of. We have a requirement to conduct monthly one-on-one meetings with our team members. The prior manager didn't do them. He viewed them as a waste of time since they didn't result in production.
When I took over, I set up a meeting schedule for the next three months. I also set a standard agenda, so everyone on my team would know how to prepare for these meetings.
I made it a top priority to conduct the meetings as scheduled. In the first three months, I never postponed or rescheduled one. And over the course of the year, we conducted 96 percent of them as scheduled.
Very quickly, the group learned that I am consistent in my actions and that I deliver on my commitments. Most important, they know they matter to me. This process gave me credibility with them; we did a lot of great work after that.
National technology firm
The leader with integrity adheres to one standard. A concept instilled in all Marine leaders is that of eating last. The leader of a unit will not sit down to a meal until each of his Marines has gotten food. Not only is he taking care of his Marines by making sure they are fed, but he is sending the message that one standard applies to all. Senior Marines don't retreat to some mess tent away from the troops where the food is better and the air is cleaner. There is no executive washroom in the Marines.
Leaders with integrity can take bad news, especially when it is aimed at them. They don't shoot the messenger; they acknowledge when they are wrong. This honesty makes them approachable. Leaders who are approachable know what is going on in their units.
People with integrity aren't defensive. They know when they are right and they will defend their position. But they do so with grace and an even temper. They also know when they are wrong and will accept correction.
I was present while the battery conducted live fire exercises. The most egregious sin in artillery is misdirecting a round (artillery shell) to land outside the target impact area. This is called "firing out." Not only is it inaccurate, but it is incredibly dangerous as the round may land in a populated area, causing death or destruction. On this particular day, the unit fired out.
Several officers, who were not in the operational chain of command, witnessed the incident and were called before the Battalion Commander. Several of these were truly innocent bystanders, but now their careers were on the line. As we stood at attention, he asked us very pointed questions about how such an occurrence was allowed to happen. It was not unusual in this kind of circumstance for all the officers involved to be relieved of duty — a major black mark on their record and a potentially career-ending event. Having gathered the facts, the Battalion Commander continued protocol, saying, "Let's go see the Regimental Commander."
The scene was repeated, except this time, the Battalion Commander stood at attention, too. When asked what had happened and why, he explained that the misjudgment of an inexperienced section chief resulted in the firing out. He added, for clarification, that there was nothing the officers in the room could have done to change what had happened. But the Battalion Commander's integrity shone strongest in his next statement.
He told the regimental commander, "Sir, these are my men and this was my unit. The section chief was in that position because my staff assigned him there. You can look to no one but me for this error." The Regimental Commander agreed and dismissed the officers. The case was closed and dropped. The Regimental Commander told me later that, had the Battalion Commander tried to avoid responsibility or offer some excuse, he would have relieved us all. He thought there was more learning for us in seeing the loyalty and professionalism of our boss rewarded.
Word of the Battalion Commander's actions traveled quickly through the ranks. His loyalty to his men, and his willingness to take the hit for us, earned him even greater loyalty from them. We all knew he could have easily pointed the finger at his junior officers. The fact that he chose to shoulder the responsibility himself elevated his status, and his effectiveness, as a leader.
Lt Col USMCR
A leader with integrity will take the time to talk about integrity with his people. Many of Enron's leaders, for example, had integrity, initially. But they allowed themselves to slide down the slippery slope. Had they taken time, periodically, to talk about integrity in decision-making, the outcome for that entire corporation might have been different.
Acting with integrity lets your employees know what to expect because integrity is based on values, and values are constant. The leader who is mercurial in his behavior creates workers who behave less like confident members of the organization and more like dogs who were beaten as puppies. Of course, we don't physically harm our people, but if we berate them verbally, in no time at all, they'll be cowering whenever we approach.
Credibility based on integrity is developed and reinforced one interaction at a time. The majority of people will give you the benefit of the doubt initially. They generally assume you have integrity. Your actions, particularly those behind closed doors, will confirm or deny that assumption.
A squadron commander is the ultimate decisionmaker for his unit. He is charged with setting the tone for the squadron through the use of commander's intent and proper conduct. However, one commander didn't think this was necessary.
Publicly, he said and did all the right things. He looked good in uniform, was proficient at his job, and treated subordinates with respect. (Continues...)
Excerpted from No Yelling by Wally Adamchik. Copyright © 2006 Wally Adamchik. Excerpted by permission of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting.
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