Retired Marine Drill Instructor, Gunnery Sergeant JoAnna Mendoza, outlines how the United States Marine Corps produces winning teams. She provides unique insight than can only be gained from decades of experience developing teams. Building winning teams takes more than just assigning a group of people to the same mission. Packed with techniques, exercises, and inspiration designed to bring the best out of your team. Esprit de Corps will not only take you through the science of team building, but the spirituality behind how to establish connections that will last a lifetime.
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THE SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS ORDERED the creation of two battalions, and the first marines enlisted on November 10, 1775, led by Captain Samuel Nicholas. Although 1775 is often considered the year when the marines were born, they came into existence long before that. The first marines were recruited in 1740 and known as Gooch's Marines. They were named after the first (unofficial) commandant of the Marine Corps, Colonel William Gooch. They served on British ships with the Royal Marines during the French and Indian War.
Gooch's Marines were more than three thousand men strong. They volunteered to fight aboard British ships from various states along the East Coast, such as New York, New Jersey, New England, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. These men didn't come from well-to-do families, nor did they possess an ivy league education. The men stepped forward to protect a divided union, not because they possessed a sense of duty to their nation, but because they were poverty stricken, from the slums, and had tiny mouths to feed. Volunteering to be a marine was the last effort to provide basic necessities for their families. But in most historical literature, they are depicted as criminals, looters, thieves, and homeless vermin who lacked moral character. I find it difficult to believe men lacking moral character would be the first volunteering to sacrifice their lives. Maybe they were actually good men who just happened to be poor. Nonetheless, they fought because they had to live. Not much has changed since then. It appears that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are often the first to sacrifice their lives for a cause.
Colonel Gooch led marines under the Forty-Third American Regiment of Foot from 1740 to 1742. British Marines trained Gooch's Marines on shipboard duties, ship-to-shore operations, small arms fire, and ship's gun training. These men hoped that upon returning they would have gained valuable skills to make a fair living and be able support their families.
Many of Gooch's Marines didn't survive the deployment because of tropical diseases, mainly yellow fever. Out of the three thousand men who originally volunteered, a little more than three hundred (seventeen officers, thirteen noncommissioned officers, and 286 sick enlisted marines) returned, some with illnesses that eventually led to their deaths. The first institution of marines was short-lived. In October 24, 1742, the Forty-Third American Regiment was disbanded, pushing Gooch's surviving men to serve under other regiments. Although they were instrumental, they were considered dispensable assets.
It's safe to assume that during this time the Marine Corps lacked structure and standards because there was not a need to keep the marines around. It wasn't until after the American Revolution that the founders focused on establishing a Marine Corps that was high in demand. Gooch's Marines are a strong reminder that in order to take care of our marines, we must establish strong values and guide them to find purpose, individually and as a team. Ignoring these tasks will lead to the destruction of our Marine Corps, just like the plague wiped out Gooch's Marines.
The chances of our current Marine Corps being wiped out by a plague such as yellow fever may seem unlikely, but there is a plague out there that has the potential to destroy the organization. It lurks in the shadows and has been slowly infecting our marines. I call it the corporate plague.
When I first joined, the Marine Corps functioned and acted like a family. It was a people-first culture. We placed emphasis on accomplishing the mission and adhering to tradition, but taking care of the marines was always the priority. "Mission first, marines always!" Marines took care of each other. Those days have nearly faded away; the marine warrior is seen as expendable rather than the nation's most valuable asset.
It's important to understand that in the beginning, the Marine Corps was born out of necessity. Today, the American people want a Marine Corps. However, throughout the years, it has transformed into a corporation that favors a stone-cold professional image over compassion and empathy for its service members. It has become cold and corporate.
What Is Corporate Corps?
Corporate corps is a hybrid of corporate mind-set and Marine Corps structure that cares more about image than taking care of its people. The corporate corps mentality creates the illusion of a culture of teamwork and values that make marines believe they are a part of something bigger than themselves. But it's a lie. Control measures are implemented, disguised as directives, with claims of creating a better establishment for all. The reality is that these control measures serve the personal and political agenda of those we view as our fearless leaders.
Disciplinary issues throughout the Marine Corps have skyrocketed as a result of this corporate mind-set. A corporate culture leaves no room for inspiration or creativity. It creates marines who are afraid to make decisions; for fear that they will fail or make a mistake. Zero-defect mentality is in full effect. The Marine Corps I grew up in wanted leaders who acted respectfully and morally, understanding that people make mistakes. Instead, the decision makers think they can fix our disciplinary issues by implementing stricter guidelines or deterrent programs designed to scare marines straight. The overwhelming amount of dos and don'ts, disguised as higher standards, has resulted in untrusting and resentful marines.
In the last decade, the "big, green, lean, mean fighting machine" has been hit hard by the corporate plague. It didn't come from the private first class, as the hierarchy makes you believe. Senior leadership has been selling the notion that our disciplinary issues are due to a generation of marines who don't want to work hard and refuse to be disciplined. Don't believe it!
America's youth is sometimes rebellious, but it's that rebellious spirit that makes America great. It isn't our young marines who have infected the Marine Corps. Our issues didn't start at the bottom of our ranks. Junior marines aren't the culprits of the corporate plague; sphere of influence is.
Junior marines don't have a huge sphere of influence; they might have influence on one or two other marines. Maybe it's middle management (meaning sergeants)? Think again. Sergeants can only make decisions that affect the marines under their charge. The culprits are senior leaders who have the most influence on the masses. They have influence on policy and make policy.
The corporate plague began at the top and has been making its way down the ranks, breeding a generation of heartless leaders that will devour everything in their path that doesn't serve their selfish interests. It continues to spread like cancer within our ranks. If we don't stop the infestation, in a few decades, we won't recognize the Marine Corps. The first step in curing the corporate plague is to understand what causes it.
As a leader, it can be difficult to find a balance in doing what's right for the organization and what's right for the marine. Mastery often comes with some trial and error. This is why it's important that we promote leaders at a rate that allows them to gain experience in managing a variety of issues. Early promotions perpetuate the cycle of leaders who don't know how to handle personnel issues. And if you aren't confident in tending to the needs of your marines, those needs are often neglected in the hope that the problem will just go away. But the problems don't go away; they snowball. Before you know it, you have marines showing up late for work, neglecting their hygiene, and being less productive. It's important to understand that the plague didn't happen overnight. There are several factors that can lead to or increase the risks: excessive deployment schedules or workloads, early promotions, lack of professional and personal development, lack of recognition, and lack of empathy and understanding.
Excessive Deployment Schedules or Workloads
Marines who put in excessive hours often end up feeling unappreciated. Mission accomplishment overshadows productivity and efficiency. Leaders get wrapped up in getting the job done (at any cost) and don't take a moment to appreciate how much time and effort their marines have taken in getting the job done, and getting it done right.
I am not a big fan of meritorious promotions and definitely not a fan of book boards. When selecting marines to go on meritorious boards, the book should be only one part of the equation. Before the board even goes, leaders should have months observing the marine's performance, character, and level of maturity, not to mention how well they deal with confrontation and conflict. Additionally, leaders should pay special attention to why a marine believes he or she earned the next rank. The last thing I want to hear is that they want to make more money, do less work, or tell others what to do. They should want to get promoted because they want to be an advocate for the needs of those they lead.
Lack of Professional and Personal Development
Enlisted marines don't have enough opportunities for professional education. Professional Military Education (PME) isn't enough to give our leaders the tools they need to effectively lead others. This is part of the problem with the corporate mind-set. Those in power continue to gain knowledge and advance and keep the masses uneducated and stagnant.
Lack of Empathy and Understanding
The zero-defect mentality has junior marines believing that they aren't allowed to fail or make mistakes. Mistakes and failure are essential for development and growth. When marines believe that there isn't a way to overcome adversity, especially in their own lives, it perpetuates negativity and depression.
If we don't know how to identify what plagues our marines, then we can't come up with viable solutions to address the issues. Identification and acceptance are the first steps.
Identifying the Plague
THERE ARE ALWAYS SYMPTOMS THAT develop when a disease is present. You might not see the symptoms at first, as your body is doing everything (internally) to fight the infestation. But eventually, the indication that you are sick begins to surface and the illness reveals its ugly head. When you get a cold, your nose begins to run, you run a fever, and begin to feel achy. It's the same thing with the corporate plague. There are indicators that you can look for to identify it before it begins the hostile takeover.
Take a month to observe your surroundings and take notes. If safety is involved, however, take action right away. Begin by
observing the area: Is it clean? Is there neglected equipment?
observing the marines: Are their uniforms clean? Grooming?
observing behavior: Are they happy? Smiling? Joking?
observing the leadership: Are they present? How do they interact with their marines?
Observing the Area
To start, take a look around. Look at your work area. How clean is it? Does all of the equipment function? When I first came back to the operating forces after being on the drill field for three years, the first thing I noticed at my new unit was how dirty it was. The parking lots and trash bins surrounding the gate were covered in trash. The office was filled with computer monitors, keyboards, and an old copying machine that didn't work. The marines kept their desk semi-clean, but wires dangled from their desks and surge protectors were daisy-chained.
Walking through the compound on my way to the S4 office, I stopped dead in my tracks when I came across what appeared to be a junkyard for equipment — right in the middle of the compound! I couldn't believe it. I walked through the junkyard, only to find more discarded office equipment. It was obvious that marines used the equipment to take out their frustration, because it was abused: 20-foot COMM shelters with graffiti, a cannibalized 7-ton, crates filled with ammo brass, the list goes on. It was horrific. The worst part was that the officer responsible for facilities, maintenance, and safety refused to do anything about it once it was brought to his attention. Knowing it wasn't right, I was forced to take action and drafted a report that eventually made its way to the commanding officer. Within a month the junkyard disappeared.
Observing the Marines
First impressions matter, and you only get one. If the first impression you get is neglect, be prepared to see more of it on all levels. Normally, if an area is not kept, then you will see marines who are unkempt as well. You'll most likely notice uniform violations, such as marines walking around in boots and uts, without covers, or dirty uniforms. Be advised, this will be just the beginning. Imagine the layers you will have to pull back to uncover the personal issues that the marines have.
Observing the Behavior
Negative behavior can spread like wildfire, especially if it's not identified and eliminated rapidly. If the section or unit has a high number of unauthorized absences, loss of creativity and productivity, or low morale, you may be seeing signs of the plague. High turnover rates can also be another indicator that there is an issue with the section or unit. Once marines realize that there is some negative juju, it isn't long before they try to find ways out. That is, if they know what's good for their careers. These marines know and understand that units with increased disciplinary issues will decrease their opportunities for advancement. They will volunteer for deployments and TAD positions or contact their monitors to get out while they still can. This isn't the right thing to do either. If you notice that marines walk around with their heads down, move slowly, or don't give the proper greeting of the day, this can be an indicator that morale is low. Marines, who love what they do move and have a sense of purpose, are unafraid to look into the eyes of others.
Observing the Leadership
Leaders with a people-first mentality focus where it matters: on the individual. Organizations with this culture understand that the survival of the organization depends on the individual to cultivate the culture. The welfare of the Marine comes first, as well as that of their families. People-first leaders make it a point to get to know their people outside of work and welcome meaningful feedback that improves processes. Tradition is still very much a part of the culture. Emphasizing the importance of knowing where we came from helps define who we are and what we represent.
Corporate corps leaders are extremists when it comes to traditions, picking and choosing traditions that support their personal agendas. And they definitely don't like input from their subordinates. The priority is the mission, and marines come second. Change is often difficult to embrace because they cling to antiquated concepts. The motto for this type of leadership is "Why change it if it isn't broken?" The corporate mentality is about advancing through the ranks for selfish reasons and not about advocating for their junior marines. Corporate corps leaders implement rules that reduce the decisions a small unit leader can make. The organizational culture is based on upholding unrealistic expectations.
Spirit of the Body
OUR BELOVED MARINE CORPS' SPIRIT has been neglected in the last couple decades of war. The Marine Corps has consistently been deployed to combat zones since the initial push into Baghdad in 2003. We have gotten away from what distinguishes the corps from any other branch of service. The disregard for our marines and their spirituality has contributed to this deteriorated state. Politics and societal norms have caused us to get away from embracing our spirit, individually and as an organization.
But how do we except a generation of marine warriors to embrace spirit when they have been so far removed from the concept? How do we do this without compromising their foundational belief systems? Furthermore, why does this matter?
For over 243 years, the Marine Corps has remained alive by protecting its legacy. Because the Marine Corps is a spirit-based organization, its warriors recognize they have been called to serve a higher purpose. However, these days, the mere mention of spirituality in the Marine Corps rattles some people to the core. It may even keep some from fully embracing some of our time-honored traditions as marines. Nonetheless, the message of spirituality is weaved into our heritage and will continue to resonate within the corps. We must accept it and embrace spirit.
Excerpted from "Esprit De Corps"
Copyright © 2017 JoAnna Mendoza.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Corporate Corps, 1,
Chapter 2 Identifying the Plague, 7,
Chapter 3 Spirit of the Body, 11,
Chapter 4 Establish Team Size and Structure, 15,
Chapter 5 Get to Know Your Team, 20,
Chapter 6 Define Culture, Values, and Mission, 23,
Chapter 7 Educate Your Team on Organizational Origins, 26,
Chapter 8 Determine How the Team Will Identify Themselves, 32,
Chapter 9 Test the Team's Competence, 35,
Chapter 10 Keep Your Marines Inspired, 42,
Chapter 11 The Keeper of the Flame, 51,