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5 leadership lessons from the United States Marine Corps

CEOs and key executives often ask me about the leadership lessons I learned from the Marines. They are curious about what lessons can be used in their businesses and everyday lives.

My learning began the first day of boot camp and continued until the last day of my career. From the first moment I was screamed at by a drill instructor my senses were heightened and took in as much as I could. We began a rigorous program of formal training that covered subjects from military history to first aid. We learned military skills and of course, endured intense physical training.

Formal training is necessary and important, but the enduring lessons were taught by observation and experience. There were many lessons, but here are a few that apply now and every day.

1. You are part of a team

The actions of one member affects all.  I could probably not even count the number of times I had to do push ups in the sand at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot because one member of the platoon was late or made a mistake – no matter how small the infraction. This was affectionately called “punishment” but eventually we all figured out that we are all dependent on each other.  We each had a role on the team. The weakest link could cause adverse consequences for the entire group.  Vistage members know the African proverb: “If you want to go fast – go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

2. Make your bed

I highly recommend viewing the video by Admiral William McRaven on making your bed. The wisdom of that simple act is enlightening.  Do the little things right – so you can do the big things right. Develop discipline. Good discipline breeds good habits, and good habits breed good actions and enough good actions result in success. I know a Vietnam veteran who is a successful business man and still polishes his shoes every week.

3. Everybody has a boss

Being a good leader means you are probably a good follower too. First, know who the boss is and then follow orders and directions to the best of your ability. There is also a time to question – both to clarify understanding and make sure the thinking and decision making is complete. But respect that authority and do your best to support it.

4. Step up when it is appropriate

In life “stuff” happens. There will be many opportunities to lead throughout even a single day. There will always be someone else in the room that is smarter or more experienced than you. Defer to their expertise when appropriate. Take the lead yourself when it benefits the team.

5. Adversity makes you stronger

Those first few push-ups were difficult. They hurt and were hard to do. But our bodies adapted and got stronger. The bottom line result is that Marines, through both formal teaching and challenging experience, learn to lead in an environment of constant stress, failure and hardships.

If you apply and remember these simple basic principles, I guarantee your ability to lead will grow with you.

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One comment
  1. Barbara

    June 28, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Great article. I loved the African proverb: “If you want to go fast – go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”


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