Leadership Lessons From the Military
Your Leadership Is Under Fire
The United States military is built around a precise rank structure, each one carrying a prescribed list of responsibilities. In the Marine Corps, the first rank of leadership is Corporal (E-4). I was in the Marine Corps for four years. Once I was promoted to Corporal, I was immediately tasked with numerous obligations, many requiring honed leadership skills. However, being promoted to a higher rank didn’t automatically endow me with these essential qualities. Similarly, your title of CEO or Director in your company doesn’t automatically grant you the skills mandatory for leadership success. Leadership isn’t defined by a position or degree of responsibility. It is defined, rather, by the influence you have on the individuals you’re leading and the organic growth cultivated through your ability to direct, inspire, and control.
Whether you’re on year one of your new venture or the team at the top who everyone wants to be, you’ve probably been focusing too much effort on the wrong areas. Any successful business begins with—and constantly update—a well-researched business plan. These are filled with metrics including financing, market analysis, cash flow statements, and revenue projections. However, all the funding, research, and state-of-the-art technology available is void without a competent leader steering the boat.
As the focal point, leadership is looked upon for answers and guidance in all areas of operation. Unfortunately, this overwhelming workload all too often leads to neglect of the leader’s own personal growth. Between meetings, press releases, and conference calls, some tasks will fall through the cracks. It’s easy to place blame on your team or outside forces. Stop looking at what others can fix and start focusing on the weakest link, you.
A Few Great Men
When you are the leader of a team, it is your responsibility to ensure projects are completed correctly. In the Marine Corps, it’s immediately apparent that when things go south and the mission isn’t accomplished, it’s not the “why” that matters; it’s the “who”. In business, it can be easy to cast blame onto subpar employees, but who is actually setting the bar for their performance? And who is, ultimately, responsible?
In John C. Maxwell’s book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he classifies this as The Law of the Lid. He expresses this on a scale of 1 to 10. When you, as a leader, are only a 6, you will not attract those at 6 or above to come work under you. This builds a talent barrier around your company and it will reduce your reach and effectiveness as a whole.
As a leader, never expect to attract higher caliber talent than yourself. If you have a few rock stars on your crew, it won’t be long until they recognize your personal limitations as a leader and will move on. The bright side is that you can change this.
Your Squadron for Success
You are shaped by those you surround yourself with. No one was more influential in my development, not only as a Marine, but as a leader, than my first squad leader Corporal Chris Vanegas. Arriving at our duty station together, myself fresh from training school and Chris from another unit, he was a powerful mentor to me before I even realized it. He taught me that the time for preparation was yesterday. Hesitation puts people at risk in combat. Therefore, a leader must have contingency plans for all possible situations. Through his example, I slowly learned the qualities it takes to lead with purpose and success, regardless of your job.
Behind every influential leader are the people who guided and set an example for them. To build the leadership qualities you desire, you must seek out those who have them and listen. Look for influencers in your industry or region. Age and title have little relevance over who you look up to. Find someone whose values and ideals match up with your own. During my tenure in the Marine Corps, many 22-year-old Corporals were far more effective leaders than some older and more senior Marines. Good leadership isn’t bound to a title.
Target Your Strengths
After being a part of my unit for about two years, I longed for a way to add value to the men and women I served with. Having the highest classification for both rifle and pistol shooting, I realized that this could be my niche. My expert shooting scores along with constant reminders to my superiors eventually convinced them to authorize my detachment from the unit to go to school in order to become a rifle and pistol instructor. Bringing back that knowledge and sharing it with my team allowed everyone to become more proficient at their jobs.
In order to master a skill, constant and deliberate learning is paramount. Seek out educational material in different formats. There is a bounty of books and reading material available. Find an author whose message and delivery resonates with you. Go a step further and sign up for a leadership-training course. A couple hundred dollars invested can yield a mountain of accomplishment. Sacrifice today so you and your venture can flourish tomorrow.
Located in the scenic Lowcountry of South Carolina is a place that makes even the burliest of Marines quiver—Parris Island. Although every job begins with an interview, most aren’t three months long. Before becoming a Marine, recruits are challenged to make it through roughly 90 days that begin at 5 a.m., and are marked by countless pushups, running regardless of heat or rain, and getting yelled at by irate Drill Instructors. Yet for those strong enough to remain standing after the dust clears, Marine Corps boot camp instills an unshakeable determination to continue improving, always. There are some things in life you may only need to know once but for military personnel, having that knowledge can mean the difference between life and death for your team.
They call them “growing pains” for a reason. It’s easy to remain static but that’s not why you’re reading this article. If you truly want to increase your effectiveness as a leader, you’ll work constantly on the things you’re not good at. Followers are those who stay in their comfort zone unless pushed. Leaders are those who never accept that where they are is where they will stay.
The first step in correcting a problem is acknowledging that there is one. In the Marine Corps leadership isn’t just expected, it’s demanded. The change begins with you. Always remain humble enough to seek guidance and check your ego at the door. Whether it’s in the military, business world, or life, nothing is given to you. Effective leadership is no different. If you aspire to become greater than you are today, the resources are available. Wearing the shoes of leadership is one thing, growing into them is what matters. Marines are the tip of America’s spear, aim to earn your place as the tip of your team’s.