A Guest Post By John Durfee
Being in the military was always a dream of mine. When I was a kid, every game I played was based on the armed forces. Rushing a couch-cushion bunker, black-ops reconnaissance on the candy stash, even mock boot camp with my buddies. My father was in the military, as was his father and so on and so forth as far back as anybody can recall. I signed up right when I graduated high school (following the family legacy), as did many of my friends, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I grew through the corps as a man and as a leader as I never would have been able to through any other means. After three tours of duty and eight years in, I decided not to reenlist and entered the civilian work force.
Entering the civilian work world was a shock at first. I assume itís hard to imagine the transition between military life and the corporate work force. Take this for instance: It had been 8 years since I had considered a new haircut or had to decide what to wear to work. Those are hard transitions to make but thankfully, my Marine training took over.
In training, every Marine is taught the same basic principles of a great leader. Ask any officer or NCO and they should be able to recite them in order, word for word. The principles are as follows:
- Know yourself and seek self-improvement
- Be technically and tactically proficient
- Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates
- Make sound and timely decisions
- Set the example
- Know your Marines and look out for their welfare
- Keep your Marines informed
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
- Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished
- Train your Marines as a team
- Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities
These same principals also apply to the corporate world — just substitute Marine for People. Following these principles to the letter will undoubtedly earn you respect, ex-military or not. However, when in the white-collar battlefield, a leader must pay extra attention to the individual needs and feelings of his team members. You just can’t lay into a subordinate, drill sergeant style, if they fail to perform a task. Civilians are not uniformly trained and thus will require unique and individual leadership tactics to best optimize their morale and performance.
There were several adjustments I had to make in the transition between managing hardened warriors and the white collar crowd. For instance, when a warrior is caught being lazy or ducking out of work, his team is punished with extra physical labor and he is forced to sit and watch. This essentially guilts him into being motivated, as well as getting his team mates to help him keep his attitude up – even if for no other reason than self preservation. From the outside looking in, it would appear that this exercise builds only dissension and rivalry. But to a warrior, it builds camaraderie as well as making each member aware of their squad mates strengths and weaknesses. This exercise wouldn’t fly in an office (Although, it would be fun to try). Instead, I implemented a points system that made a competition out of good performance. Simple adjustments like this were essential in order to be adapt Marine leadership skills without being called a tyrant in the office. By placing performance as a side benefit or punishment that happens outside of me giving it, I instill an implicit code of conduct and excellence.
By far the hardest adjustment I had to make was the sudden vacuum of pressure to make snap decisions. In a combat situation, if a subordinate asks you what to do, you tell him what to do in order to get the mission completed and keep your men alive and uninjured. You donít think about it, you donít hesitate or take a moment to research; you make a risk analysis on the spot and issue an order immediately with 100% confidence whether youíre 100% sure or not. In the office, this is bad business. Within reason, a best guess will almost always fall short of an educated decision. In the first several months, when one of my team members came to me for guidance, I would begin to immediately issue advice or orders based on my best educated guess. I would then quickly stop myself because there was information that I didnít already have but I knew was available to me. I would cut out mid-advice and ask them to get back to another task while I do some digging and I will get back to them.
Even though the transition was challenging, my Marine training allowed me to adjust, adapt and overcome the challenges of the corporate battlefield. The principles of leadership that the Marines instilled in me are lessons that anyone can apply to leading teams to success.