Jim Bathurst, Retired Marine Colonel and Author
Imagine being the executive assistant to the Marketing Division President of a Fortune 500 company, and the CEO periodically comes down from his ivory tower, walks by your desk, and never acknowledges you even exist. That is but one example of the leadership my wife witnessed while working in the corporate world.
I learned much in my 36 years as a Marine, but the ability to influence people in a positive way tops the list—I cannot imagine how some of the leadership examples she shared with me would lead to a strong or successful organization.
The Marine Corps’ 11 leadership principles I relied on to guide me were printed out and placed under glass on my desk at all times for easy reference. I know they are also applicable to the business world.
Because the ultimate success of any organization—military or civilian—is determined by its employees, whose attitudes are shaped by their leaders.
Truly effective leaders live and breathe the question I wrestled with daily and nightly. Am I worthy of being their leader? Frequently asked by my bosses, “What keeps you awake at night, Jim?” My response was always, “My Marines.”
A truly effective leader will not only be concerned with the productivity of his employees, but their overall welfare must be considered as well. Not only does this build loyalty and solidarity to the organization because your compassion will be appreciated, but you may find out things about them that would otherwise go unknown. These things you learn may be useful down the road or you might discover a developing problem that you can nip in the bud before it grows into a real issue.
Know your Marines (employees) and look out for their welfare.
As commander of an infantry battalion of twelve hundred Marines and Navy Corpsmen, I commanded five companies—perhaps divisions in the corporate world—all led by a captain. Since these middle level managers were barriers to my getting to know my Marines, how was I to apply this principle? We have a saying in the Corps, “If you want to know what’s really going on in your unit, ask a private.” He may be the only one that will tell you the bare, unfiltered truth.
Wander around, ask questions, get personal, find out what’s bothering them—then probe. What do they like about the battalion, what they do not? What makes them proud to be in our battalion? What could we do better?
Rest assured, you may make some middle-level managers nervous when they see their boss meandering about asking questions, but understand they need leadership training too— just as I did as a captain.
We all enjoy being recognized and acknowledged for what we provide to the unit/company—had that CEO smiled and said hello to my wife it would have changed her attitude towards him—and the company.
Recognition need not always be monetary in nature. In the Marines, the only monetary reward was a promotion, but I could award letters of commendation, meritorious masts and medals, which became part of their official record and, of course time off was always welcomed.
When teaching (leading) junior leaders, there may be occasions when getting them to recognize their people has to be forced. Case in point:
After each weekly meeting I brought the captains to my office where we talked about command issues and leadership. I provided them with examples of how they could reward their Marines. Only one complied—the other four provided empty promises. Fed up, I forced the issue by creating a board made up of the senior enlisted (first sergeant) from each of the five companies with our battalion sergeant major as the chairman. Each captain was directed to submit the name of a Marine/Corpsman of the month along with a draft letter of commendation. The board selected one of the five as the battalion Marine/Corpsman of the Month who was awarded a Navy Achievement Medal, a four-day weekend pass, and a parking space beside mine. The company Marines/Corpsmen of the month received letters of commendation from me and whatever else their captain deemed appropriate. The awards were presented at a battalion formation.
The experiences I have accrued in my life are replete with examples of good and bad leadership. Even in the Marine Corps we had our share of self-centered, egotistical, ladder-climbing types. However, I believe I learned as much from the latter as I did from the former, especially when I was the one being led. If you are still wondering what successful military and corporate leadership have in common, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you look into it further. A true leader or CEO, what-have-you, should not be sitting on the top of an organization, but rather acting as the foundation.
About the Author
Jim Bathurst, a retired Marine colonel, has written a book that details the lessons he learned throughout his military career. “We’ll All Die as Marines: One Marine’s Journey from Private to Colonel” contains valuable advice for emerging leaders trying to improve their leadership skills in any profession.