I’ve officially been out of the Marine Corps since June of 2001.  Any modicum of success I’ve enjoyed in my personal & professional life since then can be directly attributed to the 10 years I spent on active duty.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on the Corps & the common sense leadership lessons it provided me.  I owe a great deal to the Marine Corps for making me who I am today.

I never realized how important & practical these lessons were until I was away from it.

Here are 8 of the most relevant lessons I learned from the Corps & how I’ve applied them in my everyday life:

1. Rapid Decision Making

In the Marine Corps you are taught to make “sound & timely” decisions; with an extra added emphasis on being “timely”.  Traditionally we are taught to methodically analyze decisions; weighing the pros & cons & minimizing risks before we make our decision.  It seems to make perfect sense but the Marines put great emphasis on the “75% solution” to help rapidly make decisions.  In other words, do your best to gain as much information as you can until you have approximately 75% of the information; then use your intuition, experience, & expertise to fill in the other 25%.  It’s always better to make a decision and execute aggresively with partial information than it is to wait & make a “perfect” decision too late.

2. Decentralized Decision Making

In addition to making rapid decisions the Marine Corps taught me the importance of pushing decision making down to the absolute levels of authority; the closer to the front line you can allow decisions to be made the more efficient & effective the organization will be.  In a chaotic combat situation, pushing decisions up some hierarchal approval tree produces bureaucracy, stagnation, mediocrity, & missed opportunities.  Creating a culture where front line folks are empowered to make decisions without approval produces flexibility, creativity, adaptability, and success.  It’s far better to ask for forgiveness than it is permission.

3. Staying Calm Within a Crisis

Leaders are made & broken during a crisis.  When things get hot & heavy we have to learn how to compartmentalize our feelings and remain calm at all times.  In the Marine Corps it is a cardinal sin to “lose your bearing” when the stress level gets high.  It’s not that you will never be afraid; it’s understanding & getting comfortable with the truth that fear & uncertainty will never go away.  It’s not about eliminating chaos & instead exploiting it for your benefit.  It’s about understanding that chaos is the norm & from a leadership perspective you’re expected to remain calm under fire.

4. It’s Never About You

As officer’s in the Corps we were always reminded that it’s never about senior leadership; everything we do was to take care of & support that 18 year old trigger-puller on the front line.  As officers we were taught to always eat last; if one of your Marines forgets a critical piece of gear it was you that goes without.  In the corporate world there seems to be a heavy emphasis on the larger than life individuals.  In the Marines, however, I was taught it was never about the officer.  Officers exist to provide cover & remove the big obstacles so the people they are accountable for can be successful.

5. Improvise, Adapt, & Overcome

The Marine Corps always seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to budget & procurement.  Traditionally there has been a systemic lack of resources for the Corps; primarily because we are the smallest branch and we have to compete for funding with the Department of the Navy.  However, this spartan reality allowed me to see some rather unique & ingenious ways on getting what we needed. Whether it was office supplies, aircraft parts, or food & water there was a never ending display of initiative & entrepreneurial spirit that I rarely saw in the other four branches.  Being exposed to a culture that continually entrusted everyone to try new things & challenge the status quo has served me well in my corporate & entrepreneurial journey.

6. Endurance & Tenacity

It doesn’t take long to find numerous examples of Marines enduring monumental & seemingly impossible circumstances. From battles like Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, & Fallujah, and individuals like John Basilone, Chesty Puller, & Smedley Butler there is never a shortage of amazing acts of heroism & tenacity. We studied and revered these historical accounts not only for their tactical significance, but for their examples of mental & physical endurance.  By emphasizing the past we came to measure any current perspective & situation against a revered historical backdrop that could gave one motivation to press on & persevere.  Many times when I’ve felt like quitting some task or project I reflect back on those that have sacrificed 100-fold what I’m faced with. This humble reality check has allowed me to keep driving forward.

7. Fear & Uncertainty Is the Norm

The Marine Corps current war fighting methodology of “Maneuver Warfare” is based on shock, speed, disruption, & organized chaos.  Marines understand that you can never completely eliminate fear & uncertainty in any situation.  In fact fear & uncertainty can be a blessing; because most people & organizations spend an inordinate amount of resources on trying to make things safe & predictable.  Marines understand that this is a myth; that fear & uncertainty are constant forces that must be dealt with. If you can operate comfortably within this environment you will always have the competitive advantage.  Fear & uncertainty gives leaders job security.

8. It’s All About Love

Leadership is an affair of the heart. The Marine Corps was one of the most “loving” organizations I’ve ever been associated with.  It’s not the “feeling” of love rather it’s the “agape” love that demands sacrifice.  It’s laying down your life, putting your needs above others, so that they can prosper and survive.  This is the foundation of any significant and sustainable leadership and allows cultures to thrive and survive in the most arduous and challenging circumstances.

I can’t say enough on how much the Marine Corps has helped me get to where I’m at today; the Marine Corps is the premier organization when it comes to leadership & getting things done.

I’m honored & humbled to know that I’m standing on the immense broad shoulders of so many great individuals who sacrificed far more than I have seen or can even imagine.

Semper Fi

3 comments on “337 – 8 Lessons the Marine Corps Taught Me About Life, Leadership, & Success

  1. Amber Hurdle says:

    Great take-aways, Richard. I can see all of those things in you! God bless our troops!

  2. I worked for a 27 year Navy veteran, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences because of the discipline and structure of the environment. I completely appreciate knowing what to expect, and what’s expected. I totally resonate with this list. Love it!

  3. Johnny says:

    Thank you for sharing these lessons. They are very practical. I’ve always had a profound respect for the Marine Corps and you peeled back the onion a little for others to see their mindset that makes them successful.

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