A Marine’s Lessons in Leadership

Justin Constantine Marine

Starting from when I first attended Officer Candidates School almost 20 years ago, the Marine Corps consistently pounded into my head the right way to take care of those whom you have the privilege to lead. It is a sacred responsibility to lead people in any environment, on the battlefield or in the business world.

There are three general schools of thought that a person in a management position follows. The first follows the idea that you have a responsibility to those under you (like in the Marines). The second is that those who report to you are pawns for your use in meeting your goals. The third is where you simply do not give much thought to your position as a manager of others. 

How your thinking is shaped comes from your mentors, corporate culture, experience, and training -- or the lack thereof. Personally, I believe that the only way to be a good leader of other men and women is to realize that those under you are your responsibility. You are there to make them effective in their own jobs, to be a true resource for them, and to empower them to operate at their highest potential. The great byproduct of this approach is that, before you know it, you have met your personal and professional goals, and your company is successful and profitable.

If that is the best way to run a department, or even an entire company, then why are there so many managers who fall into one of the last two schools of thought? Many times, that is because the person does not know any better. Managerial philosophy is simply not an integral part of a company's way of doing business or its training initiatives. In such a company, a manager is not going to have the necessary tools to get good at his job. Many managers and supervisors are promoted into their positions because they did a great job at a lower level. But they often have received no leadership training to help them expand their focus and scope of influence. Focusing on these new leaders is critical for a company's success.

Very often, an employee is elevated to her first management position without any prior leadership experience. Jane or John Doe may have been very good at making widgets, so the company suddenly promotes them to managing a small section of the operation. Unless the company provides training, they are not going to know what it means to lead. Unfortunately, if they had a manager who operated by yelling and threatening, this is the example they are going to take with them onto the factory floor. This occurs all too often in any type of business or organization. Another good example is when a great salesperson is made into a sales manager. That person may have no idea how to motivate others to be good at sales. And, in fact, the company may be hurt twice: Not only do they now have an ineffective leader of salespeople, but they have also lost one of their best sellers!

A person can only operate based on what they know. This is a basic tenet. Too many times, new parents model their behavior on how their parents raised them. If their parents were terrible, then the newest generation is going to face the same pitfalls. However, more enlightened people will realize that how they were brought up may have left a lot to be desired. Those parents will actively strive to learn how to be better parents for their children. This may mean reading, research, talking to a parent they admire, etc. Business works the same way. As mentioned in the previous chapter, a "born" leader is a rare thing. Companies and individuals can take steps to mold their managers to lead according to a process better than "that's how my boss did it."

Just like in the Marine Corps, I believe the No. 1 concept that a leader at any level needs to take to heart is that he has a responsibility to those under him. Once you learn this and, more importantly, live it at work, then it becomes a part of you. In today's business climate, where it is easy for your most highly qualified employees to find new job opportunities, a big difference in keeping them engaged as part of your team -- and, therefore, more likely to stay -- comes down to how they are treated. Constant communication means that employees always know about work conditions in other offices, and there is a growing understanding that employees are no longer motivated simply by money.

No, taking care of your people has to be your No. 1 priority.

Justin Constantine is author of the new book My Battlefield, Your Office, from which this excerpt is adapted. He is an inspirational speaker, leadership consultant, entrepreneur and a TED speaker who serves as a liaison between the military and corporate communities. A Presidential Leadership Scholar, Justin is also a senior advisor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes campaign and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project. He sits on the board of directors of the Wounded Warrior Project, as well as several other national nonprofits, and co-founded the Veteran Success Resource Group. Justin received a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps.