Fifteen Habits of Highly Effective Marines
By Anthony F. “Andy” Weddington and Robert A. Hal
Published in the October, 2015 Leatherneck Magazine
The Editor mentioned it in her monthly update:
Steven Covey's excellent bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has become a cottage industry and rightly a must-read for people-managing. Marines also have habits, and a few more than seven (captured in principles and traits of leadership), that make them effective. Management Guru Peter Drucker said, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things." Marines, as our illustrious history on and off battlefields about the globe shows, are both efficient and effective.
Following are fifteen habits (we have identified) that make Marines, well, Marines. As you read and ponder, what habits would you add that make Marines the most effective (and efficient) fighters in the world?
Highly Effective Marines do the "Must Dos" first: Marines know that in life there are "must-dos," "should-dos" and "like-to-dos." Marines do them in that order. People who procrastinate on the things that must be done, preferring the fun like-to-dos, rarely get around to them in a timely manner. Thus they are never effective.
Highly Effective Marines look out for the welfare of subordinates: Two time-tested Marine Principles of Leadership are "Know your subordinates and look after their welfare" and "Develop your subordinates." They are among the most violated principles in the civilian worlds of politics and business, and why Marine veterans are effective in those arenas as well – because they build strong, productive and committed teams. Too often the civilian leader is the "big hog at the trough," first in line for pay raises, bonuses, perks and other benefits. This leaves the followers, who do the work, feeling resentful and of marginal value hence they offer a low commitment to the organization's mission which suffers as a result.
Highly Effective Marines take care of their gear: It starts with the rifle, of course, but effective Marines take care – through preventative maintenance and continuous care – of everything from personal 782 gear to tanks and planes. All else being equal, the unit with gear in good shape is going to out-perform one that is negligent or sloppy in this area. And this translates to winning and losing on the battlefield; to survival. The same is true in civilian life. Employees who take the, "Hey, it's not MY stuff" attitude quickly find their organization is out-performed by organizations where the employees treat their equipment as if they had paid for it themselves. The former can't figure out why they are unemployed. Ownership is pride and a workforce multiplier.
Highly Effective Marines stay calm under pressure: Calmness under pressure, even in the face of life-threatening danger, is a learned behavior and a vital survival tool. Nothing makes a leader more effective than staying calm, responding appropriately to the situation, and doing what needs to be done amidst chaos. This habit makes Marines – in the military and civilian world – the go-to guys.
Highly Effective Marines stay organized: Being organized is key to being effective. A couple of decades back, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo featured a Scots Territorial (reserve) Army engineering team versus a US Army team from Germany building a bridge. Every move of the Scots was precise, every man knew his role and where every part he was responsible for was, where it went--and when. The American team scurried about as if scrambling to pick up change from a spilled collection plate at church, hardly knowing who was doing what or with what. Embarrassing it was that the Scots beat the Americans night after night. But they were organized, thus far more effective.
Highly Effective Marines keep themselves in fighting trim: Yes, our society being what it is, even some Marine veterans carry too many pounds. Though an obese Marine is not as frequent a sight, we think, as seen in the rest of the population. Regardless of status (Active; Reserve; Retired; Not in a duty status; Dead – there are no “ex” nor “former” Marines) Marines know fitness – physiological and psychological – go hand-in-hand. Discipline is a critical habit to effective fitness.
Highly Effective Marines help fellow Marines every chance they get: It's part of teamwork and team building – Marines taking care of their own. As the saying goes, “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” so it carries on after the Marine hangs up the uniform, and extends to helping non-Marines, too. Hardly a week goes by that we don't read of Marines going out of their way to help – from roadside aid to stopping a crime – someone. This habit, a trait called initiative, makes the team much stronger than whatever it faces.
Highly Effective Marines lead from the front (except in the chow line and akin times) and by example: This doesn't mean the OIC or NCOIC is first through the door clearing a building instead of providing overall control and command. It does mean leaders are with the troops, setting the example, sharing the hardships and dangers – not micro-managing from far away in relative safety. Again, it carries over to the civilian world where Marines never say, "Not my job," but pitch in with everybody to accomplish the mission.
Highly Effective Marines always exercise the moral courage to do what is right for the right reasons: Mark Twain wrote, “It is curious that physical courage should be so
common in the world and moral courage so rare.” An astute observer of human nature, it’s no surprise that Twain’s insight is just as true today, and it is sadly often true among the top leaders, who too often think of careers and benefits over the good of the nation or the organization. There may not be a decoration, per se, for moral courage but moral courage is represented by every decoration a Marine wears. Moral courage is as essential to military (and civilian) success as physical courage – or administration or logistics. Any organization where moral courage is not demonstrated, encouraged and recognized rots from the inside out and is always ineffective.
Highly Effective Marines are not spectators, but make things happen: Several people are credited with versions of the proverb, “Some people make things happen. Some people watch things happen. And then there are those who wonder, “What the hell just happened?” Effective Marines always fall into the first category – they don't sit around grumbling, "Someone should do something!" Marines know another proverb is also true, "Not taking action is also a decision, often the worst decision." You cannot be effective if you don't get things done. And you don't get things done unless you make things happen. And, more often than not, forgiveness is easier than permission; especially if acting for the right reason(s) to do the right thing(s).
Highly Effective Marines keep themselves physically and morally squared away: Marines keep their gear, uniforms and consciences uncluttered and in serviceable condition. This makes them good-to-go in any situation, and able to command respect from other Marines, allies, onlookers and even the opposition.
Highly Effective Marines constantly seek self-improvement: Marines, through training and formal as well as off-duty education, strive for perfection. They know self-improvement makes for a more effective individual and, in turn, a more effective organization. Fail to improve then expect to fail.
Highly Effective Marines always have a plan, a backup plan, and a communications plan – then attack: Marines, by ethos and nature, take charge and always have a plan. They have already formulated that plan and in the back of their minds are shaping Plan B in case Plan A doesn't work – and it often doesn't. Marines adapt and keep moving forward. Meanwhile, they want to, must, communicate the plan to everyone who needs to know it. Yes there’s the old joke, but reality, about the "10% who don't get the word," but if people don't know the plan or why it is, effectiveness suffers.
Highly Effective Marines never accept mediocrity: Recruits and officer candidates have the acceptance of mediocrity knocked out of them at Parris Island,
San Diego and Quantico. “Mediocrity” is a synonym for "ineffective" and is neither in the Marine lexicon nor psyche. The mediocre military organization, business or sports team will always lose to the superior one--the more effective one.
Highly Effective Marines leave no doubt in the minds of others that they are Marines: Time after time, we have heard superior performance – in war, in politics, in sports or in business explained with, "Well, they’re a Marine, you know." Co-author Bob Hall was at
in 1978 for two weeks of active duty, his unit engaging an Army one for training. In the PX, a Marine he didn't know came up to him and said, "Hey, Marine, where'd you get that tee shirt?" Since it wasn't a USMC shirt, Hall asked, "How'd you know I was a Marine?" "By your bearing," the other Marine replied. Effective Marines project, through appearance and bearing and pride and confidence, they are Marines. Fort Drum
We know Marines, duty status notwithstanding, reading this article already practice most, if not all, of these habits. But thinking about them may help (you and other Marines) strengthen the habits of highly effective Marines. And, it may also help you think of other effective habits we’ve not cited.
Leatherneck welcomes letters to the editor (R.Keene@mca-marines.org), and we welcome comment, if you want to add to this discussion.
Colonel Andy Weddington,
U.S. Marines (Retired) served as an infantry officer, 0302. He earned a BA in Psychology and an MA in Business Administration and Management. An accomplished well-known artist, he paints, teaches "seeing" and painting, writes, and occasionally stalks trout with his fly rod. In 2007 he published two books: On 'Seeing' & Painting--An Interdisciplinary Perspective (a primer for artists and non-artists alike) and Making Marines (a sketchbook – line and word – about recruit training). Gallery (art and books): http://weddingtonartgallery.com He blogs at http://acoloneloftruth.blogspot.com
Robert A. Hall is a Marine Vietnam Veteran who served four years on active duty (64-68). He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1972 immediately after graduating from college with a BA in Government. While a senator, he served six years in the USMCR and earned an MEd in history at night. He retired undefeated in 1982 to become a successful association executive. Pulmonary fibrosis forced his retirement in October of 2013, and he had a lung transplant that December. He has published eleven books with royalties going to charity, including the Semper Fi Fund and the MCHF. http://tartanmarine.blogspot.com/2010/07/new-book-published.html He blogs at www.tartanmarine.blogspot.com