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Know Your Capabilities and the Capabilities of Your People

Leadership Principles and Qualities of the USMC for the Office Environment

"They are able because they think they are able." Virgil

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” Publilius Syrus

The USMC espouses fourteen “Leadership Qualities” and another eleven “Leadership Principles” that have been an integral part of training and fitness reports for a couple generations. These are essentially performance evaluations, which include a truth-teller: how you rank amongst your peers. The report includes a rating of the Leadership Qualities, from one to ten, one being “unsatisfactory” and ten being “outstanding.” “Outstanding” is the highest recognition you can give a marine. Anything less is considered an element to improve upon.

This principle has two distinct, though aligned, components, and is worthy of an exercise few leaders perform.

The first component is knowing yourself. We think we know our strengths and weaknesses and areas for improvement, but taking a true inventory is worthy of your time.

A word on words. Although “outstanding” and “unsat” are strictly defined and used frequently and somewhat loosely, they both have emphatic and undeniable connotations.

Much depends on the origin of the observer.

For instance, the celebrated and highly successful professional baseball manager Casey Stengel was both profound and profane. When a ballplayer performed to Casey’s mythical high standard, this man of many words would say little, but “You done splendid.”

That’s a noteworthy compliment from a leader who stood the test of time.

The best way to take this leadership inventory of your self, today, is to list the fourteen Leadership Qualities and score yourself in these elements, from one to ten, ten being high.

Do it with some thought, but do not dither (Decisiveness is one of the Qualities).

The second component is for you to do the same with your direct reports, placing the most senior person after you, in order of general responsibility. Try to group by teams if you are so inclined.

Look at the individuals, including yourself. At a minimum, develop a plan in writing on how to improve on the two lowest elements for each person. You can quantify it by “scoring” the numbers and seeing who has the best, and conversely the worst, numerical designation. Having a statistical and uniform system for your own off-line evaluation of leadership qualities will guide you in future consultations with your employees and your boss.

Look at the teams within your team. Is there one team heavy on Creativity and another with a distinct lack of it? Is it the team chemistry, the subordinate leader, or your lack of insight? Develop a plan to achieve a little balance or a little training. Alternatively, it may not be an actionable problem at all.

If you are particularly courageous, do a peer evaluation, anonymously. You will be both impressed with the enthusiasm your people will have for this exercise, and shocked by how they see you in respect to each Leadership Quality. This is a tremendous forum for individual and team introspection of capabilities.

Never, ever, diminish or weaken a righteous strength, whether your own or a member of the team’s. Hold onto what is universally accepted as good, and exploit these strengths for mission accomplishment with vigor. But do keep a balance. If you know that your star player has Decisiveness as a ‘ten’ but his Judgment is a ‘five,’ well, you have a problem worth addressing.

Of all the Leadership Qualities, you must be the person who applies consistent good judgment.

The exercise of knowing your capabilities and those of your team is constant, changing, and can be most rewarding. Try the inventory approach.

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