I’m a huge Original Series Star Trek geek, so running into this article today (thanks, Rob!) made my night. It’s worth a read:
Amid the stress and chaos of combat, there often is no telling how people will react. A hero one day may be a catatonic wreck the next. Some would say that’s perfectly understandable. Marines say that’s totally unacceptable. Marines demand dependability in all situations – on and off the battlefield. Many former Marines now in the business world would testify that the stress they face may not be as bloody but that it is just as brutal. And they would say the success in the boardroom or on the factory floor hinges on the same sort of dependability that was demanded from them in uniform.
It is easiest to understand the importance of dependability among leaders by looking at examples in battle where the failure to step up – the failure to do what’s required – can lead to bloody disaster. There are examples throughout Marine Corps history, but truly shining examples can be found among leaders in the Marine Brigade sent to France after America entered World War I in 1917 and sent combat troops to bolster allied forces struggling with a stalemate in the trenches of the Western front. When the Marine Brigade entered combat for the first time in World War I, some old leaders fell by the wayside and many new ones emerged in arduous fighting like the attack on Blanc Mont in fall 1918. Fights like Blanc Mont reiterated the importance of dependability in the ranks where the battle was brutal and fought at very close range.
The French units never left their trenches for the attack, and the Marine flank was wide open. It was as obvious to the Marines atop Mont Blanc as it was to the German forces already gearing up to retake the high ground. Another bloody fight developed as the Marines tried to hold the ground they’d taken at such high cost and the Germans tried to lever them out of their former bastion.
At that point in the battle, [Sergeant William March] Campbell… an NCO with a reputation for dependability and for doing what needed to be done without orders – was lending a hand with the wounded in a slap-dash medical clearing station on the hill. The Germans struck hard in a direction that would take them right through the aid station. Campbell could see that, and he could see what needed to be done to prevent it.
Campbell was a virtual demon in defense of the wounded and the position at Blanc Mont against swarms of German attackers. He knew it was do or die for him, the wounded men and the corpsmen treating them. He also knew their lives depended on someone taking swift, decisive action. There were no orders issued at the time. There was only Campbell and the others still capable of fighting to prevent disaster.
“Campbell was dependable. He was where he needed to be and doing what needed to be done. His efforts contributed significantly to holding the line and winning the fight at Blanc Mont. That fight was a key to driving the German Army from the Champagne region of France a led inevitably to victory in World War I.
There is little in a Marine NCO’s skill set that beats intimate knowledge of how things work. It might be an ability to weave in and out of a tactical problem or it might be admirable skill with a particular weapon, but the business of knowing what to do and how to do it lifts the leader above the crowd… Knowledge goes beyond the facts of the leader’s job. It is also knowledge of your team: who they are and what motivates them. It is knowledge of the culture in which you work, so that you understand what your superiors’ goals and missions are. And it also is self-knowledge: unflinchingly knowing your own strengths and weakness, and having desire to excel.
If there’s ever been a tough human quality to define, it is leadership. There’s a simple dictionary definition (the capacity or ability to lead), and then there are countless varying viewpoints. Regardless of the differing opinions on what makes a good leader, leadership in the Marine Corps exemplifies unique characteristics. For instance, it requires fully committed leaders who are regularly tasked with making life-or-death decisions. That’s likely why leadership skills learned or shaped by their military give veterans such a head start and unique perspective outside the strictures of service in uniform. Ask any number of Marine veterans, and virtually all of them will say they learned leadership, or what things make both good and bad leaders, during their time in the Marine Corps.
That is because the Marine Corps treasures leadership above virtually all other qualities in the ranks; even above and beyond such obvious military virtues as bravery and tenacity in the face of danger or hardship. The Corps has a unique take on leadership that focuses downward rather than upward to the officers who are put in positions of responsibility as leaders of individual units. The Marine Corps believes with unswerving confidence that the strength of its collective body is in the backbone.