This year at CMM, our theme is leadership and ownership. I recently presented “Leading Your Business the Marine Corps Way,” and I’d like to share some of these principles here. I hope they inspire you to lead effectively no matter where your personal and professional travels take you.

  1. Create a Sense of Mission

“As America’s expeditionary force in readiness since 1775, the Marines are forward deployed to win our nation’s battles swiftly and aggressively in times of crisis.” As a Marine Corps veteran, this mission is in my blood. The challenge facing the Marine Corps is to continue to make Marines feel as if they are doing the most important job in the world. What’s your personal and company’s mission? How are you keeping yourself and your team motivated? These answers are critical to keep your team moving forward.

  1. Attract the Best

The Marine Corps is famous for effective recruitment; fortunately, businesses of all sizes can employ these techniques. Recruitment begins with the recruiter, who symbolizes “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.” Are you using your “best and brightest” to conduct your interviews? What are your recruiters/staff saying to potential recruits? Are they engaging with the recruit, or merely reading from a resume?

  1. Basic Training

Every year, 40,000 civilians walk through the gates of the Recruit Training Depot and emerge three months later as professionals schooled in the arts of war, embodying Marine Corps tradition. For your team to achieve this level, you must create your own boot camp.  Knowing that the best trained managers and people usually win, skilled leaders embrace the Marine Corps saying that “the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

  1. Tell Them They’re Elite

Starting on Day One, the Marine Corps recruit is told repeatedly that he/she will soon be a member of the greatest fighting organization on earth. There’s nothing more powerful to incentivize your team to succeed than if they believe they are part of something truly unique and special.  Spend your time telling your people how special they are, and if they are not special, replace them.

  1. Set Realistic Goals

While there are no guarantees, Marines are confident that they can achieve their assigned goals. In the business world, some managers believe that setting unreachable goals will still encourage their teams to put forth their best. But this can be destructive; if your workforce never meets its goals, each new expectation you set will be considered unreachable. Let your employees taste victory for victory to become a habit.

  1. Instill a Fighting Culture

I served in the infantry at Camp Pendleton with the First Marine Division, Fifth Marine Regiment, the most decorated in the Marine Corps. Our mantra was “Make Peace or Die.” Every Marine is a warrior. How do your managers supervise those on the front lines of your business? Promoting a “fighting culture” encourages competition, boosts performance, and creates a common experience that inspires individuals to work as a team.

  1. There Is No “Peacetime”

As the first to fight, Marines must prepare tirelessly every day to fight for our nation’s survival, even between conflicts. In business, it’s always go-time. You can’t wait for the next problem to reveal itself; you must constantly work to be better.

  1. Teach Leadership (in Little Steps)

The Marine Corps firmly believes that leaders are made, not born. How can you turn unlikely employees into leaders? Recruits learn to lead by degrees, building up through a course of progressive resistance. Baby steps are key to creating leaders in business and on the battlefield.  Every person in your organization should be getting trained for the next position up the rung; those who embrace this challenge are the keepers.

  1. Encourage Peer Pressure

Marines are built through peer pressure, learning the hard way that the mistake of one person can affect an entire unit. This approach instills personal responsibility into each recruit (or employee) and helps them see their role in the bigger picture.  When you manage your team, use words like “we” and “us,” and remember that when individuals succeed or fail, they rarely have acted alone.  Teams should share in the praise or the blame.

  1. Build Common Experiences

What ties together those who wear or have worn a Marine Corps uniform? Each of them has undergone the most rigorous basic training in the world. Similarly, a challenging shared experience among employees develops their respect for one another and the organization.  Building common experiences and stories about your company and incorporating your employees into them builds an esprit de corps that can’t be manufactured any other way.

For further reading, check out Semper Fi by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh.