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Marine Corps Leadership Secrets - Part I

July 25th, 2007

USMCThe United States Marine Corps prides itself on many things. One of these is the leadership training it provides to its NCO’s (non-commissioned officers) and commissioned officers. As a software development team lead, what can you borrow from their training to use in your daily activities? How might life and death battlefield leadership methods be of use in a corporate environment? In this series of articles I’ll be discussing the USMC’s leadership traits and principles that I was taught many years ago and how to apply them to your team leadership position.


In this context, integrity means honesty, that you mean what you say and that members of your team know that about you. If you lie to them, they will discover it and they won’t trust you at your word again. When you’re talking to your team let them know if you’re giving them a fact or your opinion. Don’t make them guess about it. Also bear in mind that even off-hand statements may be taken as fact by your team so use care in what you say about sensitive topics.

There may be times when you have information you aren’t allowed to pass on to the team. Part of your integrity is keeping confidential things confidential. If you run into a situation like this where team members are asking for information you aren’t allowed to pass on, tactfully decline to answer the question.

Likewise, also show integrity in your dealings with managers above you. Don’t lie to them, because, once again, the lie will come out. Give them the straight facts as you know them and ask for the same from them.

What you should strive for is to be known as a person of their word, someone who can be trusted by both those above and below you within the organization.


Part of your job is to know the tools you’re using. In whatever language you’re developing in, you should not only know it well but you should also know where to find answers to the questions you don’t know. You should be a mentor to the junior members of your team and guide them into best practices and techniques. If you don’t know an answer, admit it and then find it out. Don’t try to bluff your way through. Your team will spot it and this will damage your respect and authority within the team.

Also, knowledge also applies to knowledge of your team. You should know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. If you don’t know this you will run into problems. People aren’t cogs that you can stick just anywhere and get the best performance. Know how to get the best performance out of each team member.


While it is unlikely that you would have to demonstrate physical courage in your normal corporate environment, you will probably have multiple opportunities to exhibit moral courage. By moral courage, I mean knowing what is right and standing up for it.

Often this may mean standing up for yourself or a subordinate in a tough situation. For example, if your boss is a office bully it may mean calling them on their antics. If your manager is doing something illegal or violating company policies, it may mean dealing with that in a proper way. If a human resources policy is misguided, it may mean challenging them on it. Standing up for what’s right might cost you your job but the alternative is often much worse.

Another aspect of moral courage is having the courage to admit you were wrong not only to your team but to your management as well. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time. The trick is to not keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Instead, learn from your mistakes. It also means having the courage not to pass the buck or blame your team for the failure. A good team leader fixes the problem, they don’t fix the blame.

Here are the other parts of this series:

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Entry Filed under: Development Teams

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leona  |  September 26th, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I LOVE this series! As a Data Dog and former Marine, I find these articles to be so insightful and applicable. I hope everyone gets an opportunity to read this and take actionable steps to appy the guidance.

  • 2. jfrankcarr  |  September 26th, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Thank you Leona and Semper Fi!

    This series does get a lot of search engine traffic so I hope people are finding it useful.

  • 3. RT Cunningham  |  November 27th, 2007 at 11:35 am

    I knew it. I could tell from your writing style that you were a Marine. Oorah and Semper Fi!

  • 4. jfrankcarr  |  November 27th, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Thanks for stopping by RT.

  • 5. CHRISTIAN ORTIZ  |  March 6th, 2008 at 2:04 am

    my life goes down for the marine corps.

  • 6. Anton  |  November 22nd, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I loved the leadership series! Former Marine myself and while not in your field, I still found them very valuable in my work as a new manager of 23 technicians. Thanks!

  • 7. Howard Henning  |  December 9th, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Semper Fi Mac!

    Finally a real life application of leadership. Rather then the BS ususally passed off as corporate leadership.

    Complements to the author.

    Speaking of which Who Is He? I found this article through google but can’t seem to find the authors name.

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