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Marine Corps Leadership Secrets - Part III

July 30th, 2007

USMCIn this third article in my series we will continue to take a look at how to apply United States Marine Corps leadership traits and principles to software development team leadership. (You can read Part I here and Part II here.) In this part I’ll be discussing the leadership traits of Justice, Enthusiasm, and Bearing.


A sense of justice. What does it mean to you? In the context of this discussion this means fair impartiality, of taking actions that are fair and just to all.

For example, to be just in your day-to-day work, this means that you don’t play favorites. If you always give the best assignments to the same person and the worst assignments to other people on the team, how to you think it would affect team morale? It’s easy to guess that those given the bad assignments would probably not think that highly of your leadership ability and it will impact their attitude and productivity.

Being just also means keeping your emotions and prejudices out of your decisions as much as possible. While this is often company policy when in comes to some groups, such as race or sex, just because a particular type of person isn’t on this protected list doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to treat them unjustly. You should treat all of your subordinates justly. If you don’t like someone on a personal level due to an annoying trait that grates your nerves at an emotional level, don’t take it out on them by assigning them all the grunt work or using them as a pawn for layoffs. Instead, work on getting to know them better or, if you can’t treat them justly, help them find a place within the company where you won’t be their supervisor.

In short, unjust treatment will harm team morale and undermine your leadership while just treatment for all will have the opposite effect.


This doesn’t mean that you have to be a rah-rah cheerleader. Software developers typically don’t like phony behavior and such insincere behavior isn’t what you’re looking for here. What you are looking for is showing an interest in the work your team is doing.

Let’s imagine a scenario where a developer on your team wants to show you a new algorithm they’ve developed. Sadly, many a team leader would blow off such a request in favor of other ‘more important’ meetings. This syndrome becomes worse at higher levels where the manager doesn’t have a good feel for the development tools being used and has a tighter schedule. How do you think the enthusiasm level of the developer who’s brushed aside will be afterward? That’s right, not so good. Do this enough and the whole team is in the dumps.

Maintain enthusiasm within your group by being a sincere cheerleader and coach for their efforts. If they’ve worked hard, acknowledge it and applaud their efforts. If they’re struggling, be a mentor and help them find a solution through positive methods.

Also work hard to avoid outside problems from dampening your team’s enthusiasm. While sometimes this is unavoidable, you can do your part by not complaining to them about the direction the company is taking. Try to keep things on a positive note as much as possible in these situations. Doing so enhances your leadership of the team and, at the very least, improves the morale of the team where mutual misery will only weaken it.


Everybody knows the look of a squared away Marine in uniform. Movie characters like Jack Webb’s The D.I. or R. Lee Ermey’s Gunny Hartman in Full Metal Jacket or John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima have burned in this image. So, do you need to be all spit and polish, tough as nails, cussing and swearing to have bearing as a software development team leader? No, bearing is really deeper than physical appearance, it’s an attitude, a state of mind.

I don’t want to totally discount physical appearance though. If your company has a dress code, live up to it. Being slack in this area will only encourage yourself, and the rest of the team, to be slack in other areas. If you’re lucky and don’t have a formal dress code, consider casual dressing for success. You might be surprised how much a neat look improves your leadership.

But, beyond the physical, what is bearing? It is how you conduct yourself verbally and emotionally. If you rant and rave at your team, you’ve lost your bearing. If you cut down a team member, that’s loss of bearing. If you make a joke out of handing out work assignments, you’ve lost your bearing. If you engage in sarcasm, you will lose it as well. However, if you conduct yourself with dignity, show that you’re more interested in being understood than impressing others, and make yourself approachable, you will develop excellent bearing.

That’s all for this part. Part IV will be available soon where we’ll be discussing the final 4 leadership traits: Endurance, Unselfishness, Loyalty, and Judgement.

Here are the other parts of this series:

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Entry Filed under: Development Teams

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