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Marine Corps Leadership Secrets - Part IV

July 31st, 2007

USMCIn this fourth article in my series on applying United States Marine Corps leadership traits and principles to software development team leadership we’ll be looking at the last 4 leadership traits: Endurance, Unselfishness, Loyality, and Judgement.

You can read Part I here, Part II here and Part III here.


Physical endurance plays a big part in the Marines but mental endurance is also important and that’s what we’ll concentrate on here. Endurance is defined as the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful activity. While you probably won’t be leading any 50 mile forced marches we’ve all heard software development projects referred to as ‘death marches’. Quite often a project can become a stressful mental exercise and, in some cases, a physical one as well as long hours are worked. Your ability to endure this misery will test your team leadership ability.

As a team leader the rest of the team will be looking to you to help get them over the hump on these tough projects. If you slack off, what do you think the rest of the team will do? They’ll follow your lead. If you decide that extra hours or even an all-nighter is needed, you’re the one toughing it out to get the job done, leading by example. I’ve known mid to upper level IT managers who’ve worked through the night and into the next day to fix a problem, helping when and where they could, and I’ve also known some who thought making it to the country club early on a Saturday was more important than being in the office for a weekend release. Can you guess which ones I respected as a leader more?


It is a Marine tradition that in a chow line the lower ranking Marines are served first, then the squad leaders, then the staff non-commissioned officers. This is unselfish leadership in action. How can you show this kind of unselfish leadership in your role as a team lead?

An unselfish leader doesn’t grab all the perks for themselves. Sure, you’ll get some of these due to your position but you don’t need to flaunt them. One good example would be the computer system you’re using. If you have a top of the line system and the rest of your team is struggling by on poor performing systems, how do you think they’ll feel about that. As tough as it may be to you, make sure that your team is well supplied with the tools they need to do their job before you are. If you shortchange them, they’re likely to return the favor.

Another key area is in giving and taking credit for work. Nobody likes to work for a manager who takes personal credit for someone else’s achievements. You should always recognize the hard work and great ideas of your subordinates both to them and their peers and to your management as well. Not only does this behavior make them look good but it makes you look good as well.


The Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis, a Latin phrase meaning ‘Always Faithful’. This phrase embodies the loyalty Marines have to each other up and down the chain of command and even after they leave active duty in the Corps. Loyalty is a two way street and your words and actions should always reflect your loyalty both your team and to your managers. What are some ways you can show loyalty?

One is to back your team when they’re right and tell them they’re wrong when they’re wrong. A poor team lead will tell the team one thing and their management another and thus, show disloyalty to both. Sometimes it takes moral courage to be loyal in a situation. Have the courage to be loyal.

Another opportunity to show loyalty is when you pass on orders to your team, particularly ones that are distasteful. Don’t be disloyal by blaming the person above you for the situation. To do so only weakens your standing with the team. If you can’t change the situation, make the best of it. If it is something you can fight for, do so. Either way, it’s being loyal to your team and organization.

Never criticize your company leadership or your management peers in front of your team and discourage your team from doing the same. Nor should you allow gossip about personal lives be passed around. Stay loyal to your company and to your team by avoiding this trap.

Another way to show loyalty is to help out your team members if they’re having a problem, personal or professional. Hopefully your company isn’t a real world version of a reality show where you get points for throwing team members under the bus when they’re not up to par for some reason. Instead, help them out. By showing your loyalty this way they’ll have greater loyalty toward you, the team, and the company when the situation has past.


Our last trait, Judgement, is all about applying the other leadership traits and your experiences to make the best decisions. You should avoid thinking rashly and, instead, think through a situation so that you can make a good decision.

Of course, there will be situations outside your experience. In the best cases, you will have someone else you can rely on to give you the benefit of their experience in your organization. This could even be someone who is technically junior to you within the organization but who has more experience there. If there isn’t anyone available to you, which is not the best of situations, you may have to rely on sources further removed or even a book or article. But, if you need help, seek help. This too is good judgement.

That covers our discussion of the leadership traits. Next in this series we’ll be looking at how to apply these traits. As always, feel free to leave a comment or question if you have one.

Here are the other parts of this series:

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Entry Filed under: Development Teams

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  August 27th, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    Well, since no one else has said it:


    These traits are useful in every situation.

  • 2. jfrankcarr  |  August 27th, 2007 at 8:48 pm

    Thanks for the comment.

    Yes, I’ve found them quite useful over the years myself and there have been times when I wish I had applied them better.

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