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Marine Corps Leadership Secrets - Part V

August 6th, 2007

USMCIn previous articles in this series on applying United States Marine Corps leadership traits and principles to software development team leadership, we’ve looked at the leadership traits. In this article, we’ll look at some of the principles of leadership, ways to put the traits into practice.

If you would like to read the other parts of this series:

Take Responsibility For Your Actions

As the leader of the team you are the one responsible not only for your own performance but that of the team as well. If your team makes a mistake, you are the one who is accountable for it. You don’t pass the blame on to a subordinate. Nobody above or below has much respect for a leader who does this.

You’ve been given the authority to manage the team so exercise it using the traits of judgement, tact, and initiative. Have the moral courage to be loyal to your team and your organization. Ultimately, your goal is to be responsible for success, not failure, so use these leadership traits to bring in a successful project. Even if things don’t always go 100% according to plan, you can still extract a degree of success through good leadership.

Sadly, some organizations may not give you a lot of authority as a team lead. In a situation like that it can be difficult but do your best using what little you have to bring about positive results. That too is good leadership.

Seek Self Improvement

I’ve seen a number of people allow their technical skills to deteriorate as they moved into a lead or management role. This isn’t a good thing. Even worse, they don’t make an effort to improve their leadership and management skills. Don’t be that kind of person. Instead, choose to stay current with your technical skills while improving your project management, general business or other related skills.

Take the time to examine where you’re at to see if you measure up. If you find yourself lacking in any area, seek to improve it. If you honestly think your skills are up to date and strong, seek new areas to learn about. For example, if you know VB.NET well, spend some time learning C# or Java. If you know project management, learn some accounting methods. Just don’t stay static.

Set the Example

A big part of leadership is setting the example. This not only applies to how you do your work but the way you do your work. Which do you think will inspire your team more, coming into work late, half doing tasks and making excuses or arriving on time or early, doing excellent work and taking responsibility? When it comes down too it, setting a strong example does more than any instruction or discipline will ever do.

Ensure That Work is Understood and Completed

A common problem in software development projects is poor communication. If your team doesn’t understand what is to be done, it is likely that what they do won’t be right. As the team leader it is your responsibility to see that the work to be done is understood by all. If there are missing pieces, it’s your job to seek them out from your management or project sponsors. It is also your job to clearly communicate the project goals and timeline to the team. They’re looking to you for this information and if you don’t provide it, you’re almost guaranteeing something will go wrong.

You’re also responsible for seeing that the assigned work is being done correctly and is moving toward completion. However, you don’t want to be a micro-manager. After all, these are supposed to be professionals you’re working with, not ditch diggers. Avoid asking for daily status reports or (shudder) holding daily staff meetings. Instead, use email, source control, and other tools to keep an unobtrusive finger on the pulse of a project. If you note a problem, quietly take it up with that team member in a positive manner. You’ll find this approach puts you in closer touch with the status of a project than any make-work status report ever will.

That’s all for this part. I’ll be wrapping up this series in the next day or so when I go over a few more principles of leadership. If you have any questions or comments about this series, please feel free to leave me a comment.

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Entry Filed under: Development Teams

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark Cummuta  |  April 17th, 2008 at 2:30 am

    Great article! Very nicely done, and I will be sure to point my Marine friends to this article in the future! Semper Fi!


  • 2. Tali  |  December 8th, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Semper Fidelis,

    I wish all management went through Marine Corps. NCO school. Thank you for the excellent post!

    Sgt. Lang

  • 3. Joe  |  October 20th, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Very thoughtful and well put together. Cuts to the chase and says everything you need to know about Marine Corps Leadership. Basic stuff, but nearly impossible for anyone, except the Marine Corps, to execute.

    Semper Fi!

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