HOW THE MARINE CORPS TRAINS LEADERS

Interview by Jerry Useem, Fortune Magazine, 6-27-05 p. 106
Forwarded by JayPMarine

FORTUNE asked eight bold, creative people—from the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the man who found Harry Potter to the woman who picks next year's hip colors - to describe what guides their decision-making:

General Peter Pace, U.S. Marine Corps, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (nomination pending for chairman):

When I was a second lieutenant in Vietnam, my platoon was patrolling around Hue City, and we came to a fork in the road. I called back to my company commander, “Should I go left or right?” He said, “Go left.” We went a little farther and there was another fork. I called back again: Left or right? He said, “Go right.” Then I called back a third time, and he chewed me out on the radio: “You're the lieutenant. You're up there to make decisions. Figure it out.” That has stayed with me all my life. When you have the responsibility to make decisions, make them.

When you have to make a decision about someone's future, or what kind of weapons system to invest in, or any other kind of businesslike decision, you should not let anybody rush you. On a battlefield, you don't have time to gather a lot of opinions. You have to assess the environment and make a decision based on your experience and training. You react instinctively.

What I have learned is that if you're collaborative when you can be, it builds trust, so that when you have to decide right now, folks are more likely to trust your decision. In the Marines everybody understands that there are times when you just have to decide.

One thing the Marine Corps teaches is that it's better to be doing something than doing nothing. If you stay where you are, you're in the position where your enemy wants you to be. If you start doing something, you are changing the rules of the game.

The most effective decision may be the least predictable one. We teach this at officer training in Quantico. There's a series of decision exercises where a team leader has to accomplish some task - crossing a river, moving a large object -using only the materials provided. You think, “How are we gonna do this?” As it turns out, there are multiple ways to solve the problem. If you work together quickly - and start talking about what the possibilities are - you can come up with a solution. Those kinds of scenarios raise your heartbeat and put pressure on you among your peers and subordinates in a way that builds confidence in your ability to make decisions under pressure.

The ideas of flexibility, authority, and responsibility - those leadership terms that apply from lance corporal all the way up to general - have remained very constant in the Marines. What has changed is how much time we spend talking about it, practicing it, and significantly, the way the more senior leaders in the Corps allow themselves to be open with subordinates about where they made mistakes themselves. That makes it easier for subordinates to learn from them and to admit their own mistakes so that the organization can be better.

Some things today - cell phones and e-mail - are not healthy for growing leaders. Before cell phones, if the boss was away, the next person in line had to make a decision. It was either right or it was wrong, but you had to accept responsibility. You learned and grew from that. Now it's too easy to call for advice. Senior leaders have to start saying, “Look, if it's not dying or burning, don't call me.”

The biggest lesson from Somalia for me (Pace served there from December 1992 to February 1993 and again from October 1993 to March 1994) was that we should never send our armed forces to do something unless we expect them to do it - and are willing to accept the risks and give them the resources. So as I sit here today as an advisor, anytime a military solution is being considered, it is important to lay out all the things that could go right and wrong. Then, if some things do go wrong, and they will, you are well positioned mentally and physically to complete that mission.

In Iraq, we are learning things every day. Before we even started operations, our Joint Forces Command put together a “lessons learned” team. Since then, every facet of the operation has provided lessons - targeting and what type of weapon to use on a particular target; the best ways to track friendly forces on the battlefield; how to communicate. Some of these lessons reinforced what we believed going in; some disabused us of what we thought was a good idea, but wasn't. The learning has to be shared person to person, not left in a book on a shelf. It has to stay alive.