Two Things the Army Can Learn From the Marines about Leadership

When it comes to leadership development, I think the Army can learn a lot by studying the Marines.  Although I’ve never been a Marine myself, I have the utmost respect for these great men and women.  While the Marines and Army have different missions, different values and different styles of leadership, I truly believe the Army should study (and even copy) what the Marines do in the area of leadership development.

In particular, I think there are two things the Marines are VERY good at when it comes to developing future leaders.  They’re good at many things, but two things really stand out.

The first thing the Marines are really good at is discipline.  Compared to the Army there is no comparison.  For example:

  • Have you ever seen a fat Marine?
  • Have you ever seen a Marine whose uniform was all jacked up?
  • Have you ever seen a Marine not salute a superior?
  • Have you ever seen a Marine with an attitude toward their boss?
  • Have you ever seen a Marine not stand at ease or at attention when talking to a superior?
  • Have you ever seen a Marine out of shape and fail their physical fitness test?
  • Have you ever seen a Marine not wear their uniform with pride?

I could go on and on here, but I think you are starting to get the picture.  I’ve worked with hundreds of Marines, and known many others, and I’ve never met ONE Marine that did any of these things.   And I think that’s because the Marines understand discipline.  They realize that discipline is the foundation for success on the battlefield and it’s the foundation for success in leadership.  Without discipline, nothing else really matters.

Anyone who has ever served in the Army understands the Army does things much differently than the Marines do.  I could visit any unit on Active Duty, in the USAR, or the National Guard and find several Soldiers in every unit doing some of these things.  The Army just isn’t as disciplined as it once was.  And I’m upset to say that it keeps going downhill.

The next thing the Marines are REALLY good at when it comes to developing leaders is giving their young Marines lots of RESPONSBILITY.  It is not uncommon at all in the Marines to see an E-3 serve as a Squad Leader!  In the Marines, the E-4 is always a NCO and has TONS of responsibility.  And if you think an E-3 Marine would EVER question and E-4 Marine, or an E-2 would question and E-3, think again.  The Marines understand the rank structure and they respect it.

Compare that to the Army and there is no comparison.  In the Army, we rarely, if ever, would even consider letting an E-4 be a Squad Leader, and definitely not an E-3.  In fact, we baby our Soldiers and typically don’t hold them accountable or give them any responsibility until they hit the NCO ranks.  And then we wonder why so many young NCOs struggle with their leadership duties.

Now that I’ve ended my rant, I want you to think about these two things.  If you are in a leadership position of any type, what can you do to work on these two areas with your Soldiers?  In other words, what can you do to improve the discipline amongst your troops?  And what can you do to better develop the leadership skills of your young Soldiers?

Spend some time and brainstorm some ideas.  Look at what the Marines do.  And more importantly, do a gut check and look yourself in the mirror.  Make sure you are someone WORTH following!  Make sure you are leading by example and setting a good example of what leadership and discipline looks like.

What are your thoughts on this subject?  Leave a comment and let me know.

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7 thoughts on “Two Things the Army Can Learn From the Marines about Leadership”

  1. It takes a true soldier to state what you just did, Chuck!! It’s sad to say, but Marines just look like, well…….Marines. They have distinguished themselves as the epitome of what a soldier is, and should be. I have always believed that soldiers in the US Army are just as dedicated, but unfortunately the few that aren’t tarnish that image.

  2. Wow, I never thought in a million years I would hear a NCO in the Army speak or write such a thing. LOL. I give you a huge thumbs up for it Chuck.

    I believe each branch could learn from the other. I have often wondered why top leaders don’t work together and form one unit mixed with soldiers from each branch. This unit would use what top leaders feel are the best points from each branch and develop from there.

    I would like to see an attempt at this. Your thoughts?

  3. I agree. I have seen Army personnel before, and they do not seem to have the same sense of pride based on physical appearance, in comparison to someone in the Marines. My cousin was a Marine and his uniform was always in tip-top shape, he was always on time, always answering to his uppers and just extremely responsible.

    I believe that it all boils down to basic training for the Army. It is not as rough and tough as it used to be. It seems that the Army Instructors cater to the Soldier’s needs, rather than making them work hard to get out of hard situations. Whereas, the Marine Instructors could care less about Soldier needs and expect nothing but greatness.

  4. While I do agree that there is a perceived dominance in the Marine Corps to the other branches with respect to discipline, I think that they also do it all wrong. Marines may be “disciplined” but does that mean that they are better “leaders”. I think it is quite the opposite. It is easy to “lead” when you have complete control of your followers. There is no arguing, just do what you are told. Look at ex-Marines…most would tell you that they would never go back into the Corps. However, I would argue that an Army leader is a better, dynamic leader because he does not have blind followers that are as discipline. Should Army Soldiers take a lesson from Marines in that respect? Of course. But, being disciplined does not make you a better leader…just makes leading easier….

    1. Good points, Justin. While there are pros and cons to being overly disciplined, I personally believe it is the bedrock to success in the military. Without discipline, it’s hard to have a good unit. I do like that the Army can think on it’s feet and has independent thinkers, but that too has drawbacks, especially when the bullets start flying. The Army does a lot of things right, so do the Marines, and they can both learn a lot from each other. What I really like about the Marines is how they empower their young Marines. Their E3s often have the same responsibility as our E6s do. I think the Army should take note of that.

      1. I also agree that being disciplined is key to mission success. Discipline is very important and cannot be overlooked. I think that the Army, similarly to what you are saying, does a bad job at empowering their Soldiers. However, I would say that is something that defines a good Army leader…those who take the time to develop and empower their subordinates. Not just shit on them because they’re a lower ranking Soldier.

        1. Assuming the NCOs and Officers take the time to actually develop their soldiers, I would agree with you Justin. I know that in the Army that doesn’t always happen like it should. Sometimes the best way to learn is simply to be thrown in a job and forced to learn. At least, that is what worked best for me. I always like hearing your two cents though. Great point!

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