How would the Marines run your business?

Note: Dale Wilson kindly agreed to provide this month’s book review. I’ve enjoyed his insightful blog and recommend it.

Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines 

A Book Review by Guest Author Dale R. Wilson

Corps Business effectively makes the Marine Corps way of leadership accessible.

The United States Marine Corps has been conducting their business for over 236 years; the business of making Marines and winning our Nation’s battles.  The courage, loyalty and dedication to deliver on these covenants have been a time-honored tradition of the Corps since its inception in 1775.  From the American Revolution to the global war on terrorism, they have demonstrated their ability to rapidly respond on short notice to expeditionary crisis.  Today, the United States Marine Corps plays a strong role in the implementation and execution of American foreign policy.

The Marine Corps’ success on the battlefield has always had a direct correlation to strong leadership.  From the Corps’ culture and mission, to the way they educate, train, develop and motivate their people, there are well defined principles that the Marine Corps employs to manage its people and resources.  In “Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines” (HarperBusiness, 2001, 240 pages), author David H. Freedman discusses these principles, and brings the reader to the front lines alongside Marines in training and in battle.

Each of the thirty principles explored in the book are uniquely and universally applicable to a business enterprise, as there is common ground between Marine Corps leadership and business management.  These Marine Corps management principles are lessons that anyone can apply while leading teams to success on the corporate battlefield.  Let me take you through a few of the principles that I think are important in today’s business environment:

-        Aim for the 70-percent solution: It’s better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan when it’s too late.  Marines do not advocate shoot-from-the-hip decision-making, nor do they condone fast, foolish plans.  But, they do caution against waiting when time is of the essence.

-        Build authority-on-demand into the hierarchy: Retain a strong management pyramid, but encourage people even at the lowest levels to make whatever decisions are necessary to accomplish the mission when management guidance isn’t at hand.  This becomes necessary, and is ideal, when action and decision-making becomes fast and furious, and time is limited to get information up the chain-of-command to make decisions.

-        Focus on the small team: Most of the organization’s critical tasks are accomplished by the lowest-level managers and their subordinates, so anything done to make them more effective will have a large payoff.

-        Manage by end state and intent: Tell people what needs to be accomplished and why, and leave the details to them.  Known as Pushing Smarts Down, Marines today have better intellect and education and don’t need to be told how to do certain tasks, or be guided by step-by-step processes.  It is truly the elimination of micromanagement and the establishment of empowerment.

-        Distribute Competence: Obsessively and ceaselessly educate and train people at all levels of the organization.  Whether at peace or at war, Marines are constantly being pushed to learn new skills and to refine the old ones.

-        Glorify the lower levels of the organization: The higher the manager, the harder he or she should work at making it clear that the rank and file are the heroes.  In the Marine Corps, the lowest ranks are constantly told that their performance doesn’t just contribute to the organization’s bottom line – it is the bottom line.

-        Instill values that support the mission: The ability to get the job done can be a function of shared character.  The Marines’ core values of honor, courage and commitment are held up by such attributes as interdependence, sacrifice, perseverance, confidence, belief in mission, and integrity, among others.

Whether you’re pursuing peace or profit, you can learn a lot from the United States Marine Corps.  David Freedman describes the Marine Corps as “the best management training program in America.”  They build versatile leaders capable of handling all challenges.  As General Charles C. Krulak, the thirty-first Commandant of the Marine Corps (1995-1999), said in the book’s forward, “I am convinced that leadership is the common currency of the military, industry, government, and academia, and that versatile leaders of character are the linchpin of all successful enterprises.”  The 30 principles in Corps Business are a few of the building blocks for management success, and should be part of your core business practices.


  1. [...] How Would the Marines Run Your Business? - “Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines” – A Book Review by Guest Author Dale R. Wilson [...]

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