How the 14 Marine Corps Leadership Traits Apply to Your Business – Part 1

Last week marked the eight year anniversary of my honorable discharge from the Marine Corps.  It also marked the eight year anniversary of the start of my career in Commercial Real Estate.

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My family also moved into a new home last week.  It has been a while since we last moved.  I feel like a bomb exploded in my new home.  The important thing, however, is that my wife and I are both parking in the garage!

Today, I was organizing my closet.  Hanging there next to my ties and dress shirts were my old Marine Corps uniforms.  They caused me to think back 8+ years to my former life.  So much of my life now is influenced by my enlisted years.  Just as the old meets the new in my closet, so much of the USMC leadership traits apply to running a business.

There are 14 Marine Corps Leadership Traits.  You can remember them by the acronym JJ DID TIE BUCKLE:  justice, judgment, decisiveness, integrity, dependability, tact, initiative, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and enthusiasm.

How the 14 Marine Corps Leadership Traits Apply to You – and Me

  1. Justice – Think firm but fair.  Everyone in your organization needs to know that the rules apply across the board.  Massey-Knakal, the number one CRE firm in New York City, is a great example of this.  Everyone has the same split.  Remember Barry Bonds as a San Francisco Giant?  He had a special recliner – a special trainer.  The rules did not apply to him.  The rules and expectations must apply justly to everyone.  The alternative is a crumbling organization.  How do you rate your organization?
  2. Judgment – Judgment is the ability to quickly make good decisions under duress.  Everything in our experience is speeding up.  You must have the ability to make good decisions with available and incomplete information.  You will make the wrong call, but can you own it and lead through it?
  3. Decisiveness – The Marine Corps operates on the 70% rule.  This states that decisive action based on 70% information is better than a slow decision based on complete information.  Complete information, in my opinion, is a fallacy.  It never happens.  Speed kills.  Your ability to out outmaneuver and out-flank your competition is dependent upon you being decisive and fast.  I just hired a landscaper for the sole reason that he got back to me much quicker than his competition.  Can this be said of your business?
  4. Integrity – My mentor was lamenting recently that integrity has come to mean that people do what they say.  Is that not sad?  Integrity is so much more than doing what you say.  Integrity is absolute consistency – whether all eyes are on you or not.  Integrity is the bedrock of a person’s character.  It is what earns the respect of your team members and peers.  Does this describe you?
  5. Dependability – I read somewhere that, “Marines develop solutions – not excuses!”  This perfectly defines dependability.  Can your clients depend on you to do what you were hired to do?  Can your team members depend on you to be prepared and ready to exceed expectations on a task?  I hear Dave Ramsey say all the time that a contractor who shows up on-time, every time, will never lack for work.  How dependable would your clients say you are?
  6. Tact – Marines are misunderstood when it comes to tact.  Tact is delivering a message in an appropriate way.  In other words, how a message is communicated is as important as the message itself.  My father-in-law was an outstanding coach.  He had tremendous tact and the ability to read his players.  He had players who responded to positive encouragement.  He also had players who responded to a boot up the rear-end.  He communicated with them accordingly.  What about your clients?  Do you pay enough attention to do the same?
  7. Initiative – Someone with initiative never needs to be told what to do.  Initiative is always looking for ways to improve – customer-service, internal systems, etc.  In my opinion, initiative is the single most effective way to get promoted – or get hired.  Couple initiative with the practice of giving value upfront for free – unstoppable combination!  Is initiative a core part of your company’s DNA?

Let me hear from you.  Of these first 7 traits, which one describes your leadership the best?  Which one could use the most improvement?

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jay Barron

    Well written. Very good application of the traits to business. I thought of the 70% rule while reading Judgement but you addressed it on the next trait, Decisiveness. Tact is exactly what you said, “Delivering a message in an appropriate way.” However, I think most people don’t understand correction of a superior is acceptable if done in the correct way, aka Tact.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Capt. Barron. May that huge CH-53 treat you well today! I agree that Tact is probably the most misunderstood. To apply tact to your everyday life, you must be a student of the communications styles and personalities of those that you communicate with. To some, this is natural. To most, however, this skill must be learned.

  • Best: Integrity
    Needs Improvement: Tact; “you know some people just need killin…” (movie quote)

    Great piece to ponder on a Monday…Semper Fi brother, thanks for your service. jc

    • Thanks John. Knowing you, I would agree that you are a man of integrity – no question. I would also agree that tact could possibly be an area of growth for you…hehe.

  • Jo Barron

    Your closet above does not look like your closet back when you were growing up. Smile.

    Respect you much for that great mind of yours and for your communication skills, to name a few. I love learning from my kiddos.

    Sgt Barron’s and Capt. Barron’s Mama

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  • Very well written Bo and certainly applies to CRE as well as all business, too bad there isn’t more persons that practice this as well as common sense.

  • Chris Nelson


    Very well done! Over the first 9 years of my retirement I’ve had the opportunity to lead in 3 different Fortune 500 companies. During that time I have observed that the best leaders have somehow learned their own version of the 14 traits along the way. Fortunately for us we walked away from the Corps with them permanently imbedded in our psyche and demonstrated by our daily actions. One piece of research that you and the group may find interesting is the body of knowledge surrounding Transformational Leadership — spearheaded by Avilo and Bass out of SUNY Binghamton. The 4 tenets of TL are Individual Consideration, Inspirational Motivation, Idealized Influence (Charisma) and Intellectual Stimulation. I have found that the 14 Traits align perfectly with these 4 tenets and these gentlemen, though research, have validated them as positively correlated to successful leaders.


    • Chris – thanks for you comments! I’ll check out Transformational Leadership. S/F!

  • Jim DeCarli

    Good stuff! Tried and Tested! Happy Birthday!
    Semper Fi!


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  • Anonymous

    Integrity: “doing the right thing for the right reason” can be transferred to a business ethics model by Immanuel Kant: the theory of Universalism. In regards to decisiveness, I can remember being in the corps and my squad leader mentioning that I, as a team leader, have to be able to make decisions. It may not be the right decision, but the fact that I made a firm decision, is an overall plus and your team will react to it. They will have that as a base. (3rd Battalion Fifth Marines and 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion) Semper effin Fi Teuffel Hunden!

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