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Marine Corps leadership style


The United States Marine Corps exemplifies the finest in military virtue. What truly sets Marines apart from all the others is leadership. Leadership is encouraged from the moment Marines enter boot camp and is emphasized throughout their career. A strong part of leadership is self-discipline and performing to the very best of your capabilities even when not under direct supervision. Leadership is not simply directing others, it is a selfless giving of yourself to guide and direct the activities of others.

The Marine Corps has established a set of guidelines called Leadership Principles, which help leaders in their day-to-day contact with their subordinates.

Leadership principles

  • Know yourself and seek self-improvement
  • Be technically and tactically proficient
  • Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates
  • Make sound and timely decisions
  • Set the example
  • Know your Marines and look out for their welfare
  • Keep your Marines informed
  • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
  • Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished
  • Train your Marines as a team
  • Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities
It is important for martial arts instructors to be proficient in martial arts and be good teachers, but they also must be good leaders and mentors to students. The goal of every instructor should be to produce students who can be productive citizens while maintaining the traditions of martial arts. However, today we are faced with young students who are often without a father or mother in their home or lack a proper role model. They are without religious guidance and have no understanding of morality, integrity, or self-discipline. The leadership of instructors and the mentorship they provide may be the key to success for students of all ages.

These leadership principles may be adapted for use by martial arts instructors.
  • Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Instructors should always seek to constantly improve themselves and recognize their own strengths, weaknesses, assets, and limitations. Recognize your strengths and assets and exploit them. Find your weakness and limitations and conquer them.
  • Be technically and tactically proficient. Technical excellence is paramount for an instructor. Constant practice to maintain and improve skills is a part of an instructor job description. Seeking self-improvement sets the example for your students. Proficiency is not just physical proficiency; it includes proficiency in the knowledge of all aspects of the martial arts.
  • Develop a sense of responsibility among your students. Train your students to accept responsibility for themselves and their actions. Teach them that all actions have consequences and that the skills they learn in the school should guide them in all aspects of their lives, from home to school to the workforce. Teach them that their responsibility is to their God, their families, themselves, to the school, and to society and that their actions will reflect either positively or negatively on these. Today's society has created many theories and "diseases" to except individuals from taking responsibility for their own actions. Teach students that only they are responsible for their own actions and that as leaders, they are responsible for the actions of their subordinates.
  • Make sound and timely decisions. Indecision destroys the morale of armies and the lives of citizens. When a decision is called for, consider your options, use your best judgment, and decide. Leaders are decisive. Great leaders throughout history have made decisions, and even if a decision was the incorrect one, they took responsibility for it.

    Today, to avoid the taking of responsibility and making the tough decisions, many have embraced the numerous management fads like Total Quality Management in which decisions are reached by consensus. Unfortunately, leadership does not work by committee, but with one lone person at the top who has accepted the responsibility of leadership. As a leader, take charge of yourself, the situation, and the people you lead and make the tough decisions and then accept the consequences of that decision.
  • Set the example. As an instructor, you are the person students look to for advice and approval. Students will follow the example that is set for them by those they respect. You must constantly set the example through your actions and deeds. Students will immediately be put off by the "Do as I say, not as I do" mentality. Every aspect of your life will be scrutinized by those that you lead. Your morality, integrity, personal convictions, and personal habits are open to inspection by others. Your corrections and advice are more likely to be followed if you are not guilty of the same things you are trying to correct.
  • Know your students and look out for their welfare. Learn and remember all you can about your students. How many students come from a broken home and have no real role models in their lives? How about the kid who is the target for bullies at school or is very shy? How are they doing in school and are they making good grades? If you know your students, you will know what they need to learn and when they are not behaving normally. Giving personalized and special attention to students goes a long way in shaping their lives and showing them that they are more than just a monthly fee.

    Supportive counseling of your students is another important factor for the leader. Students often get lost in the shuffle and rarely receive real feedback from the instructors. Students need to receive periodic counseling, so they know where they stand on their next promotion, and where their strengths and their weaknesses are. Set goals for them. Give them options for correcting their deficiencies, start them on a program toward improvement, and be supportive of their efforts. Give them updates as they progress, praising them when they do well and quickly correct them when they stray.

    Let your students know what is going on in the dojang, what events are on the horizon, and what goals you have set for the dojang. Let them know they are part of the dojang and show them how they can help in achieving those goals. Make them feel like a contributing part of the school's success and future.
  • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. While working to develop a sense of responsibility in students, instructors must demonstrate responsibility to students through their own actions. Little things like keeping your word, not making excuses, and willingness to accept responsibility when things go wrong set the example. Instructors should seek additional responsibility rather than remaining content with their status. Volunteer in the local community and charitable organizations. Ask for more responsibility in your martial arts organization and volunteer to help at every opportunity. Take the initiative and assume leadership whenever you can, and if you are subordinate to another, give that person your best efforts and your loyalty.
  • Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. As instructors, we often assign tasks to our students, from school cleanup days, organizing a function or special event, helping in the day-to-day running of the school, to performing certain techniques during class. When giving instructions, make sure they are clearly understood and offer clarification if necessary. Supervise tasks, while staying out of the way, and make sure the task is completed.
  • Train your students as a team. Teach your students that they are a team. Teach each student to be responsible for his or her actions, and that they are also responsible for the actions of the team. If a member of the team is struggling, the team must help them keep up with encouragement and assistance if needed. If a member of the team fails, it is a failure for the team.
  • Employ your leadership in accordance with its capabilities. Teach what you know and do not assume that because of your high ranking in one martial art that you are qualified to teach another. Train your students in the essence of your art, and, to expand their horizons, invite special guest instructors to conduct classes or seminars in other martial arts. Even if the guest instructor is your technical junior, they are the expert in their art. Take advantage of the opportunity to expand your knowledge and that of your students. 

  • Carver, R. M. (2002). Leadership and the Martial Arts. [Online]. Available: http://www.shihanryu.org/resources/leadership.htm

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