Taken from: Guidebook for Marines,
Fourteenth Revised Edition, 1 July 1984




Leadership Traits


You don’t inherit the ability to lead Marines. Neither is it issued. You acquire that ability by taking a honest look at yourself. You see how stack up against 14 well-known character traits of a marine NCO. These are:

  1. Integrity
  2. Knowledge
  3. Courage
  4. Decisiveness
  5. Dependability
  6. Initiative
  7. Tact
  8. Justice
  9. Enthusiasm
  10. Bearing
  11. Endurance
  12. Unselfishness
  13. Loyalty
  14. Judgment


Then you set out to acquire those traits which you might lack. You improve those you already have, and you make the most of those in which you are strong.. Work at them. Balance them off, and you’re well on the road to leading Marines in war or peace. Marines expect the best in leadership and they rate it. Give them the best and you’ll find that you (1) accomplish your mission and (2) have the willing obedience, confidence, loyalty, and respect of your charges. In fact, you will have lived up to the official definition of a military leader.

Now let’s take a closer look at each of each one of those traits of character which a leader must have.


  1. Integrity. The stakes of combat are too high to gamble leadership on a dishonest person. Would you accept a report from a patrol leader who had been known to lie? Of course you wouldn’t. All your statements, official or unofficial, are considered by your marines to be plain, unadorned facts. Make sure they are. When you give your word, keep it. There are people depending on you to come through with the goods.
  2. Knowledge. Know your job, weapons, equipment, and the techniques to be used. Master this GUIDEBOOK and your other training material. Be able to pass that5 knowledge on to your Marines. You can’t bluff them. They are expert at spotting a fake. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Then find out. Most important, know your Marines. Learn what caliber of performance to expect from each of them. Put confidence in those whom you can. Give closer supervision to those that need it.
  3. Courage. This comes in two kinds: physical and moral. If you are in a tight place and feel fear, recognize it. Then get control over it and make it work for you. Fear stimulates the body processes. You can actually fight harder, and for a longer time, when you are scared.. So don’t let a little fear make you panic inside. Keep busy when under fire. Fix your mind on your mission and your Marines. Courage grows with action. When things are really tough, take some action, even though it might be wrong. Positive action on a poor decision is better than a half-hearted attempt on the best possible one.

As for moral courage, know that what is right and stand up for it. Marines are no plaster saints by any means. But they serve God, Country and Corps – in that order. The Ten Commandments are still a pretty good set of regulations, and they haven’t had a change published for almost 2 thousand years.  A Marine with the morals of an alley cat will never command the loyalty and respect of other Marines. A combat leader must also be a moral leader.

When you are wrong, say so. Don’t try to weasel out of your mistake. Everybody makes a mistake now and then. The trick is to not make the same one twice. When a job is left undone, true leaders don’t harp, “Sir, I told those people….” They fix the breakdown, not the blame.

  1. Decisiveness. Get the facts, all of them. Make up your mind when you’ve weighed them. Make your mind up when you have weight them. Then issue your order in clear, confident terms. Don’t confuse your Marines by debating with your yourself out loud. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Make up your mind in time to prevent the problem from getting bigger, but don’t go off while still at a “half-cock” position. If the decision is beyond the scope of your authority, take the problem up the chain of command to the person that gets paid to make that decision. But if the decision is yours, make it. Don’t pas the buck.
  2. Dependability. If only one word could be used to describe Marine noncommissioned officers over the years, that would have to be “dependable”. They get the job done, regardless of obstacles. At first they might not have agreed with the ideas and plans of their seniors. Being dependable, if they thought they had a better plan, they tactfully said so. But once the decision was made, the job was done to the best of their ability, whether or not it was their own plan which went into effect. Orders were followed to the letter, in spirit and in fact. The mission came first, then the welfare of their men, then their own requirements.

Dependable noncommissioned officers are solid citizens. They are always      on time; never make excuses, and stay hot on the job till it’s done. They’re aboard when needed and out of the way when not needed. Duty demands that they often make personal sacrifices. They sense what has to be done, where duty lies. Country, Corps, and their men need and get dependability.

  1. Initiative. Think ahead. Stay mentally alert and physically awake. Look around. If you see a job that needs to be done, don’t wait to be told. If the squad bay is full of newspapers and food wrappers on Sunday morning, organize a detail and get the place squared away. Don’t wait for the Duty NCO to come around. If you spot an enemy OP, it may have fire on you. Your situation and the lot of your Marines can always be improved. Do what you can. Use the means at hand. Think ahead, and you’ll stay ahead.
  2. Tact. The right thing at the right time, that’s what we mean by tact. It embraces courtesy, but it goes much further. It’s the Golden Rule; consideration for others, be they senior or subordinate. Courtesy is more than saluting and saying “Sir”. It does not mean you meekly “ask” your Marines to do a job either. You can give orders in a courteous manner which, because it is courteous, leaves no doubt you expect to be obeyed. The tactful leader is fair, firm and friendly. You always respect another’s property. Learn to respect feeling as well. If an individual needs “reading off”, then do it – but in private.

      Don’t make a spectacle of them and yourself by doing it in public. On the other hand, when they do a good job, let their friends hear about it. They will be a      bigger person in their eyes and you will too.

There are times, particularly in combat, when a severe “dressing down” of one person or a group of people may be required. Even so, this is tactful, for it is the right thing at the right time.

In dealing with seniors, the Golden Rule again applies. Approach them in the manner you’d want to be approached were you in their position with their responsibilities.

Use tact with juniors, but remember, a Marine NCO coddles nobody. Use tact with your seniors, but remember, nobody likes an “ear banger”.

When you join a new outfit, just keep quiet and watch for awhile. Don’t noise it around that your old outfit was a better one just because it happened to do things   differently. Make a few mental notes when you find something that is wrong. When you have got your feet on the ground, then make those changes that you have the authority to make. You might be surprised at how little really needs changing. Besides, you’ll have learned another way to get the job done.

  1. Justice. Marines rate a square-shooting leader. Be one. Don’t play favorites. Spread the liberty and the working parties around equally. Keep anger and emotion out of your decisions. Get rid of any narrow views which you may have about a particular race, creed, or section of the country. Judge individuals by what kind of Marines they are; nothing else.                                                                                     Don’t let your marines be overlooked when the PX ration is distributed in the field. If you get an extra carton of smokes, divide them equally. Give every one of your Marines a chance to prove himself. Help those who fall short of your standards, but keep your standards high.
  2. Enthusiasm.  It is a fact that the more you know about something, the greater your interest and enthusiasm. Show it. Others will follow your lead. Enthusiasm is more contagious than the measles. Set a goal for your unit, then put out all that you have got in the achievement of that goal. This is particularly applicable in training. Marines are at their best when in the field. After all, they joined the Corps to learn how to fight. They’ll learn, all right, but only when their instructor is enthused about what is being taught. Show knowledge and enthusiasm about a subject and your troops will want what is being taught. Show knowledge and enthusiasm about a subject and your troops will that same knowledge. Show your dislikes and gripe about what is going on and you’ll still be leading – but in the wrong direction. The choice is yours. Make the right one.                                         Don’t get stale. “Take your pack off”, can sometimes be good advice. Do it once in awhile. Then come back strong with something with something new. When you find yourself forced to run problems over the sane old terrain, run them from the other direction.
  3. Bearing. Remember your DI? He was lean, leather lunged, and tanned to a bone-deep brown. He had drilled shoulders and knife-edge creases that sliced down his shirt and trousers all the way down to a pair of shoes that looked back at you. His brass glittered at every move and he didn’t walk, he marched! And he taught you to do the same. He knew that when he inspected a platoon of 70 men just once, he had been inspected 70 times by 70 different pair of eyes. Consequently, he has bearing. You learned from him that a uniform is more than a mere “suit of clothes”. You wear a suit – but you believe in a uniform. Therefore, you maintained it – all the time. People often ask why Marines don’t wear shoulder patches, cords, decals, lops, discs, brass crests, and so on. Marines don’t need such trinkets. The globe, eagle, and anchor – set against an immaculate blue or well-pressed forest green background – is enough identification. Besides every stripe, every ribbon, every piece of metal, that you seen on a Marine was earned. It wasn’t handed out like an early chow pass. You earned your uniform and everything on it. Wear it with pride.

That’s part of what is meant by bearing. The rest of it is how you conduct          yourself, in or out of formation, ashore or on board, verbally and emotionally. Learn control of your voice and gestures. A calm voice and a steady hand are confidence builders in combat. Don’t ever show your concern over a dangerous situation, even if you feel it.

            Speak plainly and simply. You’re more interested in being understood than in showing off your vocabulary. If you ever rant and rave, losing control of your tongue and your emotions, you’ll also lose control of your Marines, Swearing at subordinates is unfair. They can’t swear back. It’s also stupid, since you admit lack of ability to express displeasure in any other way. Don’t lose your temper. Master yourself before you try to master others. There may be one exception to this rule. The time may come, in battle, when tough talk, a few oaths, and the right amount of anger is all that will pull your outfit together. Even Christ got mad when he drove the money changers from the temple. But save your display of temper until it is absolutely needed. Otherwise it won’t pay off, because you’ll already have shot your bolt.

            Sarcasm seldom gets results. Wisecrack to Marines – they’ve been around – they’ll wisecrack back. Make a joke out of giving orders, and they’ll think you don’t mean what you say. This doesn’t mean to avoid joking at all times. A good joke, at the right time, is like good medicine, especially if the chips are down. As a matter of fact, it is often the Marine Corps way of expressing sympathy and understanding without getting sticky about it. Many a wounded Marine has been sent to the rear with a smile and a remark about, “What some people won’t do to get outta’ work!”

            Dignity, without being unapproachable – that’s what bearing is. Work at it.

  1. Endurance.  A five-foot Marine sergeant once led his squad through 10 days of field training in Japan. He topped it off with a two-day hike, climbing Mt. Fuji on the 36 miles back to camp. When asked how a man his size developed such endurance, he said, “It was easy. I had 12 guys pushing me all the way.” What he meant, of course, was that 12 other Marines were depending on his endurance to pull them through. He couldn’t think about quitting. Every leader must have endurance beyond that of his troops. The squad leader must check every position, then go build his. On the march he will often carry part of another’s load in addition to his own. He also has the burden of command upon him. An unfit body or an undisciplined mind could never make it.

Keep yourself fit, physically and mentally. Learn to stand punishment by undertaking hard physical tasks. Force yourself to study and think when tired. Get plenty of rest before a field problem. Don’t stay on liberty till the last place is closed. The town will still be there when you get back. You’ll enjoy it more then anyhow.

A favorite saying of Marines is that you don’t have to be trained to be miserable. That’s true. But you do have to train to endure misery.

  1. Unselfishness.  Marine NCOs don’t pull the best rations from the case and leave the rest to their Marines. They get the best they can for all unit members, all the time.

Leaders get their own comforts, pleasures, and recreation after the troops have been provided with theirs. Look at any chow line in the field. You’ll see squad leaders at the end of their squads. You’ll find staff noncommissioned officers at the end of the company. This is more than a tradition. It is leadership in action. It is unselfishness.

Share your Marines’ hardships. Then the privileges that go with your rank will have been earned. Don’t hesitate to accept them when the time is right, but until it is, let them be. When your unit is wet, cold, and hungry – you’d better be too. That’s the price you pay for leadership. What it buys is well worth the cost. The dry clothes, warm bunk, and full belly can come later.

Give credit where credit is due. Don’t grab the glory for yourself. Recognize the hard work and good ideas of your subordinates and be grateful you have such Marines. Your leader will look after you in the same way. They know the score, too.

  1. Loyalty.  This is a two-way street. It goes all the way up and all the way down the chain of command. Marines live by it. They even quote Latin for it – “Semper Fidelis.” As a leader of Marines, every word, every action, must reflect your loyalty – up and down. Back your men when they’re right. Correct them when they’re wrong. You’re being loyal either way. Pass on orders as if they were your own idea, even when they are distasteful. To rely on the rank of the person who told you to do a job is to weaken your own position. Keep you personal problems and the private lives of your seniors to yourself. But to help your Marines in their difficulties, when it is proper to do so. Never criticize your unit, your seniors, or your fellow NCOs in the presence of subordinates. Made sure they don’t do it either. If deserving persons get into trouble, go to bat for them. They’ll work harder when it is all over.
  2. Judgment.  This comes with experience. It is simply weighing all the facts in any situation, application of the other 13 traits you have just read about, then making the best move. But until you acquire experience you may not know the best move. What, then, do you use for experienced judgment in the meantime? Well, there are about two hundred years’ worth of experienced judgment on tap in the Marine Corps. Some of it is available to you at the next link in the chain of command. Ask and you’ll receive. Seek and you’ll find.


Principles of Leadership


      Now that you’ve had a look at the character traits required in a leader, let’s see how these are fitted into what we call the principles of leadership. Eleven are set forth just for the sake of discussion. You may want to add or delete some. That’s OK. We’re not concerned as much about the words and phrases as we are about their application. They’re all common sense items, anyway. When you get right down to it, a discussion of leadership is only common sense with a vocabulary. You’ve got the common sense. Let’s put some of that vocabulary to work.

  1. Take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your Marines.  The leader, alone, is responsible for all that the unit does or fails to do. That sounds like a big order, but take a look at the authority that is given you to handle that responsibility. You are expected to use that authority. Use it with judgment, fact and initiative. Have the courage to be loyal to your unit, your Marines, and yourself. As long as you are being held responsible, be responsible for success, not failure. Be dependable.
  2. Know yourself and seek self-Improvement. Evaluate yourself from time to time. So you measure up? If you don’t, admit it to yourself. Then turn to. On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short. If you think you are the best NCO in your platoon, admit that also to yourself. Then set out to be the best NCO in the company. Learn how to speak effectively, how to instruct, and how to be an expert with all the equipment that your unit might be expected to use.
  3. Set the example.  As an NCO, you are in an ideal spot to do this. Marines are already looking to you for a pattern and a standard to follow. No amount of instruction and no form of discipline can have the effect of your personal example. Make it a good one.
  4. Develop your subordinates.  Tell your Marines what you want done and by when. Then leave it at that. If you have junior leaders, leave the details up to them. In this way, kill two birds with one stone. You will have more time to devote to other jobs and you are training another leader. An NCO with confidence will have confidence in subordinates. Supervise, and check on the results. But leave the details to the person on the spot. After all, there’s more then one way to skin a cat. And it’s the whole fur you’re after, not the individual hairs.
  5. Ensure that a job is understood, then supervise it and carry it through to completion.  make up your mind what to do, who is to do it, where it is to be done, when it is to be done, and tell your Marines why, when they need to be told why. Continue supervising the job until it has been done better then the person who wanted it done in the first place ever thought it could be.
  6. Know your men and look after their welfare.  Loyal NCOs will never permit themselves to rest until their unit is bedded down. They always get the best they can for their Marines by honest means. With judgment, you’ll know which of your troops is capable of doing the best job in a particular situation. Leaders share the problems of their Marines, but they don’t pry when an individual wants privacy.
  7. Everyone should be kept informed.  Make sure your Marines get the word. Be known as the person with the straight dope. Don’t let one of your group be part of the so-called “10 percent.” Certain information is classified. Let your Marines have only that portion that they need to know, but make certain they have it. Squelch rumors. They can create disappointment when they’re good, but untrue. They can sap morale when they exaggerate enemy capabilities. Have the integrity, the dependability to keep your unit correctly posted on what’s going on in the world, the country, the Corps, and your unit.
  8. Set goals you can reach.  Don’t send two Marines on a working party that calls for five. Your Marines may be good, but don’t ask the impossible. Know the limitations of your outfit and bite off what you can chew. In combat, a “boy sent to do a man’s job” can lead to disaster. In peacetime, it leads to a feeling of futility. Conversely, those who have a reasonable goal and then achieve it, are a proud lot. They’ve done something and done it well. Next time, they’ll be able to tackle a little more. Don’t set your sights clear over the butts; keep them on the target.
  9. Make sound and timely decisions.  Knowledge and judgment are required to produce a sound decision. Include some initiative and the decision will be a timely one. Use your initiative and make your decisions in time to meet the problems that are coming. If you find you’ve made a bum decision, have the courage to change it before more damage is done. But don’t change the word any more than you absolutely have to. Nothing confuses an outfit more than the eternal routine of “brown side out…green side out.”
  10. Know your job.  This requires no elaboration. It does require hard work on your part. Stay abreast of changes. War moves fast nowadays. Look up the dope on the latest weapons and equipment. Read up on recent developments. Don’t be the type who can only say, “Well, that ain’t the way we did it in the old Fifth Marines.”
  11. Teamwork.  Train your unit as a unit. Keep that unit integrity every chance you get. If a working party comes up for three, take your whole fire team. The job will be easier with an extra hand, and your unit will be working as a team. Get your outfit out on liberty together now and then. They work as a team; get’em to play as one. Put your Marines in the jobs they do best, then rotate them from time to time. They’ll learn to appreciate the other person’s task as well. When one member of your team is missing, others can do their share. But don’t ever permit several men to do another person’s job when he’s around. Everybody pulls his load in the Marine Corps.

            When you and your unit have done something well, talk it up. This builds

esprit de corps. Every Marine knows enough French to tell you what that means. You can’t see it but you can feel it. An outfit with a lot of esprit holds itself in very high regard while sort of tolerating others. There’s nothing wrong with that. All Marines have a right to figure their outfit is the best in the entire Corps. After all, they’re in it!


What You Can Expect


            We’ve spent some time on what the Corps expects of you as a junior leader. It’s not all one way. There are certain things which you have a right to expect in return. First of all, since you are the link in the chain of command that lies squarely between your senior and your subordinates, you can expect the same leadership from above that you’ve just read about.

            Then there’s the additional pay you’ll be getting along with every promotion – and promotion comes to real leaders, regularly. Also with promotion comes additional authority. It’s granted to you on a piece of paper known as a Certificate of Appointment, commonly called a warrant. Take a look at it.

            You’ll see more there than simply a piece of paper – much more. First, there’s an expression of “special trust and confidence” in your “fidelity and abilities.” That is recognition of the highest order. It’s appreciation for your hard work thus far. But look further. You don’t rest on your laurels in the Marine Corps. There’s a charge to “carefully and diligently discharge the duties of the grade to which appointed by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto pertaining.” That means additional responsibility, which, when you think about it, is also a reward.

            Next, you’ll find that additional authority we mentioned a while back. It’s in the words, “and I do strictly charge and require all personnel of lesser grade to render obedience to appropriate orders.” Commanding officers who sign that Certificate are delegating a part of their authority to you. They get their authority from the President of the United States and have chosen you to help them in the execution of their responsibility. Notice, however, that they haven’t delegated responsibility. That isn’t done in the Corps, by them, by you, or by anybody.

            When it comes to leadership, there’s no truer statement. Only the noncommissioned officer is in a position to give the close, constant, personal type of leadership that we’ve been discussing. When you, as a Marine NCO, have provided your unit with that type of leadership, then you already will have reaped the greatest return. By definition you’ll (1) Have accomplished your mission and (2) command the willing obedience, confidence, loyalty, and respect of the United States Marines under you. There is no more satisfactory reward, anywhere.


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