Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way

Semper Fi: Business Leadership the Marine Corps Way

by Dan Carrison, Rod WALSH


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For more than 200 years, the U.S. Marine Corps has been a paragon of world-class leadership, excelling in the areas of motivation, training, and management. Semper Fi -- which since its hardcover publication has become a best-selling, business leadership classic -- shows readers how to adapt these proven practices for their own organizations. Now in a paperback edition with a new introduction by the authors, Semper Fi goes behind the scenes to pinpoint what works for the USMC, showing readers how to create a training and management culture that brings out the best in all their employees. The book gives readers tough, practical tips for: * inspiring individual initiative * rewarding hard work * encouraging loyalty * working with limited resources * dealing with change * ""leading the troops"" at every level of the organization "This is not,"" according to Dan Rather, ""one of those mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-philosophical books on leadership. Semper Fi is a book you will actually USE, read, and refer to again and again."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814472729
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 08/30/2004
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 344,438
Product dimensions: 4.71(w) x 7.17(h) x 1.04(d)
Age Range: 17 Years

About the Author

Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh are both former Marines and now successful business executives. Their biweekly column, "Rosie’s Bar & Grill," was picked up by the New York Times Syndicate.

Read an Excerpt

Semper Fi

By Dan Carrison


Copyright © 2005 Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8144-7272-9

Chapter One

Leading to Victory: Ten Winning Strategies

"The most important responsibility we have to the American people is to win the nation's battles. We must be ready at a moment's notice to go anywhere, against any foe, to fight and WIN!" -General Charles Krulak, Commandant, USMC

"Victory in the marketplace is only realized if it is sustainable. Personal leadership at every level is required to keep that momentum." -Frederick Lopez, Department Manager Software Systems, Raytheon, currently Brigadier General, USMCR

The Commandant of the Marine Corps himself has said that the Corps exists for one purpose, and one purpose only: to win America's battles. He does not say to "fight" America's battles, but to "win." Marines are taught from Day One that victory is expected of them and that the Corps is of no use to America if it does not prevail on the battlefield. The Marine Corps really cannot afford to lose. Apart from the impact on the security of the nation, the Corps must also be concerned with its own destiny. As the smallest branch of the armed forces, it is the most vulnerable to a "hostile takeover" by the army or navy and must continue to justify its separate existence with a continuous record of victories. The Marine Corps has fulfilled its mission for two centuries, developing, along the way, strategies for victory that will be of interest to business leaders at all levels of responsibility.

Unlike the Marines, businesspeople are always "at war"-so much so that the critics of capitalism have traditionally characterized the competition of the marketplace as "dog-eat-dog," or "the big fish eating the little fish." While true enough in terms of the survivalist attitude that is required, this is an inaccurate description. In business, the big dogs or big fish do not always prevail; it is often the smartest that wins. CEOs, managers, and employees who can outthink the competition often do not have to outwork them. And the Marine Corps, which has often been at a numerical disadvantage on the battlefields, wrote the book on how to be one step ahead of the opponent.

Leadership has a purpose. We expect all the resources-human and material-invested in the building and mentoring of our leaders to culminate in a win. We do not want to be "led" into defeat. The ten Marine Corps principles that follow will help anyone who must inspire and direct his or her personnel toward unequivocal victory, whatever the circumstances, wherever the playing field.

Instill Courage

Of all the virtues, bravery is the one that, in reality, least resembles the ideal. We read about heroic deeds or watch them acted out in movies, and we can rather easily imagine ourselves being brave. But, suddenly finding ourselves in a position where courage must be summoned up, we would rather be anywhere else: we don't feel brave at all; we feel nauseated with fear. The expressions "weak-kneed," "shaking in my boots," "cold feet," and "scared sick" all aptly describe the physical conditions under which we must somehow have courage. The irony is appalling: we desperately need strength, but we are nearly crippled with fear; even panic would be an improvement, with its sudden burst of energy. At such times, we may look about for someone who is not afraid, someone who is "brave."

The Marine Corps knows that no such person exists. Everyone who must exhibit courage also feels the debilitating effects of fear. Even that competent warrior on the Marine recruiting poster will be frightened before battle, as will his buddies. But, like his buddies, he will remember his training and overcome his fear.

The ability to overcome fear is a prerequisite of effective leadership, in battle or in business. The Marine Corps teaches its own how to "be brave"; managers can do the same, using the same techniques.

The Marine Corps begins its training by presupposing the presence of fear in its recruits. But, rather than trying to calm down the young men and women who have just gotten off the bus, the drill instructors in every way heighten the anxiety of each recruit. They know full well these young people have, up to now, followed a rational policy of avoiding the discomfort of fear. But the D.I.s also know that, without the presence of fear, courage cannot be cultivated. The recruits who enter boot camp may be adventurous and hardy, but no life experiences have adequately prepared them for the horrors of infantry combat. They must experience fear beforehand and learn to function in its constant presence. The Marine Corps, therefore, systematically puts its people through a lot of frightening experiences.

Although the training may sometimes appear haphazard to the recruits-with much shouting and rushing about-the drill instructors carefully monitor each obstacle, knowing when to yell at a recruit and when to remain silent. The recruits learn to master their fear through a process that is (1) progressively more difficult, (2) designed for the group, and (3) mandatory.

Every leadership skill in boot camp is learned incrementally, including the control of fear. The tallest obstacles in the confidence course, for example, are preceded by smaller ones so that the recruit literally works his way up. Rappelling skills are learned in three stages, beginning with a scaffold only three feet off the ground, followed by a twenty-foot rope climb, and culminating in a heart-in-the-mouth walk down a sheer wall fifty feet high, without safety nets. Bayonet fighting is learned initially by practicing against a motionless dummy, then against a live partner (with pugil sticks), then against two and, finally, three adversaries. Aerobic training begins with a race around the barracks and ends, months later, with ten- and fifteen-mile cross-country runs, in full combat gear. With each level, the recruit's confidence grows. Having gone this far, he knows he can go a little farther.

All events are completed as a group, for a number of reasons, in addition to efficiency: (1) the recruit can see for himself that everyone else is doing what he fears, (2) he doesn't want to disgrace himself in front of his buddies, and (3) the team spirit creates a momentum of its own, sometimes sweeping the individual through the dreaded obstacle even before he realizes it.

Finally, all events are mandatory. The recruit, having no option but to participate, sets his mind to the task. One sees a lot of grim, determined faces on the fifty-foot stairway leading up to Hell Hole-an opening through which all will leap, one after the other, in a simulation of rappelling from a helicopter.

It is significant that, whatever the skill to be learned, the recruit is first "shown how" by the one man he simultaneously fears and admires the most: his drill instructor. The D.I., incidentally, could be a bystander; the classes are taught by full-time instructors and do not require his participation. But, by being the first man to accept each challenge, he solidifies his position as the role model throughout boot camp, excelling at every skill that, at the time, seems so impossibly complex to the recruit. Some D.I.s take this responsibility to the extreme. During the "dirtiest" event of the Crucible-the machine gun course, in which the recruit must crawl on his belly through fifty yards of wet, muddy trenches and barbed wire-it is not uncommon to see a drill instructor crawling through the mud himself, to buoy the morale of his platoon.

After boot camp, and for the remainder of their careers, Marines will participate in constant maneuvers. Although they are "only" drills, the realism is so intense that the peacetime Marines subconsciously become veterans. Fear of the unknown may be the greatest contributor to the anxiety felt on the eve of battle. Strenuous maneuvers with live ammunition and with participants who, by the look of them, believe it's the real thing, serve to demystify the unknown. In addition to the personal sense of confidence gained through maneuvers, Marines also see that the organization itself will never let them down. They know they will be materially supported in combat. The ammunition, food, and water, may run low, but in all likelihood, the big planes and helicopters will be there in time to resupply those on the ground.

Courage is also cultivated by the general state of combat readiness maintained on a Marine Corps base. The constant training, after all, has a purpose. Marines are constantly reminded that they will be the first to fight. Mobilization drills, officer briefings on trouble spots around the globe, antiterrorist exercises, all create a kind of Code Red mentality. Knowing that he may soon be in combat gives a Marine an attitude that is much less predisposed to fear.

Finally, the Marine Corps creates a martial culture in which courage is expected. Everybody is physically fit-it's hard to be brave when one is sobbing for oxygen after running out of the landing craft. Medals for bravery are worn on the chest, for all to see. Courageous Marines are memorialized; streets are named after heroes; plaques, statues, and portraits of famous Marines abound, reminding one of the fighting spirit that must be upheld. Everyone's office is decorated with combat photographs, flags, and battle mementos. "War stories" are passed on to the next generation, like the legends of old. After visiting a Marine Corps base for a few days, one begins to wonder if many of these modern warriors do not harbor a secret belief in a kind of Marine Valhalla, up in the sky.

One would think that the continual exposure to stress during a Marine's career would produce a stern, tense individual who grimly awaits the next challenge. But nothing could be further from the truth. Marines, as a group, are cheerful and robust. In fact their high spirits are in direct proportion to the challenges they have overcome. The more veteran the Marine, the more free from fear he is likely to be. The more free from fear he is, the happier the Marine.

Certainly courage-and sometimes a great deal of it-is required in the world of business. It takes courage to inform a customer of a price hike, or of a slippage in the delivery schedule, or of a product defect. It takes courage to take the company into uncharted waters or to refuse to give into an unjustified discrimination lawsuit. And sometimes it takes courage just to get up in the morning and go to work.

Managers who want to cultivate courage in themselves and in their personnel must first recognize that there is quite a bit of fear behind the smiling demeanor of the workplace. We worry about losing an important contract, or losing our jobs, even losing our homes. We must compete not only with outside competitors but sometimes with those in our own company who covet our title. We have anxiety about performing-not only at our daily duties, but also at special, high-profile assignments, such as major presentations or speeches.

Dare a manager actually add to this burden of worry? In a way, yes. After all, he and the drill instructor are after the same outcome: confident, happy personnel who have learned to master their fear. But, because very few of his subordinates will voluntarily place themselves in situations that cause performance anxiety, very few will ever consciously overcome their fear. Like the D.I., the manager must put himself and his people through progressively challenging courage-building experiences. He must make these a mandatory group experience, and he must lead the way.

Of course, there won't be a fifty-foot wall to rappel, but every one of his subordinates will have obstacles that seem, to them, just as daunting. Rather than trying to customize the "bravery exercises" to each individual, he has only to single out a fear that is shared by all. Often the conquest of a big phobia overcomes other, smaller fears by default.

The fear of public speaking is certainly the most likely candidate for a major, almost universal fear. Psychologists maintain that, next to the fear of death, it is the most widely held phobia in the industrialized world. People who have confronted this fear, and have learned to master it, find that their new confidence manifests itself in every other facet of the professional and personal lives. Managers who hold weekly meetings in which everyone takes on progressively more difficult speaking or presentation assignments will see personalities revolutionized before their eyes. Speakers who trudge toward the podium as if it were a scaffold walk away proud of themselves and liberated from performance anxiety.

Managers can create a "culture of courage" within their departments in much the same way as the fighting spirit is maintained in the Marine Corps. Acts of courage-such as taking an ethical stand against the use of insider information, resisting the inappropriate overtures of an important supplier, or stepping outside the chain of command to address a potential product flaw-should be rewarded. Innovative and proactive approaches to customers who are tied to the competition should be lauded and written up in the company newsletter.

While applauding actual acts of bravery, the manager can create situations, through realistic role play and simulation exercises, in which associates act out coping strategies for use with difficult customers or deal with internal crises such as production failures and delivery lapses. If he runs a sales department, an impromptu day of cold calls with one of the reps will make his established accounts seem like pussycats. If he heads a service department, he and his technician must visit the Customer From Hell and listen to the tirade. The manager should constantly be telling war stories to his associates about how current and past employees have pushed themselves outside the comfort zone and found, literally, a "brave new world."

It is interesting to note that, in the Marine Corps, courage is always a virtue, even when it is not associated with victory. Indeed, some of the bravest acts are-in terms of the immediate battle-seemingly futile. Legendary last stands, such as the Marine defense of Wake Island during World War II, for example, ended in the defeat of those we memorialize today.

Unfortunately, management does not always recognize courage as a virtue. While it is eager to praise the determination that gained a customer, management occasionally punishes the courageous individual who has lost a customer. The salesman, for example, who steadfastly holds to the price of his product and tries to sell the company's commitment to quality and service is going to lose a customer now and then. A service technician who politely refuses to honor the warranty of a piece of equipment that has been grossly "modified" by the customer will probably elicit complaints. A production supervisor who refuses to promise the impossible and insists upon an aggressive but realistic product delivery schedule will occasionally lose an order.


Excerpted from Semper Fi by Dan Carrison Copyright © 2005 by Dan Carrison and Rod Walsh. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Vernon R. Loucks, Jr., Chariman and CEO, Baxter International, Inc.



1.Attracting the Best

2. Basic Training

3. Supervision: Leading the Rank and File

4. Middle Management: Leading the Mission

5. Senior Management: Leading the Organization

6. A Few Good Women

7. Leading to Victory: Ten Winning Strategies

Some Former Marines Who Became Successful Business Leaders


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