Leadership Lessons from John Maxwell and The US Marine Corps

The vast majority of my leadership lessons came from two sources… John C. Maxwell and the United States Marine Corps. Both teach a set of leadership standards that one can cling to. The Marine Corps has 11 Principles and John Maxwell has 21 Laws.

These standards are universal and undeniable truths. The one set has served the United States well for almost 240 years and the other has been studied and practiced on the front lines of business by millions for decades.

I’d like to unpack, compare and contrast a few of these key principles or laws that have made the difference for me through my 6 year tenure as a marine and over my 30 plus years in executive leadership and entrepreneurship.

These principles or laws can change your business, your leadership trajectory and even your life. If you put them to the test they will stand the test of time for you and bring you to a whole new level.

Let’s cover three topics here; Lead Yourself, Build Trust and Lead by Example.

Lead Yourself

One of the principles that every Marine Corps Officer learns (and lives by) is “Know yourself and seek self improvement”. John Maxwell’s first law is; “The Law of the Lid”.

In the Marines learning and constant improvement is a way of life. This process of continually striving to get better begins on a Marine’s first day of training, and it never ends. Constant improvement is a standard and it is rigorously supported.

Every Marine strives to beat his (or her) best in every area of life. Whether it is the last score on one’s physical fitness test or the last evaluation of a Marine’s proficiency related to his job or general conduct as a Marine, there must always be a desire to improve. Improvement could be a matter of life and death for a Marine and his fellow comrades.

Maxwell approaches this principle with a Leadership Law, that law is The Law of the Lid. He says that a person’s potential as a leader is determined by his own leadership lid. This “lid” is represented by one’s “leadership ability” and one’s “dedication to success”.

To improve as a leader and influencer of others, we must first seek to improve ourselves and raise the lid on our potential. This is so critical because the position of the leader’s lid will always dictate the potential on his organization.

The key here is to first lead yourself. Understand who you are and what you, as a leader, bring to the table. This understanding is your “base-line”. From there, you must constantly seek to improve. Improve and raise your own lid, thus increasing the potential and opportunity for those around you and your entire organization.

Build Trust

Maxwell’s “Law of Solid Ground” states that TRUST is the foundation of leadership. He says that trust is the most important element of leadership, and that leaders cannot repeatedly break trust with people and continue to influence them positively.

Maxwell teaches, that a leader builds trust by consistently exemplifying competence, connection and character.

Marine Corps Leadership is full of applicable principles that I could mention here, but I chose the principle, “Make Sound and Timely Decisions” for the purposes of this discussion.

Have you ever had a “leader” who just could not make a decision… and when he or she did, it was typically not a sound one? What kills trust in a leader quicker than that?

As a leader, you must possess the confidence and competency to make decisions. As the leader, if you don’t make them, who will? Not only do you need to make them in a timely manner, but they need to be sound.

What is a sound decision?

  • it moves the team towards their goal (connection)
  • it is made in accordance with the capabilities of the team (competence)
  • it is well communicated (connection)
  • it is in keeping with the vision of the organization (character)
  • it provides a framework for success (character)

If decisions fall inside this framework, they should build trust. If not, trust begins to deteriorate.

Influence Others

Leadership is never a right, it is always a privilege. I believe that we have a leadership crisis in the US today. Too many leaders feel that they have been ordained, “The Leader”, and they seem to have forgotten that leading is a privilege bestowed by on them by those who follow.

If you feel like you’re a leader and you look around to find that no one is following you… NEWS-FLASH… you’re not leading, you’re just out taking a walk.

I love the Law of Influence, which says, “True Leadership is Influence – Nothing More, Nothing Less”. The Marines have several applicable principles, but for our purposes here today, I chose “Set The Example”.

Maxwell points out seven areas where influence is developed:

  1. Character – who you are
  2. Relationships – who you know
  3. Knowledge – what you know
  4. Intuition – what you feel
  5. Experience – where you’ve been
  6. Past success – what you’ve done
  7. Ability – what you can do

As a leader where do you rate on these seven areas of influence?

Are you truly in a position to influence others? Just because you have been promoted to manager, supervisor, director, leader or one of a hundred other titles, does not make you a leader. It doesn’t make you a leader any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

“It’s not the position that makes the leader; it’s the leader that makes the position” – Stanley Huff.

It’s My Story… and I’m Sticking To It!

As I mentioned in the very beginning of this article, the Marine Corps and John Maxwell have influenced my leadership journey over the past 30 years. The things I have learned from both have greatly enhanced my ability to excel in my career as an Executive Leader and as an Entrepreneur.

I encourage you to always “Lead Yourself”, strive to consistently “Build Trust” and “Lead by Example” in everything you do.

Go Now, and Learn…

There you have it… some wisdom from some of the worlds foremost experts on Leadership. John C. Maxwell is considered an international leadership expert. He has written over 80 books related to the subject and has sold millions of copies worldwide. For more on the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership go HERE.

The United States Marine Corps have been turning out leaders for almost 240 years. Their 14 Leadership Traits and 11 Leadership Principles have been tested on both the “front lines” and in boardrooms all over the globe. To learn more about these TRAITS and PRINCIPLES please follow these links.

Excerpts taken from John C Maxwell, The 21 Laws of Leadership and The 11 Leadership Principles of the United States Marine Corps