Learning from the Marines

Of all the armed forces in the United States, the Marine Corps has been one of the most admired for its warfare skills, particularly its combat philosophy, "maneuver warfare." In The Marine Corps Way, two former Marines and a professor from the University of Pennsylvania's The Wharton School, Philadelphia, discuss how businesses can adopt leadership and strategic techniques used by the Marines to improve their business operations.

Maneuver warfare consists of using "speed, surprise and concentrated force to exploit an opponent's weakness and enables the Marines to achieve a maximum impact with limited resources." The authors believe if a business adopts principles prized by the Marines, it will be better able to compete. Those principles follow:

  • Targeting critical vulnerabilities—analyzing competitors to rapidly exploit their weaknesses

  • Boldness—taking calculated risks to achieve major results

  • Surprise—Using stealth, ambiguity and deception to degrade information available to competitors

  • Focus—Concentrating resources to capitalize on key market opportunities

  • Decentralized decision making—Giving authority to those closest to the point of decision

  • Tempo—Identifying opportunities, making decisions and implementing plans more quickly than competitors

  • Combined arms—Pooling resources so return of the whole is greater than the individual parts

  • Integration of principles—Identifying principles most effective when used together

  • Reconnaissance pull—Exercising real-time responses to opportunities

The authors write: "The Marine Corps' approach to leadership rests on the simple premise that motivating Marines to achieve a desired result requires that the leader first exert the effort and make the sacrifice that he is asking of his Marines. ... Feedback is clear, constructive, candid and regular; guidance is specific, thoughtful and individually tailored and intended to help the recipient grow both personally and professionally."