I have often mentioned with much pride that I spent twenty wonderful years serving the people of this great nation as a United States Marine. I had an amazing career. I enlisted at the age of eighteen and after three months of boot camp, earned the title of Marine at the rank of private. Before I retired, I had achieved the rank of Captain and had worked for some of the greatest leaders in the Marine Corps who helped shape me to be a better person. They willingly taught me to embrace the principles of leadership that shaped the success of the Marine Corps from the time Captain Robert Barrows walked into Tun Tavern and announced that he was looking for good men to be the very first United States Marines (yes, the Marine Corps started in a bar).
I would love to tell you that my decision to join the Marine Corps was all about my desire to serve our Country, to be a part of the very best military service in America, or to willingly lay down my life for the just causes of our leaders. But that would be a lie. I made a hasty decision that would impact my life forever – thankfully in a positive manner. But before I tell you my story, let me talk about the importance of decisiveness in a leader.
Decisiveness means that you are able to make good decisions without delay. Being able to do this is not easy especially when the crisis requires an immediate decision and you have the lives of others in your hand as we did in the Marine Corps. But taking the time to work on the skills that will help you gain confidence in your decision-making process will ensure that when the time comes, you will make the best possible decision in any crisis. So when you are faced with a challenge, here are some things that will help you come to the right decision.
Get all the facts and weight them against each other. This is the hardest part of making a quick decision in a crisis. You may have only limited information at your disposal at the time. But, you have got to learn to weigh the known facts and couple that knowledge with your experience to come up with a solution that will begin the process of heading you and your team in the direction of success. You may have to make adjustments along the way, but you will be acting and that will inspire confidence in your team.
Act calmly and quickly. No matter how big the problem, you must present yourself with calmness to your team. They may be feeling a sense of panic and have come to you because they expect you to restore their feeling that everything is going to be okay. Yes, they are looking for a solution, but the unspoken request is for leadership. Be the calm in the storm and inspire confidence in your team.
Announce your decision in a clear, firm, professional manner. After listening to all the known facts and adding in your experience with similar situations, clearly outline the plan of action, be positive and professional in laying out the plan, and begin assigning the necessary tasks to your team to begin those actions that will bring about the positive change they are so desperately seeking. By leading your people from crisis to action, you will inspire confidence in your team.
Practice being positive in your actions instead of acting half-hearted or changing your mind on an issue. Finally, utilize the above skills for every decision you make so that when the crisis hits, you are ready to react in a positive manner. Let your team see that you are methodical in your problem analysis and can be trusted to work with the team to cultivate success. Adjusting the plan to meet a new circumstance is acceptable but constantly changing the plan because you really do not have a firm grasp on the situation will cause you team to stop following. Be ready to lead and you will inspire confidence in your team.
So, how did I start may career in the Corps? I took all the entrance examines and the induction physical during my senior year in high school because it was an excused absence from school and a free lunch. I had no intention of joining the Corps. Right after graduation, I found out that the full-time job I had been promised at the local newspaper office where I was to begin the process of becoming a pressman in the press room was not going to materialize. That was devastating news and I did not know what to do other than to continue working there until I found a full-time job. My girlfriend at the time had graduated from another local high school and she and I had not been able to see each other for the last two weeks. The night I found out I would have to find a full-time job, we were supposed to get together. So I went to work cleaning the presses in the late afternoon and hurried home to get ready for my date.
When I got home, I quickly got cleaned up and then helped my older brother take some of his personal items to his new apartment since he was moving out of the house and going it on his own. I returned home to grab something before heading out to see my girlfriend. To my surprise, the Marine recruiter and two of my friends were sitting in the kitchen talking to my mom. The recruiter asked me for a minute of my time and began outlining how I could go to boot camp on the buddy program with my two friends so I would have the comfort of starting my Marine Corps career with two people I knew and trusted. Thus began a long conversation on why that was a silly idea and that I was never going to be a Marine. And by long conversation, I mean that I lost tract of time and before I knew it, it was 10:00 pm and the phone was ringing. You can guess who it was and she was not very happy. My mom handed me the phone and my girlfriend lit into me about how she had gotten ready for our date and how she had been waiting and how I must not care for her feeling and on and on and on.
Just graduated from high school, no full-time job, and a screaming girlfriend. Time to make a decision based upon the facts I had. I finally interrupted my girlfriend and said, “You will not be able to yell at me anytime you want again.” I hung up the phone, looked at the recruiter and asked him, “When did you say I would leave?”
His reply was simple – in nine days. “I’ll go,” I replied calmly and quickly announcing my decision in a firm, professional manner.
Nine days later, at about midnight, I arrived at Parris Island, South Carolina – the home of Marine Corps boot camp. The Sergeant at the new arrival processing center was yelling at me. He was wondering who had given my father and mother permission to have children knowing the results would be someone as inept as me (yes, I cleaned that up). As he was yelling in my ear, all I could think was, “You need to learn to make better decisions.” My leadership training had started.
If you are going to be an exceptional leader, you must be able to make the difficult decisions in a timely manner so that you inspire confidence in your team.