Trying to apply USMC leadership principles to protests/creating change

Last year, I wrote a couple things regarding US Marine Corps leadership principles.  One was on using it as a coach, the other in terms of presidents.  Really–people should check those out and get an understanding of the principles Marines consider critical for being a good leader across multiple contexts. One world crisis ago (about eight weeks), I wrote something evaluating responses to COVID using USMC leadership guidelines.

If this works for framing discussion or understanding of a pandemic, if these principles work for leadership in battle or managing a business, logically, they should then also apply to dealing with civil unrest and fixing systemic problems–whether in the short or long term.

The intention is not partisanship here–I find the actions of the extreme left and right reprehensible trying to score points or spin things with an eye on the November election. The objective is solutions, not fingerpointing.

  1. Seek self-improvement:  Some are doing this. The challenge with this isn’t the effort, it is knowing what is real and what is not. Learning is tough when confronted with half-truths or writing meant to direct your thoughts persuasively rather than being informative. In terms of institutions, this seems to be a mixed bag. Sadly some such as police unions look to be protecting their turf more than seeking reform.
  2. Be technically proficient: Initially, I said “This isn’t applicable”–but it is. Knowing how to find proper articles is proficiency. Likewise, so is being able to use things like a phone-camera to make sure of accountability. Protesters SHOULD be videoing the police–and likewise, the police should have body-cams going the entire time. Reagan used the Russian proverb: “Trust, but verify.” Perhaps we can also put knowledge of the law and the processes for bringing about effective change via legislation goes here as well. Just as with #1, a mixed bag.
  3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility:  Mixed, again. I guess this is to be expected when a president is making comments like “No, I don’t take responsibility” regarding a worldwide crisis. The issue then becomes, once you take responsibility, what do yo do with it? I don’t think many have considered that. I think places like Detroit took care of this in advance with police reforms. They admitted there were problems, then started to fix them. I think this stands in direct contrast to Chicago and its handling of violence or police ethics.
  4. Make sound and timely decisions: Generally a failure on both sides. From the ‘establishment’, you have police unions denying problems, refusing to change…and having officers resign over police brutality…but you also have multiple corporations using the same verbiage to show support for the protests, making donations. (Donations are great, but…never forget that ‘donations’ are tax deductible for those corporations–always keep the money-trail in mind). On the other side, you have people trying to provoke police into violence by surging towards them while detonating firecrackers/simulating gunfire.

    On the other side–you have the actions of the police in places like Camden where they didn’t approach with riot shields and batons, but escorted the protesters, worked with them in the exercise of their 1st Amendment rights. There have been leaders in the protests (the Cincinnati city councilman whose name I’ve forgotten…his TV interview on the spot is full of profanity, but that’s a man who cares…I’d vote for him) who have worked to keep the focus on reform and not let the few seeking to break the law/looting move the focus away from the real issues.
  5. Know your people, look out for their welfare:  Almost complete failure. This starts at the top. Look how few wore face masks while protesting, look at the willingness of police to go full-out on protesters…the people they are sworn to protect. I’ve seen numerous US senators demanding law and order, rather than even question why their constituents are upset. If I have an objection here…it’s in the Marine terminology and applying it here. “Your people”…really, that should be ‘our people’ or ‘our welfare’. …but that’s semantics.
  6. Set the example: Mixed. Where I’m upset (beyond the words of the president) hits closer to me…it’s saddens me to read fellow coaches demanding punitive action against young people (the Texas athletes) who speak up and are advocating for change. We are coaches, we are supposed to help young athletes become leaders–so do that. Show them how to lead. You don’t have to agree with them–we’re not going to agree with each other–but they watch coaches and the examples we set. NASCAR acted swiftly…but only after Bubba Wallace spoke out…the NFL suddenly says Kaepernick is welcome back and can play…but is that legit…or playing to the moment (after blacklisting away 3-4 years of his career)?
  7. Keep people informed: Social media does this for everyone. There are three issues though. One, the accuracy of communications…a lot of intentional and unintentional information gets shared. Two, people communicate in ‘echo chambers’ where they only speak to friends or others of exactly similar views which then mutually reinforce rather than create dialogue. Three, many taking up the cause of equality are posting all-in…but for equality, you have to have equality. It’s great to stand up for someone, but some people go too far–what sociologists call ‘white saviors’. That’s not needed. We need honest dialogue, respect for different positions, and respect for stats. Patrick Moynihan noted in the 70s: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.”
  8. Develop responsibility in your subordinates: Definitely not happening with the authorities. Good luck showing me a ton of places where subordinates are able to show initiative right now without risk of having their heads cut off. In terms of reformers, I think #8 here suggests a different issue. Who are the leaders? Who is creating a coherent agenda of issues for change? When trying to create systemic change, you have to have leaders (and ideally a coherent organization)…otherwise, you get chaos and mob mentality.
  9. Make sure things are understood, supervised, and accomplished: To be determined. A whole lot of people don’t understand…and are getting attacked for that in many places. Really, there needs to be a better organization for getting things changed. What I can’t find related to racism is–> Is the Black Lives Movement coordinating with the NAACP since the NAACP works with the establishment and has a clear organization? (If you have an answer, put it in the comments, please…even just a news link)
  10. Train as a team:  Failure. People are caught in us v. them mode. Worse, with there being momentum for change in terms of police brutality, etc, you now have other causes jumping on and making their own demands which erodes the momentum for change…unless you’ve got groups coordinating with one another such as was done with the NAACP and women’s suffrage organizations originally at the start of the 20th century (until suffragettes got what they wanted and then stopped advocating for blacks…).
  11. Use your team in accordance with their abilities: I think there are states doing this. From what I’ve noticed, they seem to be the same ones with excellent leadership regarding the pandemic…places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. That’s probably not coincidence. If you’re using an effective leadership style on one issue (COVID), you’re more likely to use an effective/appropriate leadership style elsewhere.

So there you go…a quick look via USMC leadership ideals.  Consider looking more closely into these ideals for leadership–apply them wherever you can, whether in your views of current events, the organization you work for, or how you teach a classroom and work to develop young people into tomorrow’s leaders.

If I’ve missed some good examples or you think I’m wrong on my interpretation–put it in the comments. They are always appreciated.


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