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    Transformational Leadership in the USMC

    by, Mark McCatty, SAMC, SCT.

    Organizations exist and survive because of the good people within the organization. There are those in leadership who can create a vision and inspire, while others catch the vision and provide their part through person effort. But all involved are adding by using their strengths and willingly contributing their abilities to the vision.

    Every organizational leader desires to have a followership that is committed to, above all else, providing their unique set of strengths, and their discretionary effort to getting the job done. Having this type of followership does not guarantee that things will be easier, only that goals would be more fully realized through the committed effort of all those involved. Many hands make the load light.

    What I learned at Parris Island

    Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see behind the curtain of the USMC Boot Camp on PI. It was a rare opportunity to participate in an Educator’s Workshop on Parris Island. This experience gave me an insight into the leadership approach that is used to transform young recruits into committed, dedicated US Marines. What I experienced on PI [as a civilian] was an impactful leadership lesson.

    The Drill Instructors do their job well. They have a reputation for being hard, almost unbearable. And as part of my experience there I could get a very small taste of the way the DI’s welcomed recruits to their island. From the very first interaction, the DI’s create a very clear expectation for what the recruits will experience over their next 13 weeks. But it is their ongoing leadership and the personal connections that they develop that allow the DI to build a positive relationship with the young Marines. The Di’s consistently demonstrate their ability to be trusted and respected by their young protégés.

    In her book, “Presence,” Amy Cuddy says people quickly answer two questions when they first meet someone: “Can I trust this person?” And, “Can I respect this person?” Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both. These positive perceptions are critical to being an influential leader. “If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative,” Cuddy says.

    “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.” Amy Cuddy, Presence

    Let me just pause and say, “Happy Birthday USMC!”


    Transformational versus Transactional Leadership

    What I hear from today’s leaders is that they desire their staff, crew, or teams to demonstrate a sense of ownership and accountability for their own individual tasks and responsibilities. The result of this sense of ownership is the self-motivation and recognition is a willingness to take required actions without being prompted to do so.

    Transformational Leadership is required to accomplish this level of commitment. Wiki describes Transformational leadership as a style of leadership where the leader works with their employees to identify the needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executing the change in tandem with other committed members of the group.

    As opposed to transformational leader there is transactional leadership. Transactional leadership is more extrinsic and dependent upon incentives and punishments to induce action. Although transactional sounds efficient it does not deliver the long-term transformation and commitment required to sustain success.

    The 4 Attributes of Transformational Leadership

    There are 4 attributes that we find is effective leaders. They are:

    1. Inspire – ability to motivate and excite others to action
    2. Innovate – ability to think outside the box
    3. Collaborate – ability to work with others for the good of all
    4. Execute – ability to get things done while supporting core values

    Through these 4 attributes we see the leader serve as an ideal role model for followers. The leader “walks the talk,” and is admired and respected because of their consistent example. These leaders have a charisma about them. As such, they have the ability to inspire and motivate their followers. They show genuine concern for the needs and feelings of their followers. Their personal interest in each person, as an individual is a key element in bringing out the very best efforts. The leader elevates values, priorities, and cultural expectations of the organization. These values include collaboration and demonstrating respect for the ideas and contributions of others. The effective leader challenges followers to be innovative and creative. This enables the freedom to be inventive and experiment.

    A common misunderstanding is that transformational leaders are somehow “soft,” but the truth is that they are constantly challenging their followers to higher levels of performance. The Drill Instructors of Parris Island understand what it means to be rigorous in their expectations for the recruits. Yet, they can demonstrate an appreciation for the contributions of each member of their platoon. The DI’s realize, better than most that failure in action may result in a tragic and irreplaceable loss. Lives depend upon the ability of the DI to properly train and prepare their Marines for duty. They may begin the process as transactional leaders for training purposes, but they quickly develop a transformational style of leadership. It is this transformational style that induces commitment to a set of values [honor, courage, and commitment] that sustains the all-volunteer military. It is the graduates of PI and their commitment to these same values that make a significant contribution to our society.

    Mark McCatty, Leadership & Team Advisor


    Improving Leadership ROI

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    As a leadership and team advisor, I have helped numerous organizations, through speaker presentations, group training, and individual coaching, to meet the challenge of creating engaging and purposeful work environments. 

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