5 Lessons In Self-Improvement We Can Learn From The Marines

“Make It Happen” is a common mantra espoused by Marines, a code that every one of us should learn and apply in our daily lives.


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Also featured in LinkedIn Pulse Leadership & Management | Dec 7 2014

Life is about making it happen.

A common mantra espoused by the U.S. Marines, “Make It Happen” guides troops when they are confronted with any challenging task: from conducting humanitarian and disaster relief operations and relieving suffering in the Philippines to taking down pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Like the Marines, we too can learn and apply a code of conduct in our daily lives so that we can face our challenges head-on.

Here are five fundamental Marine Corps values that can move each of us forward no matter what we do in life and help us make it happen.

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

2. Be technically and tactically proficient

3. Develop a sense of responsibility

4. Make sound and timely decisions

5. Set the example


A Marine leader takes the time to learn and reflect upon her strengths and weaknesses and works tirelessly to continuously improve. Leaders are completely honest with themselves and develop the ability to pursue personal mastery with the understanding that it can never be fully attained.

Leaders who seek self-improvement inspire those around them to do the same, resulting in higher productivity, which may include the development of a high-performance team, increased individual and organizational happiness, and the ability to make it happen regardless of what outsiders may perceive to be impossible goals.


Marines often work in volatile, uncertain, and complex environments around the world. Marine leaders must be experts in their line of work when lives are at stake.

Your lives and workplace may be less frenetic, but the same principle applies. A baker, who has the “make it happen” mentality to create the best cupcakes by 6 a.m. each morning, will constantly seek new learning to hone her cupcake baking skills. She will put the knowledge gained into action by synthesizing the learning in a way that, perhaps, results in the development of a unique and differentiating recipe.

In the Marine Corps, it is expected that leaders will be technically and tactically proficient and that they will maintain and enhance their capabilities by seeking out both formal and informal opportunities to learn.


Interdependence in any group or team today is essential to success. We have all been impacted both positively and negatively when members of a group or team successfully pull their weight or fail to do so.

Marines develop a sense of responsibility amongst subordinates by knowing what their intrinsic and extrinsic needs are and to find new ways to meet those needs by linking their attainment to the organization’s mission and purpose, which includes the words “serving others first.”

For example, if you lead a team of customer service representatives in the health care industry and you received complaints from customers that they are being treated impersonally, instead of reacting by disciplining the team, as the leader you may consider speaking to each representative one-on-one in order to seek a way to match their known intrinsic needs with the organizational mission and purpose.


Depending on the situation, especially in fast-paced work environments, leaders are required to make decisions with limited information. Through scenario-driven training, Marines are taught to make sound and timely decisions with limited information and in uncertain environments on a routine basis.

This training involves systematically thinking through a problem in pursuit of mission accomplishment by applying the acronym “BAMCIS.” It stands for:
  1. Begin the Planning
  2. Arrange Reconnaissance
  3. Make Reconnaissance
  4. Complete the Planning
  5. Issue the Order
  6. Supervise

This simple, yet effective, decision-making framework provides the foundation from which Marines can assess a problem and then rapidly make sound and timely decisions.


The motto of the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School is Ductos Exemplo, Latin for Lead by Example. A leader of any organization will be well served to apply the Marine Corps Leadership Principle of “Set the example.”

True leaders know they are doing the right thing when those they lead, to include cross-functional, cross-discipline teams, begin to model and follow the example they are setting.

Leaders who espouse and practice ethical and responsible behavior are likely to inspire others to do the same. Marine leaders who consistently want to make things happen will set the example by leading from the front, yet putting the needs of others first.

Read the original article @FastCompany.

Hat tip: Lieutenant Colonel Raphael Hernandez, chief marketing officer of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, contributed to the research of this story.

[Photos courtesy of the U.S. Marines Corps]

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