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  • Writer's pictureKirk Kinsey

On Leadership

As a young Marine Officer I served on the staff of an infantry battalion. I was the S-6 Officer, responsible for the battalion's ability to communicate whether in garrison or deployed elsewhere. It was a difficult position because it required a wide range of skills: technical knowledge of our equipment, interpersonal skills to manage the 80+ Marines in my platoon, a different set of interpersonal skills to work with Company Commanders and other staff officers who outranked me, and the ability to anticipate/understand the commander's needs and provide him with solutions.

It all really amounted to leadership. Sometimes it was top-down, sometimes peer to peer, and sometimes it was upward. I wasn't alone in this challenge. Every Marine is encouraged to study leadership and to develop their own style. The concern isn't that you become a carbon copy or a robot, but that you learn about yourself and then lead in whatever way makes you most effective. John Quincy Adams distilled it similarly when he said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Is it authentic? Is it effective? Good, then do that.

Leadership development is a constant topic in Marine Corps meetings and trainings. I remember my Battalion Commander and one of the Company Commanders always talking about how endurance was the most important leadership attribute. Being the young hot-headed Marine that I was (as well as a natural contrarian) I always thought "here we go again". I thought I knew better. What really mattered to me at the time was setting the bar as high as possible, thinking one could simply inspire and persuade others by being unquestionably competent. To me, endurance simply meant working insane hours in the pursuit of excellence. In other words, mere endurance was too narrow a concept and one that was subsequent to my idea. But I don't think I understood what they meant by endurance. Pushing hard and working long hours in the pursuit of excellence was but one part of the wider meaning (and, arguably, one of the less important parts!).

As I've grown and matured I have a new appreciation for endurance and what it means to leadership. The biggest change in my attitude toward endurance came from the discovery of what it really means, including:

  • You are available both physically and emotionally when your people need you, even if it's not convenient for you.

  • You pick up the slack when somebody else can no longer carry on.

  • You may feel alone and isolated as you make plans and decisions, but you move forward despite the isolation.

  • You find ways to deal with constant criticism and second-guessing.

  • You stick with and execute difficult decisions when others don't want to.

  • You inspect others' work to ensure that it has been completed properly.

  • You give of your self constantly—not for glory or gratitude—but because that's what leaders do.

The lessons I've learned about leading through endurance translate directly to my time in youth soccer. I'm no Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho—few people are—but that's not what kids, parents, and coaches need in youth soccer. Being a soccer savant isn't a requirement for the job, but endurance absolutely is. Sometimes kids struggle and they need emotional availability, rather than a stern word. Sometimes parents are frustrated and they need a patient listener. Sometimes other coaches feel attacked or isolated and they need consistent, demonstrated support. Sometimes a team needs a coach for a tournament and you're the only one willing or able to step up, even if you're tired from coaching your two other teams. And sometimes no one else sees the potential for an idea that will benefit the group, so you're the one who needs to muster whatever gumption you have in reserve and stay the course.

In all honesty, that's how you best inspire others. Not through your own excellence but by demonstrating to those around you that you care about them. You show up and give of yourself at personal expense to show that they matter to you. By caring for people in this way, you can bet that they'll have your back the next time you need something. Leaders who are capable of enduring will see that when the dust all settles, their troops will be by their side.

For more on Marine Corps leadership, please find the official Marine Corps doctrine here.

A special thank you to LtCol Tom Wood and Maj Brian Blaine for the lesson, even if it did take me several years to fully understand it.

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