A story in the business magazine FastCompany reports that the Marines have made some changes in their boot camp training to increase the engagement of new recruits.

No, they haven’t made the boot camp experience even more oppressive. Instead, they’ve added more options, as well as assigned tasks that come without instructions for how to complete them.

The changes, according to Charles Duhigg, the New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner who is also author of the books The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life, were made by the Marines after they discovered that the most engaged troops are those who feel they have influence over their own lives.

To put it mildly, that has not been the traditional experience of boot camp.

Popular notions of leadership in the military generally cluster around the concept of “command and control.” But that’s a simplistic understanding at best.

In the past I’ve reported having talked with leadership instructors at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs – who all reported that they teach servant leadership to their prospective officers.

When my youngest son graduated from Officer Candidate School, the featured speaker was a general who told the graduates that their first obligation was not about following orders. Instead, they were told to integrate their training with their own ability to think and a deep regard for what is ethical. When bad orders were issued, their obligation was to not follow them.

While we weren’t able to find much detail about the changes in the boot camp experience, their general description suggests some movement along our C4 Leadership Framework. Readers who have attended Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus Encounters may recall that we offer to share the “history of leadership from the dawn of humanity until today in two or three minutes.”

That introduces a framework of organizational cultures beginning with C1 (compliance) through C2 (Cooperation) to C3 (Contribution) to rare occasions of C4 (Communion). We note that in the first two stages, the leadership task does not change: it is for the leader to get whatever he or she wants from the follower.

But in the third stage, Contribution, the leadership task changes: it is to get from the follower whatever the follower is able to give – and to increase the follower’s ability to give more in the future. Thus, in a Contribution Culture, leaders become keenly attuned to their followers’ gifts and strengths, and development of people becomes a key part of the organization’s purpose.

Apparently, the Marine Corps is looking to develop more of a Contribution Culture even while it teaches the necessity of compliance and cooperation in the Corps.


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