Without having truly understood what servant leadership was, until this week’s lesson, I wouldn’t have automatically equated servant leadership with the Marine Corps as the very word servant seems opposite of the persona of an authoritative leadership that is often associated with the military. Since having read the lesson commentary and Northouse’s chapter, servant leadership is in-fact, a fundamental part of our leadership. Northouse (2016) describes how within servant leadership there is an emphasis on a leader’s concern for their followers, and having an ability to empathize with them, as well as to nurture them (pg. 225). Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and Officers typify servant leadership in their development of junior Marines into leaders themselves.
Northouse not only identifies the ten characteristics of a servant-leader but also identifies behaviors of servant leaders, that are the core of the servant leader process. These behaviors are conceptualizing, emotional healing, putting followers first, helping followers grow and succeed, behaving ethically, empowering, and creating value for the community (Northouse, 2016, pg. 232). Northouse (2016) describes conceptualizing as having an understanding of the organization’s mission, purposes, and complexities (pg. 233). This is a critical part of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is an organization with many elements and 160,000 Marines. The greater, common purpose, we all have is to support and defend the Constitution. The Marine Corps then has it’s supporting elements (Aviation Combat Element, Ground Combat Element, Logistics Combat Element, and Command Element) that have their own missions to ensure we are able to defend the country. It is incumbent upon each officer and SNCO to understand their unit’s purpose and mission in order to train and develop the junior Marines to be successful and ensure the unit and personnel are mission ready.
The second servant-leader behavior Northouse identifies is emotional healing. This is defined as a servant leader being sensitive to the personal concerns of others and making themselves available to support them and stand by them when going through personal issues (Northouse, 2016, pg. 233-234). This is particularly important. I spend more time with my Marines and Marines I work with than I do with my family with long hours at work, deployments and exercises. And for many of us we are far away from our family network and get home once or twice a year, at best, and have to deal with missing family events or losing a family member and you are on the other side of the world. Therefore, we rely on our leaders and peers for that emotional connection when dealing with personal issues. I personally experienced the loss of my grandfather, who I was incredibly close to, while deployed to Iraq. It was towards the end of my deployment and he had an aggressive form of melanoma and I had hoped he would make it until I got back, but ultimately passed two days before we departed the country. I relied on my senior SNCO to vent to about being angry that I couldn’t get back and then devastated when he died. I have also had to exhibit emotional healing as a leader for Marines I have had that have suffered from PTSD. I had one Marine in particular who lost a lot of buddies during their deployment in Afghanistan and was suffering from PTSD and severe alcohol problems. I knew certain dates that would be a trigger for him, and I would bring him in the office and talk to him, and he knew he could call me at any time, which he would and I would go up to the barracks on weekends to try to get him out of that mental state. As a leader being able to empathize brings out that human factor that people need.
The third behavior discussed is putting followers first. Northouse (2016) describes this a leader using specific actions and words that demonstrate to their follower that their concerns are priority, and putting followers first as the defining characteristic of servant leadership (pg. 234). I think this is a significant part of leadership because when you put your followers needs ahead of yours, it is often reciprocated in the follower’s desire to be successful. Something I always find to be unique in the Marine Corps is when we have functions or are in the field and it’s time to eat. The junior man always goes first and it continues through NCO’s then to SNCO’s then to officers. You always make sure your Marines are taken care of and have what they need, whether in the workplace where they run into an issue and you stop what you are doing to take care of it, or all the way down to the chow line making sure they get food, if it means you don’t.
The fourth behavior is helping followers grow and succeed. Northouse (2016) describes this as knowing the followers’ professional and personal goals and helping to accomplish them (pg. 234). This is implemented in the Marine Corps in various ways. Junior Marines receive monthly counselling’s in which you as a leader sit down and lay out what is expected of them within their billet and you talk about classes they can take, both outside education via college classes and professional military education to help them grow as a leader and become more technically proficient at their job. The more senior you get, you have these discussions with your reporting senior where you discuss short term and long-term goals and set paths to reaching them, where you identify courses you want to take and dates you want to take them. The Marine Corps also implements the mentoring program where you as a Marine find someone who exhibits all the characteristic you think encompass a leader and has made an impact in your life, and you seek out advice from them to help you professionally and personally.
The fifth behavior discussed is behaving ethically. This is described as doing the right thing in the right way (Northouse, 2016, pg. 235). This is a virtue we expect all of our Marines to adhere to. We have a saying in the Marine Corps that you are a Marine 24/7 and that means doing the right thing at the right time, even when no one is looking; in other words adhering to the corps values of honor, courage, and commitment at all times. I think for leaders in the Marine Corps, behaving ethically means giving lawful orders, for our Marines and ensuring we are not asking them to do something that has legal ramifications, whether in time of war or in garrison. This is even as small as not sending the Marines to run personal errands for you, which happens more than you think. If we are in a high tempo environment and I can’t get away, I always do a “you fly, I buy” lunch. In other words, I ask a Marine or two to go to the food court and get lunch but I buy the lunch for the entire platoon since I need them to keep working. This goes along with leaders never asking their Marines to do something, they themselves are not willing to do.
The sixth behavior identified is empowering, or allowing followers to be independent and make decisions on their own, and giving them some aspect of control (Northouse, 2016, pg. 235). I believe my NCO’s and SNCO’s should be able to handle things and make decisions on their own, and I don’t get involved unless I need to. Just this week at work I had allowed my SNCO to handle a pretty significant project we have going on for the past few weeks, however, I saw how out of hand it had gotten and was causing confusion amongst my analysts. It was only at that point that I got involved. I realized my Staff Sergeant was in over his head and if I continued to let it go, it would be detrimental to the project and ultimately three weeks of work wasted. However, I brought the Staff Sergeant aside and talked to him one on one and let him know, I just need to get the project where it needs to be and everyone working on the same page, then it’s all back to him. I didn’t demean him or blame him for anything. I let him know where I see the problem being, how we are going to fix it and what I would like to see moving forward. I think this is crucial for empowering and continuing to instil confidence in his leadership abilities.
The final behavior is creating value for the community, which is described as creating value by consciously and intentionally giving back to the community, which allows leaders to link the purposes and goals of the organization to the broader purpose of the community (Northouse, 2016, pg. 235). The Marine Corps does this through encouragement and recognition for volunteering in the community. When I was in Japan we would have a beach clean-up days or park clean-up days where we would take the Marines out in town and just go pick up trash and clean the beaches as part of our community outreach. The Marine Corps also sets up an event through schools where Marines go and read to students and participate in field events, or setting up events through local animal shelters. The Marine Corps even provides recognition by giving deserving Marines a personal award with the Volunteer Service Medal.
One thing I always do when I get promoted is recognized the fact that I would not be where I was if not for my Marines. I know it is through their hard work and dedication, that I am successful. When you demonstrate the servant leader behaviors Northouse describes you develop a positive relationship with followers in which they have a desire to work for you and produce quality work to enhance the organization. I see this in my Marines through high morale and a desire to get to that next rank and so they can take on increasing responsibilities and leadership roles.
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2019). Lesson 11: Servant Leadership. PSYCH485: Leadership in Work Settings. Retrieved June 22, 2019, from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su19/2195min-5376/content/11_lesson/printlesson.html