“Backbone” USMC Leadership Traits – JJDIDTIEBUCKLE

by Cpl. Beddoe, 2013

JJDIDTIEBUCKLE is an acronym used by Marines representing their 14 leadership traits.

Justice, Judgment, Dependability, Initiative, Decisiveness, Tact, Integrity, Endurance, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty,& Enthusiasm.

BACKBONE is a fantastic book (Julia Dye, Ph.D., 2011) about those leadership traits and includes fitting stories of iconic Leathernecks and others who signified those traits in their actions in and out of combat.

backboneIf there is one constant about the fourteen leadership traits recognized by the Marine Corps, it is that not one of them stands alone or above all the others. They are intertwined and interdependent, like the parts of a fine watch or the gears in a complex machine. Absent one trait, all the others are affected: the watch loses time, the machine malfunctions. Without unselfishness, it may be difficult to be dependable. Without knowledge, it’s tough to make solid judgment calls.

For Marines, it’s about the mission and keeping the mission central to each tactical decision. Today’s complex and knowledge-intensive world requires the kind of bottom-up leadership that Marine NCO’s undertake every day.

I have summarized each trait below, using verbatim text in most cases, based on what I took away from each section in Backbone. I highly recommend acquiring a copy of the book for reference and for the great history lessons.

Justice
Justice is the practice of being fair and consistent. A just person gives consideration to each side of a situation and bases rewards or punishments on merit. As good leaders, we have to hold people accountable. We have to show that if you do good, you get good things. If you do bad, you will be held accountable.

Judgment
Often, leaders must assess situations quickly and without significant time to reflect. The Marine Corps refers to the “70 Percent Solution,” meaning an imperfect solution that can be acted upon quickly, rather than waiting for the perfect judgment – which may never come. This guideline doesn’t advise acting in extreme haste; rather, it advises avoiding “analysis Paralysis.” It argues that with 70 percent of the possible knowledge, having completed 70 percent of the analysis, and with a confidence rate of about 70 percent, the time is right to make an informed judgment.

Dependability
Amidst the stress and chaos of combat, there often is no telling how people will react. A hero one day may be a catatonic wreck the next. Some would say that’s perfectly understandable. Marines say that’s totally unacceptable. Marines demand dependability in all situations – on and off the battlefield. Leaders have consistency in crisis and do not over commit. They do what they say they’ll do when they say they’ll do it.

Initiative
Find a way to take the initiative; don’t do it for the recognition or for the glory, do it to help accomplish the mission. Think outside the box, try new things, and consider new solutions to existing problems. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome!

Decisiveness
Research indicates that most people make decisions intuitively rather than analytically more than 90 percent of the time. The Handbook for Marine NCOs has the following advice for modern Marines: “Make sound and timely decisions. TO make a sound decision, you should know your mission, what you are capable of doing to accomplish it, what means you have to accomplish it, and what possible impediments or obstacles exist (in combat, these would be enemy capabilities) that might stand in the way. Timeliness is also important as soundness. In many military situations, a timely, though inferior, decision is better than a long-delayed theoretically correct, decision.

Tact
Tact is the ability to communicate in the language that best allows a listener to understand the message or meaning that’s being communicated and to be motivated to act upon it. Given that background, the tactful leader chooses the language or behavior that will help the people in his audience to motivate themselves. Tact is the ability to say something or make a point in such a way that not only is the other person not offended; they are totally receptive. Being tactful comes with training and maturity but it’s also determined by making the right decisions – the right decisions about what to say, when to say it, how to say it, and who to say it to.

Integrity
Integrity in a leader is reflected by honesty as well as a desire to inspire and a devotion of values that the leader constantly tried to communicate to those he or she leads. The leader with integrity can rarely if ever relax a commitment to what he or she believes is the behavior that best reflects those closely held values. When followers see leaders acting with integrity, they are more likely to want to emulate that quality. Integrity is the cornerstone of leadership. There’s only one thing that no one can take away from you. They can take your life, they can take your savings, they can take your property, they can take everything you’ve got… but the one thing no one can take from you is you integrity, your honor. You have to voluntarily give that up. You’re the owner of your integrity. And some people sell it awfully cheap.

Endurance
The enduring leader defaults to responsibility. If something must be done, then it must be done, even if the best resources or relevant training aren’t available. During the battle of Guadalcanal, Marine John Basilone exemplified endurance when he manned his machine gun non-stop for three days and nights without sleep, rest, or food stalling the efforts of an entire enemy regiment. At the end of the battle, only three Marines from Basilone’s machinegun crew were still standing. Basilone endured with a pair of burned hands. Basilone’s asbestos gloves had been lost in the chaos and he used his bare hands to handle the hot guns.

Bearing
A Marine with bearing is driven toward a goal with purpose, jumping at opportunities with self-improvement that increase his ability to reach that goal. Bearing is about channeling that drive to other people. Leaders with bearing know where they stand, and they understand the environment in which they work. They set an example for others to follow in both attitude and behavior.

Unselfishness
Unselfish leaders make decisions that benefit as many as possible, without worrying too much about themselves. They look out for the welfare of their teams beyond simple job descriptions, legal concerns, and even their own personal comfort. And they do this most particularly in difficult situations.

Courage
Courage is never an easy commodity to find, whether it’s disciplining a subordinate, standing up to superiors, or facing swarms of charging enemies. Courage is situational; it lives in the moments when it is required by people who believe in themselves and in priorities beyond personal comfort and the risks of pain or failure. Courage is doing what’s right, adhering to a higher standard of personal conduct; to lead by example and to make tough decisions under stress and pressure. It is the inner strength that enables a Marine to take that extra step.

Knowledge
The business of knowing what to do and how to do it lifts the leader above the crowd. Knowledge goes beyond the facts of the job; it is also knowledge of your team: who they are and what motivates them. It is knowledge of the culture in which you work, so that you understand what your superior’s goals and missions are. And is also is self-knowledge: unflinchingly knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and having a desire to excel. Sharing knowledge with subordinates can feel to some leaders as though they are giving up control, and they may be loathe to do so. In reality, though, leaders are not effective because they are the knowledge holders. Rather, the best leaders are the ones who make knowledge available to their teams and understand how best to deploy that knowledge in the best possible manner.

Loyalty
A leader expresses loyalty to his subordinates by supporting their needs and ensuring their welfare in a number of ways. Subordinates express loyalty to that sort of caring leadership by positively and efficiently carrying out the leader’s orders and instructions. Loyalty is the most common expression of aspects of all Marine Corps leadership traits and characteristics. Those who get it express it through dedication and professional performance of duty. The most loyal Marine or employee is not necessarily the one who has held the job longest. Some are simply marking time, with little or no interest in making valuable contributions to the organization.

Enthusiasm
When we’re enthusiastic about something, we’re willing to sacrifice for it. People who are enthusiastic about a cause will sacrifice time and money for it. People who are enthusiastic about their jobs will make personal sacrifices to spend time at work and educate themselves to do a better job. Men and women who are enthusiastic about being Marines understand that sacrifice might come at a very high price. Even when the requirements are difficult, enthusiastic leaders set aside any negative aspects of the mission and focus on the positive energy they can bring to the table. It’s not easy. It takes more than a little self-discipline. But it works, and a show of enthusiasm often leads to truly inspirational behavior.

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  • Rick Martinez

    A physician can almost always diagnose a patient’s illness by what kinds of medications a patient is taking. In a similar way, an outsider can to a large degree tell what kind of leader a person is by the character values they adhere to. I am very proud of America’s Marines based upon the 14 Leadership Traits I read for the first time here. They are rooted in the “good man”/ fellow person–the highest accolade that can be bestowed on any of us.
    And beyond all other excellent traits, there is one that not only “fits-in” but “stands-out” as virtue:
    Unselfishness. More often than not, we as “human animals” must fight against our nature of being selfish. When we are cognizant of this, it is virtue–upon which all other traits take their place in mind and action. Congratulations to YOU, Marines–Americans all–for your virtues and service.