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Marine Corps Philosophy

Updated on September 26, 2012

The Marine Corps Philosophy has evolved over its 233 year history into a three pronged approach to individual and team development: 1.) The Character Discipline 2.) The Physical Discipline 3.)The Mental Discipline

This three-pronged approach is worth consideration by all members of the military as well as civilians who are interested in personal development.


There are four components above all others that govern the character discipline Marines are taught. They are:

1. Core Values

2. Leadership Objectives

3. Leadership Traits

4. Leadership Principles

Marines are systematically indoctrinated with all aspects of this philosophy so that it can guide their thoughts and actions.

Core Values

When General Krulak became Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1995 he refocused the Marine Corps on its core values. While I don't know if there is a connection, in 1994 Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras published their book Built to Last which was the result of a six year research study on enduring great institutions. In their book they discuss the importance of core values to "preserve the core, and stimulate progress." According to Built to Last, the trick to core values is to accurately describe values that are already there, not to invent values that an organization thinks would be useful. The Marine Corps' focus on its core values is one of the reasons the Marine Corps is an enduring great institution.

The Marine Corps' core values are:

1. Honor

2. Courage

3. Commitment

Leadership Objectives

Primary Objective: Mission Accomplishment

Secondary Objective: Troop (or team) Welfare

Leadership Traits

To me, the application of the leadership traits is similar to Benjamin Franklin's approach to his moral perfection project. Franklin did visit Marines in 1775 -- and was impressed with the snakes the drummers painted on their drums with the phrase "Don't Tread on Me." -- but I've been unable to verify any direct influence on the leadership traits. Still, its application is similar in concept.

  1. Judgment
  2. Justice
  3. Dependability
  4. Integrity
  5. Decisiveness
  6. Tact
  7. Initiative
  8. Enthusiasm
  9. Bearing
  10. Unselfishness
  11. Courage
  12. Knowledge
  13. Loyalty
  14. Endurance

Leadership Principles

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

2. Know your employees and look out for their welfare

3. Develop a sense of responsibility among your employees

4. Be technically and tactically proficient

5. Make sound and timely decisions

6. Keep your employees informed

7. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

8. Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished

9. Train your employees as a team

10. Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities

11. Set the example

Insights into Core Ideology and Leadership

If you understand the principles in these books with regards to core ideology, and level 5 leadership--and how the Marine Corps' approach aligns with these concepts--you'll start to see why the Marine Corps is an organization worth studying and emulating.


Whether storming a beach, or carrying 70 lbs of gear 20 miles, it takes an enormous amount of physical toughness to be a Marine. Civilians too will benefit from being physically fit. I've seen first hand the massive amount of effort it takes to start a business and have learned a key principle: Before you can manage your time you have to first manage your energy.

Maxing the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test

Marines typically work out as a group three times a week, and have to take a physical fitness test twice a year. Below are the standards to max the test. Although most Marines don't max the test these are the standards they aspire to. Most Marines don't even know the minimum standards to pass the test because they are not concerned with minimum standards as a rule.

1. 20 dead-hang pull-ups

2. 100 crunches in two minutes

3. Run 3 miles in 18 minutes


Over the last two decades the Marine Corps has been improving its system to make smarter Marines. The Marine Corps developed a reading program, established Marine Corps University, and gives ongoing professional military education as Marines move from one rank to the next. In 1999 when General Jones became commandant, he implemented the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) and the Marine Corps further strengthened its commitment to the synergy of the Character, Physical, and Mental Disciplines.

What Psychologists Know About the Learning Process

Cognitive Psychology and Instruction (4th Edition)
Cognitive Psychology and Instruction (4th Edition)

This is one of the most influential books I've ever read. It details the latest theories on learning and cognition.


How is Marine Corps Ideology Relevant?

The Marine Corps practices Maneuver Warfare, a flexible method of operations that allows Marines at the lowest levels to make decisions based on the commander's intent. This means Marines at all levels have to be well trained and able to use sound judgment, and decisiveness in order to accomplish the mission in a rapidly changing environment.

A rapidly changing environment isn't a phenomenon that only Marines face. With increasing health, education, and energy costs coupled with global competition, learning how to adapt along the three disciplines is going to be essential for all Americans, not just Marines.

The Marine Corps Way: Using Maneuver Warfare to Lead a Winning Organization
The Marine Corps Way: Using Maneuver Warfare to Lead a Winning Organization

This book conveys how the principles of manuever warfare relate to the business world.



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