Ductus Exemplo: Leading by Example (Part 2)


Surviving in a Performance-Based Culture

Kicking off our series, our first lesson from the U.S. Marine Corps focuses on their unique performance-based culture. Corporate culture is an easy thing to say, but harder to do. Most companies have gone through the exercise of thinking up a series of values and statements – giving those to Human Resources to disseminate. A culture may start this way, but people need ideas they can believe in – ethically sound and morally solid. Guided by their Leadership Principles and Values, the Marines have been perfecting their culture of performance-based leadership since their inception in 1775.

Reinforced on the training grounds and battlefields every day, the metrics of success are clear to every Marine. Their culture pushes everyone to be at their best, while supporting each Marines development and encouraging success.

Be the Example
Culture affects everyone, from the intern answering the phones all the way to the CEO. Instilling passion in employees can be difficult, particularly if leaders are not willing to set standards in the office. One of several Leadership Principles of the Marines is Set the Example: “If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same of your Marines.” Everything from project start to project execution should be demonstrated by leadership, bringing mere value-based words to life. A culture should be a dependable, consistent element. Like the rule of law, it should apply to everyone.

Responsibility First
A culture that only appeals to a company’s bottom line may work in the short-term. But, appealing to the human side of employees with a culture that celebrates them for their unique abilities and teaches them to work together will be more beneficial in the long-run. The Marines exemplify this idea in their Leadership Principle to Seek Responsibility and Take Responsibility for Your Actions: “You are responsible for all your unit does or fails to do. Stick by your convictions and be willing to accept justified and constructive criticism.” The book Corporate Culture and Performance analyzed the cultures of 200 companies. Comparing their long-term economic performance of companies with, and without, “performance-enhancing cultures”. The results were surprising, in terms of sheer scale.

Marines Stats
Facilitating and adapting to change is one of the most powerful results of a robust culture. Taking responsibility for growth within a company’s culture empowers employees to really feel ownership over their career and professional development.

Totally Transparent
Is it a challenge to get everyone’s buy-in on what a culture should be? Sure. But, a big step in the right direction is transparency. When sweeping decisions are made, letting the rumor mill run can be more damaging than whatever problem you were trying to fix – internal communications is key to a successful workplace environment. A critical premise to the Marines’ Leadership Principles is Keep Your Marines Informed. “Informed Marines perform better and, if knowledgeable of the situation, can carry on without your personal supervision. Providing information can inspire initiative.”

A lack of knowledge can lead people to make uninformed decisions that can have a domino effect throughout a company. Keeping everyone informed creates an atmosphere where problems can be openly shared and addressed. In a study published in The Leadership Quarterly, leader transparency and positivity was tested in a control group. The results were incredible. The group with low transparency had nearly 4x the amount of negative responses – even when their leader was equally positive. Meaning that even if you have a positive culture, not sharing with your staff will still leave them with a negative impression.

The Marines cultivated a leadership ethos that has weathered the most challenging situations. By bringing their hard-won lessons to light in corporate America, we can all become better leaders, regardless of our position on the corporate ladder.

Next week, we’re going to take on diversity and recruitment – in culture and creed. Marines light the way with their nuanced messaging strategy that makes some courageous decisions.

How has transparency affected your work satisfaction? Does your company set a good example? Stay tuned for next week’s installment of our Ductos Exemplo series. Send us a message at conversations@jwtinside.com or visit us on Twitter @JWTINSIDE.


Michael Savage, the Director of Employer Brand at JWT INSIDE, is a communications strategist, storyteller and business partner. He has collaborated with executive leadership across a wide range of industries to develop employer brands that align workforces, attract talent and drive business forward. These employer brands have inspired enviable online and offline experiences – conversations, cultures and causes that employees and candidates alike want to join. Contact Michael at Michael.Savage@jwt.com.

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