A back issue of Harvard Business Review describes how the U.S. Marine Corps – which hires a lot of young, unskilled, and sometimes troubled youth – manages to “outperform all other organizations when it comes to engaging the hearts and minds of the frontline.”
The study found one key: leadership by example. “Our highest priority was the lowest-ranking individual rifleman,” recalls co-author Jason Santamaria, a former USMC officer who is now a business analyst with McKinsey & Co. in Houston. “For instance, Marine officers never eat until their Marines have.” Santamaria estimates he spent between 50-90% of his time working directly with the people who reported to him.
Leading by example includes being willing to roll up your sleeves. Southwest Airline CEO Herb Kelleher is famous for the days he spent working the gates and handling baggage. At Marriott, “The manager of this hotel was impeccably dressed, but if he saw a piece of trash on the ground, he would pick it up and put it in his pocket.” Like the Marine Corps, Marriott has a well-defined set of values.
But what if your company’s values aren’t as clear? You have to articulate them yourself, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is constant reinforcement of those values. You need to recognize people when they do something that exemplifies the values that you want them to aspire to.”