Two hundred forty-three years after its inception, the U.S. Marine Corps of the 21st century is perplexed by the enigma of societal change triggered by disparate generational tendencies coupled with the overwhelming application of technology, an aspect of evolution that all organizations around the world are attempting to demystify. The Marine Corps is not only faced with societal vicissitudes, it consistently confronts the rigorous challenge of developing solutions that will sustain a battle-winning enterprise on behalf of the Nation—a challenge that is incomprehensible to a company that does not specialize in the business of warfighting. While Marines have unquestionably improvised, adapted, and overcome the most complex challenges a profession has to offer, why is it so problematic for the Corps to apply the same principles to society?

Fortunately for the Marine Corps, its highly mechanistic, rigidly hierarchical organizational structure facilitates a disciplined adherence to doctrine—the substratum of the Corps’ strategic, operational, and tactical success, proven through all of the Nation’s past and present skirmishes. Unfortunately though, the doctrine responsible for cultivating an environment of high morale, exceptional esprit de corps, unbending unit cohesion, and levels of camaraderie that endure bloodshed—the doctrine of leadership urgently requires renovations. If the Marine Corps realistically desires to advance into the future, it must immediately cease the implementation of reactionary measures to change and embrace societal evolution by focusing on the cultivation of culture, the socially constructed reality that can be revolutionarily altered by modernizing its leadership doctrine, and those guidelines that affect the holistic attitude and behavior of an organization.

Because nearly 70 percent of Marines are in their first enlistment, it is undeniably critical that the doctrine delineating how the Corps’ members should influence others to achieve a common goal is unparalleled as it relates to mission accomplishment. However, there is a ubiquitous consensus that leadership involves considerably more than literal goal accomplishment. Leadership is at the root of every dilemma the Corps is currently confronting: active and passive discrimination and harassment, suicidal ideations, personal and operational calamities, and the inescapable issue of alcoholism. It is imperative that leaders across all ranks comprehend the concept of culture and how its elements can be altered to induce a positive transformation of comportment. When this enlightenment occurs, the institutional policymakers will recognize that the positive change desperately required on behalf of the Marine Corps will only be facilitated by radically altering the leadership doctrine to exemplify trust, authenticity, unity, respect, compassion, empowerment, and many other empirically proven attributes of efficacious influence. The Marine Corps’ senior leader philosophy of intransigence on behalf of future generations is antiquated, preposterous, and inexcusable.

A Socially Constructed Reality

In order to effectively foster the geographically dispersed environments of the Marine Corps that will reduce unprofessionalism, embrace inclusivity, and ensure Marines are provided the opportunity to positively grow, the culture must change. However, an agreed-upon definition of organizational culture must first be established in order to identify cultural elements that can be manipulated to begin the organizational change process. The following is a comprehensive social-science definition:

a social reality among the majority of an organization that is founded on values, standards, traits, principles, knowledge, skills, vision, philosophies, history, traditions, and customs that are accepted, internalized, and manifested through attitudes and behaviors.1

The fundamental key to changing culture is changing the foundational means in which it currently operates, e.g., its values, principles, and standards.2 However, “effective change” also relies on changing the “images and values that are to guide action. Without this support, it is unlikely that these other changes will have the desired effect.”3 One of the existential problems that contributes to the plethora of issues facing the Marine Corps is the need to treat everyone equally, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, beliefs, or religion. To achieve genuine equality and create an atmosphere of the highest professionalism, the standards, values, traits, and principles that are to guide action must reflect the desired end state; only then will the institution begin to prevent organizationally debilitating issues.

Cultural Change Proposal

Enlisted boot camp and Officer Candidates School inculcate the root of Marine Corps leadership through the memorization and regurgitation of its principles and traits, change must be achieved through doctrinal modification. The current fourteen Marine Corps leadership traits should be changed to Marine Corps individual traits. Leadership traits are the “basic fundamentals that Marines use to develop their own leadership abilities and that of their subordinates.”4 While a correlation exists between the current traits and leadership, traits do not encompass what is necessary to influence others in a positive manner and to not only accomplish the mission but transcend beyond their limitations. Tact, bearing, loyalty, initiative, integrity, and enthusiasm are great follower and/or conduct traits but not leadership traits, especially as it relates to the following universal definition of the concept:

to influence and empower others to achieve a common goal by conveying a clear purpose, providing sound guidance and inspiration that encourages initiative to perform exceptionally, eliciting personal and professional growth throughout the process, and continually ensuring their holistic welfare.

Doctrine states, “If a Marine religiously pursues attainment of all the leadership traits, he/she will unequivocally set a good example.”5 “Setting a good example” is the purpose of our fourteen leadership traits, not “profoundly [influencing others] to achieve a common goal through unity, inspiration, and motivation.” The phenomenon of leadership involves much more in the realm of human influence, especially given the current and future generation of Marines. Redefining what it means to truly lead through the traits inculcated in entry-level training and sustained after the transformation will lead to a healthier, more productive, and more lethal culture.

The recommended fourteen Marine Corps leadership traits are delineated in the acronym AUTHENTIC CORPS, capturing universally accepted, effective, and empirically proven 21st century qualities and behaviors to lead men and women effectively, in garrison or on the battlefield. The acronym itself is nuanced to convey a message that the institution will remain original, unique, and true to its legacy, expressing a timeless phrase. Furthermore, the word “authentic” or “being real” is empirically proven to be the number one attribute Millennials and Generation Z (and, likely, future generations) desire in a leader. These traits improve our influential style of leading this generation and attracting future Marines.6


Being authentic epitomizes the sincere and genuine interest Marines deserve from their leaders. The core values for authentic leaders motivate them to do what is right and fair for their followers and create a special type of relationship with them that includes high mutual trust; transparency; guidance toward worthy, shared objectives; and an emphasis on follower welfare and development.7 The self-concepts and self-identities of authentic leaders are strong, clear, stable, and consistent. These leaders have a high self-awareness about their values, beliefs, emotions, identities, and abilities. In other words, they know who they are and what they believe. They also have a high degree of self-acceptance, which is similar to emotional maturity.8


The ability to unite a group of Marines to work effectively as a team, no matter how small or large, is at the core of true influence regardless of the mission, especially concerning the sustainment of Marine Corps values, ideologies, a positive culture, and the accomplishment of the mission.

The unity of organizational culture can be characterized by congruence between organizational, managerial, and employees’ values, trust, the intensity of exchanges between management and employees, identification with the organization, strong motivation to contribute to organizational goals and teamwork, the assumption of responsibility, and accountability for one’s actions.9

Lastly, unity is the key factor that assists in an organization’s ability to accept and respect diversity through following consistent established values.10 Trust is a very special human experience, produced by the chemical oxytocin in response to acts performed on our behalf that serve our safety and protection. True trust can only exist among people, and we can only trust others when we know they are actively and consciously concerned about us.11 Author Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, quotes Hank Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury and CEO of Goldman Sachs, as saying that it is “a leader’s responsibility to demonstrate what it means to keep your word and earn a reputation for trustworthiness.”12 And Marine Corps doctrine states that trust—“in the Marine Corps and in unit leaders who consistently set the example expected of military professionals”—is “vital to establishing unit cohesion,”13 that “horizontal cohesion” or “peer bonding … is the building of a sense of trust and familiarity between individuals of the same rank or position,”14 and that vertical cohesion “draws peer groups into a cohesive unit,” or a larger unit made up of different ranks and positions, through mutual trust and respect.15


A leader who exercises humility on a visceral level “treats others with respect, avoids status symbols and special privileges, admits limitations and mistakes, is modest about achievements, [and] emphasizes the contributions by others when a collective effort is successful.”16 Humility is the antithesis to arrogance, the narcissistic personality trait that causes insidious entropy that is correlated with low morale, negative command climate, minimal esprit de corps, and lackluster unit cohesion.


Leaders who empower subordinates provide the ownership required for subordinates to take pride in their responsibilities, thus producing higher quality work output and mitigating micromanagerial tendencies. This “employee empowerment” is a “delegation of power and responsibility from higher levels in the organizational hierarchy to lower level employees, especially the power to make decisions,”17 which encourages members of an organization to feel comfortable expressing concerns or dissenting views without fear of reprisal.18


To be noble is to inherently demonstrate honor regardless of the situation, and our Marines “have learned a nobler way of life, … are able to draw from their experiences, and they are prepared to be leaders within the Corps and within their communities and businesses.”19 “Experience teaches us that leadership can be exercised through noble uplifting pursuits,”20 and there is nothing more noble than serving one’s country. Marines who yearn to exemplify a leader will not only be noble in their actions but will instill a sense of nobility in others, ensuring that their peers, subordinates, and superiors alike understand the gravity of representing the institution.


There is a reason the 37th Commandant placed Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action on his reading list. The essence of open communications mitigates gossip, complexity, and confusion, along with inducing pride in one’s purpose. “Trust is an antecedent and consequence of transparency. Transparency is necessary to create a sense of trustworthiness and accountability.”21 When leadership is transparent, “employee engagement is enhanced because employees have a better understanding of how their role fits into the strategic direction of the organization, and they tend to trust management more.”22


In his article “Inspiration at Work: Is It an Oxymoron?,” Dr. Alex Avramenko writes, “Being inspirational for leaders ‘is not about results per se’; it is about ‘capturing hearts, minds, and souls,’ which, consequently, would materialize in great results after all.”23 When a leader is inspirational, he motivates subordinates, peers, and superiors alike on a very visceral level, inducing a level of performance that transcends beyond what is typically expected.

Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.24


Leaders must make every effort to view problems, situations, and circumstances through the lenses of their subordinates by actively listening in order to provide the guidance required to correct deficiencies, inspire, influence and, ultimately, make a profound positive difference in one’s life. When a leader demonstrates compassion, it helps subordinates “cope with emotional distress, encourages acceptance of diversity … and encourages forgiveness and reconciliation after a divisive conflict.”25

The gut-level value systems are, fact, dramatically different between the generations … the focus should not be so much on how to change other people to conform to our standards, our values. Rather, we must learn how to accept and understand other people in their own right, acknowledging the validity of their values, their behavior.26


The concept of competency can relate to leadership, management, technical and tactical proficiency, emotional intelligence, institutional internalization (embodying the Marine Corps’ image and the performance it demands), and any other aspect of life or profession that assists the individual in adding value and becoming a force multiplier on behalf of his specific organization and the entire institution. When a leader is competent, he builds a sense of confidence among subordinates that he will provide the solution or at least the direction to overcome challenges.


A leader’s obligation is to remain realistic in order to properly manage expectations. However, a leader can be realistic while emphasizing the positive aspects of a situation, which can have extremely profound positive impacts on the members of an organization.

confidence and optimism about the possibility of achieving difficult task objectives are motivational concepts that help to explain the performance of an individual, team, or organization. Without confidence that their efforts will succeed, people are unlikely to persist in attempting to accomplish a difficult task objective.27


Is respect not an inherent trait of functioning as a human? Having respect for all Marines, regardless of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or creed provides for not only a work environment of equality, friendliness, compassion, and understanding (leading to increased quality productivity), it provides the impetus for societal acceptance of differences. Respect “is one of the most valued assets people’s daily jobs” and is often as important or of even greater importance than “salary or job security.”28


Being proactive can be confused with taking initiative; while both are similar in nature, proactivity epitomizes the behavior of not just completing a task without being told to do so innovating, bettering oneself and others, and positively changing circumstances regardless of cause.

Individual-level proactive behavior refers to self-starting, future-focused action in which the individual aims to change the external situation, such as improving work methods, or to change some aspect of his/her self, such as improving one’s performance by actively seeking feedback from a supervisor.29

It is the trait of proactivity that will affect and, more importantly, sustain positive change within the organization.


A leader who truly “serves” the institution empowers followers; assists them in becoming wiser, healthier, and “more willing to accept their responsibilities;” listens; and opposes inequality and social injustice.30 Being a servant to subordinates is a leadership style that induces trust, respect, and admiration among subordinates; it is the epitome of being altruistic on behalf of the institution and its members.

The servant-leader is servant first … It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to [satisfy] an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.31 

A servant-leader experiences self-fulfillment through assisting others in achieving success, not through a sense of power or external recognition.


It is evident that Marine Corps leadership doctrine requires modernization to philosophically provide the behaviors that will improve the concepts of dignity, equality, compassion, trust, and respect for fellow members of the organization. The irony of this “leadership doctrine dilemma” is enlightening: those labeled “unorthodox” leaders who have been emulated for decades were embodying the AUTHENTIC CORPS qualities all along, inducing a level of positive followership that stimulated exceptional quality work output, standard adherence, the internalization of Marine ideals, the mitigation of personal and professional issues, and the retention of undoubtedly value-added, force-multiplying Marines.

Regardless of the volume of future institutional campaigns to combat societally driven challenges, the Marine Corps’ cultural elements concerning leadership doctrine must provide the guiding principles for the solution, or the campaigns will inevitably fail. If it is empirically proven that building trust, embracing diversity, and fostering cohesive units bonded by respect and professionalism will mitigate the current and future infiltration of entropic issues, the Corps’ leadership qualities must reflect what is required to facilitate that desired end state. Autocratic, authoritarian-style leadership (personified by the Marine Corps) will ensure that the most senior leaders’ messages are received, but only the few authentic, selfless, servant-style leaders currently in the Corps can ensure acceptance, internalization, and action on behalf of their Marines, moderating the issues that are hindering the institution from focusing on warfighting proficiency. However, if leadership doctrinal guidance is revolutionized, beginning with the fourteen leadership traits, the foundation will be solidified to cultivate an environment that will induce the proliferation of altruism, a concept that the institution is in desperate need of.


1. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013). See also Gareth Morgan, Images of Organization, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2006).

2. Mohammad Essawi, “Changing Organizational Culture through Constructive Confrontation of Values,” Journal of Organization and Human Behavior, (India: Publishing India Group, 2012). See also John P. Kotter, Leading Change, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2012); and Images of Organization.

3. Images of Organization.

4. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCRP 6-11B w/ch 1, Marine Corps Values: A User’s Guide for Discussion Leaders, (Washington, DC: 1998).

5. Ibid.

6. Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, (New York, NY: Atria Paperback, 2014).

7. Gary Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010).

8. Ibid.

9. Mark Addleson, Scott Brumburgh, and Raj Chawla, “From Fragmentation to Aligning: Organizational Coaching and Ten Conversations for Organizing Knowledge Work,” Reflections, (2005). See also Johanna Kujala, Hanna Lehtimäki, and Raminta Pucctaite, “Trust and Distrust Constructing Unity and Fragmentation of Organizational Culture,” Journal of Business Ethics, (New York: Springer, 2016).

10. “Trust and Distrust Constructing Unity and Fragmentation of Organizational Culture.”

11. Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2014).

12. Stephen M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2006).

13. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCWP 6-11; Leading Marines, (Washington, DC: 2002).

14. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCRP 6-11D; Sustaining the Transformation, (Washington, DC: 1999).

15. Ibid.

16. Leadership in Organizations.

17. Hanna Arnerson and Kerstin Ekberg, “Measuring Empowerment in Working Life: A Review,” (2006). See also Kevin Baird and Haiyin Wang, “Employee Empowerment: Extent of Adoption and Influential Factors,” Personnel Review, (Bingley: MCB University Press, 2010); Andrew R.J. Dainty, Alan Bryman, and Andrew D.F. Price, “Empowerment within the UK Construction Sector,” Leadership and Organization Development Journal, (Bingley: MCB University Press, 2002); and Laura I. Langbein, “Ownership, Empowerment, and Productivity: Some Empirical Evidence on the Causes and Consequences of Employee Discretion,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2002).

18. Leadership in Organizations.

19. MCRP 6-11B w/ch 1, Marine Corps Values.

20. Robert E. Wenig, “Leadership Knowledge and Skill: An Enabler for Success as a Technology Education Teacher-Leader,” Journal of Technology Studies, (Epsilon Pi Tau, Inc., 2004).

21. Denise L. Parris, Jennifer L. Dapko, Richard W. Arnold, and Danny Arnold, “Exploring Transparency: A New Framework for Responsible Business Management,” Management Decision, (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing 2016).

22. “Exploring Transparency” See also G.R. Vogelgesang and P.B. Lester, “Transparency: How Leaders Can Get Results by Laying It on the Line,” Organizational Dynamics, (Amesterdam: Elsevier, 2009).

23. Alex Avramenko, “Inspiration at Work: Is It an Oxymoron?” Baltic Journal of Management, (Bingley, 2014). See also R. Goffee and G. Jones, (2006); Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?, (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2006.

24. John P. Kotter, “What Leaders Really Do,” Harvard Business Review, (Boston, MA: 2001).

25. Leadership in Organizations.

26. Generation Me.

27. Leadership in Organizations.

28. Niels Van Quaquebeke, Sebastian Zenker, and Tilman Eckloff, “Find Out How Much It Means to Me!: The Importance of Interpersonal Respect in Work Values Compared to Perceived Organizational Practices,” Journal of Business Ethics, (Berlin: Springer, 2009). See also Catharina Decker and Nieis Van Quaquebeke, “Getting Respect from a Boss You Respect: How Different Types of Respect Interact to Explain Subordinates’ Job Satisfaction as Mediated by Self-Determination,” Journal of Business Ethics, (Berlin: Springer,2015).

29. Sharon Parker, Helen Williams, and Nick Turner, “Modeling the Antecedents of Proactive Behavior at Work,” Journal of Applied Psychology, (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2006).

30. Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1977). See also Leadership in Organizations.

31. Servant Leadership.