Leadership, Marines style
Former officer uses skills she learned in Corps to help women excel in business
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Everything Courtney Lynch needed to know about business she learned in the Marine Corps.

And now the former officer is helping other businesswomen build their leadership skills -- the Marines way.

In the Corps -- Lynch calls it "the ulti-mate boys' club" -- she learned to lead in a military organization where her peers were almost all men. Of 180,000 Marines, only 1,000 are female officers.

After she left the Corps in 2000, the Fairfax County woman became a marketing manager with a large software company.

"I was directly using everything I learned in the Marine Corps and being very successful," she said during a phone interview during a recent hectic business trip.

Meanwhile, Lynch noticed other women who were "great in their fields . . . but they were just missing something."

That something was a leadership education like she had gotten in the Corps.

Working with another former Marine officer, Angie Morgan, she formed a company -- Lead Star out of Fairfax -- to show women how they could be successful leaders in their work.

"We knew we had something unique," said the 31-year-old graduate of the College of William and Mary's law school.

Today, the company's clients include Raytheon Corp., Wal-Mart, Sabre Holdings --Travelocity's parent firm -- and the Girl Scouts.

Women are not generally taught to be decisive, commanding and ready to take risks, Lynch believes, and she was not a born leader.

Lynch trained to be a Marine officer at the Quantico Marine Corps Base and served in Japan, Indonesia, Korea and Thailand, leading units as large as 50 troops and as small as teams of four.

She finished her initial service as a spokeswoman for the Marine Corps at the Pentagon. She twice earned the Navy Achievement Medal as well as the Joint Commendation Medal for distinguished performance, leaving active duty as a captain.

"The Marine Corps gave me a reference point for what I could achieve in life," she said, "by pushing me beyond every conceived limitation I had for myself."

But the fact that a "typical all-American girl" could become a full-up member of the Marine Corps -- a "hard-as-nails organization," Lynch said -- shows than anyone can learn how to be a leader.

"You can be a leader if you're a receptionist," she assures women in her seminars, Lynch said.

A leader is someone who influences results and inspires others, said Lynch, who is married and pregnant now with twins. With their many roles in society, she said, that's a definition that fits women like the Marines' well-tailored dress uniform.

Lynch and Morgan have also written a new book, "Leading from the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women" with the Corps' famed eagle, globe and anchor prominently displayed on the cover -- to pass on that message. It is in its fourth printing so far this year, Lynch said.

"Our message is simple," Lynch said, though "it's hard to live up to.

"Leadership is not about being complex," she said. "It's about being effective."

Women first served in the Marines during World War I, and more than 22,000 officers and enlisted women joined the Corps during World War II as part of the Women's Reserve.

Since World War II, and especially since 1970s and the advent of America's all-volunteer armed forces, more and more women have had experiences such as Lynch's.

"Their view is 'Don't tell me what I can't do,'" said retired Army Brig. Gen. Jack Mountcastle. "'Let me show you what I can do.'"

As a history professor at West Point, Richmonder Mountcastle taught the first class of women admitted to the U.S. Military Academy almost 30 years ago.

Today, an estimated 1.7 million women are veterans of service in the American military, according to Robert E. Klein with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and more than 200,000 women are serving on active duty with the U.S. armed forces.

"You can take the girl out of the Corps," Lynch said, "but you can't take the Marine Corps out of the girl."

Contact staff writer Peter Bacqué at pbacque@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6813.