Looking for some serious advice about being an NCO
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  1. #1

    Lightbulb Looking for some serious advice about being an NCO

    First, greetings to all the Marines on this board who may read or reply to this thread, I really appreciate what advice you might have to offer.

    I'm currently a Lance Cpl, I've been an E-3 for coming up on two years, and very soon I'm slated to pin Corporal chevrons on. I've been aiming for this since I first earned my crossed rifles, and I realize what an honor and a responsibility it is to become an NCO, especially in such a small, specialized, and competitive organization like the US Marine Corps.

    My situation is this. For all but the last week of the time I've spent as an E-3, I've been under a command that is seriously lacking in quality leaders. For 2+ years, I served directly under everything from Cpls to SSgts, and I never once felt that I had a good role model to learn how to lead Marines from. In all this time, I even saw a number of these NCOs and SNCOs get court marshaled and sepped from the Corps for some really low and unforgivable things.

    As I progressed in seniority and became closer to becoming an NCO, I was made a fireteam leader and later, a squad leader, but throughout all that time I always felt I was very much a sub-par leader to my Marines. I simply didn't know how to lead them, and my leaders didn't know how to lead me. I'm at a new command now, and my leadership here is leagues better than before. A lot of the guys and gals I was in charge of before are here with me, but for a small number of technical reasons I'm being promoted before them.

    So here I am, about to be once again given seniority over a large number of Marines who have already seen how I lead, and who I suspect have no great expectations for me. Many of them are naturally charismatic and just fit the mold better, but I'm the one who the torch is being passed to. I want nothing more than to live up to the challenge, but I know some guys are bitter that they aren't picking up when I am.

    I don't make any claim that this isn't largely my own shortcoming, but I do feel somewhat handicapped by the examples I've had to learn from. I have two questions for anyone who's been in my position before or feels that their time as an NCO, SNCO, or higher may relate to me here. First, how did you overcome this kind of obstacle? Secondly, how do you take the reputation you have among your fellow Marines and earn respect for your improvement instead of having them believe you're just on a power trip because you've been promoted? I want to be a strong leader, but I want to do it humbly. My weakness now lies in that I just don't know how to combine charisma and humility. Apologies for rambling. I've lost some sleep over this lately. Advice?

  2. #2
    You got the first part correct, respect is earned, NCO School if you can if not the next best thing would be MCI-NCO leadership. You and you alone will make it happen.

  3. #3

    lead from the front

    an old saying by a certain Chesty Puller.
    Remember that if you are the one in charge. To work harder than the troopers under you. And if you make a decision stick by it no matter the concequence. Never ever back track on a decision. In combat that can get troopers killed. So dont ever make get in the habit of it

  4. #4
    Being a leader is not difficult but it does require a sequence of events. You need to do the following:

    1. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
    2. Know your troops strengths and weaknesses.
    3. Identify what needs to be accomplished (the goal).
    4. Divide the task into logical, non-emotional steps towards completion.
    5. Plan for contingencies. By this I mean if we do this and it doesn't work.... what can we do to fix it?
    6. Select the troops from #2 with the strengths to lead some part of the mission and delegate authority. True leaders will delegate jobs to ensure a timely and efficient completion of the task.
    7. Review your and your troops successes and failures with your troops.
    8. When things go right, you praise your troops to them and to your seniors and if things go wrong, you accept all the failings. If your troops understand that you will always cover their butts, they will bust their butts to make sure you never fail at any given task.
    9. Remember you are a member of the team. There can be no me or them....it must always be we or us.

    If you do this every time...for every task you are assigned.... it will become second nature to you and automatic. It sounds difficult but it will not be as you get used to the process. Leadership is manpower management, knowing you troops and yourself, and the ability to delegate responsibility to others.

    One thing I have repeatedly said here....is to use leadership through example. Make sure your troops understand that you CAN and WILL do any job you assign to them. A good leader is effective in task completion....while a great leader is INVOLVED and EFFECTIVE in task completion.

    Always remember that leadership is a double edged sword. You must always be their leader and while friendly....never quite their friend. You have to be willing to make hard decisions. Put the best up for promotion and no special bennies for those who you have known longer or are closer to being friends than others.

    I hope this helps. Good luck to you and let us know how things go.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by BruceTheFootman View Post
    I always felt I was very much a sub-par leader to my Marines. I simply didn't know how to lead them, and my leaders didn't know how to lead me.
    Out of all of your "rambling," the above is probably the most important. Humility is very important, the moment you think that you %&!* don't stink is the moment you will fail your Marines.

    Leadership by example, to date you have seen examples of sub standard leadership. This in itself is a valuable lesson, you know how it feels to be lead by those types of leaders. Being in a unit where the leadership is lock on is great but you never have a chance to lead in challenging situations...it's all clock work.

    When I was at your present stage in the Corps, I got ahold of a series of books in 1984....it really helped define who I became:


    The above is IMO a must have, there is a series of books spawned from it; Green Side Out, Brown Side Out, Run in Cicles, Scream and Shout.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by hbharrison View Post
    You got the first part correct, respect is earned, NCO School if you can
    welp, these days he won't get a choice. corporal's course is now a requirement

  7. #7
    Thing change, can't say it was a requirment but I say about a third got to go the rest of us had to take the MCI course and get at lest 96%. I can say it shure did help!

  8. #8
    I'll toss in my two cents. To give a brief 'curricula vitae': I was a Fireteam and Squad Leader, 0311. Meritorous Corporal. I was an Intelligence Chief. When I came back in in 97, I 'started over' (the Marine Corps did that sorta thing back then LOL) as a LCpl, and was a team leader, radio chief, training NCO and eventually Platoon Sergeant for both a Foward Deployed unit at the Tip of the spear, and a Platoon Sergeant for a 'broke divck' platoon 'in the rear' that had, in addition to brand new Marines to the FMF awaiting assignment, Marines on appellate hold, 'short-timers', the sick, lame, and lazy. And that included SNCO's. After that stint, I was a 'Radio Chief/Floor NCO'. When I went back to intelligence, I was a section/Team Intelligence Chief, and my last job was as the Operations NCOIC of HQMC, Intelligence Department.

    I don't give that crap above in an attempt to impress you, or anyone else. Many of the billets I held had ZERO chance of day to day leadership. Others, it was a '24/7' operation. I speak from long, hard, blood sweat and tears, experience, I guess is what I'm saying.

    Enough twaddle, on to the meat.

    1: You've learned, through hard experience, what poor leadership is. Likely that will be a far better teacher than I, or any school, or any book. Remember WHAT that poor leadership was....and do the opposite. It sounds simple, but it's not.

    2: READ. Know your MOS front, back, and sideways. Know your job, your Marines job, the squad leaders job, the Platoon Sergeants job, and the Platoon Commanders job. READ. Be able to think about WHAT the Platoon Sergeant is going to task you with, and prep for it ahead of time. THINK what the mission is, and prep for it ahead of time.. Know your Marines, and their capabilities, and know exactly what 'the line' is, how far you can pull them (It's much easier to pull a string than to push it...think on that)....over the line. Because when the crap hits the fan, they'll come to NEED that last little bit of 'oomph' to make it.

    3: Start training your replacement NOW. TODAY. It does you, or your unit, not a davmn bit of good if you are the best of the best of the best...if you have no one to take your place WHEN (not if) you leave, be it EAS, PCS, or the big brown box. Keeping your knowledge to yourself does a disservice to your Marines and your unit.

    4: You don't have to 'out PT' your Marines. You DO have to be able, at the end of the 10 mile hump, where you helped carry someone elses pack, and your own feet are thrashed, to suck it up, get the 'count', ensure everyone is hydrated, feet are checked, weapons cleaned and turned in, and ready for the next mission. That's in addition to taking care of your OWN needs....which also have to be accomplished. AFTER your Marines. That's why you get 'the big bucks' Bloodstripes, respect, and all that.

    5: Know your Marines names. Know their strengths, and weaknesses. That goes "up" as well as "down". If the Platoon Sergeant is a real PIA in the morning without his coffee....then by GOD make sure he GETS it! If your Marines need something...GET it. Don't take 'no' for an answer.

    6: Never expect your Marines to do something you don't want to do, either. Those are the details where 'leading from the front' will make or break you. You know what they are. The sooner they get done, the sooner you can do other stuff.

    7: If your Platoon leader expects something, (and eventually you'll know before it's even assigned) then get it done. I realize this sounds stupid and simple, but it's called 'initiative'. If you are going to get your azz chewed, let it be for jumping the gun and not 'being a slug'.

    8: Did I mention 'READ'? Books are your friend. They will give you knowledge when you need it and comfort when you want it. The NCO Guide, Guidebook, and whatever else you can get your hands on will help and assist you. After the day is done, read something YOU enjoy to relax your mind. Even if you've put in a 15-20 hour day, get in the habit of reading before crashing. RELAX...a fresh mind is more important than a fresh body.

    9: Learn to think and operate with little or no sleep. See my last sentence, above. Being tired, cold, wet, miserable and cranky, yet still able to make GOOD decisions and think clearly is the hallmark of the discliplined leader at any level. Train your mind to think and work out complex problems when you are tired. Start with Math problems and go from there.

    10: You will, at times, meet resistance from your junior Marines. Sometimes it's more productive for you, if you can do it, to 'enlist' the biggest mouth/problem child and put them in charge of something. If they are invested in the mission, whatever that might be, you've just gained an ally and eliminated a problem. Do this publicly. It leaves them little choice but to cooperate or 'lose face'. Make sure you give them 100 percent support and do NOT set them up for failure. Give credit where it's due. You may have to do this more than once, but it's worked for me.

    11: Not every Marine is salvagable. If they are a full time scumbag, document everything you can and take steps to eliminate them. I'm not a fan of the 'We don't send our problem children to others' style. If you've done everything you can, why not let someone else give it a shot?

    12: The books referenced above, by Major Gene Duncan, are a MUST READ for any young wannabee Leader of Marines. Also invest in "Dunk's Almanac". I cannot stress this enough.

    Hopefully, some of these ramblings will help. If I come up with more, I'll post them. Keep us updated on your progress. As you will find, this is NOT an easy road to hoe....but the highest praise I've EVER rec'vd in my career was "I was trained by Sergeant G...". Remember, it's your responsibility to grow other leaders as well as yourself. Your life might just depend on it....and your Marine Corps most certainly does.

    Semper Fi.

  9. #9

    OOOH Rahh

    Cannot emphasize how true and right Lep is on all he said. In summary he just gave you the SNCO's Course. In a Fleet Marine Compression File.
    Only thing I can add to that wonderful Disertation. Is a couple of books
    I found of great help. 1. Tsun Szu,s the Art of War 2. the GO RIN NO SHO
    by Miyamoto Musashi If one nows how the enemy thinks. One has already won the battle.

  10. #10
    This is really great stuff, thank you everybody who's posted so far. This has helped a lot, as has just being in a new command and seeing how good leaders handle things.
    DrZ and Sgt Lep, your posts really had some great stuff in them, and I've made a point of taking them to heart. revleo, curiously enough I just finished reading Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, which prompted me to pick up Go Rin No Sho, and I've also been working my way through the Art of War.

    Thanks again to all who've posted to help me out, I've been concentrating hard lately on getting done what needs to get done, and on planning ahead for the improvements I still need to make. I'll keep checking this thread and I'll let you all know how it works out in a week when I pick up. Semper Fi.

  11. #11
    Keep on....keepin on.

  12. #12
    Phantom Blooper
    Guest Free Member
    Also get a copy of...Handbook For Marine NCOs

    Good reading....

  13. #13
    I made Corporal quickly,thank god I had some Sergeants who quickly put me on the right path!!

  14. #14
    Practice the leadership points daily...in all aspects of your life. Listen to your other NCOs and Senior LCpls. Groom them to be leaders as well.

    A leader does not need to control everything but needs to show confidence in his troops.

    Lep did a great post.... take it to heart and live the lifestyle and you will be fine.

    Again...check in occasionally and let us know how things are going.

  15. #15
    I just wanted to update you all: the promotion went well, I had the opportunity to be pinned by a SSgt whose leadership I've recently come to admire a very great deal, and so far the advice you all have given me has been a big help in getting off on the right foot. Oh and I found the book Sgt Lep mentioned, "Dunk's Almanac" - some really good stuff in there. I've got a few of the other books you all suggested on order.
    Yesterday I had the good fortune of hearing some advice on the subject from a MSgt who said, "picking up rank is so often misunderstood. That extra chevron doesn't signify authority over everybody else, but rather your responsibility for them."
    I thought I'd pass that along should someone in the future find themselves in my situation. Thanks again to everybody who's helped point me in the right direction, it really means a lot. Semper fi

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