Leaders eat last: 10 leadership habits developed in uniform

Military leadership starts the day you take your oath

Leaders eat last: 10 leadership habits developed in uniform

Ceremonial Guard Marines and sailors march to center stage during the Department of the Navy Tribute to African American Leadership at the Pentagon. (Photo courtesy of DVIDS)

By David Burke 

If two privates are walking side-by-side, one takes the lead. Military leadership starts the day you take your oath. Below are ten habits developed within months, or even days, of putting on a uniform. These qualities are constantly refined through stress, responsibility, and austere environments; extreme experiences that test and develop military leaders, making these powerful, long-lasting habits.

1. (Sometimes false) Motivation - Funny place to start, but it's amazing what your excitement can do for a team. Make enthusiasm a habit and you'll be easier to follow - if you come up short on the real thing, sometimes you just gotta fake it 'til ya make it.

2. Bias for Action - Stress and time constraints force decisions, and action with an 80 percent solution is almost always better than doing nothing.

3. Command Presence - You can't lead from behind or lead a team that can't hear you, so get in front, know your shit, and be heard.

4. Esprit de Corps - Loyalty and pride in your mission makes the difference between punching out after a half-assed job and a job well-done no matter how long it takes. If you don't have any pride, your team won't either.

5. Fair Discipline - Today you're a teammate, tomorrow you're the boss. It only takes once to learn fair discipline garners respect from subordinates, peers, and superiors alike. Unfair discipline will cut your days as a leader short.

6. Second and Third Order Effects - Bias for action needs to be tempered by understanding the global impact of local decisions. This helps you avoid spending all your time undoing what you just did.

7. Credit When it's Right, Responsibility When it's Not - If it's a grand slam, all credit goes to the team. If it's FUBAR, brace yourself and take the beating, then work with the team to fix it.

8. Team First - A leader that stands alone already failed. Always put your team first, and you'll be happy where you finish.

9. Accountability - How many do you have, where are they, what condition are they in? Whether you're accountable for a simple task list, a department, a customer base, a fleet of equipment, or 1,000 employees, knowing the answer to these three questions at all times will help keep you in the lead.

10. Leaders Eat Last - Don't eat until everyone else on your team does. You sacrifice personal interests and self-serving actions to support your team. This is symbolic of what should drive many of your decisions, and who knows, maybe you'll shed a couple extra pounds you’ve been lugging around, too.

Come out on a Team Rubicon operation and you’ll quickly see these habits demonstrated by our field leaders. And don’t worry, if they’re leading with the team in mind, no one will go hungry because a good team never lets anyone miss a meal.

Team Rubicon's Senior Field Operations Associate David Burke graduated from the University of Iowa where he majored in business. He served just under 5 years in the Marine Corps as a logistics officer and he deployed to Iraq with RCT-8 and to Afghanistan with the 2d Marine Division. David finished active service as a Captain in Quantico, VA, supporting the M1A1 Tank and M88 Recovery Vehicle.