My brother Jim Murphy was in college when he announced he was joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He went to officer candidate school, and became an infantry officer and a platoon and company commander. Ultimately, he led Marines during the invasion of Iraq. He came home safely (thank God), got an MBA--and surprised us all again by becoming an executive at big toy companies like Mattel and Activision Blizzard.
Recently, he became an entrepreneur and launched his own company: INVICTA Challenge, which makes mobile games, comics and toys about American heroes in history. (You can find them here and here.) He's my younger brother, but he's a leader--and I doubt I would have later joined the military myself if it weren't for his example. (Don't tell him I said that, though.)
With the Marine Corps Birthday just around the corner, I asked him to help me share some of his insights on things great leaders know--expressed in the aphorisms I've heard him and other Marine officers say many times.
(Check out the other two posts in this series: "10 Things Mentally Tough People Do: Advice From a Former Navy SEAL" and "Want to Lead an Exceptional Life? A Navy SEAL Says Always Do These Things.")
1. "Fortune favors the bold."
This is a cooler way of saying that you make your own luck. If you really want to add some gravitas, say it in Latin like Virgil did: "Audentis Fortuna iuvat." It means that true leaders have a bias for action. The act of moving forward itself can often improve your odds of success.
2. "Pain is only weakness leaving the body."
We have a million of these sayings: "Up the hill, f*ck the hill." Or, "Travel light; freeze at night." It's all about sucking it up when you're faced with tough physical challenges, because going way past your comfort level is part of how you build real mental toughness.
3. "Break glass in case of war."
This is the saying we use to describe Marines who are always in trouble in garrison, but who turn out to be indispensable and brave in war. In civilian life, it's a reminder that everybody has something to contribute. Sometimes, they need the help of a great and selfless leader to bring it out.
4. "Hard training saves lives."
A lot of Marine Corps training is fun, but when it's not fun--well, my God. We don't just push ourselves to the limits for the sake of masochism, though. We understand that the more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.
5. "Semper Gumby"
The official Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis--always faithful. However the unofficial motto is probably "Semper Gumby," meaning, always flexible.
6. "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."
This was Colin Powell's quote, and he was in the U.S. Army--but whatever. The point is that if you can make yourself believe you can accomplish something, just like that you've improved your odds of being successful. Finding humor in even the most difficult situations makes this a lot easier.
7. "Indecision kills."
This is another of those concepts that's so important that Marines have a lot of different aphorisms to communicate it. Standing there with your mouth hanging open, waiting for someone else to decide for you, usually leads to bad things. That's true in combat, and in life.
8. "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."
People often react to crazy stuff in one of two ways: Freeze or charge. The better course is to be disciplined enough to move smartly, smoothly, and deliberately. Think smooth--and you'll be way more efficient than the people around you who are spazzing out.
9. "A good plan now is better than the perfect plan too late."
Dwight Eisenhower once said, "Plans are useless, but planning is indispensible," and that's true--but there comes a time when it's time to act. Momentum is its own reward; besides, no battle plan actually survives first contact with the enemy (and no business plan survives contact with the market).
10. "Service over self."
As a leader, you wind up with both privileges and responsibilities -- but the biggest thing you need to remember is that it's really not about you. Instead, your organization is about the people you lead. The classic manifestation of this is that in the Marines, leaders only eat after everyone else has. That tradition reminds us, and sets the tone.
11. "What would Chesty Puller think?"
Every Marine learns our history and traditions. Chesty Puller was one of the most heroic Marines--awarded the nation's second-highest awards for valor six times (five Navy Crosses, plus the Army's Distinguished Service Cross). This rhetorical question is about making sure the current Marine Corps lives up to his standard. You can adapt it easily to civilian leadership. Think of your mentors and heroes: What would they think of the way you're leading your team?
*Originally published in Inc. Magazine