I ventured out to Atacama last May to spend a week with thirty Wharton students to learn some leadership skills in an environment outside of the boardroom. While the people on this trip made it a fantastic camping, hiking, and mountaineering adventure, the leadership lessons were few and far between. But in typical Wharton fashion, I took another plunge last week and headed out to Quantico to see if the Marines could teach me a thing or two.
To set the stage: until this year, Wharton was the only organization that has been invited to train at Quantico outside of the armed forces. Due to a jealous, unnamed competitor school winning a suit against the Marines that demanded access to the specialized training this Wharton venture offers, we were joined by students from Cornell and John Hopkins (the nameless competitor school is still not welcome).
I had heard of all the rumors about this venture. You will get no sleep. You will be screamed at. You will be the dirtiest you have ever been in your life. Reminds me of Wharton 54 and all true. But the lessons learned were unmatched and impossible to replicate in any other format.
As our bus pulled into the vast Quantico Base on Thursday night, my stomach began to tighten. I had been on many armed forces bases throughout my public sector consulting career prior to Wharton, but I never fully gave myself over to the direct authority of the military. I was excited – but wary of what lay ahead.
I don’t want to ruin the surprise and outline the specifics of what transpired, but the venture was without a doubt the best leadership, stretch experience for a non-military person. I can safely say I better understand the life of a Marine and plan to tell as many people as possible about the unique experience. I embrace playing into the Marines expanding their recruiting efforts; I am drunk on their Kool-Aid.
Without going into the details, here is what I took away from the experience:
Take Pride in your actions
Whether it’s the clothes you wear, the manner in which you speak, or the job you do, you should always put forth your best effort. It reminded me of all the times I have seen consultants cut corners at work, politicians blaming others for problems in the news, or waiters being spacey and downright rude. People are always judging. You should do your best work because you represent not only yourself, but those for whom you work. The Marines definitely embody this.
Time is always of the essence. This doesn’t just apply in a warzone. I can’t recount the number of times I sat in a meeting at work or small group project at Wharton and debated the “best” way to do something, only to look up and see nothing has been accomplished. Nike got it right, “just do it!”
Be ready to fail and adjust
Acting quickly can result in failure sometimes (duh). Instead of doubling down because you don’t want to appear to be wrong in front of your superiors, peers, or subordinates, be open to changing your plan. It’s called learning.
Marines are well-rounded
The Marines are not looking for officers who are big, dumb hammerheads – although their physical requires are not easy. In addition to 12-mile runs in full combat gear on a regular basis, each candidate must consecutively complete a 3-mile run in 24 minutes, 8 pull-ups, and 70 crunches in order to graduate. And while there were definitely trials throughout my day on the venture that were physically tiring, fun, and sloppy, the hardest part of the experience was coming up with solutions to nearly impossible tasks. The Marines are looking for problem solvers, because having a good plan can save lives better than any type of munitions.
Although I spent nine months on the ground in Afghanistan before attending Wharton and pledged a fraternity while attending my undergraduate university, the experience was draining and it is clear that I am not cut out to be a Marine. As I write this, I have five bottles of medication sitting in front of me trying to fix the several ailments I now call “Swamp Plague.” And to be realistic, the drill sergeants and captains escorting us were probably going easy on us.
The fact is that our classmates who served in the armed services, and those still out fighting or preparing to be deployed, are superhuman both in physical stature and mental toughness. Thank you all for your service.