What are the 14 leadership principles of the Marine Corps?

What are the 14 leadership principles of the Marine Corps?

Way before there even was a Nation, there were Marines with the willingness and determination to win their battles. This determination was and is still anchored on leadership principles. The United States Marine Corps has carved leaders who stand as models of strength, honor, and strategic acumen. The Marine Corps doesn't just train warriors; it moulds leaders who can navigate the complexities of any mission. At the heart of this leadership ethos lie the 14 Leadership Principles, a guiding compass that has steered Marines through history. Leadership is the ability of an individual or a group of people to influence and guide followers or members of an organization, society, or team. Stogdill 1950, p.3 defines leadership as the process of influencing the activities of an organized group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement.

Effective leadership plays a crucial role in any organization, but in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), it is the backbone of the entire institution. The Marine Corps has established 14 core leadership principles that guide Marines in their pursuit of excellence. These principles encompass a range of traits and values that are essential for success in the military and beyond. In this guide, we will explore the 14 leadership principles of the Marine Corps, their origins, and their significance in developing strong and capable leaders.

Core Values: Honor, Courage, and Commitment

Before we go into the specific leadership principles, it is essential to understand the foundation upon which they are built. The Marine Corps is grounded in three core values: honor, courage, and commitment. These values serve as the bedrock of Marine leadership, shaping the character and actions of every Marine. Honor instils a sense of integrity and ethical conduct, while courage fosters the strength to face adversity and make tough decisions. Commitment fuels the dedication to the mission and the welfare of teammates. These core values, deeply ingrained in every Marine, form the basis for the 14 leadership principles that guide their actions.

The Evolution of the 14 Leadership Traits


The 14 leadership traits of the Marine Corps have a rich history that dates back to the U.S. Army. The leadership traits were initially outlined in the Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 22-1 "Leadership" in 1948. This document described ten qualities of successful leadership, including knowledge, decisiveness, initiative, tact, manner and bearing, courage, endurance, dependability, justice, and enthusiasm. Over time, the U.S. Army refined and reorganized these traits, resulting in the publication of FM 22-100, "Military Leadership" in 1961, which included the familiar 14 leadership traits adopted by the Marine Corps.

The 14 Leadership Traits Explained

1. Bearing

Bearing encompasses how a leader carries and how others perceive them. It involves projecting confidence, professionalism, and a sense of purpose. A leader with strong bearing sets an example for their subordinates and earns their respect through their demeanour and actions. Bearing is also defined as the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control. For one to develop bearing, there is a need to hold oneself to the highest standards of personal conduct. Never be content with meeting only the minimum requirements.

Example: Wear clean and pressed uniforms. Avoid profane and vulgar language. Keep a trim, fit appearance. Keep your head, keep your word, and keep your temper.

2. Courage

Courage is the moral and mental strength to face challenges, take risks, and make difficult decisions. A courageous leader leads from the front, demonstrating bravery and resilience in the face of adversity. They inspire their subordinates to overcome fear and accomplish the mission. Leaders who have courage are those who dare to lead by example, who can make difficult decisions and act accordingly, even when the outcome is not certain. They are those who are willing to take risks to do new things, innovate, and are willing to fail.

According to Jhamile Abuabara, a business analyst, leaders who have courage are those who dare to lead by example, who can make difficult decisions and act accordingly, even when the outcome is not certain. They are those who are willing to take risks to do new things, innovate, and are willing to fail.

3. Decisiveness

Decisiveness refers to the ability to make timely and effective decisions. It is a trait or characteristic that describes people who are biased toward action even though they face uncertainty (Simpson et al., 2002). A decisive leader analyzes situations, gathers relevant information, and takes decisive action. They have the confidence to trust their judgment and accept responsibility for the outcomes of their decisions. Decisive leaders seek out the appropriate information they need to make good decisions. In addition, they show an understanding of the knowledge held by their direct reports, colleagues, and leaders. This helps them gather information from these resources before making a final decision.

4. Dependability

Dependability is the quality of being reliable and accountable. A dependable leader fulfils their responsibilities, follows through on commitments, and consistently deliver results. They instil confidence in their subordinates, knowing that they can rely on their leader's support and guidance.

Being a dependable leader means that people can trust and rely on you. A dependable person follows through on their plans and keeps promises. The strong relationships built by a responsible leader create a resilient team that can work through any difficulties that may arise.

5. Endurance

Endurance is the ability to persevere and maintain stamina in challenging situations. A leader with endurance demonstrates physical and mental resilience, pushing through fatigue and setbacks. Endurance is the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.

They inspire their team to keep going, even when faced with adversity. A leader is expected to possess the mental and physical endurance to do the hard yards – to ensure people and resources are managed well to meet the objectives, performance goals, and outputs even through the toughest of challenges.

6. Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm involves displaying passion, energy, and a positive attitude towards the mission. An enthusiastic leader motivates their subordinates by showing genuine excitement and dedication. They inspire others to share their enthusiasm and give their best effort.

Enthusiastic leaders can make visions come alive. They do this by being inspirational and passionate and by breathing life into the vision via their enthusiasm and energy. Enthusiasm is infectious and makes leaders more credible. It's the exact opposite of being dull and boring.

7. Initiative

Initiative is the proactive approach to taking action and seizing opportunities without being told. A leader with initiative identifies problems, develops solutions, and takes the initiative to implement necessary changes. They inspire innovation and empower their team to take ownership of their work.

8. Integrity

Integrity is the adherence to moral and ethical principles. A leader with integrity demonstrates honesty, trustworthiness, and a commitment to doing what is right. They lead by example and inspire their subordinates to uphold the highest standards of ethical conduct.

9. Judgment

Judgment is the ability to make sound decisions based on careful analysis and consideration of relevant factors. Judgment, as leaders understand the full context of a scenario, critically analyze facts, adapt to new information, and get to the heart of an issue regardless of how ambiguous the circumstance may be. A leader with good judgment evaluates situations objectively, weighs potential outcomes, and selects the best course of action. They inspire confidence in their subordinates by consistently making wise decisions.

10. Justice

Justice is the fair and impartial treatment of others. A just leader ensures equality and fairness in their decision-making process, devoid of bias or favoritism. They create an environment where all individuals are treated with respect and dignity.

11. Knowledge

Knowledge refers to the understanding and expertise in one's field. A knowledgeable leader continuously seeks to expand their knowledge, staying abreast of current developments and trends. They provide guidance and mentorship based on their expertise, inspiring their subordinates to learn and grow continually.

12. Loyalty

Loyalty is the unwavering commitment and dedication to one's organization, superiors, and subordinates. A loyal leader supports and defends their team, fostering a sense of unity and trust. They prioritize the welfare and success of their subordinates above their own.

13. Tact

Tact is the ability to communicate effectively and sensitively in any situation. A tactful leader chooses their words carefully, considering the impact on others and adapting their communication style to different individuals. They foster open dialogue and resolve conflicts with diplomacy.

14. Unselfishness

Unselfishness is the willingness to prioritize the needs of others above one's own. An unselfish leader puts the team's goals and well-being ahead of personal interests. They promote a culture of collaboration and teamwork, encouraging individuals to support each other's success.


A thorough foundation for effective leadership is offered by the Marine Corps' 11 leadership principles and 14 leadership attributes. Marines are guided in their quest for excellence by these principles, which are based on the fundamental values of honor, courage, and devotion. Leaders in the Marine Corps inspire their subordinates, promote unity, and accomplish mission success by exhibiting these qualities and values. The leadership skills acquired from the Marine Corps can be applied to any leadership post, whether in the military or the civilian world, guaranteeing the growth of effective and powerful leaders.

Tanyaradzwa Shava
This article was written by Tanyaradzwa a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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