7 Years Working for U.S. Marines

I’m a lucky man.

Maybe it’s my Irish heritage or just dumb luck, but I’ve had the privilege of working for some of the finest leaders in my industry. I walked into the Kforce family seven years ago excited about a career in sales and the prospect of making enough money to start paying off my student loans. To my surprise, I had no idea that I would be working alongside decorated veterans and graduates from our nation’s top military institutions.

During my first week at Kforce, I met a new face wearing a golf polo embroidered with a Pittsburgh high school football team logo and a pair of Jim Harbaugh khakis. I received a firm handshake and a brief introduction as our new region president walked over to the printer to pick up his schedule for the day. This was my first clue that this guy was a little different. Little did I know that this football fanatic and other veterans would begin to shape the way I approach my daily activity, career and life outside of work.

When I started at the firm, the first thing I learned about working for Marines was how to speak their language. Meetings begin and end with “time on deck,” and agendas are in military time. I spent countless nights googling terms like “downrange,” “tip of the spear” and “gig line.” I still don’t fully understand rankings and the chain of command, but I have been inspired.

Seven years later to today, I have spent thousands of hours listening, learning and trying to replicate how they operate. With plenty of help, I have become one of our top sales executives, and I have my Marine leadership to thank for that.

Here are 7 Marine Corps principles I have learned that helped me become one of the top producers in our company:

1. Training is the most important activity.

client presentation scenarios

This quote may sound graphic and clearly no one is getting bloody in staffing, but the lesson is an important one. If you choose not to practice your craft, you will inevitably fail and fail hard. My daily activity doesn’t involve dialing in a mortar round, but I am continually running through role plays, opportunity reviews and scenario breakdowns to see where and how I can improve my activity.

2. Plan Everything.

Planning isn’t exclusively a Marine habit. Many highly successful people will tell you that planning is one of their top, daily activities.

set aside time to plan

It may seem counterintuitive, but you must put aside time every day to look toward the future. This ensures you begin every day knowing what you’re doing and where you need to be.

Aside from planning your time and activity, you need to plan your action. From a Marine perspective, I learned the value of considering multiple outcomes and working through each one to ensure I was ready should any situation arise.

Sales is a fickle profession. You are always asked questions and making decisions without the benefit of time or deep consideration. Hence, planning for and considering every angle of a meeting, pitch or interaction is key to ensuring a positive outcome.

3. Don’t let “process” get in the way of progress.

Process for process sake is ridiculous. The best people in every profession are always evolving and finding a better way to accomplish their mission.

It is wise to question why things are in place, or why you must work a certain way. However, you should understand that processes are born from experiences. They are typically put in place to prevent failure or to provide a path to success. If the process no longer serves its purpose, eliminate it and move on.

4. The knowledge is in the room.

One of the reasons the Marines are such a formidable force is their history of conflict. Their history is paved with both failure and success, which allows them to pass on tribal knowledge to new generations. The same concept applies to companies if they have the right framework. 

I was able to avoid the mistakes of those who came before me and leverage successful outcomes from my peers, because I had access to their knowledge and experience. I have found that most problems I have encountered during my career at Kforce have already been solved by someone else. It’s critical to seek and leverage experience. Likewise, we must replicate success and avoid failure.

5. When it comes to conflict, don’t be quick to fight. Be quick to understand.

Marines are often associated with conflict. I was surprised to learn their approach to such engagements. Since conflict is unavoidable in the workplace, I was introduced to the Marine approach early and often.

Marine's approach to conflict

It was also suggested that you choose your engagements wisely to ensure a successful outcome as often as possible. Given office politics rarely carry the same weight as geopolitical engagements, I have found that conflicts can often be resolved through the pursuit of understanding the other party’s point-of-view and finding common alignment.

6. Stress is a choice. Run toward the fire.

You choose how stress affects you. There is a fine line between stress and pressure. How you handle it makes all the difference in the outcome.

Marines have a saying “run toward the fire.” The translation for this phrase–action is the best medicine. Running toward the fire embodies identifying and eliminating the problem. Typically, stress is reduced by attacking the issue head-on.

Regardless of the issue, the time you waste sitting and thinking about problems could have been used to fix it.

7. Volunteer for everything.

It’s no secret that we have a completely volunteer armed service. As so, it was ingrained in me that the best way to learn and develop is to have first-hand experience.

This advice was passed onto my Marine leader during his time at the Naval Academy and has had the biggest impact on my career to date. I am lucky to have been a part of some of the most influential and important transformations in my company’s history. It was all due to my willingness to volunteer my time and experience.

There are many military principles we can all learn from. Take this personal list of my favorites and use them to grow in your career and life.