We took a broad look at the Marine Corps' 14 leadership traits last week, and today, we're going to start focusing on the individual traits.
The first trait in the acronym J.J. DID TIE BUCKLE is JUSTICE, and it's defined in this regard as, “... the practice of being fair and consistent. A just person gives consideration to each side of a situation and bases rewards or punishments on merit.”
This concept of merit-based reward and punishment is not new. Sun Tzu's epic text “The Art of War” suggests leaders have an equal system of rewards and punishments.
Leaders must treat their subordinates fairly across the board in both reward and punishment. I do believe there is a time and place for a leader to exercise discretion when doling out punishments; however, if two Marines commit the same “crime”, they should be punished in much the same manner.
Likewise – and arguably more important – effective leaders should have a system in place to reward Marines who excel in their assigned duties. If a Marine has a choice between not doing a task and getting punished OR thanklessly doing the task, the Marine will most likely do just enough to accomplish the task without getting in trouble. However, if that Marine has the possibility of a reward in mind as he accomplishes his task, he is more likely to do so better and faster and with more pride. Effective leaders also further this by making the rewards competitive.
I talked a little in a comment to “Today's incentives for a job well done” about competition and how it betters the Marine Corps, and I think it's worth reiterating here.
In the Marine Corps, everything is a competition. From the day a recruit steps onto the yellow footprints until their last breath, a Marine embraces competition as yet another way to prove he is better than someone else at something. Whether it's in an office or on a battlefield, Marines compete against each other constantly, and in the end, the Marine Corps is better for it. That competition pushes each Marine to maintain a high level of proficiency and staves off apathy.
I am certainly not advocating “trinket fixation” as I call it, (something I addressed in my “Today's incentives for a job well done” piece). The key is for a leader to strike a balance between rewards and punishments.
For almost two years, I worked in an environment which had its balance grossly skewed in favor of punishments. The Marines were under what I call “paper-cut leadership”, which is the mentality that every wrong can be made right by paperwork and every deficiency must be addressed by paperwork. That environment, in and of itself, was all but devoid of morale, and every one of us did the bare minimum to get by. Once the balance was restored by way of a shakeup in leadership, we saw a huge increase in productivity and morale.
I can't stress enough how important this balance is. The threat of punishment without the promise of reward breeds a horrible work environment. Meanwhile, an environment with pure praise and no punishment will most likely fall into chaos with subordinates exhibiting little or no respect.
After all, young grasshopper, balance is the key to life!