The U.S. Marine Corps, Discipline and Success

The Success Margin

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


A reader asks, "What role did your tour of duty in
the U.S. Marine Corps have to do with formulating
your success plans?"

The answer is--an enormous amount.

When I enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19 for a
two-year tour, I was an independent, somewhat
rebellious young man.

Frankly, a big reason to join was to challenge
myself. I wanted to see if I could make it through
the incredibly tough, physical and psychological
experience I'd heard so much about.

After joining I was sent to boot camp for basic
training in Parris Island, South Carolina.

My fellow enlistees were primarily from the New
York City area. Nearly all of them were gang
members and very street tough. Or they fancied
themselves as real he-men, at least in the

From the very first moment of arriving in Parris
Island, I knew that it was possible not to make it
through the 12 weeks. But I also knew that if we
survived the experience, none of our lives would
ever be the same.

First our heads were shaved. All of us, especially
the New York gang members, looked like we were
from another planet. Then we were issued uniforms
including every article of clothing, underwear,
shoes, socks, etc. Then toiletries, toothbrush,
toothpaste, razor, shaving cream, soap, towels etc.

Next I was issued what we would soon be expected
to treat like a part of us--an M-1 rifle.

From day one we began learning how to march all
together for untold miles. The goal was to have
every heel hit the deck at the same time.

Boy, we were so bad at marching in the beginning.
And sore feet, calluses and bloody socks were

But a brief visit to see some experienced marines
marching enabled us to see what was possible.

We were taken past a graduation ceremony of
marines who were in training for 12 weeks and
about to complete their boot camp training. They
were just fantastic. As they marched every heel was
in perfect rhythm with the other 70 odd Marines in
each platoon.

The nights were the most revealing part of the day.
Each evening when we went to our barracks I
would see many of the former New York gang
members crying themselves to sleep. Incredibly
these tough guys were scared to death.
And very homesick.

A few of them initially had tried to defy our
drill instructors (DIs). These young recruits
immediately learned where they stood. The DIs
were trained experts in judo and karate. In case
there were any initial doubts, these soon ended.

I was the platoon boxing champion during our
weekly competition with other platoons. But none
of us had a chance of succeeding in any physical
confrontation with the DIs. I certainly never
considered it.

One of our physical exercises was "duck
walking" and push ups. This punishing maneuver
was used for fitness as well as disciplinary reasons.
At any given moment we got used to being ordered
to immediately begin doing these exercises, "Give
me 20" they would shout. This was even more
effective than getting beaten and thrown on the
ground by a judo expert.

**Six lessons the Marines taught me about success**

1. Discipline of the U.S. Marine Corp is

Discipline is the most important factor I learned
about success.

The discipline level of the Marine Corps is a true
wonder of the world.

Unlike other organizations, businesses and even
many military services, when a Marine is given an
order you don't question it. You just carry it out
without question. Without hesitation.

Discipline is a big reason for the outstanding track
record of the U.S. Marines during wartime.

I'm certain I could not have succeeded in business
to the present level without the high level of
discipline I discovered in the "Corps."

But I also believe that discipline, while crucially
important, is vastly misunderstood and overrated
by most people. It's perceived as very hard to

Discipline is about building good habits. Once you
start doing positive things in your life such as
writing, studying, reading, working, exercising, they
become a habit. Then it becomes relatively easy to
pursue your habits on a regular basis. Often it's
easier to do what's good for you than to skip it. And
others will perceive you as highly disciplined.

I've seen that to succeed in life in any worthwhile
endeavor requires all of us to experience some pain.
We can choose the pain of discipline. Or the pain of
regret. We all have a choice.

2. The importance of a great unique selling
proposition (USP) for any organization, whether
business, military or government etc.

This may surprise you but the U.S. Marines have
one of the world's great USPs. Over and over
again you learn this, "You are a member of the
greatest fighting outfit in the world." And, by God,
you soon accept this into your belief system. This
belief governs all your actions.

Everyone wants to be part of something great.
Recognizing this fact and creating powerful USPs
has helped me build numerous teams and business
organizations of my own.

3. The importance of storytelling.

As a Marine you attend classes where you learn
about the tradition and history of the "Corps."

The colorful and true stories about battles such as
these: Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Korea,
Wake Island, etc. make an indelible and
unforgettable impression.

All of us learn any subject best through the telling
of stories. This has been proven for centuries.

4. Teamwork.

In every successful business organization, to
achieve big goals you must have a good team who
supports each other and works together

In the U.S. Marine Corps you learn to depend on
your comrades. You also learn what it's like to be
counted on by others. In wartime you discover your
fellow Marine may even be willing to take the bullet
meant for you.

Plus, I also learned an important lesson not
commonly known. Great leaders must first become
great followers. This is best learned by being part of
a well-functioning team.

5. The importance of constantly building your

Each of us learned to become a competent rifleman,
team leader and proficient in hand-to-hand combat.

To achieve outstanding business success, you must
relentlessly become better and better at all your
skills, especially marketing.

6. Physical fitness can be achieved by any willing

Fat people got thin, skinny people gained weight.
The out of shape people slowly but surely became
extremely fit.

During our 12 weeks of boot camp a remarkable
physical change took place in every single marine.

I had a double dose of physical training. Having
tried out for and making the base basketball team I
thought that might excuse me from some of the
daily long marches. But this was not to be.

Basketball practice was late at night after marching
for 10 to 20 miles!

But having the chance to play on the basketball team
was worth it all. I even had the chance to play a
gainst several NBA stars who were Marines.

As a 19 year-old private I was nominated for a
meritorious promotion to corporal for appreciation
of my hard work. This is very unusual during
peacetime. (I worked in the disbursing office
finance and had to put in many extra hours to
keep up.) I learned that individual efforts, even
in a military organization, can often be recognized
and rewarded.

The foregoing are some of the contributions the
U.S. Marines have made to my career and my

I'm very proud of my tour of duty and my
honorable discharge.

I'd be pleased to hear from any former U.S.
Marines who would like to share how their
experience helped shape the rest of their life.

Your correspondent,

Ted Nicholas

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© Copyright 2007 Ted Nicholas