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The Traits of a Strong Leader, Part 1: Justice and Judgement

I have witnessed a lot of examples of leadership between my time working for Fortune 500 Companies, small businesses, being a partner in a small business and my time in the Marine Corps. Some of it was good and some bad, but I believe that you can learn just as much about your leadership style watching bad leaders as you can watching good ones. Often when watching bad leaders, it is about learning what not to do, instead of just what is working well.

“So, what makes some of them better leaders than others? What made some more successful at leading their Marines? The answer is simple, all of them were given the tools to lead, but not everyone had the skills.”

Leadership & the Marine Corps

What is interesting, of the leaders I met in the Marine Corps, most of them went through similar types and styles of leadership courses and training and all followed the same leadership principles. All of them were empowered to make life and death decisions for themselves and their subordinates, yet they were not all equally skilled leaders. So, what makes some of them better leaders than others? What made some more successful at leading their Marines? The answer is simple, all of them were given the tools to lead, but not everyone had the skills. There are some people who are natural born leaders; however, even natural born leaders need refreshers and training to maintain their skills. For others, leadership does not come naturally, and for those people there are two options; they can either avoid all leadership roles or work even harder to hone their leadership skills. It is easy to pick up a book on leadership and read if front to back, you can go through seminars and classes on what makes the best leaders but practicing those traits or using those tools can be much more difficult. Implementation is often the hardest part of any project or plan, and leadership is no different. For this blog I will explore the first two of the 14 traits the Marine Corps identified for training all of their leaders from the top to the bottom. Every Private and every General is given the same Corps values, and the core leadership traits. The Marine Corps has an excellent record of producing successful leaders, at one point, 163 of the Fortune 500 Companies were run by people that served in the Marine Corps. This speaks volumes about the Corps’ values and their training on leadership when you consider that only 0.8 percent of the population has even served in the Marine Corps. Knowing these traits will help you understand the principles of a good leader. Through some thoughtful introspection, you can think about how you use each of these traits in your daily life, as well as considering which traits you might not be using at all. In education it is commonplace to use acronyms to learn information, and the Marine Corps is no different, JJDIDTIEBUCKLE is the acronym that all Marines are taught in order to help them remember the leadership traits that are most valuable.

This stands for:

  • Justice

  • Judgement

  • Dependability

  • Initiative

  • Decisiveness

  • Tact

  • Integrity

  • Enthusiasm

  • Bearing

  • Unselfishness

  • Courage

  • Knowledge

  • Loyalty

  • Endurance

Knowing each of the traits is helpful, but only if you strive to exhibit them in your daily routine. During the Illinois ASBO Leadership program, we are given more tools, and we learn about everyone’s individual personality types. We learn how each person you meet with requires a different set of skills for you to utilize if you want to maximize your relationship with them. For this blog, I will dive deeper into each of these 14 traits and how to use them, beginning today with the first two. We will examine how each personality type will appreciate and value each of these leadership traits differently. It is important to remember, knowing the traits is just giving you the tools, the hope of these blog posts is to help you better develop the skills you will need to understand these traits and how and when to use them. The combination of these leadership traits and understanding how people best receive information through Illinois ASBO trainings, will help you understand how to be a better leader and garner the respect of your subordinates, colleagues and peers alike. 1. Justice Justice is the first trait that we will discuss. All of the traits are important, but justice is intentionally the first trait that is listed. If people feel that you are not just or fair, then they will be less likely to follow your leadership which would render the rest of the traits useless. People will be less likely to trust you and will question your judgement. They will question your dependability, even if you do the right thing. They will question your integrity, because without justice how could they trust your word? Your subordinates will not follow your direction and will be more likely to undermine you, and your superintendent may begin to question your judgement. Justice is a trait that works especially well with board members, because even if one or two of the board members question what is just, if you are truly making the right decisions, often times the majority will still see your vision and direction. As with all of these traits, it is important to lead by example, so your staff and your superintendent will treat you with the same justice that you treat them. 2. Judgement This leads us to our second trait, judgement. This is what I consider the most complimentary trait in the collection, because without good judgement, it is very difficult to provide justice, or have decisiveness, to always speak with integrity and to know how to be loyal. Unfortunately, in our world, it might also be the most difficult trait to master. This is because what is a good judgement for the students, might not have a pleasant affect on the district finances. What might seem like the right thing to do on paper, can often be much more difficult to implement than anticipated. In your positions, many of the choices and decisions you make will inevitably help one group of stakeholders, while upsetting another. This is what makes good judgement so difficult in your line of work. It is imperative to establish a ranking of importance, a baseline for putting weight on your decision-making process. Without this, it will be very hard to determine if you are using good judgement or not and it will be hard to determine if your judgements are fair and just. Establishing a mental, or maybe even actual, matrix for weighing your decisions, will help guide you down the right path for the district… even if most of your decisions will make you unpopular with some constituents, at least you will know you made the correct judgement. Take these traits, write them down, and begin to think about how (if) you use them in your everyday life and how you could better incorporate them into your routine. We have examined the first two traits, and I look forward to diving further into the remaining 12 in the future. By Stephen Chassee Associate Principal GreenAssociates, Inc.


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