What leaders can Learn from the U.S. Marines about Decision-Making

The Marines can face extremely challenging and urgent situations in which they are forced to make critical decisions in a short period of time. While most of you are not in the battlefield, you will still need to make strategic decisions that impact the success of your organization. Perhaps you are deciding on a strategic game plan for the organization, like an acquisition or new product launch. These situations can require quick decision-making if we want to gain a competitive edge or turn around a business. Below are 5 methods the Marines use to make decisions. As you read, think about a current decision you are facing and how you could leverage these practices to create your desired outcome.

  1. 70% solution. The Marines use a formula of 70% certainty and 30% intuition to make decisions under pressure. First, gather all the information and resources that you can. Once you are about 70% certain, make the decision and take action. The Marines value a mediocre decision greater than indecisiveness, so make the best choice given the information that you have at the time. In urgent situations or high-level strategy, taking action can provide us with access to feedback that we can use to enhance future results.
  2. Decentralized decision making. Make every team member a problem solver. The Marines empower those closest to the front line to be decision makers. Why? They are the ones that are typically facing the problem head-on and have a greater understanding of the present need and are better informed to make critical decisions. How can you incorporate decision-making at all levels to ensure the desired result?
  3. Stay calm within a crisis. Staying cool under pressure is a required expectation of Marines that could face life-altering decisions at any moment. If you are stressed and making a decision, you may often overreact or say something you regret. It is essential to remain as calm as possible to manage the emotions of the team. In a crisis, your team will turn to you, their leader, or guidance. Be a role model and demonstrate how to manage high-stress situations.
  4. Seek outside opinions. The Marines believe that to be the best they have to avoid being stagnant. To help their continued growth and strategy the consult outside experts for insight. As a leader making a difficult decision, outside experts can stimulate new ideas, learnings, and perspectives that keep your business ahead of the competition.
  5. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. If you are faced with a critical and time-sensitive decision, you may not have time to get permission. The Marines find that it is easier to take the risk first and ask for forgiveness later. The Marines are often willing to accept a mistake made attempting to move the mission forward for the success of the team. Why? They value the ability to make strategic decisions and take action, even if it doesn’t always work out perfectly.