The Marine Corps treasures good leadership; from the time a new second lieutenant receives his or her commission they are taught the guiding techniques and principles of good leadership. High on this list of principles is selflessness. Selflessness is thought of as always putting your Marines before yourself, and giving of yourself at all times. Selflessness is presented as one of the common traits of all successful leaders.
I posit that this is not necessarily true, at least not completely. I am a newly commissioned second lieutenant, and as such have very little to base my idea on other than conjecture, but I suggest that a selfish leader can be just as effective as a selfless leader. The trick lies in the application of the selfishness.
This is where I must introduce what I call second round selfishness. Second round selfishness is a breed of self concern that deals in the long term, where normal selfishness is concerned primarily with instant gratification. In second round selfishness a person may act in a seemingly selfless manner, but be motivated by less than selfless thoughts.
This is perhaps best illustrated by an example. Consider if I, a student squad leader at The Basic School, have just returned from a hump and one of my squad members has fallen out. What is in my best interest? Is it to abandon that squad member to his or her fate, the selfish choice? Or is it to take that squad member aside and attempt to help them improve? I am sure that everyone reading this will agree that the proper and best choice is to help this squad member. Perfect, I am being a selfless leader, giving up some of my time to help this lieutenant succeed. Right? Perhaps. What if my motivation to help is that I wish to see this lieutenant succeed so that the Marine Corps grows stronger, my squad performs better, and in the end I look better? Does that make me a bad leader? I have succeeded in my mission, and everyone benefited.
Therein lies the real question, and my purpose for writing this post. I almost feel bad for just having these thoughts. What is the definition of true selflessness? What are its benefits when compared to my second round selfishness? Though I whole-heartedly agree with being a selfless leader, I just that I would float the question and see what the response is. Thank you for reading.
A Simple Answer
To me, the answer is simple enough: everything done by Marines should be measured against the "template" of the oath taken: therein reside the intrinsic purposes of the USMC. Leadership in furtherance of the achievement of such purposes is correct: that which is merely self-seeking, however seemingly inspired or charismatic, is not. Semper Fidelis...
Last edited by skipper0302; 06-24-2009 at 12:57 PM.
Interesting observation. I would propose that their are times when the individuals long and short term interest correspond to what is best for the unit or the Corps. Selflessness does not equal martydom. Mother Theresa would have made a poor platoon commander. A leader of integrity however does not take an action that is in his best interest that is also at the expense of another Marine. In your example the lt who fell out might best benefit from a deflection correction from above rather than a peer. If that is the case it is OK to let them learn the hard way.