How TQL Should Have Been Introduced To the Marine Corps

by Capt Roger S. Galbraith, USMCR

The Department of the Navy and Headquarters Marine Corps Total Quality Leadership (TQL) visionaries have done the Corps a disservice. Traditional Marine Corps leadership, maneuver warfare, and TQL are not mutually exclusive as most Marines have been led to believe. Instead, those concepts can be combined to make a more effective, more efficient fighting force.

For over 220 years now, our Corps has been fighting and winning wars without TQL or maneuver warfare. The backbone of the Corps’ success in its honored past has been the ability of junior leaders to put the 14 Leadership Traits and 11 Leadership Principles to work for them. These pillars of traditional Marine Corps leadership work. Even after close review from leadership and behavior experts, one is hard pressed to find any way to improve upon their simplicity and effectiveness for outlining the character of a combat leader. The introduction of TQL can be compared and contrasted in many \vays to the introduction of maneuver warfare several years ago. The Department of the Navy (DoN) and Headquarters Marine Corps either misinterpreted or failed to interpret many possible barriers to the acceptance and implementation of TQL. One has only to observe the difference in reactions to a maneuver warfare discussion and a TQL discussion to see which topic draws the most interest.

The Introduction of Maneuver Warfare

All proposed change will be resisted. That is a rule of psychology, management, leadership, and a plain fact of life. Statements such as “We’ve never done it that way before” or “You’re new, you’ll realize things don’t \vork like that around here” become common when Marines are faced with new regulations, ideas, or philosophies. The philosophy of maneuver warfare was no different.

Even though from where we sit now, maneuver warfare makes so much sense as to be second nature, there was initial resistance to the change in warfighting philosophy upon its introduction. Suddenly, juniors fresh out of school were closer to experts than their seniors. The old timers remarked that the Corps did just fine without it for so many years, so why do we need this now? However, the resistance was overcome, and maneuver warfare was adopted as the Marine Corps warfighting philosophy. The resistance to this change was overcome with two significant factors: Maneuver warfare was taught by the Corps’ formal schools immediately upon its introduction. This lent the legitimacy of the formal school structure to the new philosophy. Second, maneuver warfare makes sense, it saves firepower and lives, and relates directly to our mission of fighting and winning wars.

The Introduction of TQL

We are now in the middle of another thought revolution. Similar to the introduction of maneuver warfare, this time, the new philosophy is TQL. We are also faced daily with conserving our peacetime resources. Spare parts, ammunition, material, money, and manpower are all scarce. The Marine Corps is begging for total quality, but Marines would be the last to admit it.

Why would there be so much resistance to a concept that makes so much sense? First of all, TQL should never be confused with the traditional Marine Corps leadership traits and principles I spoke of earlier. By calling this new philosophy “Total Quality Leadership” DoN unwittingly is implying to most Marines that they didn’t know how to lead before TQL. TQL is really a method for managing resources to produce results that meet the needs of customers.

That word “customer” is the second obstacle facing TQL. Marines just don’t like it. Even though many Marines, especially those assigned to bases, stations, administration or supply shops may actually have customers, we still hate that word. DoN made the mistake of giving the Navy and Marine Corps a total quality philosophy that was oriented towards a civilian organization. Every civilian organization that has attributed success to total quality has customized the philosophy for its own needs and culture. The Marine Corps should have done the same. We can start by rewriting the lesson plans-call them units, end users, recruits, Marines, whatever-just don’t call them customers.

Third, the leadership of the Marine Corps has not taken TQL as seriously as it has maneuver warfare. Maneuver warfare instruction first started in the formal schools. The Basic School, Amphibious Warfare School, and the staff noncommissioned officer (SNCO) academies, both resident and nonresident, involve a great many Marines. It would make sense to introduce all Marines to the new philosophy here and, at the same time, save the money involved with starting unit-level schools. In addition to saving money and time, teaching the new philosophy at a formal school-and explaining its relationship to leadership traits and principles-would have legitimized TQL in a way that no amount of civilian instructors could have accomplished.

Fixing the Damage

TQL can be taught effectively in the Marine Corps, and even accepted by Marines. It makes sense, and it is the right time to start examining the way we do everything. Now, more than ever, we need to get more bang for our buck. I believe TQL could receive more acceptance if it is taught with the following guidelines:

* First, teach that TQL is a management method. Students must be told this. It does not deal with inspiring Marines in the face of danger. It does give us a philosophy of examining what we do to improve something or to save time, effort, and money.

* Second, TQL and maneuver warfare can coexist. Maneuver warfare promotes a focus on an outside force-the enemy. It also encourages initiative from juniors as well as mission-type orders. TQL does the same. The only difference is instead of focusing on the enemy, TQL focuses on the customer as the outside source (who may seem like the enemy at times).

* Third, TQL can only survive if seniors let go of a zero defects mentality. Promotion boards, reenlistment boards, office hours, etc. must all reflect the same acceptance of mistakes. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, hero of the Pacific Campaign, was court-martialed as a lieutenant (junior grade) for a mistake he made. Someone recognized his abilities and figured they had an officer who would never take seamanship short cuts again.

* Fourth, full TQL implementation means accepting risks. Seniors must be willing to try something different if they think they can improve their unit’s effectiveness-even if it does not absolutely guarantee the avoidance of failure. At Tarawa, LtCol (at the time) “Red Mike” Edson was disappointed to see that so many of his contemporaries had lost the ability to take risks through years of peacetime service. Marines pride themselves on taking chances in war. Let’s take some chances in peace-when the cost of failure is merely poor statistics.

The Future

From my previous perspective aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, the Marine Corps is improving its total quality education and implementation. Several years ago when I attended the TQL fundamentals course, there was no mention of how a TQL tied into other Marine Corps philosophies. Now, when you sit in on an introduction course to TQL, the instructor (a Marine instead of a civilian) specifically addresses the fact that this does not replace leadership traits and principles, it merely enhances them.

The original TQL visionaries made the mistake of giving the Marine Corps the same training the Navy and many civilian organizations received. The Marine Corps is very different from both those groups. We currently practice many TQL concepts, particularly those pertaining to personnel management and leadership. The Marine Corps must move into the second generation of total quality education and custom fit its lesson plans to the audience. The Corps must also break the subconscious stereotype that “Marines are not managers.” Unfortunately, more of our time is taken up with management than leadership-in areas such as maintenance management, training management, etc. Marines have always been the world’s best leaders and warfighters. Now, in these times of scarce resources, we must endeavor to be the world’s best managers as well.