Inspired Work Services Logo
Want Employee Engagement? Join the Marines!
By David Harder on November, 18, 2019

Want Employee Engagement? Join the Marines!

“Someone who practices courage will take immediate action while someone who is trying to become fearless will be on the 5th self-help book.”


The sole purpose of a democracy is to make everyone relevant. If a CEO ever hopes to solve the employee engagement challenge, then he or she must lead the culture. For starters, how could we expect to have any improvements at all if the supreme leader isn’t engaged?


Building an engaged culture is quite possibly the most critical activity for a CEO or business owner. It might even seem counter-intuitive to do this. After all, the Jensen and Meckling papers of the 70s suggested the sole purpose of an organization is to deliver shareholder value. In so doing, CEOs got a big break from doing the best possible job. If the shareholders needed more money, we laid off a few thousand workers. Quality quickly took a back seat to cut expenses. We can see the difference at the next auto show. Cadillac, once the “Standard of the World,” builds OK cars but go sit in one and then try anything from BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, and Audi.


I just returned home from another shopping experience at Ralph’s Grocery. For every dollar we spend at the store right next to our home, we spend twenty dollars with competitors that are several miles away. Today, my cashier never looked up and never said hello. He was engaged in a highly animated conversation with a colleague in the next aisle. He regularly turned his back on the customer in front of me while trading jokes. By the time I was in front of him, he had said, “Did you find everything you wanted?” He never looked up. Then, he stopped everything he was doing and began texting on his phone!


Only the world’s most enlightened CEOs and business owners recognize that to lead a category or to have sustainable success; we have to rise and deliver shareholder value, fully engaged talent, and loyal customers.


Before dismissing the notion, there are only so many hours in the day, let’s examine one of the most well-known organizations on the face of the earth. The Executive Committee, McKinsey, and many other leading organizations recognize The US Marines as the world’s most exceptional example of leadership development.


A few years ago, one of our partners referred Major General Melvin Spiese into our program. He had just left the Marines, where he headed up training and development for 22 years. He walked in the door with all of the concerns we find in someone who grew up in one place. He arrived before the other participants and turned out to be one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. But, his disarming humility made him especially memorable. During our chat, I brought up that I was writing a book on employee engagement. He smiled and said,


“Employee engagement isn’t a problem for us at all.”


I laughed and said, “I guess disengagement would be a big issue in the middle of a war.”


“It would kill many people.”


Mel joined the Marines as a teenager. At the time, he felt he was leading a mediocre life. The young man walked into a local recruitment station drawn to the promise they would turn him into a leader. His thirst to excel fueled high performance, and he earned progressively more responsible roles.


In our program, there is a magic moment when someone’s eyes and body language indicate it is all about to come together. I could see that just a little push could become Mel’s tipping point. So, I asked him a question.


“You birth people. Is that correct?”


He nodded and said, “That is what I do.”


“Thus far, how many people have you birthed?”


“Over three-hundred thousand.”


There was a collective gasp in the room. I added,


“Who in this world would be able to have that answer? What are you going to do with this enormous gift?”


That was the moment in which Mel took flight.


His words came out with quiet force,


“Marines are not born; they are made. We cannot afford to send disengaged people into battle. The casualties would be intolerable. We teach values, a code of conduct, and living. There is no negotiation. They practice and live by our values, or they leave.”


After that weekend, Mel and I developed a business and marketing plan for Leaders Can Be Made. His organization teaches and embeds the values of engagement for everyone. They serve organizations that want to develop authentic value-driven cultures all over the world.


What are the values?


Take a moment and consider what would happen to your organization if everyone practiced:


Honor / Courage / Commitment / Dependability / Decisiveness / Enthusiasm / Initiative/ Integrity / Judgment / Justice / Knowledge / Tact / Unselfishness / and Loyalty.


Every Marine is expected to live by these values. As a result, they don’t just build leadership from high potentials; everyone is treated as a high potential with the same opportunity to shine. Developing cultures around values are common-sense, but how common is this?


Long-term excellence doesn’t necessarily require a long list of characteristics. One word can suffice. In Los Angeles, there is a legendary restaurant in the Santa Monica Mountains called Saddlepeak Lodge. It is a large and elegant former hunting lodge that features refined food, extraordinary service, and beautiful views. In the summer, we sit on the terrace looking through canyons towards the ocean. During the winter, nothing is better than having dinner next to a roaring fire. Recently, I had lunch with Ann Ehrenger, the owner of Saddlepeak, a longtime professor of Business Management at USC and Trinity College. I asked how she was able to lead a consistently magical environment. She smiled and said, “It is quite simple. Everyone is expected to practice one thing from the moment they walk in the door until they go home. They are expected to practice kindness.”


Moved by the role modeling from Ann and Mel, we developed the values of an engaged culture.





No one is exempt from learning how to become more connected, more effective in managing change, and awakened to everyone around them. Being a democracy, everyone is relevant. A disengaged cashier can turn customers against your company. A careless meat department manager can kill them.


Practices Regular Self-Inquiry

Our programs have produced great success by helping people learn how to access and organize their truth. In so doing, they make meaningful changes in their professional lives. In a world where change accelerates every single day, we must develop the capacity to learn new skills, let go of old ideas, and reinvent themselves. Our clients learn how to use 5-minutes of self-inquiry to get far more out of the day ahead of them.


Pursues Change Before Change Impacts Them

For most of us, personal change is uncomfortable. We find the consequences of avoiding personal change has led to a culture where about 50% of America’s workers now characterize themselves as “underemployed.”


Demonstrates and Practices Enthusiasm for Learning and Growth. 

Active learners not only stay ahead of change; they make the best changes happen. Today’s active learner adds value to the intelligence of their employer, and they will always be the last if ever, to get laid-off.


Tells the Truth and Practices Transparency

The world has reached a tipping point where everything that we do, say, and hide comes to light. If that news is really bad, it spreads like wildfire.


Live with nothing to hide. Run our organizations in the light.


Practices Courage

Develop a culture where we reward others for practicing courage when they are frightened. Build an environment where taking action is far nobler than “flying below the radar.” Someone with courage will take immediate action while someone who is working on becoming fearless is on their 5th self-help book.


In Summary

Let’s be clear. I am not on the warpath with shareholder value!


All of us ought to have issues with leadership that creates this one value while growing mediocrity with the talent and the customer experience.


On the other hand, isn’t it time we tell the truth and highlight the fact that if a CEO let’s customer relationships suffer and employees to stagnate, he or she isn’t doing their job.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


Schedule 15-Minutes to Discuss Your Workplace or Career with David (Here)


(C) Copyright, 2019, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)