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QPME: History and Traditions of the United States Marine Corps: Ethics, Values, and Leadership Development

Marine Corps Leadership: Values, Ethics, and Qualities


"I love the Corps for those intangible possessions that cannot be issued: pride, honor, integrity, and being able to carry on the traditions for generations of warriors past."

 - Corporal Jeff Sornig, USMC; in Navy Times, November 1994

Core Values

Any discussion of the values, ethics, and qualities of Marine Leadership must start with its Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These Core Values were first officially adopted by our 30th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Carl E. Mundy Jr., in his publication of a memorandum titled the “Commandant’s Statement on Core Values of the United States Marines.” As an interesting historical side note, sometime after the publication of General Mundy’s memorandum, the U.S. Navy changed its Core Values from “Tradition, Integrity, and Professionalism" to match that of the Corps' “Honor, Courage, and Commitment," thus instituting a unified set of common values for the Department of the Navy.

Leadership Traits

Aside from our Core Values, the Marine Corps' Leadership Traits and Principles are the ethical standards by which all Marines are judged in  accordance with our doctrine (MCWP 6-10 Leading Marines). The history of the traits and the principles actually begins in the U.S. Army - both the traits and principles were adopted from U.S. Army service publications and doctrinal materials.

The precursor to the Marine Corps' 14 Leadership Traits (Bearing, Courage, Decisiveness, Dependability, Endurance, Enthusiasm, Initiative, Integrity, Judgment, Justice, Knowledge, Loyalty, Tact, and Unselfishness) originally appeared in the Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 22-1 “Leadership in 1948. This pamphlet, signed by then Chief of Staff of the Army General Omar N. Bradley, described 10 “qualities of leadership which are successful to leadership": KnowledgeDecisivenessInitiativeTactManner and bearingCourageEnduranceDependabilityJustice, and Enthusiasm.

Army Pamphlet 22-1 was superseded by the doctrinal publication Field Manual (FM) 22-10 Leadership, published in 1951, which listed 19 qualities that were re-labeled as “traits." It was superseded by FM 22-100 Command and Leadership for the Small Unit Leader, published in 1953, which reduced the number of traits to 12.

Finally, in 1961 the U.S. Army republished FM 22-100 under the new title of Military Leadership, which included the familiar 14 Leadership Traits that the Marine Corps eventually adopted:  

  • Bearing

  • Courage

  • Decisiveness

  • Dependability


  • Endurance

  • Enthusiasm

  • Initiative

  • Integrity

  • Judgment

  • Justice

  • Knowledge

  • Loyalty

  • Tact

  • Unselfishness

Interestingly, the 14 Leadership Traits were removed from the 1983 re-publication of FM 22-100 Military Leadership, and have not been included in U.S. Army Leadership Doctrine since then. The Marine Corps, however, had already decided by that point that these 14 Leadership Traits were highly relevant and valuable, and continues to stress their importance to this day.

Leadership Principles

The 11 Marine Corps Leadership Principles were also adopted from the U.S. Army, though the history is less complex. The 1951 publication of FM 22-10 Leadership came with it 11 leadership principles, though they differed in small respects from the current list in that to “be technically and tactically proficient” was originally worded as “know your job.” The change from “know your job,” to “be technically and tactically proficient” appeared the 1958 publication of FM 22-100 Military LeadershipFinally, in the 1983 publication of FM 22-100, the 11 leadership principles appeared in familiar order, and they were adopted by the Marine Corps at some point thereafter.

The 11 Marine Corps Leadership Principles are:

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

  2. Be technically and tactically proficient

  3. Know your Marines and look out for their welfare

  4. Keep your Marines informed

  5. Set the example

  6. Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished

  7. Train your Marines as a team

  8. Make sound and timely decisions

  9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates

  10. Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities

  11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

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