The 3-M Leadership Strategy

This piece comes from Major Lucas Burke, our first Marine eMMissary. He is a Communications Strategy and Operations Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, currently serving as the Director, Warfighter Support Division at the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity. Here he shares his own personal mentoring tool.


Back in 2010, I had to develop a leadership strategy that encompassed what leadership meant to me as a company grade officer as part of the Marine Corps’ company-grade professional military education, Expeditionary Warfare School. I am drawn back to my original document to refine, update, and think about all the leadership lessons I have experienced and witnessed over the last decade of my career. My original leadership strategy was designed to be comprehensive, an accurate reflection of my own philosophy and attitude, and most importantly, foster a climate of growth for subordinates, peers and serve as a model for seniors. It was founded on three areas of development that were known as the “Three Ms (3Ms)”: Man/Woman, Marine, MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). With new-found knowledge, I can apply coaching, teaching, and mentorship as an update. While all three will span and overlap in this strategy, I believe there are better places where mentoring should take place, versus teaching or coaching.


The 3M philosophy was taught to me as a young second lieutenant by a major whom I respected, not only due to proficiency in his MOS, but his leadership, insight and the “intangibles” that garner respect and admiration from everyone across the unit and throughout the command. The conversation focused on the “whole person” concept and how developing subordinates did not start with MOS-specific, or even just being a Marine. His outlook started at the whole-of-person perspective, at an individual level.


My original strategy started with the man or woman. Counseling and mentoring were bundled into this phase using my old understanding of what I thought mentorship was. I now know mentoring is more than counseling. Mentorship is not a tool, or a thing to be done out of necessity; it is embodied and carried forward as a skill to be honed, practiced and extolled as a virtue by those identified by others as mentors. Mentors are a low-density asset through a Marine’s career or more broadly, an individual’s life because mentorship takes a fairly large time investment, potentially sparing decades. By spending time with someone, listening, and understanding how they react in difficult situations or view their life, mentors can attempt to identify the attributes of who that Marine really is—from where they came, their influences, role models and the billions of events that shaped them from birth to that moment. Only by knowing a person can a leader know their capabilities and limitations, their attitude and ultimately a baseline for where the stand as a person. Most leaders would agree that many leadership problems begin with the leader not knowing his people, or not caring, which magnifies over multiple tours. This is where mentorship, holistically, can have the most impact. Not every Marine will want or need mentoring, and not every leader will want to be a mentor. It takes more time, requires investment by both the mentor and mentee, and the relationship may exist above and beyond their respective day-jobs.1 But mentorship is a skill leaders can develop to ensure that leaders “sustain the transformation” and ultimately return quality citizens to society.2


Developing the Marine is the second “M” in the strategy; this does not necessarily mean that they shoot expert on the rifle range, but it is more related to their conduct around other Marines, their appearance, attitude and ability to both lead and follow. This is where ‘coaching’ may occur. Coaching allows for growth beyond learning one’s job in the Marine Corps. It is not necessarily as holistic as a mentor, but it’s sustained and for Marines, it is something that should have a relatively short feedback loop between the “coach” and those in their charge. It is taking that man or woman and placing them in a Marine Corps environment.


Finally, the last ‘M’ is MOS. Only by building upon the other two can an individual hone in on their specific skills. In developing MOS-skills, the primary focus is on teaching; teaching the fundamentals, planning, and tactics, techniques and procedures. Teaching occurs throughout a Marine’s career—from their entry-level training to advanced training and on-the-job learning. Teaching provides the most straight-forward and shortest feedback cycle because of the known or expected outcomes, often relayed through counseling. Understanding the weapons safety rules is taught during entry-level weapons training and demonstrated before any Marine is allowed to draw ammo and get on the firing line as a pass-or-fail event. Not performing to expected levels usually results in negative counseling. To ensure Marines are fulfilling their MOS potential, constant feedback about their performance and work, leads the way for coaches to support the growth and the direction of the individual over a longer time horizon.


While teaching, coaching and mentoring have been fairly segmented in this article, there are overlapping areas where coaches can provide direct feedback to a Marine working through new experiences, or mentors assisting mentee Marines with professional endeavors for a sustained period of time, like a project or brief to a senior leader. Great mentors should be adept at coaching and teaching or counseling, and the area of application determined by the individual, their interaction with the leader they admire, and the time-horizon within which they want that feedback. Ultimately, Marines will succeed at their MOS if they have quality training and teachers who can assess performance and provide feedback. They will understand their duties and responsibilities as a Marine in the broader context of Service through coaches who may recognize potential and provide solicited and unsolicited feedback on the Marine’s current trajectory and near-term potential. Finally, mentors invest in the core of the individual to help them on a personal or professional level, and most importantly help them invest in their own long-term success.


1) Thomas & Thomas, “Mentoring, Coaching, and Counseling: Toward a Common Understanding”

2) MCTP 6-10A “Sustaining the Transformation”


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