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From The Corps to corporations

For women, the skills needed to make it in the military aren't too different from the ones you need in business, say former Marines Courtney Lynch and Angela Morgan.
/ Source: Forbes

For women, the skills needed to make it in the military aren't too different from the ones you need in business, say former Marines Courtney Lynch and Angela Morgan.

The management similarities between the Marine Corps and corporations is detailed in the duo's recent book, "Leading From the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women."

One such similarity: In both the military and the civilian world, the leadership ranks are overwhelmingly male. According to Lynch, female officers account for only 1,000 of 180,000 Marines. The pressure on those women to perform and exceed expectations is intense.

"When you're on a 20-mile combat conditioning hike, you carry the weight of the minority with you," says Lynch. "If you fall out, it's 'All women can't make it in the Marine Corps.' But if a man falls back, she says, people will likely say that he's just having a bad day. As a woman, you want to work harder."

But are military mantras really useful in the corporate world? Is business really war? Lynch and Morgan, who both worked in sales, say their message is not about combat. It's about leadership. As Lynch tells it, the Marine Corps teaches each Marine — male and female — to be a leader.

That kind of training enables a unit to function more effectively while preserving its ability to continue even if the senior officer gets hurt or killed. A company can operate in the same manner. While a receptionist probably won't take over for the CEO, she can learn to lead from her own desk, by taking the initiative, inspiring others and solving problems with perseverance and integrity, Lynch says.

The ability to learn from mistakes is also important, according to Lynch and Morgan. They first met at Basic School, the six-month training course that teaches new Marine officers how to lead a platoon. Both had done poorly in land navigation, the wartime skill that involves locating objects with just a map and a compass. But they managed to find each other and strike up a conversation while they were being bused to a remedial navigation class.

The friendship continued as the two women passed their officer training, became public-affairs officers, finished their Marine service with the rank of captain and took jobs in the corporate world. Morgan eventually became a specialty sales representative at Pfizer, and Lynch was a sales manager for Rational Software before graduating from law school and taking a job with law firm Holland & Knight. Both found that they were just plain better at their jobs than other women without military backgrounds.

After six months at Rational, Lynch was promoted to be the youngest sales manager in the company and the only female at that level in a 13-state region. Meanwhile, Morgan quickly became a finalist in Pfizer's Rookie of the Year program, while motivating a previously mediocre sales team to win national sales awards.

Eager to strike out on their own, both quit their jobs and started a leadership consulting firm, signing up clients for speaking engagements. Their first patron was Wal-Mart; their second was Burger King, which had a former Marine as an executive. Lynch and Morgan have since given leadership presentations to women and occasionally men who work at Anadarko Petroleum, Merrill Lynch, Orkin, Sodexho and other companies.

Now, the pair is offering their expertise to women through the book, which draws heavily on their military experiences but also references their corporate jobs and their marriages. "Every woman has to influence outcomes and inspire others on a daily basis," fitting the definition of leadership, Lynch says.

Lynch and Morgan highly recommend enlisting in the Marines. But for those who prefer not to take that step, this book is a good way around boot camp.