The Art of the Woman Warrior

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From Inc Magazine, August 2005

As the rare women in their Marine officer-training school, Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch struggled with the physical demands of the job. Leading male troops, though, most of whom had never worked for a woman before, was more difficult. Eventually, they figured it out, and now they’re teaching other women how to lead. Last year, Morgan and Lynch launched Lead Star, a company based in Fairfax, Va., that conducts workshops for women’s business groups and for female managers at companies like Wal-Mart and Burger King. Sessions focus on 10 concepts that Morgan and Lynch learned from the Marines.

One is leading as you are. In the Corps, according to Lynch, a lot of women think they need to be more like a man or talk in a deep voice. “Stay who you are,” she says, “and the troops will appreciate that.” The other concepts include exceeding the standards you set for others; making timely decisions rather than waiting for 100% of the information; and avoiding emotional reactions (or, as their drill instructor told them, “save the drama for your mama”).

The rule that’s toughest for many businesswomen to follow is refraining from apologies, Morgan says, even though “it breaks down your ability to communicate as a leader.” Never say “I’m sorry” when you interrupt a meeting (use “excuse me”), never apologize for something that’s not your fault, and never, ever cry at work. When you do make a mistake, “as a leader, you say you’re sorry just once,” Morgan says.

Business lessons drawn from the military have been around for ages—hasn’t every CEO read The Art of War? But until now, women have embraced them much less than men. Yet Lynch and Morgan believe the tough-love leadership of the Marines is great for women who usually don’t get those lessons elsewhere. “The Marine Corps is not a natural source of inspiration for most women,” says Lynch, “but every woman can learn how to lead the Marine Corps way—without strapping on a pair of combat boots.”