Krulak’s famous Law of Leadership states that the future of an organisation is in the hands of the privates in the field, not the generals back home.

Charles Chandler Krulak is a retired United States Marine Corps officer who served as the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps.

In our quickly developing world supported or disrupted by technology, leaders need to nurture the strategic corporals of their companies (these are the critical first-level of line managers who are closest to the front-line staff). 

Today there is no time for taking decisions at the top and passing them down to low-level ranks. The employees must make split-second decisions which could have a severe impact on the company’s reputation and brand position.

A leader’s primary responsibility is to ensure that their employees make the right decisions.

How can the leader in question support their employees to this end?

General Krulak gives the following answer:

  • Offer them the freedom to fail and with it, the opportunity to succeed
  • Micro-management must become a thing of the past
  • Supervision must be complemented by proactive mentoring
  • Empower them, hold them strictly accountable for their actions
  • Allow the leadership potential within each of them to flourish

Leaders are judged, ultimately, by the quality of the leadership reflected in their subordinates. When employees are allowed to fail, they also feel encouraged and supported to succeed.

Trust is a vital factor in the relationship between the leader and their employee. But, trust goes both ways.

When the leader establishes the circle of safety (trust) in their company, the employees are inspired to deliver their best work and support the organisation to become successful.

When people feel appreciated and respected by the business, they feel safe, relaxed, and committed.

These employees are more productive, loyal, and engaged. This allows them to care about (show empathy) and connect with their colleagues and start working as a team to support the organisation to achieve prosperity. 

No threats are coming from inside the organisation, so people are more prepared to protect the company from outside competitive threats. When threats are felt by staff inside of the company – the end is near.

Allow me to share an example:

What caused the demise of Nokia?

Motivated staff must feel appreciated, safe, and valuable. Unfortunately, it’s not how the employees of the once-mighty Nokia felt.

Nokia’s fall can be put down to internal politics. The giant company did not implement Krulak’s Law.

In short, Nokia people weakened Nokia people and as a result, made the communication company increasingly vulnerable to competitive forces.

Experts found that fear had permeated throughout the company. Employees in the lower levels of the organisation turned inward to protect resources, themselves and their business units. They did not team-up to safeguard the organisation because they were to busy saving themselves.

They failed to share with their top management what was really going on. So the giant company was unable to adapt and innovate.

The reasons for Nokia’s decline was caused by terminal bureaucracy leading to an inability to act, destructive internal competition, and failure to match the innovation and fleet-footedness of dynamic competitors.

The business lesson of this article is: The experience people have with your brand is in the hands of the people you probably pay the least.

Leadership must act accordingly. This involves training, trust, responsibility, leadership, dignity, authority, management and investment. It mostly means seeing the front-line people in your organisation as valuable assets.

What can you and your business learn (and implement) from Krulak’s Law?