US Marines Rule of Three: Listen Up Politicians

This is my thirty-second weekly Blog regarding the state of leadership in America. As a former US Army officer and civilian supervisor of a 105 person organization, I respect and support the Marines underlying principle that war is chaos and we must learn to deal with the unexpected. To do that, the Marines found it necessary to reduce organizational structure, push more decision-making down the chain of command, and limit the focus of Marines to three goals or tasks to accomplish at any one time. After much study, the Marines concluded that an individual’s effectiveness suffers significantly when more than three goals or courses of action are assigned. This “Rule of Three” permeates how the Marines strategize and structure for battle. For example, a corporal is in-charge of a three-person fire team; a sergeant has three fire teams; a lieutenant has a platoon of three squads and so forth. Likewise, there are no more than three objectives to accomplish for each assigned mission. The primary lesson to be learned from all this is that the Marines Rule of Three can bring success on the battlefield and also can translate into a roadmap on how our elected officials could operate. The legislative grid lock that we continue to experience is set against the backdrop of a world in varies degrees of chaos and looking to the United States for leadership in dealing with complex issues. Furthermore, the number of issues within the United States demanding attention by the President and Congress continues to grow at an alarming pace. Something drastic needs to change in how the President and Congress interact to get things accomplished. The leadership in the Senate and House need to recognize just how dire the situation is and that their unwillingness to work together to jump start our governmental apparatus is crippling our Republic. They must begin to actually do something other than preaching empty ideology to radical conservative and liberal fringe groups for support in the next election. Following the US Marine model, the President and the Congressional leadership need to agree on our top three priorities, collectively allocate the resources needed to succeed, and then aggressively and relentlessly drive the changes needed to accomplish those priorities. As one priority is finalized, replace it with the next priority in order. Partisan politics must be set aside and the legislation that is completed must be written in clear and concise terminology so that US citizens can understand without need of a law degree. Keep it simple and keep it moving would be the Marine motto. It is the role of a good leader to drive the complexity out of an issue and frame it in its most basic terms. Citizens must understand the issue, its priority, and the remedy to rally public support. Good leaders understand that the best time to deal with an issue is when it first appears. The longer we wait to deal with it the more complex it will become. A problem does not get better with age. There will be those who say that such an approach is naive, that the problems we face as a nation are too numerous and complicated for such a simplistic methodology. To those critics, I say that the only thing we lack today for this governmental rule of three to be a success, is the leaders with the will and courage to do it. Otherwise we will just continue to do the same thing and expect different results and according to Einstein, that’s insanity.
Paul Okum has 40 years’ experience with the Federal Government in the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Defense and Army in numerous leadership positions, including being a US Army officer and a human resources director. Mr. Okum has written ”Leadership DNA,” a provocative and useful guide book allowing readers to broaden their understanding about identifying, selecting, and developing natural born leaders. This guide book shows you the various aspects of leadership, including examining good leaders’ behavior patterns as well as learning how to achieve your objectives and deal with poor managers that can potentially cripple you and your organization.
For more information about Paul Okum and Leadership DNA, visit

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