No Yelling: The 9 Secrets of Marine Corps Leadership You Must Know to Win in Business

Wally Adamchik (2006)
Review date: December 2012

This book is about applying leadership principles used in the Marines to civilian businesses. Already the title says that it's about "nine secrets", and indeed it is. The book has nine chapters, each devoted to a secret, or topic. These are the chapters:

  1. Integrity - This chapter is about the foundations of integrity, which according the author are: being trustworthy, consistent, and about having non-negotiables.
  2. Technical competence - Is about the leader being competent in the technical dimension of the work, but not being, or at least acting, the expert. Leaders that are experts run the risk of not letting go of what they are good at, which has negative impact on their leadership.
  3. Set the example - The title of this chapter gives it all away. Setting an example is about inspiring, being a role model, and acting with professionalism.
  4. Self-awareness - This chapter is not surprisingly about knowing yourself, but also about knowing your own personal style and not trying to fake somebody else's. Also, it's about leadership being adapted to the current situation i.e. situational awareness.
  5. Take care of people - Is about caring about people; at work and about their family situation. It's also about treating them well when they decide to leave the organization.
  6. Make new leaders - The ultimate goal of leaders is to develop new leaders and ensure that the group and organization will function without them (the old leaders) around, in both the short and long run.
  7. Commander's intent - In the fog of war, or in our daily jobs, we may lose the big picture or the "vision". Therefore communicating the commander's intent is crucial. By understanding the intent behind what the organization wants to achieve, employees can act more autonomously and make better decisions.
  8. Culture and values - Building an organization around a culture is far more motivating than monetary bonuses. This includes hiring the right people; possibly at the cost of not accepting highly competent people that wouldn't fit the culture.
  9. Rehearsals and critiques - Practicing, doing drills and rehearsing is something that not only Marines should do. What we do on daily basis at work can also be improved by actually practicing.

Each of these chapters contains numerous stories from both the Marines and civilian businesses.


I bought this book during a streak of reading "non-technical" books, with content still applicable to software development. This particular book, I bought mostly because of its cover. I haven't really heard about it, but I thought that it would make a nice contrast to the other books on my site.

The short verdict is that I really liked this book. In fact, I feel quite subjective while reviewing it, because the principles outlined in it strongly resemble things I try to apply every day. I also like the style of writing: divide each chapter in roughly three sections, and break that up with many examples, quotes, and stories. Here are some things I noted in particular.

When talking about integrity, the author says that it's based on values, and those are constant. Leaders who have integrity get workers that act with confidence, as opposed to "acting like beaten puppies". I liked this, because I have seen people acting in the latter way, and it's not an uplifting experience.

Later in that section "non-negotiables" are discussed. One dimension of that is about people doing a thing in a specific manner, or about achieving a certain result. Sometimes you want one of these, sometimes you may go with both. I just haven't thought about it in that way.

In a subsequent chapter there's model for balancing different sides of a leader. The sides of that triangle are labeled "management", "leadership", and "technical proficiency". They should balance in a good leader. On the other hand, leaders that have been promoted from technical experts don't even have a triangle. They have a base, and it's labeled "technical expertise", while the management and leadership sides have collapsed. I liked that simple model.

Then there's a more Marine-like section on staying fit. By staying fit, the leader sets the standard... Comments not necessary.

In the "Set the example" chapter, I found a golden quote: "Setting a standard of excellence is about eliminating the acceptance of status quo." To me, this line has a profound meaning, and I'm quite sure it's going to make it to one of my conference slides one of these days.

This book has also taught me about normative and instrumental commitment, where the first is about acting in accordance with a set of values, whereas the second is getting the job done because of a reward (most frequently monetary).

All-in-all, this book was quite a surprise. I didn't know what to expect, but I was a little surprised. I have to admit that I thought that military leadership training is more rigid and less people-focused. Shame on me.

For example, I reacted to the face that Marines have reading lists, i.e. lists of books they need to read to "get the theory" of what they do. More professions would benefit from that, I guess.

I really recommend this book. It's easy to read, full of examples, and provides a lot of inspiration and some good models and metaphors. The author has managed to blend Marine examples with civilian business stories in a very nice fashion, which makes this book easily accessible to a broad audience. It's easy and quick to read, and it has a lot of thought-worthy messages.

Who should read this book

This is a good book in overall leadership. Those interested in a broad and reading-friendly book about the subject are going to like this one.


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