USMC Gen. Mattis: 3 Cs of Leadership

By | September 19, 2019

[September 19, 2019]  The fundamentals of leadership are no secret; but they are often difficult to sort out from the chaff and to learn and implement.  U.S. Marine GEN Jim Mattis retired a few years ago and became the U.S. Secretary of Defense.  In a recent series of speeches and his book1, Gen. Mattis discusses what his early years with the Marines taught him about leadership.

He tells the story that he pieced this together from the training and mentoring of Marine Sergeants who always acted as if this week was the last week of peace.  “Be ready.  Next week we’ll be in a fight,” as one of his Gunnery Sergeants advised him.

  1. Competence: In the Infantry, we called it being technically and tactically competent.  You knew your job inside and out.  Mattis tells us to be brilliant in the basics.  Know your weaknesses and strengths.  Work to improve yourself in every way; physically, emotionally, intellectually, and socially. All great leaders are balanced across many domains of ability.  Anything that is not supporting your organization’s main effort is of secondary importance.
  2. Caring: When people know you are vested in their character development, their dreams, and their families, you are connected to their soul.  Only this way can you obtain their loyalty and devotion.  Furthermore, if you care about them, they will know it and you can speak to them bluntly when they disappoint.  Show no favoritism but value those things that make your organization tick.
  3. Conviction: Those who surround you (family, friends, close peers) all know what you stand for and also what you do not stand for.  People who follow you catch on fast.  State your rules and guidance in clear, no-uncertain terms and stick to them.  Be sure to practice personal humility and compassion for those who follow.  Only through a deep conviction can you expect to win their hearts.

Most good leaders learn this quickly or they don’t last.  Leadership is a flexible but difficult enterprise because it requires a certain level of sticking power and creativity.  However, any of these 3 Cs that are discarded will undoubtedly lead to failure.  In combat, leadership failure can get your men killed or seriously wounded.  For the CEO it may mean financial ruin or for the family it can mean a nasty divorce.

Learn the basics.  Devote the time and personal resources necessary to understand the fundamentals of leadership.  Step up and ask if you are not clear.  Ask questions and listen.


  1. Jim Mattis talks about his new book, ‘Call Sign Chaos,’ to capacity crowd at Nixon Library –
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

17 thoughts on “USMC Gen. Mattis: 3 Cs of Leadership

  1. Fred Weber

    Just another enjoyable and educational blog entry by Gen. Satterfield. Much appreciated. I’ll be passing this one along to my co-workers this morning. They usually have some interesting comments on why I’m reading about leadership but also why I got promoted before them.

  2. JT Patterson

    Another article that got me to thinking. Well done, Gen. Satterfield. Thanks.

    1. Delf "Jelly" Bryce

      Agreed. You will find a lot to be found in Gen. Mattis that goes beyond these three “Cs”. He is a man who is about as devoted to the good of the Western, democratic world as there is anywhere. I would hope he stays around to give us more to think about and to keep our enemies off balance and scared of us. Wimps like Pres Obama set us back a decade but fortunately we are recovering.

      1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

        Good point about Gen. Mattis devotion (read that as loyalty) to the good ole’ USA. What he brings to the table is common sense and that was certainly lacking in President Obama’s whitehouse.

      2. José Luis Rodriguez

        Good point Jelly and thanks. I’m one of your fans so please publish another article soon. 👍

  3. Eric Coda

    I had my 10th wedding anniversary the other day and was telling my beautiful bride about how much I loved her. But what made the marriage successful were things that Gen. Mattis has listed here, along with devotion. Interesting that the 3 Cs go well beyond just leadership.

    1. Bryan Lee

      Good point, Eric and congratulations on your wedding anniversary. 😊😊😊😊

  4. Doug Smith

    I had an employer a few years back who had the same three Cs. Maybe these are common; I wouldn’t know. But anyone who pays attention and is focused on worthy leadership should be aware of these. I was happy with the company but then, my boss left to go elsewhere. I’m sure he is successful there also but I’m now less happy with where I work because competence is no longer that important.

    1. Harry Donner

      Same here in my workplace. There is an ‘informal’ quota on hiring minorities and women to do the job where once we were hired on the basis of experience and merit. I do believe it is called political correctness but it is really just plain old organizational suicide.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      You’ll begin to see more of this, where merit is irrelevant, as the college snowflakes begin circulating in the job market.

  5. Army Captain

    I had the chance to meet USMC Gen. Mattis in Iraq a few years ago when I was a Lieutenant supporting the US Marines out in the western part of the country. Not only was he gracious but so was his staff.

  6. The Kid 1945

    Excellent rendering of Gen. Mattis’ ideas. Also thanks for the link to his book. I immediately ordered it on Amazon.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      I preordered the book and got it about two weeks ago. I’m about finished reading it for the second time. Lots of good ideas in it.

    2. Len Jakosky

      Me too. Great book by a great man. We all would do ourselves better by reading and paying attention to his words.

  7. Roger Yellowmule

    Truly a great US Marine General, statesman, and gentleman.

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