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Recognising Talent and Leadership in Unlikely Places

by | Dec 7, 2015 | Articles

Marnie’s Royal Marine experience in ‘Surviving the Yomp’ for charity sparked ideas on how we can recognise leadership traits in today’s workforce.

When I first signed up for the “Commando Spirit” 30-miler event, I knew it was going to be a challenge. After all, it’s the final test of physical and mental endurance before the Royal Marine attains the coveted Green Beret. Not only are they required to complete the 30-miler in arduous ‘Dartmoor like’ terrain with a 40lb pack but they have to finish in under 8 hours.

What I didn’t expect is that I would approach it, instinctively, from a business perspective, as I would be thinking about “the outcome”. Not so much crossing the finish line, pack still on and in under 8 hours – that’s almost incidental – but the outcome in response to “what am I delivering as a result of my effort?” Hence, my focus was on raising £10,000 for the charity. Aligning my efforts to the business outcome and organising two fundraising events – both very different and mentally demanding put my planning & organisational skills to the test. I had to think creatively how to bring a non-work team together to help me, which is quite a tall order when you are not paying for the services! It also made me very mindful of priorities in my work/life balance.

It’s struck me that this isn’t just about a physical challenge. Something that I thought, somewhat flippantly, was going to be a fun thing to do “in my spare time” has been a learning opportunity in terms of my own new found practical skills (fundraising and creating events) and the ways in which we recognise we are learning. It’s enabled me to recognise that the Royal Marines’ values of unselfishness, courage, determination and cheerfulness in adversity also have a lot to do with the same mental qualities we should expect in our leaders.

This is a valuable lesson and insight for me in how we can draw out and recognise talent and leadership qualities in people through practical life experiences, both past and present. All too often we focus on their last job and a cookie cutter CV. Perhaps we might find out that there’s not such a shortage of capable talented people after all if we just open our minds beyond rigid and traditional methods to look at the objectives and outputs we are trying to achieve.

Jack Welch states quite succinctly, his criteria of leadership qualities:

1. Thinking like an owner
2. Willingness to act on your beliefs
3. Relentless focus on adding value to others

In other words, making decisions and being accountable for running with them; demonstrating their success back to the organisation; and operating in an unselfishness way – for the organisation and the employee and not for yourself to the exclusion of others.

Recognising that what we do outside the workplace demonstrates and highlights those skills we can utilize in the workplace – not just qualifications or the ability to quote the latest jargon – demonstrable and evidenced actions and results.

In preparing for the yomp, we were informed about the values and ethos of the Royal Marines and how adhering to those would help us towards the finish. There is a strong emphasis on planning to achieve the objective but Rm’s are equipped to be agile. They do this by recognising that they have to adapt to adversity, to overcome it and execute an alternative. There’s a focus, an ability to compartmentalize – it’s done, what’s the next plan, let’s get on with it. Wrapped around this are the personal qualities and values that underpin the bond of the team: cheerfulness in adversity; courage to be brave; unselfishness and determination. This ensures the outcomes, the achievement of the objective which helps the overall organization and individuals perform – no one gets left behind.

In reflecting upon all of this, I saw not only how the qualities of leadership and talent were applied in the Royal Marines values and ethos – 75 ‘civvies’ completed and survived the 30-mile yomp (usually reserved for the Elite special forces), contributing to the £850,000 raised for the RMCTF this year alone and not one person got left behind. I also saw how focusing on the principles of aligning to organisational objectives, engaging with teams and being able to demonstrate success, led to incredible performances and transformational change.


Despite pulling a calf muscle at 10 miles, Marnie went on to complete the 30 miles in 8.5 hours, embodying the Royal Marines ethos of cheerfulness in adversity and determination. As a result, Marnie was awarded the Royal Marines Commando Spirit Award for Determination.

Such an inspiration is Marnie that her training and ‘Survive The Yomp’challenge has been filmed to form part of a promotional movie of the event for the Royal Marines.

Marnie is organising an online charity auction to raise further funds for the charity – head to the auction page to place a bid.

Alternatively, you can donate directly on Marnie’s JustGiving page.

The Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund (RMCTF) has as wide a set of purposes as any Service charity: working to support those wounded and injured, as well as those still serving, by funding decompression activities, homecoming events and memorials. It also provides through-life support to those who have left the Corps or dependents who have lost loved ones in service. Importantly, a significant grant is also made to the next of kin of all Royal Marines killed in service within 48 hours.

For more information on the Commando Spirit Appeal and Series, or to take part in Survive The Yomp, please visit www.commandospirit.com.

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