What Makes a True Leader: How Big Tech & the Marines Foster Superior Leadership

true leadership women

(6-minute read)

As a part of our Print Assessment Series, JD Young Managed Print Services has been looking at what separates respected leadership from mere authority. We’ve found that accounting for the daily operations on a granular level is a significant attribute of responsible, inspiring leadership. To find out what other characteristics constitute true leadership, we researched top businesses and military protocols to see how else these organizations are cultivating authentic leadership. We’re excited to share our findings with you.  

Imagine being fireproof.

How would you feel about a boss that didn’t believe in firing anyone — a company with a zero-firing policy? Such is actually the case.

After months of consideration, Next Jump, a technology company out of New York City, instituted a no-fire policy. This company policy means that no employee of the company could be fired for a performance-related issue. Instead, the struggling employee would be coached, trained, and encouraged through rough patches. This change in policy resulted in a turnover rate from around 40% to nearly 0%. Next Jump’s CEO, Charlie Kim, said that recruiters and the CEOs of competing companies had told him that they usually couldn’t get his staff members to return their calls. Next Jump employees know that they’ve found a job for life.

Most of us can’t fathom this kind of policy. Why would Next Jump makes such bold stance on firing? Is it really worth curbing turnover? Not at all. This policy actually stems from Charlie Kim’s attempts to create an environment of trust within the company.

Even though most of us aren’t ready for such a radical policy, what can we learn from this company’s decision?

A True Leader Fosters an Environment of Trust

Kim doesn’t see the company as one of bosses and workers, but one of a family. His leadership style is more like that of a parent wanting what is best for their children. He gauges his own success by the success of his team much like a parent delights in the growth of their children. When perceived through this lens, firing staff members becomes a grave violation of the environment of trust.

“If you had hard times within your family, would you ever consider laying off one of your children?” Kim replied.

This atmosphere of trust isn’t simply oozed onto workers like spoiled children. When put into practice, this trust is reciprocated. When a leader extends this trust to their staff members, their staff members work harder and communicate their problems with real honesty. When staff members believe in their leaders, and when communication is liberated from fear, progress is inevitable.

“Probably the biggest impact was the effectiveness of performance evaluations. Development discussions were usually wrought with skepticism from the employee standpoint — are you really trying to help me or just documenting material to potentially fire me? Since getting fired wasn’t an option, everyone became more open to talk about their real problems,” Kim explained.

A true leader fosters a sense of collaborative trust among their staff members. They feel less hesitant to serve their leader because they know that their leadership has their back and cares for their wellbeing.

“When we feel safe within the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.” – Simon Sinek

Marine Leadership Policy: Officers Eat Last

Within the U.S. Marines, there is a phrase that has morphed into a leadership philosophy — “Officers eat last.” It means just what it says — during particular field training or in combative environments, when it comes time to eat, the officers make sure that their troops eat before they do. In some instances, officers actually serve the food to their unit.

One would think that an officer, a decorated superior, had earned the privilege of eating before his unit, but such is not the case in these scenarios. The Marines feel that this team-first action helps inspire what is known as “servant leadership.” The servant leadership model is used to cultivate an environment of trust within units. Even when the units receive their food and there is none left for the officer, the lower-ranking Marines are known to share their own food with their commanding officers. When asked why they do this, the Marines’ reply is typically the same,

“Because they would have done the same for me.”

In Conclusion

While most companies are not going to adopt Next Jump’s radical “no fire” policy or even a company-wide policy that executives eat last, there are immense truths about leadership to be realized by encouraging servant leadership.

  • A true leader wants to give their team every opportunity to grow.
  • A true leader works to squash fear within the ranks to liberate communication.
  • A true leader mutual trust among their team members.
  • A true leader puts the happiness of their team ahead of their own.

Ultimately, to be a true leader, one must conduct themselves in a manner worthy of being followed — cultivating mutual trust and inspiring the absolute best of their teams.


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