The staff at Officer Candidates School evaluates and screens candidates for a very specific leadership style that is not necessarily representative of good officership. Is this a good thing?
The leadership style that is taught at Officer Candidates School is one that is loud, authoritative, confident, aggressive, and relatively simplistic. Candidates who are able to lead this way will be successful at OCS (at least in their leadership grade). This is both a good thing, and a bad thing.
So why does the Marine Corps screen its potential officers this way?
1) First and foremost, being able to speak confidently and issue orders to subordinates is essential. If you can't do this, you will not be an effective leader in the military. Plain and simple.
2) The environment at Officer Candidates School is one of controlled chaos. This is intentional. A loud, authoritative leader is well suited to lead in a hectic situation. In a rapidly deteriorating combat scenario, there is little room for nuance. A leader needs to take charge and quickly issue clear orders to subordinates.
3) It is easy to screen for. Authoritarian leaders are obvious. More nuanced forms of leadership are not as easy to detect within a short time frame.
4) It is effective. Authoritarian leaders may not be popular, but they usually get the job done.
5) Most leadership decisions at OCS require little creativity or input from subordinates. Authoritarian leadership is sufficient at OCS.
So what are the downsides of fostering authoritarian leadership?
1) After Officer Candidates School, when leadership decisions become less black and white, authoritarian leaders may be less effective than leaders who are more receptive to input from others.
2) By rewarding authoritarian leaders over other styles of leadership, OCS may be forcing out candidates who would have been good, competent officers, but simply were not naturally authoritarian.
3) Authoritarian leadership is better suited for centralized command and control, which is at odds with Marine Corps doctrine. Decentralized command and control, the preferred method, requires subordinates to take initiative and gives them wide latitude to act within the commander's intent. The leadership style that is encouraged at Officer Candidates School does not prepare officers for decentralized command and control.
4) By encouraging authoritarian leadership, OCS does not teach candidates how to be good followers. Good followers are not "yes-men," and instead, provide suggestions and feedback to leaders.
Our take? Officer Candidates School screens and evaluates for leadership relatively well, however candidates should take it with a grain of salt. Upon graduation, they have a base for leadership that can and should be built on.
New Lieutenants should understand that while some situations call for authoritarian leaders, it is certainly not the only or even the best style of leadership.
And for those of you who felt like you were acting a role at OCS that was not authentic? Don't worry. There are other types of leaders in the Marine Corps.
If you want to learn more about leadership, check out or books section or our gift list.