Executive Interview

Executive Interview: Steve Corcoran, USMC (Retired)

leadership trust & loyalty

Photo by israel palacio

On Leadership, Trust & Loyalty

Editor’s Note:


Leadership is a hot topic. It is also a vitally important topic that can be diluted by the volume of consultants, speakers and self-proclaimed experts who speak and publish books on the subject. Searching on Amazon for Management and Leadership books, over 10,000 results were returned.

The challenge in our information-gorged society is to cut through the noise and identify sources of veracity and truth on this important subject. The Wise Marketer has done just that as we interviewed Retired Marine Colonel Steve Corcoran recently to get his perspective on leadership.

Steve served in the United States Marine Corps for 28 years, commanding at every level in the most austere and challenging environments. He successfully led the nation’s finest throughout this term of service and was recognized for distinguished service in combat and peacetime. Steve now serves as the Chief of Cyber Strategy for the Telos Corporation, successfully applying his leadership knowledge from the Marine Corps and National Outdoor Leadership School into a corporate environment.

The following is a summary transcript of an interview with Steve. His powerful insights on leadership apply to all areas of life and are published here as inspiration for creating a customer-centric environment in any business environment.

We will publish a follow up video interview with Steve soon to dive in to the topic of leadership even deeper. For now, take a moment to absorb his valuable insights on leadership formed through a lifetime of service to our country.


Trust is the Key to Corporate Success

Steve Corcoran is Chief of Cyber Strategy for the Telos Corporation and a retired USMC Colonel

According to Corcoran, the critical success factors needed to create a foundation for effective leadership include physical courage, emotional courage, intellectual courage and trust – with the most important of these being trust. Citing the lessons learned while serving in the USMC, Corcoran stated “We have a trust and a belief in each other, we have a trust and a belief in the system. We have a trust and a belief that we are going to be taken care of.”

Such trust was essential in the battlefield, explained Corcoran, who commanded in extreme and challenging environments that most of us would find hard to understand. “The worst place I can be on the battlefield is wounded and down,” Corcoran said. But the military won’t let a soldier stay pinned down, Marines will work hard to ensure they take care of the wounded.

Translating that level of trust to today’s corporate environment can be a long walk.  In most businesses that trust usually doesn’t exist, Corcoran said. When times get tight, companies look to cut people, reducing a workforce for short term gains while eliminating the possibility for those people to help pull a firm out of its difficulties over the longer term.

Steve gives high praise for the leadership at Telos, which adopted a different approach realizing that cutting people wasn’t the answer. Facing adversity at one point recently, the company invested in and openly expressed trust in its workforce, who in turn responded with strong contributions to propel a business turnaround. Corcoran stated, “If you don’t have that belief in people and you start cutting people at your weakest times, they are not going to be part of the solution to get you back.”

In the corporate world, the most successful organizations exhibit the strongest connections between company personnel, Corcoran added. “There are interpersonal lines and that go all the way through. You look at the top, you looked at everyone down [the line] and what you saw was everyone is there for each other. Everyone knows they’re working on the behalf of not only the company but on behalf of each other and that is the power of those organizations. Their trust factor is extremely high.”

On the other hand, there are companies that rely purely on process. But process and procedures don’t build the same bonds that personal relationships do, according to Corcoran.

The Influence Model

Corcoran cites what he calls the “influence model”.  With the influence model, company executives are not commanding people to do things, Corcoran explained. “You’re influencing them to obtain the highest potential that they possibly can. You’ve created the environment, you shape the environment where they want to create that potential.”

With 80% of Marines ranking no higher than sergeant, that’s the model the U.S. Marine Corps uses, Corcoran said. “How do we get to a point where they’ll do anything that they’re asked? “we influence them, and we shape it, we enable the environment to allow them to lead, to allow them to assert their creativity, to allow them to look at things from their perspective and formulate plans that are best suited for what it is that they’re going up against.”

Similarly, in the corporate world, following an influence model means interacting with people in a positive way and looking to keep quality people when times get tough, according to Corcoran. “The best organizations realize that it’s cheaper to retain high quality people.”

As Baby Boomers retire and the talent pool becomes tighter, the most successful companies will be those that retain quality people, build and retain trust, Corcoran said. Those will be the companies that will attract the highest quality people.

Just One Question

A single question can determine if a company is following those principles, Corcoran concluded:

“What time do you go to work in the morning?

When Corcoran asks that question of an employee group, every single individual in a high performing organization replies “as soon as I wake up, I can’t wait to get in there”. Corcoran punctuates this response by noting that “When they wake up, they’re excited, motivated and already starting to think about how they can contribute to their day.”

Marketers would describe these employees as “highly engaged” and we know that organizations with a highly engaged workforce drives performance above its peer group. But creating an atmosphere of trust, engagement and commitment across a workforce does not come without commitment to the same from the top. The result of a highly engaged workforce is evidence that “senior leadership” is in fact leading.

Colonel Steve Corcoran retired from the United States Marine Corps after 28 years of active service. Commanding at every level in the most austere and challenging environments, he successfully led the nation’s finest and was recognized for distinguished service in combat and peacetime. After retiring from military service, Steve has been serving as the Chief of Cyber Strategy for the Telos Corporation, successfully applying his leadership knowledge from the Marine Corps and National Outdoor Leadership School into a corporate environment.

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