205 – LtGen George Flynn: Retired Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command

Simon Sinek said he had an “a-ha” leadership moment while interviewing retired USMC General George Flynn for Simon’s latest book “Leaders Eat Last“.

In the interview Sinek asked Flynn if he could summarize what made the Marine Corps leadership style so unique.  Flynn said it was quite simple; it was because “Officers eat last”.  This fundamental intentional concept explains what makes the Marine Corps so extraordinarily tight-knit, to the point that they willingly trust their lives to one another. In every chow-hall across the globe, Marines line up for their food each day, and the most junior ranking Marines eat first. Their leaders eat last. Such procedures are not recorded in the Marine Corp handbook or procedural code. Nor are they communicated at roll call. It’s just the way that Marine leadership teaches responsibility.

Many people think leadership to be about rank, power and privilege. Marines, however, maintain that true leadership is the willingness to place others’ needs above your own. That’s why Sinek titled his 2014 book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. True leadership, he writes, is about empowering others to achieve things they didn’t believe possible.

George Flynn wrote the forward to Simon’s book and is a huge advocate of Sinek’s “Start With Why” movement.

In this episode we talk about:

  • The importance of empowerment and decentralized decision making.
  • How love enables others to overcome fear
  • How Commanders Intent is the answer to bridge the gap between strategic planning & execution.
  • Leadership is more about having a “teacher-to-scholar” relationship.

Here is LtGen George Flynn’s official biography:

Lieutenant General Flynn graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1975. He holds a Master of Arts Degree in International Relations from Salve Regina College, a Master of Arts Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, and a Master of Science Degree in National Security and Strategy from the National War College. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the College of Naval Command and Staff and the National War College.

Lieutenant General Flynn’s command assignments include:
Commanding Officer, HQ Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines; (1979-1980); Commanding Officer, L Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines (1980); Commanding Officer, P Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines (1984-1985); Commanding Officer, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines (1992-1993); Commanding Officer, Officer Candidates School (1999- 2001), Commanding General, Training Command (2002-2004), Commanding General, Training and Education Command (2006-2007). Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command (2008-2013).

Lieutenant General Flynn’s staff assignments include: Forward Observer, Fire Direction Officer, Battery Executive Officer and S-4 A, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (1976-1979); Officer Selection Officer, Manchester, New Hampshire, (1981-1984), Operations Officer, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines (1985-1986), Plans Officer, Plans Policies and Operations Department, Headquarters Marine Corps (1987-1989); Junior Aide-de-Camp to the Commandant of the Marine Corps (1989-1991); Assistant Fire Support Coordinator, 2d Marine Division (1991-1992); Future Operations Officer, III Marine Expeditionary Force (1994-1995); Military Assistant to the Executive Secretary to the Secretary of Defense (1995-1997); Military Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations (1997-1998); Head, Strategic Initiatives Group, Headquarters Marine Corps (1998-1999); Military Secretary to the Commandant of the Marine Corps (2001-2002); Deputy Commanding General, Training and Education Command (2002-2004). Chief of Staff and Director, Command Support Center, United States Special Operations Command (2004-2006). Deputy Commanding General Multi-National Corps-Iraq (2008).