At boot camp, every Marine learns the 14 leadership traits of the Marine Corps. Although these are typically interpreted in military contexts, they still apply as a civilian--and as a professional.

In honor of Veterans Day, here's how these traits make for a better technical communicator.

In order to honestly and fairly portray facts, technical communicators must have a strong sense of justice. Using embellishments or misconstruing information does no good for the audience or user. Good Tech Comm portrays a balanced, honest representation of the facts, products, and processes.

Where would Tech Comm be without judgment? Every sentence structure and word choice is a judgment call. Great technical communicators can judge what their audience needs and carefully select the best of all available options.

Even the most laid-back work environment has deadlines. Successful technical communicators know how to budget time and other resources to dependably deliver documentation.

Waiting on the SME, reviewer, editor, manager or whomever for every little decision and change is begging to miss a deadline. Technical communicators must know when and how to take initiative on projects.

Similar to initiative, Tech Comm requires gathering facts and weighing them without unnecessary intervention from those around and above. Finding the appropriate information and knowing how to make decisions help ensure success.

One thing many technical communicators have in common with the military is a reputation for "just the facts" that can sometimes appear tactless. However, sticking to the truth has its place and must be balanced with quality interpersonal skills such as tact--especially when dealing with in-person communications. But even electronic communications need to convey respect for the recipients.

One of the elements of being a professional in any field is integrity. Without honesty and morals, people cannot extend trust in your words--let alone actions. As a technical communicator this means coworkers and supervisors will not give you room to grow or take on greater duties without proven integrity.

Peers tend to enjoy working with people who show honest enthusiasm for a project, job, concept, or task. That doesn't mean you have to like everything about it--just don't complain too much or to the wrong people.

Subject matter experts feel better about talking to someone who appears confident and comfortable discussing technical matters. CEOs prefer to convey vital company info to competent, alert employees. And bosses always prefer a professional demeanor.

The work place is no place to be self-centered. Quality Tech Comm focuses on what the user or reader wants and needs. Quality writers relinquish their ego for editing tips. And quality editors place style guides before personal opinions on grammar.

Facing down a SME wielding a vocabulary in one hand and contempt for "lesser beings" in the other is frightening. Confronting a supervisor who forgot a vital part of a project is daunting. Even challenging day-to-day decisions can be scary. But great technical communicators courageously take on these challenges all the time.

Whether natural talent, learned skill, or formal education, what you know reflects in what you write--and how.

Loyalty is undervalued and misunderstood in today's corporate world. Most people feel no need for this trait when companies are impersonally hiring and firing on a whim. But loyalty isn't about blind devotion to your company. It's about a commitment to your peers, supervisors, subordinates, and customers. When you work somewhere, you inherently accept responsibility for supporting those around you.

Some people enthusiastically attack a project at the start and then taper off into ho-hum acceptance. Others sit back and wait for things to get rolling, only really kicking into high gear as the deadline approaches. The best technical communicators maintain their progress from start to finish throughout the ups and downs of any project.

Semper Fi
Of all the traits associated with the Marine Corps, "Semper Fidelis" is the most commonly known and referenced. Perhaps "always faithful" seems like a strange approach to Tech Comm. In reality, technical communicators could not do their jobs without being reliable. When you turn your back on a job or company, you disrespect not only yourself but the entire field of Technical Communication.

Each of the above traits takes root at an early age. Some traits are nurtured more than others as we grow up. Service in the Marine Corps provides the opportunity for the weaker traits to bloom. Once a part of your life, these traits remain in your garden no matter what profession you choose. As technical communicators, it is our duty to lead by example: apply these leadership traits to our profession and share them with our peers.

Happy Veterans Day!
11/11/2009 04:40:47 am

Awesome post. I especially like the last part about "Semper Fidelis".

11/11/2009 05:25:04 am

Any profession could benefit from these traits, which just goes to show that technical communicators *do* have something in common with other people... <g>

11/13/2009 12:57:07 am

Very cool Arroxane. If you recall, I had posted the leadership traits at the office (when I worked there) near the water cooler a few years back for others to read. The Marine Corps is full of great traits that anyone can take advantage of. I don't think enough Marines fully understand how powerful these are when they transition into the civilian sector. That is one thing www.SWVBRC.ORG is trying to accomplish and it is great.


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