“It is a central tenet of the Marines’ war fighting philosophy that each subordinate must provide options to his boss—tell him what you can do, rather than what you can’t.”

This statement is from Nathaniel C. Fick’s book, “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.” The title is a reference to the reality that in combat, every officer is just “one bullet away” from having to assume the duties of his commanding officer, of having to instantly assume command of a much greater scope of authority, and to do so seamlessly so as not to put the lives of his men in danger or to threaten the success of the ongoing operation.

A heavy responsibility, indeed. Yet the practice of continuously having to present options and recommendations up the chain of command is great training for learning how to think at a higher level of responsibility and authority, great practice for getting ready for a promotion, no matter how it occurs.

The concept of always presenting options, solutions, and recommendations (instead of just reporting problems) is an excellent practice in business and in all areas of life. The Team Member who brings me options, solutions, and recommendations is much preferred (and seen as becoming ready for more responsibility and promotion) than the one who simply reports problems. If you desire to give a quick, timely heads up, then report the problem and give an ETA (estimated time of arrival) for delivery of options, solutions, and recommendations.

Always present options: Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t do.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted August 21, 2008.