05 April 2011

Good Leaders: The Readers Speak

The results are in. I will now proceed to inform you what 53 of my my closest friends/ email contacts/ their email contacts think are the most important traits of an Army leader.

But first, some setting of the stage.

While deployed, I wanted to know what others thought made for a good Army officer. Waiting in those famously long Army lines gave me ample opportunities to conduct a straw poll among comrades in my vicinity. The results were not surprising.

Most folks cited things like bravery and decisiveness. A senior NCO told me of the three Cs: Courage, Competence, and Compassion. I wanted to know what more people thought, and how rank influenced their perception of leadership. So I kept my list.

After the deployment I went back into teaching, and became more interested in what made for good educational leaders. A consultant who helps school and district leaders turn around their schools told me that an effective leader delegates properly, letting subordinates do their jobs while giving them clear parameters and goals; has efficient performance measures in place and analyzes the data frequently; and seeks to improve his expertise at every opportunity.

The Army has a phrase for the first two: "setting troops up for success." The third one it calls, "training."

I find it interesting that there is so much overlap between leading troops and being an effective educational leader. After the school year ended, I attended a course on the former. Warrior Leaders Course was fulfilling in many ways. We discussed leadership according to Army doctrine:
"An Army leader is anyone who by virtue  of assumed role or assigned responsibility inspires and influences people to accomplish organizational goals. Army leaders motivate people both inside and outside the chain of command to pursue actions, focus thinking, and shape decisions for the greater good of the organization."  (FM 6-22)
In that spirit, I sought the input of my friends and readers, asking them to list the three most important characteristics of an effective Army leader.

Knowledge or competence was a top choice of 62% of respondents. Forty-five percent put flexibility or adaptability in their top three. The two complement each other to inspire confidence in subordinates.

To my disappointment, only 11% chose humility as one of the three most important qualities. I have always thought that it is impossible to lead and teach without recognizing one's weakness. The ability to take input and criticism from subordinates also inspires confidence. It's a trait that gets overlooked too much.

A few other responses are worth mentioning. An effective leader:

  • Punishes privately, reward publicly
  • Makes decisions objectively
  • Is willing to sacrifice
  • Stands up to his superiors for his subordinates
  • Leads from the front

The last one is a favorite among Soldiers. It means that the leader doesn't expect from subordinates what s/he isn't willing to do. It may sound trite, but it's one of my favorites, too.

The My Public Affairs Loyal Cynics have leadership down.

What are the most important traits in leading your organization?


  1. I want to punch you in the face.

  2. I, on the other hand, do not have that urge.

    Though I do not have experience in the Army, I do have interest in teaching and I was pleased to see the inclusion of humility. I feel the same way. One of my most frustrating professors in college just could NEVER say, "I don't know; that's a good question. Let's explore that together." He always HAD to have an answer, an answer that sounded "authoritative." Drove me nuts. I believe a good teacher is not simply a "dispenser of knowledge" but a facilitator of learning--whether the learning is from teacher to student, from student to student or from student to teacher.

  3. I often wonder whether Anonymous is a buddy of mine just messing with me (we punch each other in the faces all the time out of love) or a disgruntled reader who is somehow fond of seeing a dissenting view.

  4. At least if he (or she????)punched you in the face he (or she) would no longer be anonymous!!!!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.