Lately, I have been engaging in conversations with various people in and outside the Army about leadership, military leadership specifically. It’s really got me thinking about the essential qualities of leadership.
I have observed many great leaders in my years as an Army wife and I have seen units thrive with a strong leader and other organizations flounder when crucial elements were missing. And they weren’t all senior officers, either. Many were young non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) or young Lieutenants and Captains. Age doesn’t matter although the more life experience you have, the more wisdom you gain, which only enhances leadership skills. I share this in the hopes that some reading this, who have never had the opportunity to watch a good, professional military leader up close, will ponder what a worthy leader looks like in any walk of life. I think they transfer smoothly to just about anyone who is responsible for others. It may not be life and death situations, but helping others to grow professionally and personally, or supporting them in their endeavors can happen anywhere.
For equity’s sake, and because I believe the gender of a leader does not matter, I am alternating in each paragraph the male and female pronouns in making my observations. The qualities I’ve observed in strong leaders whose units functioned capably and effectively under their watch have been commanded by men and women.
A true leader is always thinking of those she is responsible for before she thinks of her own needs. She knows that it takes everyone feeling that they are cared for and considered for the organization as a whole to perform at its best. A sound leader takes responsibility for her organization when things go awry. That requires integrity and a strong moral sense.
A strong leader leads by example, he is someone to look up to and whom others should want to emulate. A true leader does not seek to be served but to serve. A leader in government should consider himself a “public servant”. Servant leadership is the best kind of leadership. He also knows it is best to work with the people in his organization for the good of all. And that, in working together, they achieve greater things.
A good leader is ethical, and will always choose the harder right over the easier wrong. She works as hard and long as anyone she leads. A worthy leader is respected because she respects others. She listens and will not criticize just to show her superior knowledge. She will offer constructive suggestions and do so privately if it’s a big enough deal, i.e. she’s disappointed in someone’s actions or performance.
A respected leader teaches and will expect some setbacks because he is encouraging people to think critically. He will help those within his organization to do that if they haven’t learned how. He encourages without false praise. And God help them if they engage in unethical behavior, acting without integrity; they will be off the team as soon as possible once that is discovered and proven.
A valued leader is patient, and humble. She knows she would not be in this position were it not for the people who’ve helped her along the way, or sometimes just because she got lucky. She will praise often, encourage laughter by making fun of herself and of situations to help keep things in perspective. A true leader is willing to admit to herself and others that she may not be the smartest person in the room. A subordinate or junior staff member may have the better idea, the keener wit, a clearer perspective. She will encourage the input of those who work for her because the goal is bigger than her ego or her aspirations. And the best idea may just come from someone else on her staff.
A leader who inspires is fair and understanding and encourages open communication. He will tell his subordinates or those who are counting on him why a thing is happening or why it cannot happen or will have to wait till later. And he will wait to hear the same thing from those he leads.
The great leader is a visionary and a motivator. Her sense of responsibility and her core values are evident to anyone who knows her or her reputation. She has decided the sort of person she wants to be and those values are visible in her actions and words. She clearly articulates her vision, inspiring others to help make that vision a reality.
I’d like to see more of our public servants possess at least a good portion of the characteristics I’ve enumerated above. As an Army wife and mom, because I have seen the consequences of both good and bad leaderhip, would feel better if our country’s leaders, military and civilian, embodied many of these qualities. I believe they can ultimately benefit all of us as a nation.