Qualities of a Leader
Qualities of a leader take character. There are many different traits that a great leader should have in order to be an effective, trusted, and respected leader. I don’t just mean for a military leader or high level CEO or VP. As you know, leadership starts at the lowest level and begins with you. You will never be able to lead others if you cannot lead yourself and make smart decisions. Smart decision making helps leaders become more trusted and respected. You must make decisions even when you don’t have the knowledge or experience to do so. Then you must rely on your training and confidence to be able to do so.
Top Qualities of a Leader
Communication is the first of the traits of a good leader. One of the first things you have to do as a leader is communicate with your subordinates and higher leaders. This includes email, messaging, and phone calls. I remember when the phone was on the wall and not in our pockets. I will say that communication between leaders and subordinates was much better back then. We now rely on a text which has no tone or personality attached to it. Than you have to make sure it is received and understood. As a leader, I try to minimize texts and emails and only use them if I have no other way to communicate. This type of communication is so often misconstrued. Person-to-person communication, either one-on-one or by phone, is much better than a text, so quit using text to communicate constantly and use it as an asset when it must be used.
Let’s Be Honest
To be an effective leader, you must be honest one-hundred percent of the time. Here is the great thing about honesty; you don’t have to keep track of lies you’ve told. Unfortunately, it sometimes hurts. It does no good to know an answer and put off giving somebody the bad news. Here is an example: a soldier has asked several times if he can take leave in two weeks. You know you have an important training mission at that time and the soldier needs to be there. Rather than telling the truth and saying no right from the start, you put it off for days, saying “let me check.” I suggest that when you have to you start with no and then check for other options if there is a possibility of giving more desirable answer. Honesty will develop trust and respect among you, your superiors, and your subordinates. Be honest 100 percent of the time.
To prevent anybody, anywhere and at any time from ever accusing you of showing favoritism, you must remain consistent. Here is an example: soldier A was late for formation 3 times in the past week while soldier B was late 3 times in one week 90 days ago. You must be ready to pass down the same discipline to each soldier no matter what the reason or excuse. Yes, there are always circumstances that will affect you when disciplining any individual. However, you have to be consistent. This doesn’t mean just in disciplining. This also goes for rewards as well; they must be the same for all.
You cannot be an effective leader by using the motto “do as I say, not as I do.” If you’re supposed to be at PT at 0500 and you’re not, or if you show up, send your troops on a 3-mile run, and then you go back to bed, you have just lost their respect. Yes, I once had a platoon sergeant that did this constantly. You can’t expect your soldiers to follow orders if you don’t, so if you’re supposed to wear eye pro at all times and expect them to, you must do the same. You have to be willing to suffer through some of the same ridiculous directives that they do. This will develop loyalty and respect among all.
Always Remain Loyal
You have to be loyal to your superiors and your soldiers. You must be willing to go to bat for your soldiers and defend them. Stand up for them even when they do something stupid. We were all young and did something stupid once or twice or more. You have to show loyalty to your soldiers when the time comes. You must also remain loyal to your superiors. This means that if you disagree with an order or task you don’t go whining behind their back and say “the old man has lost it, damn kook!” Once it gets back to the 1SG or company commander (and believe me it will), it may not turn out too good for you as a platoon leader or platoon sergeant. You must be willing to suck it up and move on because you don’t want your soldiers complaining or whining about the orders you pass down. You should pass down all orders with enthusiasm and act as if picking up the water bottles on route hawk will save the world.
Don’t Be a Drama King or Queen
You can’t go flying off the handle when things don’t go your way. You have to remain emotionally stable. This is hard for some of us in combat MOS due to our training. Your life changes even more once that first ak47 goes off and a round goes over your head and you hear the buzz of it so close that it leaves a mark on your ACH. We are yellers and screamers, but you can’t always be in battle mode. The soldiers today are more sensitive than years ago, and a few of them need constant handholding and back patting to build their confidence and self-esteem. If you’re out in the field else and discover a solider left his weapon on the hood of a Humvee, you cannot toss your ACH over a barrier or bunker. Yes, I have seen this done as well. You have to learn to control your emotions or else soldiers are going to be too scared to come to you with a problem or mistake, and you won’t find out about it until it’s too late and somebody’s career is damaged.
Confidence in Yourself
There is no way to replace confidence! Your soldiers and superiors have to see, hear, and believe that you know what to do and when to do it. There is a difference between a soldier or superior following orders and following you! Lead the way! When you have confidence in your voice and your actions, then your soldiers and even your superiors will follow you to the end, not because you told them to but because they trust you! To be confident, you must educate yourself in everything you do. Be willing to learn from others, be willing to make good, educated decisions, and be willing to ask questions of subordinates who may have great experience. Let them lead. You must lead soldiers that have confidence in you and trust in you. You must also have the same trust in each person that you’re accountable and responsible for.
Finding Success in Leadership
Leadership is a key to success in any occupation. There is no magic wand that you can wave over a person’s head and say they’re a leader. Becoming a great leader takes years of knowledge and experience and even failures to become great. You have to be flexible and willing to learn constantly from others and be willing to change. You must possess the traits of a good leader that I have listed. Maybe you as a leader feel that there are other traits to add to this list. However, these are the ones I was taught and have taught to others that are vital for any leader’s success.