How to Lead by Example in the Military: My Top 10 Tips

Today, I want to educate you about how to lead by example in the Army.  These are some valuable lessons I learned during my military career through trial and error, and from my mentors.  I hope you find the information helpful.

Why Lead by Example?

The first reason you want to lead by example is so you aren’t a hypocrite.  It’s foolish to ask someone else to follow a rule or standard when you don’t do it yourself!  Another good reason to lead by example is that most people will do what you do, not what you say.  If you are a parent, you know what I am talking about.  In the Army, most organizations are a reflection of their leader!  A good leader can create a good unit and a bad leader will create a bad unit.  The bottom line is that you are a role model and people are always watching you.  The best way to get others to set high standards for themselves is to set high standards for yourself.

How to Lead by Example

At this point, you might be wondering “how do I lead by example?” or “what should I do to lead by example?”  I’m going to share a few tips that worked well for me during my career.  They are listed in no particular order.

# 1 Have a Good Attitude

Attitude is everything in life.  Keep a good attitude.  Smile from time to time.  Take your job seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.  Learn from your mistakes.  Look for the positive in things.  Provide positive reinforcement. Try not to be negative or pessimistic around the people you lead.

# 2 Live by the Army Values and Warrior Ethos

Regardless of your MOS or officer branch, you are a Soldier first.  You need to live by the Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless-service, honor, integrity and personal courage.  You need to be mentally and physically tough. You need to be a team player.  You need to be a person of your word and always do the right thing.

# 3  Do Your Job Well & Take Pride in What You Do

You need to be technically and tactically proficient.  This means you need to know your job, the Warrior Tasks, the collective tasks, etc.  Whether you clean toilets or lead a division, you need a sense of pride.  You must realize that the job doesn’t make the person, it reveals the person.  Regardless of what mission you get assigned, have some pride and do your job well.

# 4 Follow the Army Rules, Regulations and Policies

If you expect your followers to follow the rules, you need to do it yourself.  Follow the customs and courtesies and Army regulations.  You don’t have to be a “good ole’ boy” but don’t be a rebel either.  Be a sterling example for others to follow.  If you’re supposed to do something a certain way, than do it that way.

# 5 Support Your Boss

This lesson is simple.  Be loyal to your boss, even if you don’t like him.  Help them succeed.  You have the responsibility to follow your boss’s lead, as long as their orders are legal and ethical.  You don’t have to agree with them, but you should go out of your way to be supportive.  After all, you want the people who support you to do the same thing.  If you don’t support your boss, you can’t expect your team to support you!

# 6 Support the People That Work for You

Look out for the people that work for you.  Don’t baby them, but take care of them. Check on their health, welfare and morale from time to time.  Don’t be a dictator.  Learn what you can about each person you lead and help them improve.  Find out their goals and what schools they want and help them advance their career.

# 7 Put the Mission First

Always put the mission first.  Your job as a leader is to make sure the mission gets done, done on time and done right.  Take care of your Soldiers, but always be mission focused.   That’s what you get paid to do.

# 8 Manage Your Career Effectively

It’s your job to manage your military career effectively.  No one else cares about your career as much as you do.  Set some goals and develop a game plan for your career.  Teach your followers how to do the same thing for their own career.

# 9 Enforce the Standards

As a military leader, you get paid to enforce the standards equally to everyone under your authority.  Obviously, you need to follow the standards yourself.  When something is wrong, fix it.  When you see an issue, address it.  Be professional.  Learn how to punish in private and praise in public. Don’t play favorites and let someone off the hook when they mess up.

# 10 Be a Team Player

No one likes a selfish person.  As a military leader, you need to be a team player.  That means that the success of your unit, section, mission, and followers is more important than your individual success.  Always go the extra mile and put the team first.  It will pay huge dividends for you.  Everyone likes and respects a team player.   Always remember that you are part of someone else’s team, even if you lead your own team.

Bonus Tip: Be a Servant Leader

This might just be the most important leadership tip on this page.  Always be a servant leader.  Rather than thinking the people under your authority work for you, act as if you work for them.  Treat everyone you deal with, regardless of their rank, as an important person.  Serve everyone and always be professional.

Final Thoughts

There you have it folks.  These are some great ways to lead by example in the military.  What do you think? What leadership tips can you recommend to lead by example?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.  I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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9 thoughts on “How to Lead by Example in the Military: My Top 10 Tips”

  1. Great post! I love the idea of being a servant leader. If you are a good leader, you are working for the people you lead, as well as the boss. You want to make everyone look good. A good attitude is a must as well. If you are a pleasant person in general, people will follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

  2. You know Chuck, I believe that in many cases instead of being a leader, many in leadership positions try to be everyone’s friend. There is nothing wrong with being friendly, but being buddy-buddy with someone you are leading, just doesn’t work. It is a lot like raising children; either you are the parent or their friend, you cannot be both. It works the same in leadership positions.

      1. I find that is one of the bigger problems with many leaders. They have a desire to be liked by everyone, and to be a good leader, it is inevitable that you will not be liked by some. There comes times where you have to make decisions that can have some people actually hating you. That is just a part of leadership. Yes, it is nice if everyone likes you, but even better if they respect you. Respect and like are 2 different things.

        1. When leaders try too hard to be liked by everyone, they can end up cutting corners that hurt the whole unit. For example, if someone’s work is faltering, a good leader needs to get that person under control and redirect them. But if you’re more interested in being a friend than a leader, you’ll want to protect the person and avoid any kind of discipline that might tarnish their work record.

  3. You provided a list of some very solid tips here Chuck.

    I especially like your bonus tip. If everyone of us acted as if we worked for those who are essentially working for us, this world would run much smoother.

    I was taught at a young age about leading by example. When Dad would ask me to do a chore, he would always show me first that he was willing and able to do that same chore. I learned that anything Dad asked me to do wasn’t something he didn’t want to do and was pushing it off on me; instead I saw that he was trusting me with responsibilities, and I did my best with them.

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