Military Leadership

The purpose of this article is to discuss military leadership.

We will cover traits of military leaders and FM 22-100.

In the Army, we have the Military Leadership Bible which is also known as FM 22-100.

Most top military leaders emulate the lessons and traits taught in FM 22-100.

The thesis of FM 22-100 is “Be, Know, and Do.”

In other words, be a leader.

Know your profession.

And lead by example.

Do the right thing the right way at the right time!

During my short 15 years of military experience, I’ve had the opportunity to serve with several dynamic military leaders.

These leaders all possessed similar traits such as: vision, leadership, decisiveness, technical and tactical expertise, intelligence and compassion.

Along the way, I’ve taken bits and peaces from each military leader I served with and formed my very own leadership style.

When I think of dynamic leaders, I think of military leaders such as General Colin Powell, General Patton, General Eisenhower, General Westmoreland and more.

And, these are just the famous generals.

There are many more successful military leaders that most people have never heard of.

These are the people who led troops in combat, but never became famous in the process.

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What’s Great About Military Leadership

What’s great about military leadership is that it is instilled upon all officers and NCOs throughout their military career.

From day one, new Officers are thrust into positions of significant responsibility.

As a young 22-25 year old Platoon Leader, they are directly responsible for 20-50 Soldiers.

As Army Officers progress through the ranks, they continue to develop their military leadership skills.

As a result, they get positions of increased responsibility and can eventually lead 5,000 to 30,000 Soldiers.

How awesome is that?

NCOs get a similar experience.

As a young Sergeant with two to four years of military experience you can serve as a Team Leader or Squad Leader leading anywhere from five to twelve Soldiers.

As you get promoted, you can eventually become a Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant or Sergeant Major.

All of these jobs have an awesome responsibility.

While many Army Officers and NCOs utilize their military leadership to create a long, successful military career, some don’t.

In fact, many Officers and NCOs take their military leadership and leave the Army.

Because their military leadership skills are in such high demand in the outside world, they can easily find a new and rewarding career.

Where else would a young manager with only a few years experience have the skill-set to lead that many people?

The corporate world would rarely ever let a new college graduate supervise 50 people in their first assignment or put a 20 year old in charge of five to ten people.

Most civilian companies reserve their leadership positions for people much older than their military counterparts.

Most corporations assign mid-level positions to people in their late 40s or early 50s, whereas the Army would give a 25-30 year old the same (or more) responsibility.

The Mind Set of a Military Leader

In my opinion military leadership is really a mind-set.

We are all a product of our environment.

Most Officers and NCOs have always had tough, demanding jobs with large amounts of responsibility.

In other words, it’s all they know.

All they have ever been taught to do was lead from the front, set a strong personal example, accomplish the mission and enforce the standards.

They begin learning this process in their first assignment and continue it throughout their career.

The military leadership mindset boils down to (1) taking pride in what you do, (2) being mission focused, (3) living the warrior ethos (4) being a master at your craft, and (5) leading by example at all times.

It sounds simple, but it takes a lot of hard work and tons of discipline to succeed.

Even developmental military leadership positions such as Team Leader, Squad Leader and Platoon Leader require a great deal of personal sacrifice, hard work and significant responsibility.

These early assignments usually “mold” the leader and prepare them for a long and successful career.

Military Leadership Skills

So, what type of leadership skills will you learn as a military leader?

Here are a few things that come to mind:

# 1 Mission Planning – This is a basic military leadership skill.

Officers must be capable of planning missions and preparing mission orders for their Soldiers to execute.

Officers and NCOs must learn how to take the plan created by their higher headquarters and formulate their own plan for their unit or section.

# 2 Administration – Officers and NCOs must prepare performance evaluations, submit reports and handle correspondence on a daily basis.

There is lots of paperwork in the Army and this is one really important thing to get done.

Officers and NCOs must learn how to write effectively.

# 3 Personnel Accountability – At all times, an Officer and NCO should know where their personnel are.

Personnel Accountability is one of the basic military leadership principles.

# 4 Equipment Accountability – Officers and NCOs often serve as “hand-receipt” holders which make them responsible and accountable for millions of dollars worth of Army equipment.

# 5 Decision Making – In combat, Officers and NCOs must make decisions that might get people killed.

Military leaders must be decisive.

They can’t be scared to make decisions.

They must learn how to collect the facts, analyze the situation, and make a decision at a moment’s notice.

They can’t be scared to make tough decisions.

# 6 Working in High Stress Environments – Serving in combat is like no other experience.

Long hours, high stress, casualties and fatigue make this experience something few civilians could ever comprehend.

Soldiers typically have a good work ethic and aren’t scared to put in long hours when needed.

# 7 Supervisory Skills – In the civilian world, it’s a huge deal to supervise 50 or more people.

In fact, I’ve yet to ever meet a civilian that supervised 50 people.

However, in the Army it’s very common.

Even young leaders in their 20s might supervise more people than this.

# 8 Counseling – Military leaders are required to develop their subordinates through effective counseling and professional development.

They must know how to write a counseling and how to sit down with someone and address the issue face to face.

# 9 Disciplinary Actions – In the military, military leaders often make tough decisions that determine the livelihood of their Soldiers.

Officers and NCOs must enforce the Army standards.

Sometimes failure to meet the standards will result in disciplinary actions such as demotions, separation from service, Article 15’s, court-martial, or pay reductions.

Military leaders must learn how to deal with poor performance and correct it.

# 10 People Skills – Effective Officers and NCOs always strive to improve their people skills.

Like any organization, promotions depend upon competence, potential and relationship building.

The military is a melting pot with people from every walk of life.

You must learn how to get along with, and lead, different types of people.

# 11 Strategic Thinking – This is the art of looking at the big picture, setting a vision, and formulating game plans to make things happen.

It’s the ability to step back from the details and look at the overall big picture.

Final ThoughtsAbout military leadership

Military leadership is an art.

It’s an art learned through mentor-ship and practical experience.

It’s also learned by reading manuals such as FM 22-100, going to military schools, and being a student of your profession.

Throughout history, some of the world’s best leaders were military leaders.

Unlike our civilian counterparts, Army Officers and NCOs are pushed into leadership positions beginning with their first assignment.

From day one, new military leaders are given positions of significant responsibility, which enables them to develop their military leadership skills and prepare for positions of increased responsibility.

What are your thoughts?

What’s your experience with military leadership?

How did it help you and what lessons did you learn?

Leave a comment and let us know.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Check out this post if you want to learn how to develop your military leadership skills.

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12 thoughts on “Military Leadership”

  1. This post is a much easier to digest version of most of the leadership manuals you'll see. I would add one thing to the list:
    Be able to admit a mistake. Whether it's a minor clerical error or a pretty big screw up you need to have the courage to admit it. If you don't your people will remember it and hold it against you.

  2. I learned a lot about leadership during my time as an Army NCO. I still use many of those principles in my civilian career.

  3. I think the military is the best leadership school out there. It is the only organization that I know of where young people can be in charge of 5, 10, 20 or 50 or more people, while they are still in their early 20s. The corporate world would never give a young person so much responsibility.

    1. Very good point, Ben. Many people in the military who are in their early 20s have already supervised 10 or more people, and sometimes 20 to 30 or more. That rarely, if ever happens in the civilian world.

  4. We have had many great military leaders and Generals Patton and Powell are certainly two of them. The breadth of skills that a great military leaders needs is wide and the importance of people skills should not be underestimated. You can be the best technical person, but if you can’t “play nice” with others, your long term changes for success will be hampered.

    1. Being a leader and being technical are two different things. I’ve met some great leaders and some great staff folks, but only met a few folks who were good at both. That is normally the person who makes it to the top of the organization.

  5. My son joined the military to develop his leadership skills. After reading your article, I’m glad that he did. Even though there is a risk he could get deployed, he is getting lots of leadership experience that he can use later in life! I’m sure the reward will be worth the sacrifice.

    Maureen

    1. Maureen,

      I agree with you. Everything I know about leadership, I learned during my time in the military. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to lead Soldiers in peace time and in combat.

      Chuck

  6. It’s important to posses all of the skills mentioned above if you are a top military leader. There are so many valuable skills that you can pick up from being in the army, I can understand how tempting it can be to leave as those skills are in demand. But a good military leader often looks past opportunities that arise because they are committed to serving their country, whether they’re leading a mission or listening to feedback from other officers that are actually carrying out the tasks.

    1. So true, Michelle.

      The Army has taught me everything I know about leadership. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the skills I learned while I was in the Army.

      Chuck

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