The # 1 Quality in Military Leaders

What is the # 1 quality of military leaders?  Before I answer that question, you should know that good military leaders have many different qualities.  After all, everyone has different personalities, experiences and strengths. Some of the common qualities of good military leaders that come to mind include:

1)  The Ability to Motivate Others – Leaders have to get things done through other people.  They have to motivate their Soldiers to take tough missions, sometimes even risking their life in the process.

2)  Tactically and Technically Proficient – Good leaders know their technical job, they are great tacticians, and they can lead their Soldiers in combat.  Simply put, they are masters at their craft.

3)  Compassionate – A good leader has to have compassion.  Some people call this empathy.  Good leaders can think of things from the other person’s perspective.  They know that no one is perfect and they must be understanding of other people’s shortcomings.

4)  Calm, Cool and Collected – A good leader is poised, not a hot head.  When the crap hits the fan, Soldiers look to their leaders for confidence.  Good leaders are at their best in high stress situations.

5)  Mission Focused – Good leaders care about their people, but they always place the mission first.  Getting the mission done and done right the first time around is always the top priority.

6)  Integrity – Good leaders are a person of their word.  They do what they say and say what they do.  If they say they’re going to do something they do it!

7)  Hard Working – The best leaders put in the long hours.  They are the first ones there and the last ones to leave. They set a strong personal work ethic for others  to follow.

As I evaluate the qualities of the best military leaders I know personally, there is one quality that really sticks out in all of them.  That quality is the ability to get things done.  You can have all the other qualities mentioned above, but if you can’t produce results, you will never be a great military leader.

The best leaders are doers.  They are the mavericks.  They are the guys and gals who can accomplish any mission, even if they are under-manned and under-equipped.  They just find a way to get things done.  You can give them a task without any guidance and they still figure things out.  They have initiative and a burning desire to succeed.

I learned this “Just get it done” mentality from my old Battalion Commander.  He taught me that results mean everything.  Effort is important, but at the end of the day, did you get the job done, done right and done on time?  As I’ve grown and matured through the years, this lesson becomes even more apparent to me now.

My best advice to you is to become the person who can get things done.  Become the person that other leaders want on their team because you constantly produce big results.  Join the varsity squad, the A-Team.  If you can learn to do that, you will progress through the ranks quickly and you will have a very successful military career.

This doesn’t mean you always have to do 100% of the work yourself.  In fact, you shouldn’t do that.  Delegating tasks and empowering others is a very important part of your job.  But ultimately the buck stops with you when it comes to the responsibility of getting the work done.

If you really want to improve (or just evaluate yourself) in this area, here are a few questions you can ask yourself.

1. Do I always get the job done right and on time?

2. Does my boss see me as a producer?

3. Am I mission focused all the time?

4. Do I always give 100%?

5. Do I treat every mission with high importance?

6. Do I take pride in everything I do?

7. Do I do more than I am asked and more than I am paid for?

The answers to these questions will give you good insights in areas where you can improve, so you can become a better military leader.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that best military leaders get things done.  They are reliable and accountable.  They produce. They’re the person you want in charge when you have an important mission, limited resources and a short deadline.

What are your thoughts?  What do you think the # 1 quality is in a great military leader?  Leave  a response and let us know.  I look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions, you can ask them here too. Thanks for visiting.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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22 thoughts on “The # 1 Quality in Military Leaders”

  1. I would agree that the ability to motivate others is a key quality in any leader. Just like Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the ability to get others to do things you want them to do, but because they want to.” Always working to have your subordinates WANT to follow you is key to success for any leader.

  2. Another good quality that I see in military leaders is compassion. You need to have compassion for the people that you lead. Never forget that we are all people first.

  3. Katelyn Hensel

    I completely agree. I might also add that a true military leader is always searching for ways to improve. Whether they are improving tactics, policies, their own practices, the worst thing a leader can do is avoid the new and the improved.

    Even if they were “getting things done,” those things can always be improved upon, made better and more efficient. What I enjoy about this post, is that by reading it, leaders are finding new ways to improve themselves. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Great comment, Katelyn.

      All leaders, even great military leaders can find ways to improve. We can all get a little bit better every single day. The best leaders set high standards and focus on daily improvements. Thanks for the comment.


    2. Mission focused is definitely the top quality I think military leaders need to possess. Yes, taking care of soldiers is a close second, but if the mission doesn’t get done and done right, nothing else really matters.

    3. I think an important quality in military leaders is the “never give up” attitude. I think it’s important to stick with things, even when the going gets tough.

      1. Amy Skalicky

        I agree, Leonardo. Anything can be worked through, and military leaders must model perseverance and problem-solving skills for their soldiers. The “never give up” attitude could save someone’s life one day.

  4. The only thing I would add is another question to your self-evaluation. Do those under my leadership benefit from my guidance? The best leaders focus as much on their superiors as they do their subordinates. Without the respect of your subordinates, your best laid plans will not turn out as expected.

    1. You are right. Good leaders are equally concerned about the desires of their supervisor and the needs of their followers. It is a balancing act. Ultimately, a a good leader has to get things done through other people, so it makes sense to take care of the Soldiers who work for you.

      1. I think the top quality of military leaders is integrity. You must have character and be a person of your word. Without that, nothing else really matters.

    2. I think the most important quality in military leaders is character. You need to be a person of your word, someone who can be trusted. You must always do the right thing, even in difficult times when no one else is watching.

  5. Nice post! What I’d add to it is that a leader can’t always get the job done himself. He often relies on the people under his command, so the most effective leaders are the ones who can bring the best out of those people and motivate and inspire them to rise to any challenge.

    1. So true. As a leader our job is to get things done through other people. Sure, we have to be able to produce results ourselves. But in most cases we have to produce those results by leveraging the people that work for us.

  6. I distinctly remember as a young soldier being impressed by how my leaders always seemed to know exactly what needed to be done and how to do it. I was perfectly willing to work–everything involved in setting up a range for Bradley gunnery, for example, or for that matter dismantling it–but I didn’t have the experience to have the first clue about what all needed to happen. Certain, confident guidance was the key, and it built my faith in my leaders.

    1. Good points, Daniel. As young Soldiers many of us do not realize all the planning and thinking that goes into planning, resourcing and executing training. Most Soldiers just show up to the training event not realizing all the behind the scenes things that happened.

      As a young leader, we start to gain exposure to all of this. In due time, we become the leaders that are responsible for everything that happens. It really is a neat process.


  7. I really enjoyed reading this post. It made me reflect upon myself and identified some areas I could improve in. As leaders we must set the example for others to emulate at all times. We must believe in the cause and separate what is personal, with what is professional. Another great post and reminder!

    1. Thanks for the comments, Lance. The best leaders I’ve ever served with always set a strong example for others to follow. And your point about separating what is personal and what is professional is very true. Sometimes, it’s easy to let our emotions get the best of us, but we have to be disciplined and focus on the mission first.


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