The Best Way to Lead Others in the Military

Today, I want to educate you about the best way to lead others in the military.  I’m going to share some practical leadership lessons that I learned through trial and error and by studying successful military leaders.

When most people think of military leadership, they think of someone barking orders at others.  While that might hold true in Basic Training, in most cases that’s not how military leadership works!

Yes, some leaders who don’t have the respect and trust of their followers have to bark orders.  I’ve met a few of those folks.  They’re not too much fun to work for.  The best leaders do things differently.  The best military leaders lead by inspiration.  They ask questions, show others what to do and inspire others through their actions.

In almost all of my time as an Army Officer, I tried to lead by example.  I didn’t try to be a dictator or tyrant.  Instead, I tried to get input from others by asking questions and listening.  When something needed to be done, I asked others for ideas about the best ways to get it done.  I wasn’t scared to roll up my sleeves and work with my followers.

No, I wasn’t the perfect leader or best leader, but I was effective.  And I know the people who worked with me respected me.

If you want to be a good military leader, here are a few things I suggest.

# 1 Ask Questions – Some people might think that leaders shouldn’t ask their subordinates and peers for input.  I think that is foolish.  Some people might think this is the sign of a weak leader.  I disagree.  Most commanders and Generals have a large staff to advise them.  Small unit leaders don’t have that luxury, but they still have experienced NCOs and other Officers to ask for input.  Now, when it comes time to make a decision, the leader must make the decision.  But it’s perfectly fine, and smart, as I see it, to ask questions and seek input before you come to a decision.  When possible, encourage others to share their ideas and input.  You will be quickly amazed at how much knowledge your subordinates have!

# 2 Have Compassion – Compassion is extremely important when you lead others.  We are all humans and are all flawed.  No one is perfect.  When people mess up, have some compassion before you seek out to ruin their career.  Everyone has done something dumb in their career that they regret.  While I was a Company Commander I always asked myself “what was I doing when I was their age?”  Whenever my young Soldiers got in trouble I looked back at my own experience at the same age and I’m glad that my leaders were compassionate.  Make sure the punishment matches the crime and make sure you do have some compassion.

# 3 Lead by Example – Leading by example seems to be a buzzword that everyone says, but so few people do.  What does it really mean?  It means that you take so much pride in what you do and you are so good at what you do that others should WANT to emulate you.  It means that you aren’t too good to do any task that you order your subordinates to do.  It means you are the last to eat and the first out of the foxhole.  It means you are the first to work and last to leave.   You set the pace.  The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.

# 4 Show Others What to Do – Good leaders show others what to do.  Rather than just bark orders all day long, they work with their subordinates when needed to show them what right looks like.  This means you can’t be scared to roll up your sleeves sometimes and do the work with your subordinates.  It also means that you know the standards and you abide by the standards yourself.

# 5 Servant Leader – My final tip to effectively lead others is to be a servant leader.  To me, this means you put the needs of your people ahead of your own needs.  Yes, the mission always comes first, but your people should be a close second.  It means that you shouldn’t be selfish.  You should have your subordinate’s best interest and well-being in the back of your mind at all times.  While it’s okay to look out for yourself, you should also look out for your follower’s to help them succeed.  I learned a long time ago that if you help others succeed; you will succeed anyway, so it really is a win-win situation.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that leadership is an art.  Just because you have a certain rank and title does not make you a leader.  You have to earn the title of leader.  Whether you are in charge of one Soldier or 10,000 Soldiers make sure you follow the advice in this article. Do that and you will be an effective military leader.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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