Top 10 Military Leadership Skills

What are the top 10 military leadership skills?  The answer varies slightly depending upon who you ask. For the purpose of this blog post I want to share with you what I think are the top 10 military leadership skills.  These are skills you should try to develop so you can separate yourself from the masses, develop your potential, get the jobs you desire and get promoted faster.

Let’s get started.  Please note these are listed in no particular order.

1. Influence: Influence is the ability to get other people to do what you want them to do. Not all leaders have influence. Most military leaders simply use their rank to get things done. Because they are a higher rank than their subordinates, they can order people around.

From personal experience, I’ve found that the best military leaders have a high level of influence. In other words, people WANT to follow them because their followers trust their leader’s judgement, integrity, and leadership ability.

Influence has nothing to do with rank, your title or your job.  It’s the respect and loyalty that people have towards you because of who you are, how you act, and how you treat others.  A good leader can influence people to WANT to do the task they are assigned.

2. The Ability to Get Things Done: The best military leaders are masters at getting things done. Intentions are great, but results make the difference. The top leaders are doers. They get things done even when the odds are stacked against them.  They are the people you want to have up to bat when it’s the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded and the count is full.  A good leader can be counted on to get the job done.  This does not necessarily mean that they do everything themselves, but whatever mission they (or their unit) are assigned, they ensure it gets done on time and to standard.

3. Teamwork: Even a strong leader has to be a good follower. After all, everyone is part of a team and everyone has a boss. The best leaders are team players. They lead a team, but they work with their team.  They’re far from selfish. They do what they can to help the team succeed.  They support their boss and they support their followers.

4. The Ability to Make Tough Decisions: Strong leaders are willing to make tough decisions. They are not wishy-washy. They can make a tough decision during a critical moment, based upon their experience and the information they have on hand at that moment in time.  Weak leaders always wait to get their boss’s approval before they make a decision. As a leader, the Army pays you to make decisions.  Good leaders are quick to come to a decision and slow to change their mind.

5. Communication: The major reason that teams fall apart is poor communication.  Poor communication is the same reason that so many relationships fail.  The best military leaders are masters at verbal and non-verbal communication. They are articulate and make sure that their followers understand what they are saying and thinking. They never hoard information. Instead, they empower others by sharing it.  Great leaders seek input from their followers and they understand communication must flow upward and downward.  Check out these communication tips.

6. Discipline: Discipline is the bed rock of success in the military. Without discipline everything would fall apart. Great military leaders have a high level of personal discipline and their units also have a high level of discipline. They enforce the Army Standards to everyone in their unit.  They follow the rules, obey customs and courtesies and treat others with respect.

7. Strong, Personal Example: The best military leaders set a strong personal example for others to follow. Rather than crack the whip, they lead from the front.  They have integrity and do what they say and say what they do.  They stay in shape, act and look like a Soldier, and keep a strong military bearing.  They live by the Army values and Warrior Ethos and encourage others to do the same.

8. Listening: You might be surprised that this one made the list. I believe that the best military leaders listen more than they speak. They ask questions from their staff and subordinates and listen to their input.  They have two ears and one mouth for a reason and they use them in that proportion.

9. Flexible: Strong leaders are open minded and flexible. They understand that very few things go exactly as planned, especially in the military.  They do not get so set in their ways that they refused to evaluate their options. They are constantly looking for better ways to improve. What is important to them is the end result, not how they get there.

10. Perseverance: I would add this one to the list because not all leaders have the ability to finish what they start. When the going gets tough, good military leaders know how to “keep going” even when the odds are against them. You could call this mental toughness or follow through.

Honorable Mention

Here are a few skills that didn’t make the list, but easily could have.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are the top 10 military leadership skills as I see it. I encourage you to evaluate yourself in each one of these skills and assess your performance.  Identify your strengths and come up with ways to improve your weaknesses.

On a side note, I would love to hear from you. What do you think is the # 1 skill required to be a good military leader? Or, if you think I forgot a certain skill from this list, what would it be? Just leave a comment to share your thoughts. If you have any questions, you can ask them here also. Thanks.

6 thoughts on “Top 10 Military Leadership Skills”

  1. Suzanne Bowen

    Lance, I like the mnemonic device. My favorite is the uncanny ability to communicate and encourage communication appropriately. That is truly empowering leadership. The most effective leaders are able to do both well as if they have expert intuition. They do not encourage silence, but they also do not encourage chaos. When people are continually silent, everyone makes a guess as to what is going on. When there is constant chaos and over abundance of communication by many people at one time, some will withdraw, and others will become aggressive and distraught. In either case, the team members can actually end up feeling angry or helpless and give up, become less than they can be and in the dark. These negative results detract from the team reaching its goals. Which do you think is more common in communication in the Army? Silence or chaos?

  2. Neil O'Donnell

    I definitely see listening as one of the top ten vital skills for leaders. Success is often based on input from subordinates. Leaders who fail to listen, whether out of a sense of superiority or pride, often stumble. I like that you also included teamwork and the need for a good leader to sometimes be a “follower.” There is no shame in listening to and following someone else’s advice, and it takes a strong leader to accept and recognize that.

    1. Listening is definitely one of the top 3 skills for an effective military leader. All leaders succeed or fail because of the people working for them. Good leaders know that their followers are ultimately the ones the get them promoted or fired. As a result, they lead by example, provide good guidance, and support the people working for them.

  3. Thanks for this post. These are all very essential skills for any military leader to possess. It’s also important to recognize that these skills can be carried over into their civilian life as well. Being able to lead and accept feedback when it’s appropriate can carry a leader a long way whether it’s in their military career or civilian life.

    1. I agree with you, Michelle. Leadership is leadership, regardless of your profession. All leaders share similar leadership skills and traits, even though their personalities and professions are different.


  4. This post by far is my favorite. We have an acronym in the Marine Corps that we learn from day 1 spelled JJDIDTIEBUCKLE. Lets see if I can remember the 14 leadership traits…Judgement Justice Dependability Integrity Decisiveness Tact Initiative Endurance Bearing Unselfishness Courage Knowledge Loyalty Enthusiasm….not bad for an old man. Oustanding post Chuck! You touched on many areas we are teaching our young Marines in their PME courses. Thanks for the topic I really enojoyed reading this one.

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