How Do You Spot a Leader?

I was looking through my document archives the other day and thought this might be interesting. From time to time as a company commander, I’d send out emails on leadership, training, and the like. (I suppose they were an early version of what I’m contributing now on The Military Leader.) This excerpt is my take on how a leader’s behavior says something about his talent, his commitment, his success, and ultimately, the success of his team.


Soldiers from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, race for first place during an annual Physical Training Competition on Fort Riley, Kansas. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Robert DeDeaux, 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. Public Affairs. Link to photo.

From March 2007

It is a fact that leaders must behave differently than those they lead.  They were picked for a certain job because their personality or ability surpasses those around them and they can be counted on to make a difference. Analyze your own leadership traits in light of these questions:

If an outsider were to look in on your organization without explanation or even the capability to hear what was going on…would they be able to tell that you are the leader?  What traits would he be looking for to explain who is in charge?

No need to answer in public, but consider the following as traits that leaders must display if they are to make a difference in the organization.



Leaders are the ones who should apply the mental energy to come up with new ideas, try out different techniques, and create innovative solutions.  They are the first to volunteer in tackling a challenging or dangerous situation.  Leaders make things happen by DOING, not by watching.


In case you haven’t realized it, the energy your followers apply to their jobs is directly tied to your enthusiasm for the mission, your passion for the organization’s purpose, and your ability to communicate both.

Inspiration does not have a duty-day.  Soldiers will need to see your internal drive despite the fact that it’s 0200, cold, raining, and miserable.  They will look to your example as a measure of “performance expectation.”  And if you aren’t getting after it, you can almost guarantee that they won’t be, either.  Never forget, the energy comes from YOU!


Though it is not always true, in general the higher you go in an organization’s hierarchy, the faster the leaders travel.  The leader at the top often has boundless energy and is very quick mentally.  Conversely, when you move down, people move more slowly.  Generally, people at the bottom don’t process information as quickly, and they don’t make decisions as fast.  Part of that is due to having less information.  Some of it comes from having less experience.  Most people who want to lead are naturally fast. [John Maxwell, The 360* Leader]

If you are a leader and you find yourself moving slowly throughout the day, you are probably not doing enough to help out the team.  Most of the time, leaders dart from one event to the next, or are focusing to create a new product/presentation that will help the team.  They are always looking to identify problems in the organization and tackle them quickly, so that the organization can become better or more effective.

They can also switch topics rapidly, adjusting leadership sets to accommodate varying situations.  This is especially important for us as Army leaders, as we often have to deal with operations one minute, then switch to family problems the next, then wrap-up by developing a long-range supply plan.  To do this, you have to be fast.


Leadership is solving problems.  The day your soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you’ve stopped leading them. [General Colin Powell, My American Journey]

How VERY true!  Soldiers develop trust when they genuinely feel that you care about their problem, won’t blow up and crush them for it, and will be committed to helping solve it.  Without that confidence, the Soldier might-as-well be in a different unit.

Helping solve their issues empowers you as a leader in two ways: one, you show your subordinates that you have the competence to get things done, and two, you build confidence that you will be there for them when they REALLY need you, like in combat.

When the bullets are flying and the Soldier is scared out of his mind, he won’t care about the fact that you went through Ranger School five years ago or that you can score 330 on your PT test…he will only care about how much you can help him get through that moment alive.  And if you’ve never helped him up before, he certainly won’t expect you to save him when it matters.

So, the questions stands…could an outsider spot you, the leader, in your organization?

Subscribe to The Military Leader

Complete Archive of Military Leader Posts

Back to Home Page

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.