What Makes a Good Leader?

What makes a good leader? This question is asked across the world with different cultures coming up with their own answers. You can read a multitude of articles outlining the importance of leadership and the main principles and practices that help you become a better leader. People pay millions of dollars to take classes, seminars, coaching lessons, etc. on this exact topic.

One profession that makes it mandatory to learn this skill and apply it to their everyday lives is the military. They breed it through the culture of serving as well as indoctrinate it through their teachings and boot camps.

As a definition, leadership is the act of leading a group. So how does one best lead people?

True North had the opportunity to attend the American Veterans Center Conference last year, where we heard from different generations of leaders ranging all the way back to WWII. A common theme between speakers was what makes a good leader? Many of these veterans had different opinions on the topic, but all their ideas are relevant when deciding what type of leader, you want to be.

The Honorable Chuck Hagel, 24th United States Secretary of Defense, former U.S. Senator, and decorated veteran of Vietnam, categorized leadership into three main areas: character, courage, and humility.

Character. Your character ultimately decides what type of leader you will be. If you are one that slacks, you will lead in a more relaxed and indifferent mindset. If you are one that holds yourself accountable, you will lead by holding those that follow you with equal accountability.

Courage. As a leader, you will need to make hard decisions daily. Having the courage to make those decisions and not being paralyzed by the fear of failure will push you to be a better leader.

Humility. Great leaders are humble. They make sure that the credit is given to those that work for it. They take on the mistakes of the group because they are the leader of the group. They do not boast when it is unnecessary to do so. Great leaders lead for their followers, not for themselves.

After Chuck Hagel’s speech, there was a panel that discussed the topic of leadership and how it plays a role in transitioning from military service to the private sector.


Personal Courage

General Patton was the first to present on this topic, opening the panel by discussing the importance of personal courage as the best leadership attribute. To be able to lead others, you first need to be confident in yourself and in your decisions. Would you follow someone who is unsure of the situation and/or themselves? No! To become a great leader, you first need to understand your value and purpose, have the courage in your decisions, and accept your mistakes.


Hard work through personal sacrifice

Matthew Rhett Jeppson followed up with the belief that the best leadership attribute is the ability to continue to work hard through personal sacrifice. There are going to be hard times in your life, and there will be situations where you can pick the easy way that will only benefit you, or you can pick the hard way that will benefit everyone. People are more willing to follow someone when they work towards helping the group over helping their own personal gains. Giving up personal gains or pleasures to help benefit the majority shows your followers that you care about the group.


Compassion and Being Nosey

Allen Simons was the last to speak on this topic, sharing his belief that the best leaders are those that are compassionate and are always being nosey about what their followers are doing.

He continues by saying that the best leaders are those that understand who they are leading, if you don’t know what your followers are going through you won’t know how to properly lead them. There is a common saying in the Marine Corps that if “you take care of your Marines, your Marines will take care of you”. If you are willing to listen and check up on your followers, they will trust you more and you will know how to best lead them.


How will you decide to lead in this next year? Will you focus on one of the above attributes? Or maybe all of them? Leadership is a constant topic of discussion and is needed more now than ever before.


*Disclaimer: the main ideas of leadership in this article are based on the veterans they are connected to. The description and understanding of these ideas and how they apply to everyday life are the opinions of the author.*

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