Advanced Traits of Great War Leaders

By | June 10, 2021

[June 10, 2021]  If we were to look back into time, it would be easy to pick out great wartime leaders.  We can name many of them quickly – Ramesses II, Hannibal, Caesar Augustus, Charlemagne, etc.  Today, we can still learn from these ancient leaders and what advanced traits they possessed that helped make them so successful.

We are told that for those who study great leaders, it is the confluence of personal traits and historical circumstances that produce great leaders.  Historians agree and regularly point to these two factors that join together in a “perfect storm” to create a great leader.1  For those who have studied World War II history, we see Dwight D. Eisenhower as an example.

The following was taken primarily from “What Makes Great Commanders Great?” by Richard A Gabriel.

Here are a few of these great war leaders advanced traits:

  1. War Experience: Nearly every great captain of the ancient world gained experience from war at an early age. Not every one of them was interested from childhood, but at least from early adulthood, they all were on the battlefield where death was a reality and only those with the strength to endure survived to fight another day.
  2. Formal Education and Intelligence: These same men were well educated compared to the general public. Fluent in languages, the arts, philosophy, and military tactics and strategy, these men did not act at the whim of emotion or superstition.  These leaders saw themselves as controlling the fate of their peoples, able to change the course of events rather than being controlled by them.
  3. Flexibility: To adjust to changing circumstances on the battlefield requires a keen mind, receptive to new ideas, and open to new possibilities.  As they were able to challenge common thinking and generate new ideas, these great leaders could direct their military forces to the right place with the right resources to win over less-flexible opponents.
  4. Risk Taker: All the great commanders were risk-takers, but only when they possessed all the information they could reasonably obtain.  Uncertainty is always present.  Great commanders confront uncertainty with the willingness to take sensible risks and know how to reduce the threat of the unknown by plunging into it.
  5. Presence on the Battlefield: Being there is one of the critical traits of a great leader.  A great leader is always at the right place to act to carry his troops forward at the right time.  This is accomplished through foreseeing how vital elements of the battlefield will unfold.  If a leader can show his troops that the leader is also willing to endure the risks of an encounter with the enemy, the troops will follow him anywhere.
  6. Great Challenges: Great captains arise when there are great challenges to be solved.  Without these challenges, leadership is confined to a much narrower scope of events and concerns.  Mere competence passes for leadership.  In such circumstances, great captains remain the only potential so, carrying out their regular duties.

I find it most interesting that few men or women today will go down in history as great military leaders.  There are none that I can think of.  Maybe Eisenhower but even he was not truly a great military leader in the sense that we found those from ancient times.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “Advanced Traits of Great War Leaders

  1. Don Snow

    These are the type of blog posts that I cruise leadership websites for. I read many and this one is the best of them all. Yeah, you can find some with deeper articles but only this one has a daily post that has real meaning.

  2. Max Foster

    To be a great war leader, do you really have to experience war beforehand? That is a great question and I think not. Just look at Dwight Eisenhower. He had no battlefield experience and yet led the campaign to overthrow Nazi Germany. And succeeded. He later became president of the US. His skills were not all warfighting directly but he understood diplomacy in the old sense of the term. He was a man who could many of those “cats” herded together to get a mission accomplished.

    1. Laughing Monkey

      …. and yet he did it without the modern methods of communciations we have today.

    2. Tom Bushmaster

      Max, you nailed it again. Note that only very few great military leaders ever become great civilian leaders. I wonder why. Some of this is addressed in the article that Gen. Satterfield uses as a reference. I recommend the article as background.

  3. Harry Donner

    Formal education? I think perhaps deliberate education that is focused on real problems. That perhaps is a better way to put it. Once again, another article from Gen. Satterfield that says a lot about his thinking on great leadership.

  4. Yusaf from Texas

    Excellent article. Some good ideas here for thinking about.

  5. Georgie M.

    IMHO, #5 “Presence on the Battlefield: Being there is one of the critical traits of a great leader. ” is the most important of all. If you are not there, no one thinks you’re serious and thus, no real leader.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Agreed. This is why US VP Kamala Harris is taking so much criticism of her failure to ‘visit’ the US-Mex border. We all know that seeing it first hand really doesn’t do anything but communicate your seriousness of the subject. Kamala … go there. Stop being an idiot about it. Go!

      1. Roger Yellowmule

        She is an idiot (at least for someone in that position). Maybe we can get her to cackle again. Cluck Cluck Cluck … oh my!

        1. Greg Heyman

          And you will be CENSORED for that comment. Ha Ha Ha …

      2. JT Patterson

        Good points Tracey and Georgie. I agree. I also will note that the entire list is about traits of leaders except for the unusual circumstances that put them in a place that they must use their god given talents for good.

  6. Willie Shrumburger

    Yes, and well said too. It is always good to have a ‘list’ of specific attributes of great leaders. The problem I see here is that the list doesn’t seem to go into enough detail. Perhaps, Gen. S. could write a short pamphlet on it or something along those lines.

    1. Jonathan B.

      I agree with you Willie. I know that Gen. Satterfield has written electronic books before. They are on this webpage. You can download them for free.

  7. Steve Dade

    Great list, thanks Gen. Satterfield. Some of these were expected, others not so much.


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