[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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.