Are Military Leader Characteristics Different?

By | October 15, 2021

[October 15, 2021]  I’ve been asked the question, are military leader traits different, several times.  The answer is, of course, “no” … the characteristics of military leaders are the same as all other leaders.  To some of my friends, they were a bit surprised by my answer because, like many people, they are confusing leadership style with leadership characteristics.

This may only be a matter of semantics but the confusion can result in the poor education and development of young leaders.  The study of leadership also confuses similarities and differences between leadership and management.  That is the reason that for a long time, many senior leaders have recommended a revamping of leadership development education and practice to help clear up those areas that lack clarity.

Honor, integrity, courage, etc. are characteristics of leaders regardless of their profession.  How they carry out their duties are a reflection of style.  The military leader, for example, is often stereotyped as being autocratic but while I agree with such an assessment, what this does not tell us is that the style can adjust over time depending upon circumstances.  In direct combat action, it is not unusual to be autocratic but in peacetime the leadership style is likely to be more transactional or transformational (see a short summary on styles of leadership, link here).

This senior leader blog here at is dedicated to ferreting out those characteristics of leaders that are universal (or nearly so).  While I’ve spent less time on leadership style, it is by no means less important because of the nature of the application of leader characteristics.  In fact, the failure of leaders is the result often of the lack of character, not so much the style of that leadership.

I’m reminded of the time I was training with my military unit in preparing for deployment to combat in Iraq.  Our commander, who had been in command for over two years, was like a father figure to our soldiers.  During the hard training we had at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in 2003, he seemed to have changed.  It was no surprise to any of us that after we deployed overseas he was even more authoritarian.  But what we never saw a change in was his personal dedication to being an open, honest, hardworking man of the highest integrity.

Regardless of your profession, or even in a temporary job, characteristics of you as a leader remain the same.  At no time should any of those characteristics be sacrificed.  Any job we do involves people and any change should only be in style.  My commander told us the day before we entered combat that he expected us to be, not just courageous but to do those things we had learned as American soldiers … to do the right thing.


Please read my newest book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Are Military Leader Characteristics Different?

  1. Jake Tapper, Jr.

    Gen. Satterfield, great article and thank you for giving us a little lesson on leadership. How about a future article that goes into the ins and outs of great military leadership and how the “styles” of military leadership differs from others. That would, IMHO, be very interest ing.

  2. Georgie B.

    Hi, Gen. Satterfield. You’ve done it again by just a few words, clearing up some confusion. Just like when you wrote about the differences betw/ leadership and management. We must know the differences. And while we do it all, it is important to know WHY there are differences and the REASONING that leadership is the better direction to take.

  3. Billy Kenningston

    Good quote to steal from Gen. Satterfield, “Any job we do involves people and any change should only be in style. “

  4. Andrew Dooley

    Much appreciate it, Gen. S., clearing this up. No wonder so many are confused when they mix up key characteristics with style. Military leader styles do differ. I recommend that you write an article that contrasts stylistic differences. Now that would be interesting.

  5. Army Captain

    Gen. Satterfield, good points here and I see the same where I work in the US Army. It is, I must add, that understanding the details of leadership is important as we progress in our leader roles.

      1. Delf "Jelly" Bryce

        Edward, great to see you back here on Gen. Satterfield’s leadership postings. I too plan to write another article soon. Readers have been asking for it and my employer, the FBI, continues to disappoint as they move toward an anti-American stance.

      2. KenFBrown

        Yep, good catch. This website is one of my favorites. Entertaining and educational. More educational. If I were to change one thing it would be to make it more entertaining/interesting. Like my wife always says, “Leadership stuff is BORING.”

  6. McStompie

    It should come as no surprise to those of us who read this website, hosted by Gen. Satterfield, that leadership “characteristics” (like honor, integrity, courage) are universal. Altho in different degrees based on the circumstances. But most of us just ‘see’ the style, while the characteristics are harder to observe.

  7. Alberto Alvarez

    Excellent article, thank you! I learned something new today.

    1. Albert Ayer

      — and that is what Gen. Satterfield does best and why I keep coming back to his leadership website. I’m all in on learning about leadership and the nuances it requires us to learn about. This is the best place to learn it.

        1. Jake Tapper, Jr.

          We are on the same page of music here. Let’s all never forget that this has been a very successful leadership website and that Gen. Satterfield has done us all a favor by allowing us to post in this forum and politely discuss important topics.

        2. Tony Cappalo

          Yusaf, always great to see you on Gen. Satterfield’s website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.