[October 14, 2016] I’ve been asked this question many times and 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 theLeaderMaker.com 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.
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