Old Leadership Principles Never Die

By | August 24, 2020

[August 24, 2020]  Rummaging around with some old books of mine (when I first read about leadership), I kept seeing a common theme.  I get time to do that now; more reading, looking out the window at on green trees and blue skies and thinking.  What I see is that old leadership principles never seem to die; they just keep getting rediscovered.

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

In my blog on leadership, everything I have written is about discovering the qualities required for successful leaders.  There are, of course, many qualities such as intelligence, initiative, mental and physical courage, judgment, and common sense.  But one fundamental quality stands out among all the others.  All successful leaders have it to a substantial degree.

All successful leaders have the quality of human understanding.  That should be evident for anyone who studies leadership from what is on the written page.  How can you be a successful military leader, for example, unless you understand them?  The Army, like any organization, is full of humans, and humans act and react to life.  As a leader, we must understand this element.

In his book What are Generals Made of? Maj. Gen. Aubrey “Red” Newman referred to a study at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA.  Their curriculum is what makes the college such a great place to be and to study.  A questionnaire went out, from the school to all major military commands across the world, asking for changes to the curriculum.

The only meaningful reply was this, “Teach them how to get along with people!”   Dr. Jordan Peters, whom I’ve quoted on several occasions, tells us the primary job of parents is to teach their children to get along with others.  This idea should come as no surprise to those of us in the business of getting people to do things outside what they would typically do.

Giving orders to the right people at the right time, and providing them with the right resources is not enough.  A leader must do so in the right way, considering the nature and special situations of the individual.  In the exercise of authority, the human element is the first person you must deal with is yourself.  Failure to do so – to admit to one’s own shortcomings and successes is the first step the breakdown in the trust humans hold so dear.

There is no simple formula for commanding soldiers, and no two officers exercise command and leadership the same way.  A general rule from Maj. Gen. Newman is a good start:

“Put them on the back when they deserve it, kick them in the behind when they need it – but not too much of either – and never forget that every soldier is a very separate and unique individual.”

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

23 thoughts on “Old Leadership Principles Never Die

  1. Billy Kenningston

    Hi Gen. Satterfield, I just read this article (I’ve gotten a bit behind due to the pandemic). My reading list is growing but I always come back to your site. Please keep up the great work you are doing for us. Keeping things simple and above board for us is great. Maybe you should consider a YouTube video on this idea. Think so?

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Thoughtful. Thanks Billy. I like your thinking here.

  2. Wendy Holmes

    Another great article with sage advice. Oh, I loved yesterday’s article on John Kerry’s profile. Keep up the great works, Gen. Satterfield.

  3. Janna Faulkner

    I see you have again referenced Dr. Jordan Peterson. I’ve seen a number of his YouTube videos. I also heard he’s had some personal problems with addiction of some kind. I hope he recovers fully because his lectures (like on this very subject) are great. I’ve learned a lot from him and from this website.

    1. William DeSanto

      Janna, yes, well said. Dr. Peterson can be a source of great insight into why people do and think what they do and think. For those who have not explored the web for him, I highly recommend they do. Read some of his works.

  4. Harry Donner

    “Teach them how to get along with people!”
    Pay attention to this folks, this is the core of the article. For those that don’t believe it just think of a situation where you learned from a nasty person. Rare indeed. You learn from those who are polite and good.

  5. Ronny Fisher

    Another super article on a relevant subject. At first, I didn’t know where you were going with your logic. Now I see it. The old stuff WORKS and WORKS WELL. Nicely written. ????

  6. Eric Coda

    I keep enjoying this website and returning for the same reason most of us do. I find it a) helpful understanding leader ideas, 2) it’s entertaining, and 3) I find out more about myself and how to make myself better. I would hope others find the same. I can also give my opinion without crazies giving me pushback but I can expect debate and being challenged rightfully.

  7. Kenny Foster

    This “Armed Forces College” must have been (or is) a great place to study if they are asking such basic questions. I’m reminded of a study by the Israeli Defense Force a few decades ago on how to improve the lethality and survivability of their armored tank crews. Their study discovered that the best way was NOT to improve the tank but to improve the tank crew. Not all sage thinking is intuitive.

    1. Army Captain

      Never heard of this Israeli study by their IDF but it makes sense. That is why the US military is so keen on training.

    2. JT Patterson

      Well said, Kenny. “Old principles” are around for a very good reason. This is true for anything that has survived the tests of time. For one thing, others have used them and found them useful. Second, when these fail, it must be exceedingly rare and for good reason. We should study the “old ways” of doing things and know when to and when not to use them.

      1. Orange Man

        Yep! Of course but most modern folk think they are too good for old fashioned advice. And they are not embarrassed for it.

      2. Yusaf from Texas

        Spot-on comment JT. — as usual — I just hope others are listening.

  8. Valkerie

    General Satterfield, another super duper article. Ha Ha Ha….. thanks for what you do to give us a touch of leadership each day.

  9. Fred Weber

    For what it’s worth, I found it interesting that Gen. Satterfield would quote Heraclitus, Greek philosopher and all-around smart guy, because he talks of chance yet the article is about traditional values and their unchanging usefulness to leaders. I think I understand. Some folks will see change as a natural state of affairs in this world but to hold onto their place in the world, they must use tried and true methods (that never change). I think I got it.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Yes, Fred, I do think you “got it.” A bit around about to get there. 🙂

  10. Tom Bushmaster

    Excellent commentary in this article. Well done.

    1. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      Yes, something the young folks of our time should know and appreciate. Old principles have been around forever for one simple reason. They work!!!!

    2. Randy Goodman

      Not a bad article for today’s leadership read. So, I agree with you Tom. We need more like this article and, as well, more interpretations and views on it. For example, do the current candidates for pres in the USA stand on old principles or are they about new things that redefine reality in a PC ideological format? Hmmmm, I would think some of them do.

    3. Dead Pool Guy

      This is why I keep coming back to https://www.theleadermaker.com. Gen. Satterfield along with many of us here in these forums provide great info for each other and I have found it very helpful understanding problems. I can even propose a problem and ask for help and others will comment. Thanks all.

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