Great leaders are a rarity. The US Army takes the view that leaders can be made, and attempts to construct leaders of adequate competency in the factories of WCS, BNCOC and ANCOC.
It is true that these courses can teach the mechanical aspects of leadership; paperwork, toughness, etc. But they lack subtly, the artistic aspects of leading men and women that only “natural” leaders possess. Anyone can take an art class. Only a Van Gogh or a Devinci could make a masterpiece from his lessons. Perhaps these courses can awaken and mold the Diamond in the Rough, but they cannot make diamonds.
A great leader is made from many materials. He must be intelligent, yet have the courage to admit he doesn’t know everything. He must be a person whose ego doesn’t get in the way of truth. He must have tact, knowing the right things to say and whom to say them to. A leader must make a study of psychology, so that the mysteries of human behavior lay open to him. He must care for his subordinates as he cares for himself.
Most importantly, a great leader must know himself. He must consider his own motivations, and he must be able to control his emotions. Arrogance makes leaders look stupid. And arrogant leaders are stupid– and oft times downright evil.
I know I have the ability to lead. As to if I’m a great leader, I’ll leave that to others to decide. I observe some of the leaders that surround me here in the Army, and many times I’m left wanting. Part of this is because I always expect from others what I myself give and am capable of, and this is not always fair, since frequently I’m not capable of doing what others can. I’ve tried to trim my expectations of people recently. I do try to never expect from others what I don’t expect of myself.
I have a book. It’s in my mind. The pages are blank, but for a few scribbles in the beginning pages on which I’ve made notes. Those notes are to remind me how not to lead. When I see something a leader in my unit does that is obviously detrimental to his cause and to the growth of his Soldiers, I record the event in my book. Swearing at Soldiers as part of daily routine. Calling them disrespectful names to get them to do something that needs getting done. The leaders doing these things know nothing of the art of leadership. They’re not naturals, they’re frightened and lack confidence. They’re also causing Soldiers to be frightened and lack confidence, and so we create a whole generation of Soldiers who are timid. I see a lot of timid Soldiers, and the ones who aren’t are the rambunctious, troublesome sort who get arrested for DUI and think it’s funny. A Soldier should never be timid. He must go boldly.
A leader must have experienced life’s pain. Churchill and Lincoln are two examples of men whose life was filled with pain. Pain made them realize that sometimes you have to make a stand. The Righteous perish without strength.
Too often I see that the Army Values are violated by those in leadership positions. For those who don’t know what those values are, I’ll list them: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage. The ones I see violated the most are Respect, Honor, and Integrity. I know it’s not just the Army–it’s Humanity. It just looks worse when people who have such power display the basest of attributes. I also know that there are many, many great people in the military. People who give their all and have done things that they get little publicity for. People whose understanding and adherence to the Army Values surpasses mine. I hope and pray I can learn from these people.
Toughness must be moderated by fairness and justice. I think of Scipio Africanus, Rome’s great General who after meeting and defeating Hannibal’s army in the Battle of Zama, gave mercy to Carthage. Scipio understood counterinsurgency. Scipio never lost a battle and his men loved him and were extremely confident and motivated. I doubt he gained their confidence and respect by treating them unfairly.
In ending, let me summarize. Some are meant to lead. Some are meant to follow. Only those who want to be great leaders will be. It takes a strength of character unusual, especially in today’s world of lax morals, easy lies, and opaque honor.