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What Are the Characteristics of a Great Leader?

Army Leadership: Confident, Competent, and Agile

Looking back to my 22 years in the Army, I think of  the best leaders I have experienced (in contrast to some horrible ones), and they all shared similar traits. Almost all of them were charismatic and passionate about their mission at hand. Yet they were calm in the face of stressful decisions (a trait I continuously work on). They were excellent story tellers and always tied the story or narrative into the point they were able to make. And all of them were excellent listeners making you feel like you were valued no matter how low on the totem-pole we may have been.

Finally, they were able to adapt to any situation and make good decisions based on logic as well as the right amount of emotion. Although this would take more than three words to describe their brand, the words I would use for their similar traits were “passionate”, “centered”, “confident”, “people persons” and “decisive”.

Military Business Leaders

Have you ever felt like you are in over your head? Then comes in a person that makes you feel like, wow, I’m glad he or she arrived. That is the type of person that makes or breaks a project or is the difference between success or failure in an organization.

While stationed in California, the recruiting unit I was in consistently ranked in the bottom. The First Sergeant we had was passionate, but toxic. He was a confident person, but seemed egotistical since every Soldier and their family members knew they were merely a worker and he was the boss and we did what he told us to do or we were through.

Often times, he would have a line of Soldiers outside his door waiting for write-ups for every little thing ranging from a mistake in an applicant’s file (sometimes a file is 100’s of pages) to merely missing recruiting numbers at then the heighten time of war- not exactly a place many were eager for themselves or their children to go.

He was often known by such phrases as “You did it to yourselves Soldier, I am just doing the paperwork” while writing a Soldier up for the smallest things. Needless to say, morale was low. While he exhibited some of the traits I described earlier, he countered them with other traits that if used properly would have helped, but he misused them against the individual person.

Because he was feared (different than respected), many feared to take acceptable risks and we suffered. After so many months and even years of failure, the Army finally moved him into a different position in a small town in Texas and replaced him with a lower ranking Sergeant First Class (later promoted to First Sergeant) stepping in the role of First Sergeant.

In contrast, this First Sergeant was passionate, but cared about the individual Soldier under his charge. Not to the point of over-coddling, but his first words to us were “I have your back”. Take acceptable (legal) risks and let’s make the mission.

The first month, this unit made only one portion of its mission while missing the other portion. While we all hunkered down for the onslaught we were used to receiving, he came out and was ecstatic! He exclaimed that for the first time we made the Regular Army mission assigned and never even mentioned the Reserve mission that we badly missed. It wasn’t even, “Great, you made the Active mission, now let’s go get the Reserve mission too” rather he never even mentioned the failure. With this new found excitement, with the exact same crew as the removed First Sergeant led, our Recruiting unit went from the bottom of the entire command to ten top ten percent nationally within a year!

While I don’t come from a strong IT background, I do come from an Army leadership background. The three words that defined that newer leader would be the three words that I use to define my brand and three words that still take work for me to remember. Those three words are confident, competent, and agile.

I want to someday be known as being confident, competent, and agile. I want people to see that I exude energy towards any mission assigned to me and am confident in my abilities to succeed. I want to show others that I am (or learn quickly to be) competent by researching methods, testing new ideas and refining myself daily.

The final word is my biggest challenge and that is being agile. I like to believe in formulas that are tit-for-tat. I like steps to success rather than journeys. This is why I am drawn to such titles and programs as “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” (John Maxwell), or the “Psychology of Sales” (Bryan Tracy) or any book or series that is linear in approach promising results if practiced. If I just master this, I can almost guarantee that will happen.

But that is not agility and that does not always reflect real life. While I believe in the law of averages (therefore the formulas could work and probably will work over time), I sometimes forget the big picture and get easily disappointed rather than seeing things all the way through. The best formula still needs patience and dedication while adapting to its environment. That to me is agility.

Regardless of my struggles in the past, those three words are my goal. And thanks to awesome examples of leadership provided, this is the brand I choose to live by. It is one that I learned from Army Leadership which uses the three same words.

For more on Army Leadership being Confident, Competent, and Agile, just Google the older FM 6-22 now replaced as ADRP 6-22.

Nathan J. Kerr, MS, PMP is the co-owner and founder of PMCertDC – Washington D.C.’s metro area premier project management boot camp provider. With our primary location in Tysons, Virginia, we hold classes throughout the Washington D.C. metro area and anywhere online.

We are a proud Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business with a huge impact on the project management world. Visit us at https://pmcertdc.com

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Nathan J. Kerr, MS, PMP teaching PMP to students.
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