Attributes of leadership

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Matthew Snyder
  • 509th Maintenance Operations Squadron
We have all experienced different types of leaders. There are those we choose to emulate and those we choose to forget.

Certain leaders are personable while others are removed and quiet. Some leaders are open-minded while others are stubbornly resolute.

In the movie Miracle, the coach of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, Herb Brooks, told his players: "I'll be your coach - I won't be your friend!" Given the circumstances and the difficult road ahead, Brooks recognized the obstacles and dedication required to beat the best teams in the world in order to reach the Olympic medal round. How then do leaders get their followers to believe and follow them? What elements define good leaders?

Here are a few attributes that are worth considering.

A leader must have vision. Vision is the ability to peer into the future and grasp the potential of an individual, a group, or a project. Vision is being able to see "outside the box" and take hold of something that may only seem like a dream. I am always amazed with President Kennedy's announcement in the early 1960s that by the end of the decade the U.S. would put a man on the moon - then in 1969, Neil Armstrong spoke the words: "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." In order to be successful, leaders must not only have vision, but must attempt to convey it to those around them. History shows us that those leaders who succeeded in this attempt have shaped the world.

A leader must be confident. Confidence is a sign of optimism. Often followers will look toward their leaders when things get tough or are not working out the way they were intended and at such times leaders must act with reason, good judgment, and decisiveness.

A good leader must always weigh the pros and cons of each situation. Each decision is always relative to its own circumstances. In the movie Master and Commander, Russell Crowe plays the role of a 19th century ship captain and at one point is forced to make a life and death decision to possibly save the life of one sailor or put the entire crew at risk in a storm. That sailor is eventually cut loose and the ship endures.

Leaders will always face tough decisions. Perhaps, they will enjoy the help and advice of others, but often the ultimate responsibility lies on their shoulders and they will need to show resolve and strength of character. It is perhaps appropriate to mention that there is a clear difference between confidence and over-confidence. Over-confidence is synonymous with recklessness, poor judgment, and a false sense of security and quite often leads to disaster! Remember the old saying: "pride comes before the fall..."

A leader must be knowledgeable in the task at hand. This is not to mean that each leader must have experienced the exact same tasks required of the followers or necessarily been "in the same shoes" as them. However, it is absolutely imperative that the leader understands what is being asked of their followers and be familiar with their capabilities as well as their limitations and weaknesses. This is perhaps most apparent in the military when commanders order and position their forces on the battlefield.

Throughout time military tacticians and strategists have studied the maneuvers, the strengths and weaknesses, and abilities of their opponents. A leader must know how to take advantage of circumstances to better their position and exploit the enemy's weakness - to falter may cost lives, the battle, and perhaps even the war.

There are many different types of leaders. Unfortunately there is no single recipe for successful leadership. Leaders must listen, watch, and learn. They will oftentimes be faced with challenging situations and will sometimes even make mistakes. Nonetheless, leaders should consider the following attributes - vision, confidence, and task knowledge - as the foundation for effective and rewarding leadership.