There are many qualities that promote effective leadership. When I was in the Marine Corps several years ago, we had an acronym for leadership traits that was deeply embedded (brainwashed) in our soft youthful minds. I use the the term “brainwash” endearingly because the truth is that it was some of best leadership training and most effective learning that I’ve ever encountered in my life.
The acronym was JJDIDTIEBUCKLE or “JJ did tie buckle.” It covers the following fourteen leadership traits and they are true and effective whether you are a marine, a choir teacher or anything in between.
Justice means being fair. Treat others equally. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and so forth.
Judgment is the ability to effectively assess the situation. You must be able to accurately understand the implications of the situation you are in so that you can make good decisions. Judgment is also known as common sense.
Dependability is nearly self explanatory. People must be able to depend on you to provide support, accurate information, guidance and motivation. People must be able to trust in your honesty as well as your competence.
Initiative is your tendency to approach your responsibilities in a proactive manner. A leader with initiative will not wait for direction before taking action. If you see something that needs to be done, do it.
Decisiveness is the ability to make solid decisions quickly. With sound judgment, you will have enough information and with confidence in your information, you can make the decision now without hemming and hawing about.
Tact is a leadership quality that enables you to communicate with people in a direct and effective manner without spurring conflict. This goes back to people skills. You need to be able to give direction without making people angry. Tact will help you inspire confidence in your leadership abilities and gain trust and loyalty.
Integrity is essentially honesty, which is crucial to being able to lead people effectively. Without honesty, there is no trust. Without trust, others will not truly follow you and support you’re motives or efforts.
Enthusiasm is one of those positive leadership traits that deals directly with your ability to motivate others. It is about maintaining and putting forth a positive attitude. Enthusiasm expects success and drives us closer to achieving it. It fosters optimism and inspires others to follow your lead.
Bearing is a character trait that is often not discussed in civilian organizations but is none the less critical for good leadership. Bearing is the way you conduct and control yourself. It is your appearance, your posture and your manner that reflects self confidence and self control. Stand straight and exude a demeanor of leadership and authority. Bearing lets people know that you take your role seriously. Do not slouch about or goof off. These things do not inspire confidence in others that you can lead them.
Unselfishness is another that is self explanatory. A good leader is looking out for the good of the team. A leader is not selfishly seeking his or her own best interest. Leaders have no ulterior motives.
Courage is the trait that is paramount in all good leadership. You must first have the courage to lead, to expect success, to accept responsibility and to face challenge. Leaders do not fear failure, they embrace it and learn from it in order to minimize its impact and the likelihood that it will occur again. Look fear in the eye and grin. Courage is the chariot that carries us to victory.
Knowledge is another important component of good leadership principles. You must have the experience, training and information necessary to see the operation to a successful end. Without knowledge, we are merely guessing our way through life. Without knowledge, there can be no judgment or sound decision making.
Loyalty involves being devoted to the task or the goals of the organization that you are a part of. It means that you make the goals of the team your own. The loyal leader stands behind his people and supports them. He truly believes in what he is doing. Loyalty in leadership promotes a loyal following.
Endurance what keeps us going when the going gets tough. Endurance encompasses our dedication and tenacity to see the job through to completion regardless of obstacles or challenges along the way. It embodies both our mental and physical stamina as well as our will power.
“JJ Did Tie Buckle.” To this day, I still believe in this acronym. I uphold that these 14 leadership concepts truly define the characteristics of good leadership. As a leader, carry these ideas with you wherever you go. Commit them to memory and put them to action. People will notice and your leadership skill will improve tremendously. You will be well on your way to being the best leader you can be.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
More About Leadership…
Though I am partial to the Leathernecks and Jarheads way of thinking, the U.S ARMY also has an in-depth illustration of what leadership is. The ARMY outlines its value in leadership theories in 11 Leadership Principles and 23 Character Traits that to them are the pinnacle concepts that represent successful leadership behavior. Like the Marine Corps, the army places an extremely high importance on leadership skill and in support of that; spend a great deal of time and effort to foster those personality traits in their soldiers. This helps to ensure that leadership remains strong in one of the oldest, strongest and most reliable organizations in American military.
11 Leadership Principles ~ the U.S. Army
- Be tactically and technically proficient
- Know yourself and seek self-improvement
- Know your soldiers and look out for their welfare
- Keep your soldiers informed
- Set the example
- Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished
- Train your soldiers as a team
- Make sound and timely decisions
- Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates
- Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
23 Character Traits ~ U.S. Army
- Sense of humor
As you may have noticed, the Army’s Character Traits are quite similar in focus to the Marine Corps leadership traits. It’s no secret that all of the US Military is focused on leadership principles and it is no surprise that they are teaching very similar concepts of leadership style.
A leader is a dealer in hope.
~ Napoleon Bonaparte
Characteristics of Leadership
When looking at leadership traits as defined by the military, it may seem that the concepts are simple or basic. After all, you can see that they define these traits in single word phrases like “courage” or “decisiveness”. While this is a good way to get a quick idea of what concepts are important in terms of effective leadership character traits, leadership itself is ultimately more complex than this. We would like to think that understanding these terms will allow us to simply adopt them and become great leaders but as many of you know, becoming a strong leader is much more difficult than that.
Leadership takes practice, patience, focus and determination to learn about people and what makes them tick. Every leader is different and will need to adopt practices and leadership characteristics that work well for his or her own personality and abilities. Additionally, every environment that requires leadership will need its own brand of leadership. Different approaches will work better for different leaders and different scenarios.
A Good Leader
A good leader does not just make other people do great things. He or she must do great things and through those accomplishments in addition to the leadership skills he possesses, he will inspire others to do great things in turn. This is why we have different words for “leadership” and “direction”. Leading is leading. Directing is something else entirely. These great accomplishments depend on the needs of your team or organization. Leadership means recognizing those challenges, meeting them successfully and then leading others to follow suit by first setting the example.
It requires good moral character and solid positive intentions. Self preservation does not lend itself well to building a foundation of strong leadership. What I’m saying is that it cannot be faked. You have to mean well from the beginning and let that platform of positive intentions be the foundation of your leadership growth. Growth itself will be one of the major factors that your success as a leader will depend on. You cannot simply read a list of traits and adopt them. You have to grow through trial and error with the right intentions and at the same time, keep the above one-word concepts in mind and allow yourself to grow and adopt them into your standard way of thinking. Becoming a leader is an arduous and time consuming process. If you are wondering how long it will take, you are already asking the wrong question. It is a process, not a task and it will never end.
There are obviously characteristics in people personalities that will lend themselves well to good leadership. At least, so says leadership theory. So in some form, the concept of a “born leader” has some merit. Unfortunately, simply being born with certain personality traits will not be enough. In truth, leadership must be developed through practice and learning over and over for years and years before real skill begins to develop. The vast majority of skills that help a person be an effective leader are learned skills. This is good news for most of us because many of us need these skills but were not necessarily directly descendant from glorious historical leaders or magically born with an ability to lead well.
Also remember that many people, who think they are great leaders, are not. How good or bad a leader is can typically be determined most easily by asking questions of subordinates rather than the “leader” themselves. What your followers really think about you speaks volumes about your skill and will generally carry much more weight that your own image of yourself.
This is yet another reason why self-promotion and ego are not likely to help you build any real skill in leading others. Having true admirable and effective character will be recognized, emulated and followed. Trying to get what you want by manipulating or forcing others to yield to your will eventually fail. We all know it exists and in some situations, it even works for a while but the lack of moral soundness and positive intention in this concept leaves it fundamentally flawed and given enough time, the weaknesses inherent in this approach will surface.
Leadership beyond the Traits
Leadership is more than simply a sum of personality traits. It relies on much more than that and is infinitely more complicated because it depends on concepts and ideas that are complex in themselves. What’s more is that it takes these complex ideas and mixes them in any number of random ratios and intertwines them. That may sound confusing but it relatively simple. You many attributes, beliefs, ideas, intelligence, values, skills and the traits above but you each have them in different quantities and different ratios. These complex components all tie in together as well so your own leadership “fingerprint” is vastly different than anyone else’s.
Beliefs- Your beliefs are simply that. They are the concepts that you believe in. They are the sum of the teachings you have followed and you own opinions that you drew from them. They are the sum of all you have seen, heard and learned and they will influence everything you see and do. What you believe or do not belief will have a profound impact on your leadership decision making.
Traits- The traits are the concepts that we’ve shown above. They are the components of your personality that fall under the headings of leadership related traits and they are a mixture of skills, attitudes, abilities and behaviors that you have developed and are still developing. Your leadership traits or personality traits are the distinguishing qualities or characteristics. The army and many other organizations refer to this as character. It is the sum of all the factors and characteristics or traits that an individual displays. Again, this is vastly complex and everyone will be unique and different.
Skills- Skills are the abilities that you have based on the traits above, your intelligence, your ability to learn and the knowledge that you already possess with regard to specific tasks or challenges. For a race car driver, it is his abilities, traits and knowledge that pertain to racing. For leaders, it is the sum of those qualities and competencies that lend themselves well to leading others.
Values- Values are simply the things that we value the most. They depend on what we believe and what we hold most dear when evaluating the world around us. It could be religion, education, money or anything else that is profoundly important to a person. Your preferred lifestyle, your idea of positive attitude or respect for others are all concepts of value.
Now we have seen some of the components and requirements of good leadership but what makes these traits come together and why are they considered “leadership” traits. To understand this, we need to first understand what leadership is in a practical sense. What actions or activities require good leadership skill and rely on the traits discussed above? What are the common roles that must be filled by people with leadership abilities?
There is always room for a man of force and he makes room for many. Society is a troop of thinkers and the best heads among them take the best places.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Army, as well as some other organizations have made efforts to define some conceptual roles within the structure of leadership environments to illustrate this a bit further:
These people set the standard and work to defend, maintain and enforce it. They establish the ethical framework. This is common in the Military because it requires a commitment level that works well when you live and work in the environment on an almost constant basis. You talk the talk and then can be seen walking the walk daily so that your leadership by example is observed and eventually followed. When people see that you actually believe the concepts and devote yourself to carrying them out, it inspires trust.
Developers are those who help others learn by facilitating, teaching, training, and instructing. This promotes confidence and competence in any organization and allows for constant growth. Through the process of teaching others, you will often learn a great deal yourself. When people see that you are a teacher or a giver of information, they will naturally follow your lead and develop dependency and relationship with you.
Integrators are those that orchestrate the many activities that take place throughout an organization. They are coordinators and they spend their time directing activities and making the many moving parts work together. An integrator promotes cohesion and resolves conflict and error. Success depends on unity of effort. Integrators are problem solvers and motivators. They keep things moving in the right direction and keep everyone on the same page.
No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.
~ Abraham Lincoln
Complexity of Leadership Skills
While it may seem now that the concept of leadership is vastly more complicated that a simple list of leadership traits, it can also be quite simple. Many of these concepts go hand-in-hand. What I mean is that by familiarizing yourself with these concepts and actually making effort to adopt some of them into regular practice, you will actually strengthen most of these concepts simultaneously. Good leadership begets good leadership and the traits will develop naturally with time and effort. So in summary, keep the following concepts in mind, keep it simple, continue learning and above all…practice:
Traits of Good Leadership (In a Nutshell)
- Honesty — It speaks for itself and it works wonders in inspiring trust. Be honest and defend truth and honor in your everyday actions.
- Competency — Take time to learn your disciplines with accuracy. Ensure that you can perform the tasks related to your responsibilities and that information or direction that you provide can be relied upon. Lead someone strait and they will follow you again. Lead someone astray and they will mock you.
- Positive Outlook — Always work toward progress and growth. Have a positive vision of the future and always work to make that vision into a reality. Promote the vision and highlight its values. Lead others toward this vision and inspire confidence that it can be achieved.
- Motivate — Be positive. Motivate others. Inspire confidence in all that you do. Learn to adopt a positive mindset and project that positive emotion outwardly so that it can benefit others.
- Respect — Show everyone respect. Respect is not reserved for your superiors. You do not lead your superiors and we are not talking about how to be a great follower. It is far more important where leadership is concerned to push respect from the top down. Show them respect and they will respect and in turn follow you.
- Be Open and Flexible — Things around us change constantly. Be ready and don’t waste energy resisting change. Embrace it, use it, adapt to it and grow.
- Be Courageous — Have the fortitude to face any challenge and overcome adversity to meet a goal. Be confident in your abilities and the abilities of your team. Display that confidence and encourage others as well. Project calmness in stressful situations and people will marvel.
- Creativity — Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm or think outside the box. Problems that arise often come about because of flaws in the current situation so don’t be so confined to normal practice when trying to overcome them. Show creativity by thinking of new and better ways to approach and resolve problems.
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I, therefore, intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt.”
~ Barack Obama
Why Are Leadership Traits Important?
Why do we need these leadership traits? Why do we need leaders? Why can’t we simply get qualified people to do what they need to do and leave them alone to do what they do best?
All of these are valid questions. Allow me to offer my own concept of why we need to foster these leadership skills and values.
Leadership has the almost magical ability to create greatness from mediocrity. Leadership allows a group to become vastly more than just a sum of its individual parts through cohesive and complimentary work. For instance, take 10 competent individuals all doing their own separate thing and allow them to work and complete 10 separate competent tasks. Now take 10 individuals and unify them toward a singular goal. It was recognized thousands of years ago that there will be an added value. The end result will often be vastly greater than the sum of those 10 individual tasks.
Let us imagine that they are construction workers of sorts. One is a master of building bedrooms; one is a master of living rooms and so on. In the end you will have a good living room, a good bedroom, a good bathroom and so on. Put them all together and you find that while all are good individually, together they make a terrible house. You have to walk outside to get from one room to another. There are back to back walls. The windows and doors do not line up with each other and the sum of these parts simply leaves a lot to be desired.
Now take 10 people and give them leadership and a unified plan. In fact, planning begins before the individuals are hired so you can also alter their skill sets so that they compliment each other better. Now we get 10 more competent builders but this time, one of them does foundations, one does framing, one does roofs, one does exteriors and so forth. Now plan their work in strategic stages and toward a singular end goal. Our end result is a great house that took less time, has less waste, is more convenient to use, and is worth more and so on. The sum of these 10 peoples work is far greater than the sum of the work of the original 10 workers. We accomplish this through leadership and more specifically, individuals who possess strong leadership traits.
“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
~ Colin Powell
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