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An officer may possess a variety of worthy or even critical skills, but the primary ability an officer must have is leadership. Many traits have been identified as essential for an effective leader. Sun Tzu taught that leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and sternness. The Marine Corps Battle Skills Training/Es- sential Subjects Handbook boils leadership down to three fundamentals: set the example, know your stuff and yourself, and know and look after your people. These can be further refined into a leadership triad: integrity, competence, and humaneness.
not because it is career enhancing, but because it is the right thing to do.
At the heart of integrity is self-knowledge—knowing your beliefs, your capabilities, and your limitations. As Earl Nightingale put it, "Integrity means to try, as best we can, to know ourselves, to examine ourselves as Socrates advised, and to make a true assessment of ourselves—an inventory of our abilities, our talents, our goals.”
Integrity is the most important quality of leadership. Without it, a leader can he neither trusted nor respected. Leaders who are not trusted or respected by their subordinates will not be followed. Major General Paul K. Van Riper, former Commanding General, 2d Marine Division, notes, “The one trait... every . . . leader must possess in full measure is integrity.” General George C. Marshall, in his address to the first graduates of the Army’s officer candidate schools in 1941, said, “[The] efficiency of leadership will primarily be determined by your charac- .ter, your reputation for fairness, high- minded patriotic purpose, that quality of unswerving determination to carry through any military task assigned to you.” In short, leaders are measured by their integrity.
Integrity is also taking responsibility for your actions—being accountable. It is having the courage to take risks in a zero-defects atmosphere. It is having a value system and implementing that value system every day. It is setting the example. It is never compromising oneself for expediency’s sake. It is doing something
The second part of the leadership triad is competence. In Men Against Fire, Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall states, “Insofar as his ability to mold the character of troops is concerned, the qualifying test of an officer is the judgment placed upon his soldierly abilities by those who serve under him. If they do not deem him fit to command, he cannot train them to obey.” People will not follow leaders who do not know what they are talking about. It is a matter of confidence.
Competence should never be confused with mediocrity. Leaders should never settle for the mediocre, either in themselves or their subordinates. Competence requires committing yourself and your subordinates to doing the best that can be done with the resources that are available to you.
Professional competence is essential to leadership, but true competence is more than just knowing how to do your job. It relates to everything you do as a leader. For example, a competent leader is physically fit. Some officers, however, may feel that because there is no box on a fitness report for the physical fitness test score, it is okay to settle for a passing score. This is not the attitude of a competent leader. Such an attitude sets a poor example: If a commander does not try to excel, why should his subordi
nates? Conversely, if the troops see their leader constantly striving to improve, they will respect him and likely will be motivated to do the same.
Leaders also must be competent in speaking and writing. To carry out their missions, commanders must be able to communicate their orders clearly to their subordinates. Poor speaking or writing skills increase the likelihood that the commander’s orders will be misinterpreted. There is more than just this practical aspect to consider. People base their assessments of someone’s intelligence on how well, or how poorly, that individual can speak or write. Leaders who fail to communicate effectively will be unable to inspire confidence in their subordinates.
The third leg of the leadership triad is humaneness. This is the art of taking care of your men and women—both professionally and personally. Every major writer on military leadership, from Sun Tzu to General George Patton, stresses the importance of taking care of your subordinates. It is a reciprocal endeavor; take care of them and they will take care of you.
As Sun Tzu advises us: “Look upon your soldiers as you do infants, and they willingly go into deep valleys with you; look upon your soldiers as beloved children, and they willingly die with you.” This does not mean, however, that leaders should pamper their subordinates. Sun Tzu further advises, “If you are so nice to them that you cannot employ them, so kind to them that you cannot command them, so casual with them that you cannot establish order, they are like spoiled children, useless.”
A leader should recognize and seek to understand his subordinates’ problems.
Proceedings / February 1994
but he must take care not to help too much. S.L.A. Marshall understood this when he said, “The art of leading, in operations large or small, is the art of dealing with humanity, of working diligently . . . [for your] men, of being sympathetic with them, but equally, of insisting that they make a square facing toward their own problems.” Guide them, but do not carry them on your shoulders.
The effective leader must see each of his subordinates as an individual, with his own wants, desires, and needs. Further, a leader’s concern for his troops must extend beyond the working environment. If your subordinates need help with any aspect of their personal lives, get them that help.
A humane leader must maintain contact with his subordinates. S.L.A. Marshall believes that “Nothing more unfortunate can happen to the commander than ... to be regarded by his subordinates as unapproachable, for such a reputation isolates him from the main problems of command as well as its chief rewards.” Many have likened the leader/subordinate relationship to a teacher/scholar relationship. To be able to teach your subordi
nates, you must have frequent contact with them. To be able to guide your subordinates, you must know where they
The qualities of the leadership triad— integrity, competence, and humaneness— function as a three-legged stool. Take away any one leg and the entire stool is ineffective.
need to go. To know where they need to go, you must know where they are. To know where they are, you must know them. To know them, you must have contact with them.
Humaneness in leadership goes beyond dealing with subordinates’ problems; it is responding to their triumphs, as well. As Sun Tzu says, “Good military leadership rewards merit.” Judicious use of the awards system will go far in motivating subordinates toward outstanding performances.
The leadership quality of humaneness is well summarized by the ancient Chinese warrior and administrator, Zhuge Liang, who says:
Honor them with titles, present the® with goods, and soldiers willingly coni join you. Treat them courteously, i® spire them with speech®* and soldiers willingly di® Give them nourishme® and rest so . . . they dl'| not become weary, mak the code of rules unifofl® and soldiers willing!! obey. Lead them into bat tie personally, and sol diers will be brav® Record even a little good reward even a little mer# and soldiers will be encouraged.
Many qualities go into being a successful, effective leader. The qualities the leadership triad—integrity, comp®’ tence, humaneness—function as a three- legged stool. Take away any one 1®.£ and the entire stool is ineffective. I leader who lacks integrity, or professional competence, or humaneness i* no leader at all.
Captain Thelin is a judge advocate. He currently the head of Installation Law in the Office of the St** Judge Advocate, Marine Corps Air-Ground Com^1 Center, Twentynine Palms, California.
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