Finding Your Own Leadership Style

Throughout my 26 year military career I was often asked to define my own leadership style and to give suggestions on which style I think young leaders should adopt.

When I was a young 18 year old Ranger in 2nd Ranger Battalion, I was fortunate to have a great Squad Leader by the name of Staff Sergeant (SSG) Roberts. He was a “Grenada Invader;” meaning he participated in the combat parachute assault on the island of Grenada, Operation: Urgent Fury. This was one of the first key combat actions since Vietnam & gave a small group of elite warriors combat experience. SSG Roberts was very well respected & from the first day in his squad he encouraged all of us to find our own identity in leadership. Some felt the need to be the constant hard ass, while others wanted to be everyone’s buddy. What I learned from SSG Roberts was that he was always consistent, however he did not have one single leadership style.

SSG Roberts was a PT machine and could run us all into the ground. He knew when to yell, when to pat us on the back, and we all clearly knew the lines which not to cross. If you did something that embarrassed the squad you were going to pay the price. He was a great teacher; he took the time to teach us the standard out of the manual but also the techniques that are never in the book. He never allowed us to take shortcuts and he settled for nothing less then our best each and every day. I remember during a week long FTX (field training exercise) we had been going non stop for over 72 hours. We finally had a few hours in the field to catch some sleep and he told all of us to hit the rack while he stayed up & pulled security (one of Rogers’ Rules of Ranging). This is who SSG Roberts was, this is what defined them.

Years later I became my own Staff Sergeant, trying to pass the lessons I learned onto young Rangers, Soldiers, Cadets and Officer Candidates.

In my multitude of years working as West Point I had the ability to be exposed to some of the best the Officer & Senior Non-Commissioned Officer Corps had to offer. There were some very interesting leadership styles pre 9-11. The military was generally not at war during this time period & leadership styles took on more of a business attitude versus a Warrior style. (I’m not here to argue these points, that’s for another day.) Young cadets would prepare for graduation and look to the cadre of West Point to find the leadership style that sets the standard. Some cadre would say “when you take over your platoon make sure you go in hard, you don’t get a second chance to set the standard.” Or, “you better tell your Sergeants’ whose in charge from day one, they are not your friends.”

Now I understand at this time period (the 1990’s) many of the Senior Officers (Colonel & above) were Vietnam Veterans, and our Army had many challenges during that time period. The lessons to our young Officers was to insure they understand “whose in charge.”

Well the Army changed a lot since Vietnam. We had professional development training and courses to help our young warriors. Our NCO’s were smarter, more agile, fit and led with standards. They understood “whose in charge.”

My message to young Officers was simply that taught to me by SSG Roberts, just to “be you!”

You cannot be General Patton because “you’re not Patton!” Be Smith, Kowalski, Jenner, or whatever your name is.

I don’t care if you are taking over the best platoon in the Army or the absolute worst platoon, your introduction should be the same; “Hi, I’m Jim Smith your new Platoon Leader, and I’m dam glad to be here!”. That’s it! Simple! Everyone knows your name, what you are here for, and regardless of the situation you are excited. This will set the tone and will allow you to start working on what needs to be done.

You should never say things like; “I’m here to fix this place,” or “I’m going to turn this platoon into something.”

Here is what every unit needs to be successful (military or civilian):
1. A direction & distance. (Tell them which way to go & how far it is.)
2. They need to know what the standard is. (If the current standard is not being met then increase the standard, don’t lower it to show progress or efficiency.)
3. Finally, what do you want done and when? (The who, what, where, when & why. You normally don’t need to tell them “how.”)

If you want to be a hard ass, be a hard ass; but under no circumstances do you ever need to be a “prick.” There is a big difference. If your unit needs work, you might have to be the hard ass. If your unit needs simple direction, you will need to be a great communicator.

To be a great leader you need to be well versed in MANY leadership styles. Oh by the way, you become more proficient at these leadership styles through…you guessed it…EXPERIENCE.

When I retired as a Sergeant Major in 2010 a former Division Command Sergeant Major came up to me and told me I “finally had a great balance in my leadership style.” I respectfully told him “it took me 26 years to get here!” Hooah!

If you are a leader in business or the profession of arms, hang in there and get a little better everyday and you will be OK!


Performance Coach & Lead Consultant
Elite Leadership Training LLC


, , ,

  1. #1 by Sean Mockbee on September 6, 2011 - 4:31 pm

    Great way to summarize leadership!!! You can apply those principles in business or in everything life brings your way. Your motivational speaking and leadership training has helped my employees rise to levels of success that have not been achieved prior. Thank you and keep up the great work!!!

  2. #2 by Jon Lounsbury on September 8, 2011 - 2:01 pm

    Great summary. It’s especially dificult when dealing with a room full of different attitudes and personalities!! –

    • #3 by Elite Leadership Training - Leadership Out Front!!! on September 8, 2011 - 2:40 pm

      Coach, it’s no different then young coaches trying to be Herb Brooks or Scotty Bowman; bottom line you have to trust your instincts, learn through experience & lead, mentor and show them the way. You are on the right path! Continue to develop and assist the warriors under your charge; short term objectives, the long term will take care of itself. Go Wolverines! Hooah! JBS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: