Principles of Leadership

Leadership is the vital intangible, it is difficult to teach and hard to learn, but good leadership can make the difference in an organization’s success or failure. Leadership is not taught, it is learned, and the best place to learn it is in the American Armed Forces, and the service academies that have been producing some of the best leaders of the last 200 hundred years. But there are lessons in leadership that can be learned, and they are taught at the service academies and the officer candidate schools. One lesson that all officer candidates learn are the principles of leadership, a base for leaders to learn and grow from. Here are the principles of leadership as taught at the military commissioning schools.

  1. Know yourself and seek self improvement
    • Know your weaknesses and strengths and strive to improve the areas you are weak in and develop you strengths. Don’t let your ego get in the way, be honest with what you do well and what you need to improve.
  2. Be technically and tactically proficient
    • Know your job, the skills, tactics, technics and procedures to do it. Be good at the basic elements of you career field.
  3. Seek responsibility and accept responsibility for you actions
    • Accept responsibility for you actions, managers do NOT, can NOT, pass the buck. And look for new responsibilities, new opportunities, new areas for you to grow, and expand your knowledge. There is no standing still, you are a business shark, move constantly or die.
  4. Make sound and timely decisions
    • Good decisions, made on time. Don’t wait and debate to make a decision. Gather the data., consult with staff and managers, analyze and make the best decision, with good support, now. A good decision today is better than a perfect decision tomorrow (General George S. Patton). Execution with information, not paralysis by over analysis.
  5. Set the example
    • Lead by example. Your staff and other area always watching you, you are on 24/7. Set the example, show your staff how to behave, act and respond by what you do. Your actions, your work, your attitude. Leaders say, “Follow me, and do what I do”. Your actions, not your words, set the example, the tone, the culture, the performance for your crew.
  6. Know your personnel and look out for their well being
    • Know your staff, know what they can do, what they are capable of doing. Employ them where they are strong, help them improve where they are weak, and always, always, look out for their welfare, their well being. A staff that knows you have their back, will have yours. A staff that knows that you will throw them under the bus to further their career will leave you hanging and exposed when an ill wind blows. Those that you support will in turn, support you,
  7. Keep your followers informed
    • Let your staff know what is going on, keep them informed and in the loop. When a new, difficult project comes down to you, let your staff know, give them a warning order. Communication and honesty are important underpinnings of trust between you and your staff.
  8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates
    • Assign tasks to your staff, give them the authority and tools to complete the assignments to go along with the responsibility to get it done. Developing subordinates is an important part of management. You need to develop your staff to take on your job so that you can take the promotion and not leave your current department with a capable leadership void.
  9. Ensure each task is understood, supervised and accomplished
    • Make sure you staff know what they need to do, what the task is and how they must complete it. When you assign the task, follow up to make sure it is done. Managers CAN NOT say, “ I told my staff to do it”, managers are responsible to assign tasks to the right people, follow up and supervise. The maximum effective range of an excuse is 0 meters, there are NO excuses in business.
  10. Build your team
    • Ahh, the team. We have all heard the expression that “ There is no I in team.” There is no I in asshole either. Developing your team means putting ego aside, refereeing other egos, and building a system that rewards team performance, accomplishing the goal, over individual accomplishments. Team work is essential to success, see the 2001, 2003, and 2004 New England Patriots, or the 2004 & 2007 Boston Red Sox, the 2008 Boston Celtics or the 2012 Boston Bruins. It is all about the team, and you are responsible for developing your team.
  11. Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities
    • Don’t volunteer your web development team to vet and launch a new accounting system for the company. Work you crew in their area of expertise and just beyond those border, not in an area of operations that are out of everyone’s depth, Set you team up for success, take on projects that are in their wheel house, or at lease their area of expertise. Do not put your staff in a position to fail. It is your responsibility to match tasks to strengths and success.

The companion slide deck for the principles of leadership from lectures is online at

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