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Chief’s Corner: 12 traits of all effective leaders

By Chief Master Sgt. Scott Goetze 340th Flying Training Group Superintendent | 340th Flying Training Group Superintendent | Jan. 9, 2020


Effective leadership is almost always one of the main and primary drivers for growth, development and innovation in an organization. As a leader, the best way to build credibility and gain the respect of others is to set the right examples. Aligning your words and actions will help to build trust and make your team more willing to follow your example. To that end, here are 12 traits I believe are essential for effective leadership:

  1. A leader must lead but also be ready to follow - In certain situations, subordinates may have access to information their superiors don't, or have an insight that would result in a more effective plan than the one their boss proposed. Good leaders must welcome this, putting aside ego and personal agendas to ensure that the team has the greatest chance of accomplishing its strategic goals.
  2. A leader must be aggressive but not overbearing - I do my utmost to ensure that everyone below me in the chain of command feels comfortable approaching me with concerns, ideas, thoughts, and even disagreements. That being said, my subordinates also know that if they want to complain about the hard work and the relentless push to accomplish the mission I expect of them, they best take those thoughts elsewhere.
  3. A leader must be calm but not robotic - While leaders who lose their tempers lose respect, they also can't establish a relationship with their team if they never express anger, sadness, or frustration. People do not follow robots.
  4. A leader must be confident but never cocky - Leaders should behave with confidence and instill it in their team members, but when it goes too far, overconfidence causes complacency and arrogance, which ultimately sets the team up for failure.
  5. A leader must be brave but not foolhardy - Whoever's in charge can't waste time excessively contemplating a scenario without making a decision, but when it's time to make that decision, don’t be afraid to take smart risks.
  6. A leader must have a competitive spirit but also be a gracious loser- A leader must drive competition and push themselves and the team to perform at the highest level, but a good leader must never put their own drive for personal success ahead of overall mission success for the greater team. This means that when something doesn’t go according to plan, leaders must set aside their egos and take ownership of the failure before moving forward.
  7. A leader must be attentive to details but not obsessed with them - The most effective leaders learn how to quickly determine which of their team's tasks need to be monitored for them to progress smoothly, but to be effective a leader cannot get sucked into the details and lose track of the bigger picture.
  8. A leader must be strong but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally - Leaders need to push themselves and their teams while also recognizing their limits in order to achieve a suitable pace and avoid burnout.
  9. A leader must be humble but not passive; quiet but not silent - The best leaders keep their egos in check and their minds open to others, and admit when they're wrong, but a leader must also be able to speak up when it matters. They must be able to stand up for the team and respectfully push back against a decision, order, or direction that could negatively impact overall mission success.
  10. A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close - The best leaders understand the motivations of their team members and know their people -- their lives and their families, but a leader must never grow so close to subordinates that one member of the team becomes more important than another, or more important than the mission itself. Leaders must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.
  11. A leader must exercise extreme ownership and simultaneously employ decentralized command - Extreme ownership is the fundamental concept of leadership philosophy. It means that for any team or organization, ALL responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. Even when leaders are not directly responsible for all outcomes, it was their method of communication and guidance, or lack thereof that led to the results. That doesn't mean, however, that leaders should micromanage. This is why the concept of decentralized command is used in the battlefield. In decentralized command the junior officers/senior noncommissioned officers are trusted to be able to handle certain tasks without being monitored.
  12. A leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove - Since the team understands that the leader is de facto in charge, in that respect, a leader has nothing to prove. But in another respect, a leader has everything to prove. Every member of the team must develop the trust and confidence that their leader will exercise good judgment, remain calm, and make the right decisions when it matters most. The only way that can be achieved is through leading by example every day.