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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Leaders of Leaders

1-51. At any level, anyone responsible for supervising people or accomplishing a mission that involves other people is a leader. Anyone who influences others, motivating them to action or influencing their thinking or decision making, is a leader. It’s not a function only of position; it’s also a function of role. In addition, everyone in the Army—including every leaderfits somewhere in a chain of command. Everyone in the Army is also a follower or subordinate. There are, obviously, many leaders in an organization, and it’s important to understand that you don’t just lead subordinates—you lead other leaders. Even at the lowest level, you are a leader of leaders.

1-54. More often, however, you should empower your subordinate leaders: give them a task, delegate the necessary authority, and let them do the work. Of course you need to check periodically. How else will you be able to critique, coach, and evaluate them? But the point is to “power down without powering off.” Give your subordinate leaders the authority they need to get the job done. Then check on them frequently enough to keep track of what is going on but not so often that you get in their way. You can develop this skill through experience.

1-55. It takes personal courage to operate this way. But a leader must let subordinate leaders learn by doing. Is there a risk that, for instance, a squad leader—especially an inexperienced one—will make mistakes? Of course there is. But if your subordinate leaders are to grow, you must let them take risks. This means you must let go of some control and let your subordinate leaders do things on their own—within bounds established by mission orders and your expressed intent.

1-57. Weak leaders who have not trained their subordinates sometimes say, “My organization can’t do it without me.” Many people, used to being at the center of the action, begin to feel as if they’re indispensable. You have heard them: “I can’t take a day off. I have to be here all the time. I must watch my subordinates’ every move, or who knows what will happen?” But no one is irreplaceable. The Army is not going to stop functioning because one leader—no matter how senior, no matter how central—steps aside. In combat, the loss of a leader is a shock to a unit, but the unit must continue its mission. If leaders train their subordinates properly, one of them will take charge.

1-58. Strong commanders—those with personal courage—realize their subordinate leaders need room to work. This doesn’t mean that you should let your subordinates make the same mistake over and over. Part of your responsibility as a leader is to help your subordinates succeed. You can achieve this through empowering and coaching. Train your subordinates to plan, prepare, execute, and assess well enough to operate independently. Provide sufficient purpose, direction, and motivation for them to operate in support of the overall plan.

1-59. Good leaders help their subordinates grow by teaching, coaching, and counseling.

When you are commanding, leading [soldiers] under conditions where physical exhaustion and privations must be ignored, where the lives of [soldiers] may be sacrificed, then, the efficiency of your leadership will depend only to a minor degree on your tactical ability. It will primarily be determined by your character, your reputation, not much for courage—which will be accepted as a matter of course—but by the previous reputation you have established for fairness, for that high-minded patriotic purpose, that quality of unswerving determination to carry through any military task assigned to you.

General of the Army George C. Marshall Speaking to officer candidates in September, 194

USA Army, The U S Army Leadership Field Manual

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