• Chris

Characteristics of Effective Leaders


The complex art of leadership is constantly evolving in response to an even more complex world. Knowing this makes searching for quality leadership guidance tiresome and at times misleading. For this reason, I sought out to discover the best repeatable sources for leadership guidance. I wanted to find leadership lessons that are filtered through an environment which mimics our overall society. I was looking for a source of lessons where my sample matches the current overall leadership environment. A classification of leaders that people can study for a wide range of experiences and knowledge from multiple leaders and know their advice is worth learning.

My research began with comparing industries to determine which ones are the best representations of our current society. After some time examining different fields, I began to notice a trend that organizations commonly refer to their groups as teams with missions, and this got me thinking, the world in which leaders are currently operating is diverse and dynamic just like sports teams and military units and because of this, it may be worth studying the best leaders in these two fields if we want to learn what characteristics best represent the current leadership environment.

Both sports and military units are rapidly changing their main actors, leaders, and environment in an attempt to outpace the competition. Moreover, the diversity between and within sports teams and military units matches that of the most complex global organizations. The diversity between two teams within the same sport can be as dramatic as any international company and the same is well-known about the military. Consider cultural differences between American Football in Texas and the Northeast or cultural differences between east coast and west coast Navy Seals. They are both the same entity, yet cultural differences mold each group into its own being.

Additionally, the dynamic environments created through constant player and coaching staff trades outpaces any Wall Street business. Again, military units are also known for rapid deployments and the ability to be ready for anything in a moment’s notice. Sports teams are constantly trading players with very little continuity throughout seasons and military bases around the world are always rotating troops.

After identifying my two industries, I conducted my doctoral dissertation to see just how similar the two industries were, and I found a 94 percent relationship. That goes to say that there was a less than six percent chance of finding a result this close or closer. This finding indicates that leadership styles used in the sports leadership world can be applied to the military and vice versa with a high expectation that the lessons learned will transfer.

Upon learning this, it made sense to examine both industries in hopes of identifying common leadership styles employed by their top leaders. I spent three years reading sport and military research and history books taking note of any characteristic that was considered one of an effective or respected leader by the author or a quoted subordinate of an examined leader. I then categorized the most commonly found leadership characteristics as identified by other researcher’s inductive and deductive studies as well as journals and literature reviews of commonly referenced leadership icons in both sports and the military into five characteristics, professional excellence, positive personality traits, team cohesion, well-balanced vision, and empathy. Below is a brief explanation of my findings that I hope you consider when forming your unique leadership identity.

Professional Excellence

Leaders are the heart of building great teams. They are the ones who bring people closer and help them grow from talented individuals to collaborating performers. If you want to look for living proof of this, just look at Sir Earnest Shackleton’s epic Antarctic adventure where he kept his shipwrecked crew alive and for 21 months. Including being stranded in their ice-trapped boat for 10 months, camping on ice floes for five months, sailing on small boats for a few weeks, then surviving on an inhabited island for a few more weeks. When Shackleton took his six-man crew on a 17-day 800-mile journey from that island to civilization to get help, they landed their boat on the wrong side of the island and had to traverse uncharted mountains with no gear for 26 miles.

A leader’s exemplification of their professional excellence is at the center of being a leader in your profession. Showing your dedication to your discipline is how leaders gain their followers’ trust. Shackleton’s men would have caused a mutiny if he wasn’t the expedition leader they needed. The best way to form trusting relationships is through sharing your knowledge with your people, properly coordinating events without interference so your people can get the proper training they need, building a sense of connectedness within the team, showing your team you are courageous enough to put the right cause before yourself, and empowering your people before taking care of your personal needs. Leaders of professional excellence motivate by helping their people grow as professionals and they do this through being an ideal example of a person in their profession.

Positive Personality Traits

Leaders are the example of high work ethic and determination. Imaging showing up to work and finding a manager who cannot do the job herself. Now image showing up and being welcomed by a manager who is fully competent in her craft. It’s difficult to follow someone who does not have the ability to do their own job when they tell you to do yours. Leaders don’t follow their men into battle, they lead them into battle.

With that said, showing high work ethic and determination towards the team’s goal are the bes