Foundations of Army Leadership

Great leaders emerge from all walks of life. From the home where parents express love while maintaining the discipline to the CEO’s that run multi-million dollar corporations, good leadership is vital to success. The great General Douglas Macarthur once said, ‘A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

” In the Army, leaders have the duty to mold and care for their Soldiers. Army leaders must also deal with the added stresses of being responsible for the well being of their soldiers in potentially life-threatening situations. This paper will discuss the origins of this unique type of leadership and the foundations on which it is built.

The United States Army originated out of necessity. The revolution against the British government called for the men of this country to form a unified fighting force, a Continental Army.

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At the time, most of the fighting men came from state militias, which each had their own set of regulations. Because of this, the Army’s efforts at war had been uncoordinated and unsuccessful. The winter of 1777 found the Army reeling after several crucial defeats. Left to suffer in the bitter cold at Valley Forge, George Washington, Commander in chief of the Continental Army, realized he needed a centralized and structured system on which to base the Army’s leadership.

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As if by fate, a decorated Prussian officer named Baron Friedrich Von Steuben arrived that same winter to help the colonies in the war against England.

General George Washington was immediately impressed with the Baron, assigning him temporary Inspector General. After assessing the force, Von Steuben’s first act was to create an Army-wide standard for the discipline of drill and ceremony. His changes centralized the way the Army moved and fought, immediately creating a more effective fighting force. Von Steuben also trained Soldiers on accountability of equipment, cleanliness, sick-call standards, and penned the Army’s first general orders. The Army improved drastically in every discipline and left Valley Forge prepared for war. Shortly after, Von Steuben published the ‘Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,’ also known as the Army ‘Blue Book.’

Baron Von Steuben’s ‘Blue Book’ acted as a guideline for leadership to adhere to, but maintaining discipline and upholding regulation doesn’t necessarily make a well-rounded leader. Army leadership consists of much more. The Army Doctrine Publication or ADP 6-22 guides leaders in understanding and striving to be leaders of Character, Presence, and Intellect. Leading with character involves having empathy for Soldiers and living by the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honesty, integrity, and personal courage. General Norman Schwarzkopf, leader of the coalition forces during the Gulf War, said, ‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character, but if you must be without one, be without strategy.’

The General understood that a strong character is a foundation on which a leader can grow. Intellectually, leaders must be agile, having tact, and make sound choices. They strive to become experts at their job. An Army leader must also exude confidence without being egoistic, but may have to humble themselves if necessary. General George Washington is quoted as saying, ‘Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.’ Leaders always remember that they are part of a chain of command. They stay physically fit and resilient. Ultimately, a military leader lives out all of these attributes while maintaining military bearing in all they do.

Being a leader with character is essential. However, what one does to put those characteristics into action is just as important. Army ADP 6-22 outlines how to lead, develop, and achieve as a leader. Leaders mold the ones they lead. Good leaders communicate with influence and are trusted by their subordinates. They make sure their Soldiers are cared for and in a positive place. They stay prepared to teach and grow their Soldiers in the Army profession. Like with any team, the goal of a leader is to achieve in their area of expertise.

Leaders become adept at assigning roles, taking on tasks, and executing with skill. They understand how to increase team performance while listening to the input of others and creating feedback. To further quote General Macarthur, he said, ‘A general is just as good or bad as the troops under his command make him.’ He knew that if leaders fail to build their Soldiers and allow room for complacency, it will reflect on them. Leaders must strive to be excellent in their field and develop great teams; these are critical factors in making a great leader.

In summary, the Army of the United States started without a strong foundation for leadership. Washington’s desire and Von Steuben’s expertise brought about the creation of the Army’s ‘Blue Book’ and regulation that is still relevant today. Great leaders not only adhere to the Army ‘doctrine,’ but emulate values like strength, character, and empathy. General Colin Powell once commented,’ leadership is solving problems, the day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They either have lost confidence that you can help or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership’. Attributes like these are what mold soldiers into outstanding leaders. In turn, those leaders mold their soldiers, and so on and so on. This sequence is what keeps the Army dominant, ready, and honed to fight the battles of our nation.

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Foundations of Army Leadership. (2021, Dec 13). Retrieved from

Foundations of Army Leadership

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