What makes a good leader?

NH Civil War Gal

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#1
These questions came from another site called Aeon. I was reading about Xenophon and how he had been in a disastrous military effort and retreat and it got me to thinking about the leaders from the Civil War - either side - and especially how the average soldier kept on. They had their desertions back then too, btw.

So who do you think had it and why.

"What makes a good leader? What kind of leader can induce humans to endure hardships and expend effort toward a common goal? What exemplary traits mark out a leader and allow him or her to execute the requisite tasks with skill, induce a harmonious fellowship among those for whom he is responsible, maintain loyalty and mission clarity among the ‘troops’, whomever they might be?"
 

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#3
Hey Civil War Gal!
You pose a very interesting question. For most of my adult life I have either been in the military or working in law enforcement. The Army's definition of leadership is "The process of influencing others, by providing motivation, purpose, and direction." maybe not in so many words but similar to that. There is also a debate of whether or not leaders are made or born. I say they are both. But a leader is only as good as the men and women they have around them. There have been great leaders who have faltered and lost the respect of their men and women. When this happens it is almost a death blow to that persons leadership capabilities. A leader has to inspire their subordinates to do things that they are ordered to do. This sometimes is not an easy task! I can tell you soldiers march on their stomachs. If they don't have food and water their morale can sink very quickly. A leader must put the "Mission and their Men" before their needs. If their subordinates see that their leader is taking care of themselves first, it does not work out well. All leaders start out with good intentions. However, their leadership is tested when the metal meets the meat so to speak. History is marked with good and bad leaders. Some bad leaders have done extraordinary things. But that does mean they are good leader. It means that they have good subordinates. Both the North and South had their fair share of both. So it is hard to say who had it and who didn't. Also who had it and lost it! I enjoyed reading your post!
 
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#4
This is a great question Tina! It's also one I wrestled with throughout my career. These are the qualities that I think make a great leader.
  • Capacity to listen to different points of view.
  • Ability to acknowledge errors, learn from them and then move on.
  • Willingness to share the credit for success. Lincoln once said "The path to success and ambition is broad enough for two."
  • Willingness to share the blame for failure.
  • Awareness of one's own weaknesses and the ability to compensate for them.
  • Ability to control emotions.
  • Willingness to do the work.
  • Ability to clearly communicate a vision and goals.
  • Unwavering commitment to the vision and set goals.
I think Abraham Lincoln possessed all of these qualities and was a great leader. Leo Tolstoy said Lincoln's greatness consisted of the “integrity of his character and moral fiber of his being.” I agree!
 
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#5
These questions came from another site called Aeon. I was reading about Xenophon and how he had been in a disastrous military effort and retreat and it got me to thinking about the leaders from the Civil War - either side - and especially how the average soldier kept on. They had their desertions back then too, btw.

So who do you think had it and why.

"What makes a good leader? What kind of leader can induce humans to endure hardships and expend effort toward a common goal? What exemplary traits mark out a leader and allow him or her to execute the requisite tasks with skill, induce a harmonious fellowship among those for whom he is responsible, maintain loyalty and mission clarity among the ‘troops’, whomever they might be?"
If someone is enthusiastic about fighting and he shares the same hardships as his men and leads them at the front that man maybe a great leader.
George Washington Kirk Colonel commanding 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Union would be my favorite example although Colonel Harrison of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry Union would also qualify.
A good leader knows what his men can and can not do and realizes the importance of logistics and is very brave .
Major General George Thomas would be another good example.
In the Confederate side Forrest, Mosby and O'Neil of O'Neil's Ranger's stand out.
Leftyhunter
 

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#6
These questions came from another site called Aeon. I was reading about Xenophon and how he had been in a disastrous military effort and retreat and it got me to thinking about the leaders from the Civil War - either side - and especially how the average soldier kept on. They had their desertions back then too, btw.

So who do you think had it and why.

"What makes a good leader? What kind of leader can induce humans to endure hardships and expend effort toward a common goal? What exemplary traits mark out a leader and allow him or her to execute the requisite tasks with skill, induce a harmonious fellowship among those for whom he is responsible, maintain loyalty and mission clarity among the ‘troops’, whomever they might be?"

Without getting too deep into leadership theory, the trait approach, which was based on identifying traits of successful leaders, has been basically abandoned in favor of leadership styles and situational leadership.

Basically, the leadership style needs to fit the situation and the unit's level of maturity.

You can look at Lee and Grant, two very different types of leaders who exhibited different traits.

Lee developed an aura of invincibility. By putting together a string of victories, Lee made his men believe he and they couldn't be beaten. He created an image of being all-knowing and all-seeing. His patrician, aristocratic bearing fed into that image.

Grant, on the other hand, exuded a quiet sense of competence. When Grant was in charge, things moved and happened. Men got fed. They got clothes and ammunition. The men believed in him because he showed them he knew what he was doing. He wasn't worried about appearances. He was worried about just getting the job done.

Each man was a successful leader. Grant was far more successful on a personal level with the troops when he was in the west, where the soldiers also didn't worry so much about appearances, than he was in the east. When he came east, he wisely kept Meade and the majority of the corps commanders in place. This army was more concerned with image, a holdover from the McClellan years. The eastern generals had the image the soldiers expected of a general. But things moved when Grant took over, and the soldiers saw that. He wasn't much for fancy reviews, but they got the idea he knew what was happening. And when he turned south after the Wilderness he won the soldiers over because he showed them he wasn't quitting.

Two different generals, two different styles, different traits, and both successful.
 

Story

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#7
There is also a debate of whether or not leaders are made or born. I say they are both.
This, and 'all of the above' posts are a valid umbrella when I think of all of the men I served under (and some subordinates who were women) who I considered good leaders.

However, every single one had 'feet of clay' (see Daniel 2:31-33). I saw good ones falter and even fail, but they would ultimately regroup and drive on.

Chalk it up as resilience. That counts heavily when someone says "Follow Me".
 
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#8
I have always thought a leader to be someone who will do what others shrink from, the one who during a fight gets up fires and moves forward advancing towards the enemy or the objective. No word has to be said, his example is all that is needed. Others usually get up and follow. It is not always an officer or a sergeant, just someone who knows what has to be done.
 

wbull1

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#10
One characteristic that sticks out to me in thinking about effective leaders in terms of Civil War military leaders is the willingness to support other people's ideas and actions that help the ultimate goal without jealousy, favoritism, or hogging the credit. A good leader will praise and support successes by subordinates.
 

Cavalry Charger

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#11
I think the quality of leadership is a 'gift' in many ways. There is no rhyme or reason to it, it just is.

There is a magnetism about a leader which qualifies them for the role, and as other have said this can be good or bad.

I believe leaders carry a sense of certainty, clarity and confidence. This is what causes others to want to follow them.

They don't have to use a big stick, they use charisma, even charm, to draw others to them, and there is no coercion involved. People want to follow them. They don't have to ask. They inspire the confidence that they exude, and are a loyal to those who are under them, as much as they inspire the loyalty of others. No task is too mean or small for them, and they lead by example.

I also think great leaders display a sense of compassion, as well as wit. It allows for the humanity of others, as well as their own. Nothing helps more in a dire situation than the ability to lighten it with a sense of humour, or let compassion have a voice.

True leaders are authentic people, where others don't feel the need to second guess their intentions. In other words, trustworthy. Or as Gary said, not hypocrites.
 
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thomas aagaard

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#12
Depend on who you are leading.
Commanding a regiment of volunteers demand a different personality or at least way of doing things compared to commanding a battalion of regulars.

And it is the same at the top of the system.
Some times orders that are detailed is needed. Other times a loose instruction is fine. Depend on who is getting the order and how much information you have about the situation.

And things change over time with technology as the commander no longer influence men by being there on the front lines.
 
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#13
Well in the 1860s a good leader would have been a man of good character from a respected family that was willing to take the same risks as his soldiers which is why many of the commanders especially regimental commanders came from the same area as their troops they would have been known already.

If you look at Robert Gould Shaw from the famed 54th he had everything to lose a promising career, a wealthy background and the men he was commanding had nothing , Men respect that its like a level playing field a bullet will kill rich and poor alike.
 
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#14
These questions came from another site called Aeon. I was reading about Xenophon and how he had been in a disastrous military effort and retreat and it got me to thinking about the leaders from the Civil War - either side - and especially how the average soldier kept on. They had their desertions back then too, btw.

So who do you think had it and why.

"What makes a good leader? What kind of leader can induce humans to endure hardships and expend effort toward a common goal? What exemplary traits mark out a leader and allow him or her to execute the requisite tasks with skill, induce a harmonious fellowship among those for whom he is responsible, maintain loyalty and mission clarity among the ‘troops’, whomever they might be?"
We also have to keep in mind that good leadership can only take an army so far. If men are coerced into going into the army and or demoralized by hunger , defeat and concerns about their loved ones then that is a huge problem.
Soldiers have to believe their risks and sacrifices are worth it.
The above challenges can not always be overcome by outstanding charisma.
Leftyhunter
 
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#16
Your people understand that you have been ordered to take the hill. If they believe that you care about them and have their best interests at heart and you lead them they will follow you. If they don't they will kill you.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

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#17
As far as flag grade leaders , I don't know. As an NCO I took care of my people and the mission, if the Company Grade and field grade officers did the same they were good leaders and we'd charge hell with a bucket of water for them.What Flag Grades do in the puzzle palace is above my pay grade as long as they didn't get my people killed, then just stay out of our way and most importantly your own way and keep the ammo and chow coming regularly.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#18
Boy, what a tough question @NH Civil War Gal , and a good one. Added to ' all of the above ', some terrific, thoughtful answers there's still something awfully elusive no one's quite pinned down, isn't there? I'm not equipped to pin it down either although will go as far as saying the genuinely great leaders have been somehow singular, each in their own way. Sure, leadership is isolating but those we're speaking of always seem to me to be extraordinarily self contained and self reliant, maybe almost loners in a social context. ' Loner ' is a poor word since we associate it with those who consider themselves misfits or social rebels- not what I mean.

Like I said, tough to pin down- there's just something.
 

Story

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#20
The above challenges can not always be overcome by outstanding charisma.
Leftyhunter
On a tangent, being a good leader means knowing your limitations.

Specifically, in all of my readings about the final days of the Confederacy and looking at those Regimental returns shrink, I got the distinct sense that the much of the lower leadership were 'bleeding off' their Companies during the winter of 64-65.

Think about it - if you're leading your neighbors (and friends) and you 1) know how far it is to home, 2) that the spring planting season is coming, 3) that the rule of law in the lands between you and your people extended as far as a constable's musket shot and 4) the war is lost, would you not give tacit guidance to four-man mess groups to head West to make their ways back as best they could?
 



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