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Is This The Best We Have?
An Analysis of Leadership Traits

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Continued from the February 2012 Home Page. To go to an archived version of that page, click here: February 2012 Home Page Archive. To return to this month's actual Home Page, click on the Signal Corps orange Home Page menu item in the upper left corner of this page.


General William (Billy) Mitchell

General Billy MitchellBilly Mitchell was one of the most controversial combat leaders in aviation history. He is most renowned for his vision. He was bold, outspoken and had an extremely rebellious personality that had a way of rubbing his superiors the wrong way. However, his genius was evident by his ideas and accomplishments. He thrived on the excitement of conflict. General Mitchell's forte as a combat commander became evident during the First World War. There the colorful Mitchell would cut red tape and get things done no matter what was in the way. Mitchell had vision, singleness of purpose, and the flair for the dramatic. He never kept quiet. His vision was of no value unless others heard what he had to say. "Mitchell had four key leadership traits which particularly stand out. They were discipline, technical expertise, loyalty to his men, and bravery." Summarizing: Billy Mitchell was bold and rebellious, yet had the vision and drive that made what he had to say in his outspoken manner worth listening to. Additionally, when the time or circumstances required it, he could be ruthless in getting the job done. His flamboyant personality thrived on excitement and the dramatic. Although not known as an academician, he knew the value of professional education and technical expertise. He was a leader, not a manager. He left the managing to others, like he did in WWI when he let General Foulois handle the logistics. His candid and lucid foresight were often ignored by his superiors because he was not the "organizational man." In the end, his visions were proven out by events.

General John J. Pershing

General John. J. PershingGeneral John J. "Black Jack" Pershing believed that command in wartime and popularity do not go hand-in-hand. To insure strict obedience to orders, he trained hard, believed that the battlefield was no place for weak leaders, and led by the example of his own high standards. In this, he was successful, as demonstrated by his combat victories in WWI. However, he was found lacking in one trait usually displayed by good leaders: if he ever attempted to understand people, little of it has been documented. He was completely oriented to the achievement of the objective at hand, and used any means to complete the mission.







General Douglas MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthurMacArthur was a brilliant student who never quit striving for knowledge. He seemed so trained and organized in his mental processes that, in approaching a problem, he could leap across space and arrive at a conclusion that was often uncanny in its accuracy. His swift and lightning decisions were apparently the result of a logical mind, an unusual sense of psychological awareness and a tremendously strong code of moral values. He had an excellent understanding of his position in relation to others and an understanding of human nature. One of his greatest concerns was the welfare of his men. His eloquence in writing and speaking are among his most famous traits. But down deep, his desire was to lead men and to attain great heights and glory in the military.







General George S. Patton

General George S. PattonGeneral Patton was the most experienced soldier to ever lead America into combat. Both of his grandfathers were combat veterans, and he considered the profession of arms his life. He was not a very strong student, and because of his difficulty with mathematics, spent a fifth year in West Point. Later, he led the first American tank unit into battle during WWI. Between the wars he developed his knowledge of armor and tactics. He was well known for his propensity for saying exactly what was on his mind. This was a trait that led to his constantly being in trouble with superiors. He, like General Billy Mitchell, was noted for his vision. He predicted, long before it came to pass, that Japan would attack Pearl Harbor and that we would also enter a war with Nazi Germany.

During the Second World War his successes were brilliant during the invasion of North Africa and Sicily. However, he was suspended from command for slapping a private who was a patient in a hospital. After WWII, Patton was so convinced of the Soviet threat that he started a major controversy over his view. He felt that the US must be prepared for this threat by universal military training. Once again, his willingness to take a controversial stand, and use an untactful approach to subjects he had strong feelings about, resulted in his removal from command in October 1945. Some say that his lack of self-discipline was a weakness of integrity or character. He demanded loyalty but would, on the other hand, violently disagree with his superiors. He spoke his mind—no matter the consequences.

General Patton's will to win was paramount, no matter the cost. He honed his wartime skills by constantly practicing in peacetime. Patton led his men by several means. He talked to them and gave inspiring speeches. He led by example. He was always at the front line in the heat of battle. He believed in discipline, and used his personal leadership techniques and showmanship to inspire his troops. He always took the initiative and was a "hands on" leader. He had no patience for those who failed to follow orders and detested leaders who didn't take care of their troops. He rewarded outstanding performance. Although he was an impatient planner, he never walked the fence of indecision. Many pictured him as overbearing and demanding.

Despite the constant turmoil surrounding General Patton, he was one of the most successful combat leaders of modern warfare. Could it be that many of his idiosyncrasies were the manifestations of genius?

General Curtis E. LeMay

General Curtis LeMayGeneral LeMay, a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) student at Ohio State, was another great leader that somehow didn't quite fit into the academic community. After the end of four years of school, he lacked fifteen hours to graduate. He had failed an engineering course two years in a row because it was a morning class that he slept through. He was working six days a week on the swing shift in a steel foundry. He later made a name for himself in the tactical and technical development of long range aviation and strategic bombardment. He was not a fabulous student and couldn't be considered an academic genius. He wasn't known as a great orator, yet he could get the point across and had tremendous drive to succeed. He had a great deal of physical stamina and intellectual curiosity. He is known for his genius as a military tactician, strategist, and leader.





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Some of the traits that these and many other great leaders hold in common are these:

  • Great leaders seek out and meet challenges head on. They don't wait for a problem to jump up and bite them in the bottom before they act on it. Instead, they anticipate problems, search for the cause, and work to resolve the matter before it ever happens.

  • They thrive on added responsibility.

  • A common trait is that they are not known for their academic achievements, but do know the value of a good education and the importance of a continuing quest for knowledge. Because of this they usually surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are.

  • Hard work is well known to great leaders. They worked hard in their youth and maintained good physical conditioning throughout their lives to complement the mental process.

  • They all know how to lead men to attain objectives.

  • The ability to think, plan, and foresee, as well as communicate their ideas and plans, is a mark of their genius.

  • They were fighters that cared for their people, and yet were at the same time calculated risk-takers.

  • Amongst them, they share these qualities: a sense of genius, charisma, self-confidence, a thirst for information, Reader's responseintellectual curiosity, they are detail oriented, possess a genius of intuition, have moral courage, are aggressive fighters, tenacious, bold, outspoken, they lead by example, are hands-on leaders, lead from the front, are excellent tacticians, display moral probity, are truthful, honest, display a visible core of integrity, are excellent administrators, and even better leaders.

Oh, and if you think some of this applies to you, it's probably because it does. U.S. Army Signal Corps Officers hold these traits too. Most hold them dearly, living them in their daily lives.

Now, if we could only get a selection of politicians to vote for—men and women who display these traits—then everything would be fine.




Reference Materials Used In This Article Came From The Following Source:

Biographies of the Generals listed were taken from the publication Combat Leadership, A Historical Analysis of Traits Definition and How It Differs From Peacetime Leadership; by Lt. Col. Robert P. Hansen, 1989. The document is a publication of the U.S. military, and is available in the public domain.

This page originally posted 1 February 2012 

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