Military Leadership

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Within the U.S. military, leadership is generally considered something of a given. It is a fundamental ingredient of warfare, without which the outcome of a combat operation cannot be assured. The leader is the brain, the motive power of command, upon whom subordinates rely for guidance and wisdom, and depend upon for good judgment. The leader must be determined, unflappable and charismatic; confident in delegation of authority; able to combine the various strands of command into a common thread; seasoned, intelligent, and thoughtful.

When judging the qualities of leadership, there is a tendency to think of the gifted, or natural leader, involving some expectation that leadership is an inherent personality quality that some have, and others have not. Military history is full of “born leaders,” suggesting that “inspired leadership” is the only true measure of the trait. For a very long time the American people relied on the emergence of just such an individual when necessity demanded it, and fortunately the country has been well‐served in this respect. Much of this has been due to American military egalitarianism, which presumed that any individual, regardless of background, could lead a body of troops in combat as long as the leader had the requisite ability. An obvious case in point is the Civil War, which gave rise to a number of gifted commanders—Joshua Chamberlain, Nathan Bedford Forrest, John Logan, and Nelson A. Miles, to name but a few—who yet had little, if any, military training. So great was the renown of such natural leaders that a veritable school of military command grew up around them, declaring that genius alone was the true sign of leadership, and that leaders were born, not made.

As the army matured and professionalized after the Civil War, these sorts of arguments met the resistance of educational reformers who argued that certain principles of leadership could be taught, given the proper lessons from military history. Beginning in the...
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