Eleven Principles of Leadership

The following eleven principles of leadership may look familiar to those who have served in the United States Navy. They are the guiding principles for leadership for the Navy and the Marine Corps. They are presented here in a universal context that can be applied to both the corporate and military environments.

Developing these 11 leadership principles will help make you a better leader. Together, they will form a set of traits and values that define your character as a leader. Adopting these principles will guide your actions with your employees and your company, and provide direction throughout your career. These principles are also an important tool for self-evaluation. You can use them to identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and seek self-improvement.

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement

Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. An accurate and clear understanding of yourself and a comprehension of group behavior will help you determine the best way to deal with any given situation.

  • Make an honest evaluation of yourself to determine your strong and weak personal qualities.
  • Seek the honest opinions of your friends and superiors to show you how to improve your leadership ability.
  • Learn by studying the causes of success or failure of other leaders.
  • Develop a genuine interest in people.
  • Have specific goals and definite plans to attain them.
  • Have a systematic personal reading program that emphasizes not only professional subjects but also includes topics to help you understand people, both as individuals, and in their functioning groups.

2. Be technically and tactically proficient

Demonstrate your ability to accomplish the mission and be capable of answering questions. Maintain a high level of competence in your occupation and specialty. Your proficiency will earn the respect of your people.

  • Know what is expected of you, and then expend time and energy on becoming proficient at those things.
  • Form an attitude early on of seeking to learn more than is necessary.
  • Observe and study the actions of capable leaders.
  • Spend time with those people who are recognized as technically and tactically proficient. Learn as much as you can from them.
  • Seek feedback from technically and tactically competent people concerning your own performance. Be willing to change.
  • Seek opportunities to apply knowledge through the exercise of command. Good leadership is acquired only through practice.
  • Prepare yourself for the job of the leader at the next higher rank.

3. Know your subordinates and look out for their welfare

You should know your people and how they react to different situations. Knowledge of your people’s personalities will enable you, as the leader, to decide how best to manage each person and determine when close supervision is needed.

  • Put the welfare of the women and men for whom you are accountable before your own welfare.
  • See the members of your unit, and let them see you, so that every one of them may know you and feel that you know them. Be approachable.
  • Let them see that you are determined to fully prepare them for the accomplishment of all missions.
  • Know your unit’s mental attitude; keep in touch with their thoughts.
  • Ensure fair and equal distribution of rewards.

4. Keep your subordinates informed

Informed employees perform better and, if knowledgeable of the situation, can carry on without your personal supervision. Providing information can inspire initiative and will ensure your people have enough information to do their job intelligently.

  • Whenever possible, explain why tasks must be done and any pertinent amplifying instruction.
  • Arrange to get sufficient feedback to assure yourself that immediate subordinates are passing on necessary information.
  • Be alert to detect the spread of rumors. Stop rumors by replacing them with the truth.
  • Build morale and esprit de corps by publicizing information concerning successes of your unit.
  • Keep your unit informed about current policies and initiatives affecting their pay, promotion, privileges and other benefits.

5. Set the example

Set the standard for your employees by personal example. Your employees will watch your appearance, attitude and personal example. If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same of your employees.

  • Show your subordinates that you are willing to do the same things you ask them to do.
  • Be physically fit, well-groomed and correctly dressed.
  • Maintain an optimistic outlook.
  • Conduct yourself so that your personal habits are not open to criticism.
  • Exercise initiative and regard the spirit of initiative of your subordinates within your unit.
  • Avoid showing favoritism to any subordinate.
  • Delegate authority and avoid over-supervision, in order to develop leadership among subordinates.

6. Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished

Before you can expect your employees to perform, they need to know what is expected of them. Communicate your instructions in a clear, concise manner, and allow your people a chance to ask questions. Check progress periodically to confirm the assigned task is properly accomplished. But, avoid micromanaging your people or the task.

  • Issue every directive as if it were your own.
  • Use the established chain of command.
  • Encourage subordinates to ask questions concerning any point in your instructions or directives they do not understand.
  • Question subordinates to determine if there is any doubt or misunderstanding in regard to the task to be accomplished.
  • Supervise the execution of your orders.
  • Exercise care and thought in supervision. Over-supervision hurts initiative and creates resentment; under-supervision will not get the job done.

7. Train your unit as a team

When training or instruction is necessary, train your employees with a purpose and emphasize the essential elements of teamwork and realism. Be sure that all employees know their positions and responsibilities within the team framework.

  • Study, prepare and train thoroughly, endlessly.
  • Encourage unit participation in recreational and company events.
  • Do not publicly blame an individual for the team’s failure or praise just an individual for the team’s success.
  • Ensure that training is meaningful, and that the purpose is clear to all members of the team or organization.
  • Train your team based on realistic conditions.
  • Insist that every person understands the functions of the other members of the team, and the functions of the team as a part of the unit.

8. Make sound and timely decisions

Rapidly estimate a situation and make a sound decision based on that estimation. There is no room for reluctance to make a decision. Should you discover you have made a wrong decision, revise it. Your employees will respect the leader who corrects mistakes immediately.

  • Develop a logical and orderly thought process by practicing objective estimates of the situation.
  • When time and situation permit, plan for every possible event that can reasonably be foreseen.
  • Consider the advice and suggestions of your subordinates before making decisions.
  • Make sure your people are familiar with your policies and plans.
  • Consider the effects of your decisions on all members of your unit.

9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates

Show your employees that you are interested in their welfare by giving them the opportunity for professional development. Assigning tasks and delegating authority promotes mutual confidence and respect between the leader and the team.

  • Operate through the chain of command.
  • Provide clear, well-thought-out directions.
  • Give your subordinates frequent opportunities to perform duties normally performed by senior personnel.
  • Be quick to recognize your subordinates’ accomplishments when they demonstrate initiative and resourcefulness.
  • Correct errors in judgment and initiative in a way which will encourage the individual to try harder.
  • Give advice and assistance freely when it is requested by your subordinates.
  • Let your people know that you will accept honest errors without punishment in return.
  • Resist the urge to micromanage.
  • Be prompt and fair in backing subordinates.
  • Accept responsibility willingly, and insist that your subordinates live by the same standard.

10. Employ your team or organization in accordance with its capabilities

Successful completion of a task depends upon how well you know your group’s capabilities. Seek out challenging tasks for your organization, but be sure they are prepared for and has the ability to successfully complete the mission.

  • Avoid volunteering your unit for tasks that are beyond its capabilities.
  • Be sure that tasks assigned to subordinates are reasonable.
  • Assign tasks equally among your subordinates.
  • Use the full capabilities of your unit before requesting assistance.

11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

Actively seek out challenging assignments for your professional development. Seeking responsibilities also means that you take the responsibility for your actions.  You are responsible for all that your team does or fails to do. Stick by your convictions and be willing to accept justified and constructive criticism.

  • Learn the duties of your immediate senior, and be prepared to accept the responsibilities of these duties.
  • Seek a variety of leadership positions that will give you experience in accepting responsibility in different fields.
  • Take every opportunity that offers increased responsibility.
  • Perform every task to the best of your ability.
  • Stand up for what you think is right; have courage in your convictions.
  • Carefully evaluate a subordinate’s failure before taking action against that subordinate.
  • In the absence of orders, take the initiative to perform the actions you believe your senior would direct you to perform if present.

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Sources -

Maxwell Air Force Base (Montgomery, Alabama), United States Air Force Air War College, Gateway to the Internet Home Page - United States Navy – Leadership Principles – http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/navy/leadership_principles.pdf

Marine Officer “The Basic School” – Quantico, Virginia - Marine Officer – Leadership Principles – http://officer.marines.com/marine/making_marine_officers/basic_school/principles

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16 Responses to “Eleven Principles of Leadership”

  1. Trading your post it came back to me my naval academy time and the ten tears spent on board.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Thomas Reesbeck Says:

    Interesting post.

  3. Read this and wondering. How much can be developed, trained and how much depends on character? So the question is if leadership is a gift or a trained skill?

    • These principles can be trained, or should I say strengthened, in those who are developing into leaders. Much of it does depend on one’s character. But, ‘character’ can also be developed. Leadership is only a ‘gift’ if you’ve earned the confidence, faith and trust in your subordinates. The ‘gift’ is followership. Bottom line is that you are not necessarily born to be a leader. Over the course of one’s life, if one is exposed to the values and principles that can develop one’s character, then one can be trained (better said, developed) to become a leader. But, again, I emphasize that one never becomes a good leader without employing these principles in the company of his peers, subordinates and superiors. A good leader has the high moral character to have willing and passionate followers. One is not born into these things. They develop over one’s entire lifetime. Even if one never becomes a leader or manager, the values and principles I’ve discussed still develop within us, as long as we are brought into the right environment where they can be instilled in us and developed.

  4. Hello Dale,

    Thank you for subscribing to my blog, I look forward to getting your updates as well!

  5. kmabarrett Says:

    Leaders lead. They do it because they are compelled to do it. They do not, however, all lead the same way – or start leading the same way.
    Some do it at work, some at church, some in our families and some in the community. But, they do lead. This allows for an incredible spectrum of opportunities throughout one’s life to begin leading and then to grow into a more general and visible leader.
    I believe there are three critical facets: integrity, intelligence and initiative. You can be born with all three and you can develop all three to become a better leader.
    Of the three, the true test is initiative – if you see something is wrong, do you try to fix it… Integrity helps you see the problem (if its moral). Intelligence helps you gather, assimilate and decide on the correct course. But in the end, you must be willing to stand up and take the initiative to make positive change.

  6. Lori Gilmore Says:

    Very good post! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Hi Dale,
    As usual, I have really enjoyed reading your post. It is interesting how aligned, yet subtly different, the key points you make are between military and civilian leadership. You continue to challenge my thinking and add to my knowledge, for which I am grateful. I also particularly enjoyed reading your response to Robert Kowalski and the emphasis on character. I am regularly disappointed by the lack of character and standards in leaders I come across – this is not to say that I have perfected the art myself but I would like to think I am known for following through on my convictions, values and ethical standards. My point is that it is difficult to have ‘success’ as a leader when people feel and see the lack of character and integrity. Frankly, I believe people can smell a lack of character a mile off! From that point no manner of leadership abilities will help. I align this thinking to values, both the aware of your own, others around you and following through on these through actions, not just words. Thanks again Dale..and know that your blogs are worth writing because they are certainly worth reading!

    Steve Riddle: coachstation.com.au

  8. [...] The following eleven principles of leadership may look familiar to those who have served in the United States Navy. They are the guiding principles for leadership for the Navy and the Marine Corps….  [...]

  9. [...] the mission and improving the organization.[ii]  To accomplish this, the leader employs the principles of leadership, core values and the qualities that lead to success.[iii]  Within these two definitions are three [...]

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