Plays Well With Others – Eight Behaviors of Excellent Leaders

The US military knows a bit about leadership.

Last week,  I talked about one of the worst type of management scenarios to work under – the micromanager.  Now, let’s take that conversation from the “Dark Side” into the light to talk about great leaders.

To say that Dr. William Cohen knows a few things about leadership is approximately the same as saying that Moby Dick was a fish.  Not only was Cohen a former Air Force major general, university president, and business leader, but he has many degrees (including a PhD) and even holds several engineering patents.  One of the many books authored by Dr. Cohen is the 1998 Best Business Book of the Year, The Stuff of Heroes, also considered by many to be one of the ten best leadership books of all times.

If you’ve ever had a desire to lead, I recommend reading this book.  But even if you never read it, Dr. Cohen’s lessons are intriguing.  Even a quick list, like I’m presenting here, offers a lot of practical advice.  This summary can’t do Dr. Cohen’s material justice, but here are the main behaviors of extraordinary leaders, as revealed by his research:

  1. Maintain absolute integrity.
  2. Know your stuff.
  3. Declare your expectations.
  4. Show uncommon commitment.
  5. Expect positive results.
  6. Take care of your people.
  7. Put duty before self.
  8. Get out in front.

A common cliché these days is that someone is “a born leader”.  The better adage is that leaders are made, not born.  Consider the eight behaviors above.  Which of those behaviors require innate ability and are not something that can be learned?  None of them!  In fact, closer inspection of the eight behaviors of excellent leaders shows pretty clearly, at least in my mind, that each behavior results from a conscious decision on the part of the leader to behave in a certain way.

In effect, great leaders are constantly mindful that they are scrutinized by the teams which they lead, are committed to those teams and the results they deliver.  Whereas poor leaders spend lots of time thinking about what their teams can do for them, great leaders think about what they can do to make their teams produce better results.

We could spend more than one article on each of these eight behaviors.  (And we actually can, if popular demand takes us in that direction).  So take a few moments and think about both the great and the terrible leaders in your experience.  Compare their behavior to Dr. Cohen’s checklist.  How do they come out?  I’ll bet that they are probably doing a good job of exhibiting the eight behaviors of excellent leaders.  Now that you’ve thought about it – share your thoughts!  Send me your emails with examples of excellent leadership in action or, sometimes even better, share your stories of leadership train crashes!

If you don’t have the opportunity to lays hands on Dr. Cohen’s book, at least look up his web site and read more there.  I’d start with his recommendations for 30 Vital Actions for Leaders at and then explore from there.

And as always, your comments and thoughts are appreciated.

– Kevin

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