Column: Basics of leadership are in this army manual; are they in yours?

Sarah was a reasonably successful small business owner with 20 employees. She had all the technical skills needed for her business.


She introduced herself to me after my keynote presentation to an annual association’s conference we both attended and said, “I have never had any real training on how to lead people. Where do I start?”

Have you ever felt like Sarah?

It never ceases to amaze me how often I get this question in my travels around the country, interacting with businesses and professional organizations. I am certainly delighted by people who want to learn. But I am also discouraged because the reason for their question is most likely the result of getting little or no guidance by their leaders at work.

I normally recommend a good book for starters. However, a much better, long-term solution to the problem is what I will highlight in this article. The recommendation described here is a proven fundamental the Army used for decades by thousands of leaders.

The Army’s Field Manual 6-22 Foundations of Army Leadership (12 October 2006) is an outstanding source on leadership. The Army continues to update this manual, with each version getting better. It highlights essential leadership competencies that define what success looks like.

The Army’s leadership manuals, combined with the competencies listed on the annual performance appraisals for leaders, make it abundantly clear what is most important from the Army’s perspective.

The Army highlights core leadership competencies that everyone throughout the organization needs to achieve.

There are additional leadership competencies commensurate with a leader’s level of responsibility. And finally, identification of them is the easy part; to gain proficiency in them requires training, tireless practice, and feedback.

Learning to lead is a fulfilling and enriching experience. Read on to learn more about each of the three elements of this process. Smile! Enjoy the journey!


Identify Core Leadership Competencies: Clearly defined core competencies shine a bright light on the fundamentals of solid leadership for everyone in the organization. Some examples for consideration to get you started in leading yourself include: commits to learning, seeks self-awareness (strengths and weaknesses), possesses interpersonal skills, communicates effectively, solves problems, and takes initiative.

Examples for leading others include: listens with intent to understand, develops others, motivates, delegates effectively, holds people accountable, instills trust, builds confidence, and builds relationships.


Identify Competencies for Those in Leadership Positions: At lower levels in the organization, leaders have daily contact with most of their people. These are front line and middle level managers who are engaged in day-to-day operations, where the action is. The environment is generally less complex than at higher levels. Representative competencies at these levels include: coaches subordinates, achieves results, sets clear goals, makes good decisions, holds people accountable, addresses conflict, manages tasks, implements policies and procedures, and enforces discipline and adherence to standards.

As one progresses up in the organization, responsibilities and authorities expand dramatically. At the senior or executive level, the environment is characterized by increased complexity, higher risk, greater uncertainty and less direct control over subordinate echelons.

Representative competencies at these levels include: sets vision and mission, designs and implements strategy, designs organizations and structures, leads change, clarifies roles and responsibilities, synchronizes actions, shapes the culture, plans and organizes, achieves results, develops policies and procedures, builds teams, and communicates effectively.

There is overlap, of course. The key is to identify the competencies for your people in your organization.


Help People Achieve Success: The final task in this process is for the CEO or business owner to ensure programs are established to help people learn the behaviors that enable competency achievement. Education and training is important, as is an effective feedback environment that enables learning.

For example, the competency of “listen with the intent to understand” has behaviors that might include: look the person in the eye, take notes, don’t interrupt, and repeat back to the person what you heard. These behaviors help you become proficient in the competency of listening.

Document the competencies in your employee handbook so people know what the expectations are of them. Put systems in place that help people learn. Making competencies visible into your annual performance appraisal system brings them to life.

Counseling my subordinates and being counseled by my superiors were enriching experiences.

People of all generations, including millennials, are seeking ways to grow as leaders. Investing in a program that helps them can be a catalyst for attracting and retaining top talent.


Summary: Identify the leadership competencies needed to be successful in your profession. Seek growth yourself and help those in your organization so they do not have to ask others how to get started, like Sarah.

Now, armed with this new knowledge (or a reminder of old knowledge), what new decisions or actions are you going to take in 2018?


Jeffrey W. Foley is a Certified Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered coach, leadership consultant and author. His email address is:; website:



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