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Center for Military Veterans, Service Members and Families

Thoughts On Leadership

10 Ways to Become a Better Leader

Improve Your Leadership Skills

By Kendra Cherry

How would you describe a strong leader? In one leadership study, qualities such as assertiveness, adaptability, intelligence and conscientiousness were cited as the most important. "Research clearly shows that transformational leaders - leaders who are positive, inspiring, and who empower and develop followers - are better leaders," explains psychologist and leadership expert Ronald E. Riggio. "They are more valued by followers and have higher performing teams."

So what can you do embrace these characteristics and become a better leader? Transformational leaders are usually described as enthusiastic, passionate, genuine and energetic. These leaders are not just concerned about helping the group achieve its goals; they also care about helping each member of the group reach his or her full potential.

Consider some of the following tips for how to become a better leader and think about ways that you can implement these strategies in your daily life.

1.  Learn More About Your Leadership Style

Understanding your current leadership style is essential. What are your strengths? Which areas need some improvement? One way to start assessing your skills is to take this leadership style quiz to get a general idea of how you lead. Once you have completed the quiz, read about the major characteristics of your dominant style. Are these qualities helping or hindering your leadership? Once you've determine which areas need some work, you can begin looking for ways to improve your leadership abilities.

2.  Encourage Creativity

Intellectual stimulation is one of the hallmarks of transformational leadership. Followers need to be encouraged to express their creativity. Effective leaders should offer new challenges with ample support to achieve these goals. One way to foster creativity is to offer challenges to group members, making sure that the goals are within the grasp of their abilities. The purpose of this type of exercise is to get people to stretch their limits, but to not become discouraged by barriers to success.

3.  Serve As a Role Model

Idealized influence is another of the four key components of transformational leadership. Transformational leaders exemplify the behaviors and characteristics that they encourage in their followers. They walk the walk and talk the talk. As a result, group members admire these leaders and work to emulate these behaviors. If you want to become a better leader, work on modeling the qualities that you would like to see in your team members.

4.  Be Passionate

Would you look to someone for guidance and leadership if they did not truly care about the goals of the group? Of course not! Great leaders are not just focused on getting group members to finish tasks; they have a genuine passion and enthusiasm for the projects they work on. Start by thinking of different ways that you can express your zeal. Let people know that you care about their progress. When one person shares something with the rest of the group, be sure to tell them how much you appreciate such contributions.

5.  Listen and Communicate Effectively

Another important characteristic of transformational leadership involves a focus on providing one-on-one communication with group members. Good leaders should express sincere care and concern for the members of their group both verbally and nonverbally. By keeping the lines of communication open, these leaders can ensure that group members feel able to make contributions and receive recognition for their achievements.

6.  Have a Positive Attitude

Transformational leaders have an upbeat, optimistic attitude that serves as a source of inspiration for followers. If leaders seem discouraged or apathetic, members of the group are likely to also become uninspired. Even when things look bleak and your followers start to feel disheartened, try to stay positive. This does not mean viewing things through rose-colored glasses. It simply means maintaining a sense of optimism and hope in the face of challenges.

7.  Encourage People to Make Contributions

Let the members of your team know that you welcome their ideas. Leaders who encourage involvement from group members are often referred to as democratic or participative leaders. While they retain the final say over all decisions, they encourage team members to take an active role in coming up with ideas and plans. Research has shown that using a democratic leadership style leads to greater commitment, more creative problem-solving and improved productivity.

8.  Motivate Your Followers

Transformational leaders also provide inspirational motivation to encourage their followers to get into action. Of course, being inspirational isn't always easy. Fortunately, you don't need motivational speeches to rouse your group members. Some ideas for leadership inspiration include being genuinely passionate about ideas or goals, helping followers feel included in the process and offering recognition, praise and rewards for people's accomplishments.

9.  Offer Rewards and Recognition

A good leader knows that offering effective recognition and rewards is one of the best ways to help followers feel appreciated and happy. It may also come as no surprise that happy people tend to perform better at work. According to researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, leaders can help group members feel happier by offering help, removing barriers to success and rewarding strong efforts.

Susan M. Heathfield offers some great tips on how leaders can express recognition and reward team members. Some of these strategies include listening without distraction, putting your praise in writing and publicly thanking people for their efforts.

10.  Keep Trying New Things

Who says leadership is a one-way relationship? As you work toward honing your leadership skills, don't forget to look to your followers for feedback an inspiration. Pay attention to the things that have been effective in the past and always be on the lookout for new ways to inspire, motivate and reward group members.


Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (2011). Do happier people work harder? The New York Times. Retrieved from

Riggio, R.E. (2009, March 24). Are you a transformational leader. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Riggio, R. E. (2009, Oct. 29). Four things you can do to become a better leader. Psychology Today. Retrieved from


Eight Common Traits of Military Personnel that are not so Common in the Civilian Workplace

June 23rd, 2014

Christy Rutherford

As members of the military, we are evaluated bi-annually or annually on certain performance criteria. These traits are simple and basic to service members and most of those we serve with, and sometimes it’s not apparent to us that a large number of non-military people don’t share the same “combined” traits.

Military members are conditioned to operate differently than civilians, and these traits can give us a competitive advantage in the job search if we are aware of them. Since they’re common to us, we may not be aware of them, or of how these combined traits set us apart from others. We need to highlight these traits in our interviews, showing the competitive edge we bring and how we can make significant contributions to the company we’re applying to.

Here are 8 top traits to make sure you mention:

1. Dependability

Dependability is a key characteristic of veterans and is drilled into us at our entry source. When we say we are going to do something, we’re expected to follow through all the way to the end, whether the task is simple or complex. We are trained to figure it out, or use others to gain necessary input, and only seek guidance from the senior person once we have exhausted all other resources and need their expertise to complete the task.

But “simple” to military can be “complex” to others. If an appointment is made two weeks from now, a phone call is not necessary to remind us or re-confirm whether or not the appointment is still valid. We will show up on time at the specified location. If something changes, we will call to let the person know. We won’t just flake and not show without proper notification.

2. Integrity

It’s a big deal to lie in the military. My favorite saying is “When you lie, people die.” We are taught to take full responsibility for our actions, and if wrong, we would rather suffer the consequences of being wrong than lie and be caught.

People outside of the military don’t have as many severe consequences for being untruthful, so a “little white lie” that may seem harmless to others is not so little to us.

3. Decision-Making

Military personnel are conditioned to make decisions quickly. When decision-making in a two-minute time frame determines whether or not someone lives or dies, we are taught to use experience, gut and intuition.

There is rarely a time that 100% of the information will be available to make a decision, so we’re taught to use what we have, make the decision and then “make it right.” We aren’t afraid to make decisions and then make corrections along the way if we encounter unforeseen challenges.   

4. Looking Out for Others

Camaraderie is huge. We uplift the weakest point in the chain because we can’t afford for the chain to be broken. We are all about accomplishing the mission at hand and know that it can’t be done alone — it’s all for one and one for all.

Without request, we will step up to help others because we are for the mission and not personal gain. If our colleague looks bad, it’s a negative reflection on the team; and we’re more willing to go the extra mile to help fill in the gap because we feel the weak team member is a direct reflection of our performance.

5. Initiative

We are conditioned to seek additional tasking, go above and beyond, and complete tasks with haste and minimal guidance or direction from our seniors. If we are clear on the task, we will drive it all the way home and surpass expectations.

6. Tenacity

We can be counted on to complete complex tasks. Military members love a good challenge; the more challenging, the better. But “challenging” is relative, as most of our missions require a different mindset and skill set than that of our civilian counterparts.

What may take a civilian four months to do can be done in four days by a military member. (Seriously!) Some veterans have challenges finding mentally stimulating work in the civilian sector, so please choose a job that will challenge you.

7. Professional Presence

Grooming standards are very important to military members. Clean-cut, neat hair, shaven, clothes ironed, shoes polished. We give eye contact when we talk to people, walk with great posture, remain aware of our surroundings and greet others in passing. When we separate, we carry most of these traits with us into our civilian career (with the small exception of the beard, as some men love the idea of growing beards).

These are all elements that contribute to a professional appearance and presence.

8. Adaptability

Most military members move every two to four years, depending on their rank and desire for upward mobility. We are well-traveled and exposed to different cultures, since living in six different states over a 14-year period is not uncommon. Most civilians don’t move as often or face the uncertainty of which country or state they’ll reside in with five months’ notice.

We hope to move to Georgia from Texas, only to find out we got Alaska. While working full-time, we get five months to coordinate how to move a spouse, three kids, two dogs, the entire contents of a four-bedroom house and two cars to a part of the country where we don’t have any friends or family, don’t know if there are good schools and have no leads on employment opportunities for our spouse.

It can be nerve-wracking. However, we get it done without fail and make it all work; only to do it all again three years later. We are highly adaptable — and without complaint.


Our Value Is Not Only In Our Tangible Achievements

Sometimes military members are nervous about separating from the military because we don’t know how our skills and value convert into the civilian sector.  For the most part, we recognize tangible achievements, such as rank, degree(s), certifications or medals we attained, but it’s the attributes that enabled us to achieve these that are important to highlight.

These traits can be lost upon us because they’re common in our lives and circles, but they aren’t that common in others. They are not only important to highlight in the interview, but are also key in the job search and in realizing our true value.

Leadership Skills? Follow the Leaders

By: Max Vogt

Leaders who hold the highest offices in the world have often abused their power with few negative consequences. As a result, the moral fiber of the workplace has diminished considerably as workers follow the lead of their often misguided managers. Managers who have serious performance issues with their employees may need to take a long, hard look into the ethical mirror of their business establishments and see what type of leadership reflection they see.

Integrity is personal

The overall integrity of a place of business is a direct reflection of the people who work there. Leaders set the moral tone of the organization. Therefore, moral decay leads to theft, fraud, and abuse of company assets by all employees. As workers follow their leaders, they may channel their energy and creativity into personal endeavors instead of focusing on their intended job functions. They may become abusive or inconsiderate of each other rather than working together as a team. They may boldly participate in counterproductive or illegal activities including email or internet abuse, excessive absenteeism or tardiness, violation of safety rules and other policies, destroying or falsifying company records, and creating conflicts of interest in the workplace.

Even when employees are not at liberty to imitate all the abuses of their company leaders, they may be less inclined to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Leaders have to chart the course

Company leaders who have taken moral inventory and found their places of business in arrears must be the initiators of change. Effective change starts at the top. Serious change takes time and money, as well as commitment. So the entire organization must be made aware of the "new direction" in which managers will be leading their teams. Outsourcing leadership training may be the boldest statement a business can make to demonstrate the importance of polishing the image of its leaders. But the organization's needs don't stop there. Clearly written and strictly enforced formal policies may help to underscore the seriousness of leadership commitment to ethical behavior. Cross-functional teams of employees may be the best source for identifying and addressing problem areas. The more everyone in the company is involved, the quicker and easier the changes will take place.

The approach must be upbeat

No matter what type of moral issues a company may be facing, a positive approach is critical. Instead of focusing on the negative behavior (although it does need to be mentioned), an organization may cultivate enthusiasm for the new initiative by focusing on the positive aspects of the change. By showing employees that the company genuinely cares about them and the environment in which they work, the change agent may be able to build momentum for the movement.

Employees know when they're doing something unethical and usually have some private justifications for their actions. In many cases, the justification may be that, "Everybody else is doing it, so it must be ok"; or, "The boss does it, so why can't I?" Most employees will embrace change when they see how it will improve the overall environment of the workplace. Also, most people do not object to rules as long as they apply equally to everybody, including the boss.

The basic premise is uncomplicated

Establishing the integrity of the workforce starts with good leadership. Moral fiber must be woven into the organization from the top and throughout every department. Integrity is not just a word; it is a way of doing business that should be reflected in every employee. Employers who provide their people with the resources they need to make ethical decisions will enjoy higher profits, more harmony among their associates, and leaders who will set a higher standard for a world of business leaders in moral deficit.

Leadership Development: Current Trends

INSALA: November 15, 2007

Leadership Shortages
Of organizations recently surveyed, 53% face leadership shortages, most of which are at the mid-management and director level.
- (High-Impact Leadership Development: Best Practices, Industry Solutions, and Vendor Profiles, Bersin & Associates, 2007)
With this crisis in full swing, the survey reported the biggest business drivers for leadership development programs are to:

  • increase the pool of internal leadership candidates
  • reduce gaps in leadership skills
  • grow leaders more quickly

Additional research from the Hay Group reports talent and leadership shortages for many businesses around the world. Consequently, focusing on identifying and managing the talents of high potential candidates will rise to the top of corporate agendas.
- (Hay Group, “Best Practices for Leaders,” 2006)

Leadership Development Creates Significant Business Benefits
Enlightened companies, already working to address leadership shortages, have formalized leadership development programs in place. According to recent research, those with the most mature programs are realizing significant business benefits including:

  • 600% increase in overall business impact from leadership development
  • 640% improvement in leadership bench strength
  • 480% improvement in leader engagement and retention
  • 570% improvement in overall employee retention

-       (High-Impact Leadership Development: Best Practices, Industry Solutions, and Vendor Profiles, Bersin & Associates, 2007)
Additional research links leadership development to shareholder return. The research found that top companies who identify and foster leadership talent perform better on the stock market. Their average 5 year total shareholder return beat the S&P 500 over the same period by 3.53%.
- (Hay Group, “Best Practices for Leaders,” 2006)

Competencies for Leadership Development
What is required for top leaders? A recent survey of 101 organizations reports the top 10 competencies chosen for leaders are:

  1. Leading Employees
  2. Building and Mending Relationships
  3. Risk-taking, Innovation
  4. Change Management
  5. Influencing, Leadership, Power
  6. Communicating Information, Ideas
  7. Brings Out the Best in People
  8. Taking Action, Making Decisions, Following Through
  9. Listening
  10. Flexibility

The competencies least chosen were:

  1. Sales
  2. Marketing
  3. Coping
  4. Innovator
  5. Decision Maker
  6. Business Knowledge
  7. International Business
  8. Perspective Taking
  9. Negotiator
  10. Cultural Adaptability

-       (William Gentry and Jean Brittain Leslie, “Competencies for Leadership Development: What’s Hot and What’s Not When Assessing Leadership-Implications for Organizational Development,” Center for Creative Leadership, 2007)

A 2002 review of literature in the field of leadership development, found 53 competencies associated with “global leadership” (M. Mendenhall and J. Osland, 2002). They found that each of the 53 competencies could be categorized into one of six core dimensions:

  1. Relationship (competencies related to developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships in global/cross-cultural contexts)
  2. Traits (core personality or habitual behavioral tendencies)
  3. Business Expertise (expertise in global business knowledge)
  4. Organizing Expertise (skills relating to organizing and structuring human and administrative processes in global contexts)
  5. Cognitive (core internal information processing tendencies and world-view)
  6. Vision (the ability to discern where an organization should go and the capability to rally subordinates to strive to achieve the vision)

Relationship building clearly is one of the most critical competencies for leaders, as it appears in the #1 and #2 slots in the lists above.

Critical Success Factors for Leadership Development
Research shows that leadership practices at global top companies are an inherent part of the culture, and that developing future leaders is simply a way of operating that must be intertwined with running the business (Global Top Companies for Leaders, Hewitt Associates, 2007).
Hewitt identified five key areas that set the Global Top Companies apart from other companies around the world - 3 of those focus on leadership development:

A Strategic Business Commitment to Developing Leaders:

  • 85% ensure that the selection and development of leaders is aligned with their business strategies, compared with only 32% of all other companies.
  • 85% of Global Top Companies say leadership development is a high priority to senior management in the organization, compared with just 45% of other companies.

A Senior-Level Commitment to Developing Leaders:

  • 85% of senior management at Global Top Companies say they spend at least 20% of their time on leadership development initiatives, compared with only 52% of all other companies.

A Clear Expectation of Desired Leadership Behaviors:

  • 85% believe that the desired leadership behaviors are well understood at all levels of the organization, compared with just 37% of other companies.

Best Practices for Leadership Development
Best practices for corporate leadership development, as determined by a recent study from the Hay Group, include:

  • Having leaders at all levels who focus on creating a work climate that motivates employees to perform at their best.
  • Ensuring that the company and its senior management make leadership development a top priority.
  • Provide training and coaching to help intact leadership teams, as well as the individual leaders, work together and more effectively.

Also identified were best practices that need to start with mid-level managers:

  • Rotational job assignments for high potential.
  • External leadership development programs for mid-level managers.
  • Web-based self-study leadership modules for mid-level managers.
  • Executive MBA programs for mid-level managers.

-       (Hay Group, “Best Practices for Leaders,” 2006)

Least Effective Practices for Leadership Development
The Hay Group’s research also discovered what doesn’t work for developing leaders. Below is their list:

  • Job Shadowing for senior managers
  • Outdoor activity-based programs
  • Paper-based self-study leadership modules
  • Executive MBAs and web-based self-study modules when implemented too late in an executive's career.

-       (Hay Group, “Best Practices for Leaders,” 2006)

From this comprehensive review of literature on leadership development, it becomes clear that companies must make a commitment to the development of their leaders - their survival may depend upon it.


What Would Peyton Manning Do?


Entrepreneurs 1/341/2014

Mike Kacsmar, EY


Entrepreneurs all want to leave their mark. Be known for one great thing — or many great things — and be an inspiration to others as they make their way through their lives and careers.

But at what point does this happen? How do you make the turn from great to legendary? If you ask Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, he’s not an inspiration yet — far too young at 37, he says. “I’ve been being asked about my legacy since I was about 25 years old,” he said at this week’s Media Day, ahead of Super Bowl XLVIII. “I’m not sure you can have a legacy when you’re 25 years old. Even 37.”

Whether you consider him a football legend or not, I think there’s a lot to be learned from Manning, who leads his team in a way that most boards would love to see their CEOs lead.

Here are five things he can teach us:

  1. Recognize your team’s role in your success. Hearing Manning talk, it’s never about the “I.” He recognizes his team’s role in his individual success, and honors them and shows his appreciation whenever he can. Take the time to focus on your team’s contributions — it’s not only fair, but also the right thing to do and will build loyalty among your staff.
  2. Be passionate. Sure, the money is a motivator. But if he wasn’t passionate about the game, he may well have given up after the setbacks he faced, including multiple surgeries and being cut by the Indianapolis Colts. He loves the game. Love your game. Be passionate about it. Things aren’t always going to be great — heck, there will be lots of days when they’ll barely be good — but if you’re passionate and you believe in what you’re doing, you will win.
  3. Be prepared. His coaches have called him obsessive. He’ll rewind the film 10 times to glean as much knowledge about his opponents as possible. You need to be just as prepared. Study the data. Use the metrics. Leverage every tool in your arsenal to learn all you can about your market, your customers, your competition. If you don’t do it, someone else will. Take advantage of what’s at your disposal.
  4. Don’t be afraid to learn from the rookies. Manning’s offensive coordinator is younger than he is, but Manning doesn’t dismiss his coaching and guidance. You’ll meet lots of folks along your own journey who may be decades younger than you. Don’t overlook their guidance because of their lack of gray hair. Yes, experience comes with time, but knowledge, insight and critical thinking have no age restrictions. Let the education flow both ways. You’ll be glad you did.
  5. Be confident. A recent Korn/Ferry study found that Manning is the quarterback that most respondents would like to have as their CEO. His confidence and his faith in his team were cited as primary reasons. Have faith in your team. Even when you’re nowhere near the red zone, be confident that things will be OK, and help your team believe things are going to be OK, too. Confidence is contagious.

Tell me: Do you know a CEO that demonstrates these traits ? What public figures do you try to emulate? How do you hope you’ll be regarded as a leader?


9 Timeless Leadership Lessons from Cyrus the Great

CMO Network – FORBES – 4-19-12

Forget 1-800-CEO Read. The greatest book on business and leadership was written in the 4th century BC by a Greek about a Persian King. Yeah, that’s right.

Behold: Cyrus the Great, the man that historians call “the most amiable of conquerors,” and the first king to found “his empire on generosity” instead of violence and tyranny. Consider Cyrus the antithesis to Machiavelli’s ideal Prince. The author, himself the opposite of Machiavelli, was Xenophon, a student of Socrates.

The book is a veritable classic in the art of leadership, execution, and responsibility. Adapted from Larry Hendrick’s excellent translation, here are nine lessons in leadership from Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great:

Be Self-Reliant

“Never be slow in replenishing your supplies. You’ll always be on better terms with your allies if you can secure your own provisions…Give them all they need and your troops will follow you to the end of the earth.”

Be Generous

Success always calls for greater generosity–though most people, lost in the darkness of their own egos, treat it as an occasion for greater greed. Collecting boot [is] not an end itself, but only a means for building [an] empire. Riches would be of little use to us now–except as a means of winning new friends.”

Be Brief

“Brevity is the soul of command. Too much talking suggests desperation on the part of the leader. Speak shortly, decisively and to the point–and couch your desires in such natural logic that no one can raise objections. Then move on.”

Be a Force for Good

“Whenever you can, act as a liberator. Freedom, dignity, wealth–these three together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”

Be in Control

[After punishing some renegade commanders] “Here again, I would demonstrate the truth that, in my army, discipline always brings rewards.”

Be Fun

“When I became rich, I realized that no kindness between man and man comes more naturally than sharing food and drink, especially food and drink of the ambrosial excellence that I could now provide. Accordingly, I arranged that my table be spread everyday for many invitees, all of whom would dine on the same excellent food as myself. After my guests and I were finished, I would send out any extra food to my absent friends, in token of my esteem.”

Be Loyal

[When asked how he planned to dress for a celebration] “If I can only do well by my friends, I’ll look glorious enough in whatever clothes I wear.”

Be an Example

“In my experience, men who respond to good fortune with modesty and kindness are harder to find than those who face adversity with courage.”

Be Courteous and Kind

“There is a deep–and usually frustrated–desire in the heart of everyone to act with benevolence rather than selfishness, and one fine instance of generosity can inspire dozens more. Thus I established a stately court where all my friends showed respect to each other and cultivated courtesy until it bloomed into perfect harmony.”

There’s a reason Cyrus found students and admirers in his own time as well as the ages that followed. From Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to Julius Caesar and Alexander (and yes, even Machiavelli) great men have read his inspiring example and put it to use in the pursuit of their own endeavors.

That isn’t bad company.


Facts You Should Know About Student-Veterans

  • Less than 1% of our Nations population has ever served in the Armed Forces…allowing the 99% of us to enjoy freedoms so often taken for granted
  • There currently exist 23.5 million living Military Veterans comprising 9% of our overall national population. Over 1.4 million Veterans have entered the work force since 2002 and there are nearly 200,000 transitioning from military service each year
  • Nearly two million Service Members have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
  • Many of these young men and women are returning in search of homes, jobs and an education
  • 1.09 million Veterans are currently receiving VA Educational Benefits
  • 85% are age 24 or older
  • 47% have a Family
  • 27% are Female
  • Student-Veterans possess the following Core Values derived from their time in service to Our Nation:




Selfless Service






Yes indeed, Student-Veterans are special people… Making A Difference


11 Things the Military Teaches "You About Leadership"

Does military experience translate to leadership and business savvy?  A glance at today’s most successful corporations would suggest that it does. Many of the biggest names in the business world — Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith, former General Motors CEO Daniel Akerson — have military backgrounds.

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