Three Characteristics of Exemplary Leaders

Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, see how you react. If you’re in control, they’re in control. – Tom Landry

A story is told of Gen. George C. Marshall when upon taking command of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA, found the post in a generally run-down condition. Rather than issue orders for specific improvements, he simply got out his own paintbrushes, lawn equipment, etc., and went to work on his personal quarters. The other officers and men, first on his block, then throughout the post, did the same thing, and Fort Benning was brightened up. Leadership by example.

Many a leader want to equip their teams to achieve certain results, move the company forward, set new sales records, etc., but fall short at the most basics leadership practices to get there.

Living a life of exemplary leadership is not an elusive goal that only a select few can attain. You can live it every day if you will simply follow the example of Gen. Marshall. Here are three observations from the story that can elevate your leadership.

Exemplary leaders are decisive

Arriving at Ft. Benning, Gen. Marshall found run-down conditions. Rather than assess blame or pull rank by assigning the task to men under his command, he took decisive action and began the work himself.

There is a time and place to forge strategy, communicate across the spectrum, and otherwise set plans into motion that will best serve your organization. But there is also a time to act.

Do you want to be a decisive leader? Exemplary leaders are those who see what needs to be done and do it.

Exemplary leaders are engaged

One of the largest complaints among employees that you will find in most any survey is that they have a manager or boss who is disengaged. In fact, in a story by US News and World Report, ( it was revealed that, “Only 18 percent of managers at U.S. jobs had “high talent” for leadership skills, including the ability to encourage accountability in the workplace, motivate workers and build relationships with them.” Sobering, isn’t it?

Being engaged as a leader can’t be phoned in, faked, nor neglected. If you want to lead on a level that engages your team then you have to be engaged with your people and be intentional about creating a culture in which your people can thrive.

Do you want to be an engaged leader? Just as Gen. Marshall took out the paint brush and went to work, so too must you roll up your sleeves and not be afraid to get your hands dirty. Get engaged and get involved with your people.

Exemplary leaders take responsibility

Maybe in some circles taking responsibility has become a lost art, but it still works. Upon arriving at Ft. Benning, Gen Marshall saw what had to be done and went to work. Beneath the dignity of a General? Maybe. Below his pay grade. No doubt. But exemplary leaders are not worried about either- they just see what needs to be done and get busy.

Peter Drucker said, “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.” And that is the essence of exemplary leaders. When you worry less about your title and position and more about the responsibilities that come with it the greater your impact you will have as a leader.

Do you want to be a responsible leader? Play the hand you are dealt. Find solutions and not fault. Set the example by being the example of what exemplary leadership is all about.

©2016 Doug Dickerson Doug Dickerson is an internationally recognized leadership speaker, columnist, and author. A Lowcountry resident, Doug is available to speak for your civic, business, or church group. To learn more visit

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