Leadership Traits: Best and Worst Leaders Unveiled

Leadership Traits: Best and Worst Leaders Unveiled

Traits of the Greatest and Worst Leaders

Quality of leadership is something everyone is exposed to in their lives: good leaders and bad ones. The author, throughout the years, has noticed one of the most accurate representations of leaders that put them into a mold. It was designed by German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord. The German General famously grouped leadership into four categories and suggested which ones are the best for winning wars.  He primarily used it as a method for selecting officers for promotions or high-importance billets. 

The author's take in modern times is that the format and how it types leaders is still very much applicable. With an understanding of this system and some experience, it can be used effectively to improve your leadership traits. It can help identify what kind of supervisor you have (and what kind of ride to expect) or take a good hard look at yourself if you are a leader. 

This of course requires experience, and one of the best ways to rapidly gain leadership experience it through reading books and putting yourself in others' shoes. It should be noted that it is important that you put your feet into the shoes of a leader and also as a subordinate, as both are required to become an excellent leader. The author will at some point further delve into the books mentioned in this article but summarize some of the traits developed in the books.  One of the biggest takeaways from this article you will see is that bad leadership is like cancer in an organization. It will start to affect everything in the organization that it touches. The higher the leader is up the chain, the worse they are, the more it will affect an organization. 

The following are the categories and books that demonstrate these qualities the best. 

Industrious / Lazy - Clearly and without much imagination required, a leader who is dumb and lazy simply sucks. They act dumb, so figuring out complicated problems is out of the question. They act lazy, so they are unmotivated to do it or see tasks through to the finish line. There are many reasons a person is in this category, and often it is not necessarily related to brain horsepower. Subordinates can put themselves intentionally or inadvertently into this category. For example, if they have a leader who is over-demanding and they simply can’t keep up with the work, they will just not do all of the work. This can also happen to a leader who is burned out, over-supervised or overworked. They will become a leader who “does not care” because it seems no matter what they do they cant keep up or dont feel they can change the outcome of situations. They feel no accountability for what they were tasked to do. 

It should be noted that many leaders or subordinates who fall into this category might be changed. It may take a lot of work but it is possible this type may be inspired to change their ways.

"Matterhorn" by Karl Marlantes. An incredibly gripping novel about a Lieutenant serving in Vietnam it details extensively the thought processes of a combat leader dealing with adversity. This book showcases the impact of strategic thinking, adaptability, and the ability to inspire and motivate others in challenging circumstances. 

Industrious / Stupid - This is one of the most dangerous of leaders. The leader perhaps ignorantly dumb. They have a high drive to do things and have difficulty sitting still. They can’t help themselves from putting their hands into everything, even tasks which are given to someone else or are near completion. They make projects very difficult to start given the fact they have a “good idea” that they cannot let go and dismiss everyone else’s ideas. They are creativity and collaboration killers. What subsequently happens is they can mess everything up they touch, especially when left unattended. They also drive coworkers and subordinates nuts because they either can't keep up or see how oafish the leader is and want nothing to do with what they are doing.

"About Face: Odyssey of an American Warrior” by David Hackworth. Arguably one of the greatest of leaders to serve in US Army. Hackworth is known for his integrity, honesty, and authenticity in leadership. The book highlights the necessity of adapting leadership styles to different situations, acknowledging mistakes, and learning from failures. 

Industrious / Clever - This leader is often viewed as a high performer but is horribly toxic to any command they get a hold of. They are able to not only start tasks but finish them rapidly and with a tenacity that is unrivaled by many. They greatly annoy all members of the organization they have to work with due to their incredible drive; subordinates feel like they can't keep up. They are often given more tasks than they are actually able to do simply because of the massive drive of their supervisor. This is important for a leader to understand because if your followers can't keep up, they won’t. 

This type of leader is known for being easily frustrated and can “lash out,” making one of the most toxic work environments. Subordinate supervisors also feel paranoid and frustrated because they also can't keep up, and are given too many tasks to actually process and execute correctly (oversaturation). When the subordinate leader fails to meet the goal, they are often counseled aggressively by the leader, making the subordinate leader paralyzed for fear of getting more bad marks. What this does is create a “leadership island” for the toxic leader, making the situation worse. This means that because they are so far ahead of tasks, they often don't ask for help or advice from peers, supervisors, or subordinates. It often leads to a vacuum in their decision-making.

A peerless trap this type of leader can fall into is only doing tasks the way they believe their supervisor would want them to do it, unfounded or not. This obviously leads to bad decisions which lack creativity and flexibility. Unfortunately, in training environments, they appear to other supervisors (who in many organizations are the same type) to be high performers and get promoted. This leadership type plagues many organizations as it creates a self-licking ice cream cone of bad leaders who keep getting promoted. It makes the organization toxic, callous, and worst of all, substantially more ineffective organization. It also causes the best types of leaders to become frustrated and leave the organizations. 

"Once an Eagle" by Anton Myrer - Considered as one of best books on leadership ever written. Two characters are represented in the book, both with very different ways of leadeing. Sam Damon embodies the ideal leader, displaying qualities such as integrity, selflessness, and a deep commitment to his soldiers. His leadership style emphasizes empathy, mentorship, and leading by example. In contrast, Courtney Massengale represents a more political and self-serving form of leadership, focusing on personal advancement at the expense of others. Through their contrasting paths, the novel emphasizes the importance of moral courage, loyalty, and the genuine care for the well-being of subordinates. 

Lazy / Clever - Often the best leader. Laziness is often viewed as a bad characteristic; however, in a leader who has the right mentality, it is a strength. This is because they will naturally find the most efficient ways to complete tasks. They look at problems and no matter how complex, can simplify them (due to brain horsepower) and order them correctly into tasks. Because they think about what they say and do before they do it, tasks are issued to subordinates in a simplistic way, allowing them the flexibility to accomplish the tasks in the best way they see fit. Due to subordinates often being “on the ground” where the task is, they often have the best way figured already because they are intimately familiar with their environment. These leaders are often self-aware because they are empathic and think of the cause and effect of what they want subordinates to do. They don't want to waste their time or have them become overburdened with tasks that may or may not contribute to the overall mission.

A perfect example in the author’s mind is General Grant. Although he made plenty of mistakes in his life (like us all), overall, that made him succeed and guide our country out of a civil war, eliminate slavery, and work on unifying our country.

“Grant” by Rob Chernow. Grant's tenacity and determination in the face of failure teach the importance of resilience. His ability to adapt to new situations and learn from mistakes underscores the value of flexibility and continuous self-improvement. Grant's emphasis on teamwork, trust in his subordinates, and his unwavering loyalty to his soldiers highlight the significance of camaraderie and loyalty ineffective leadership.

I leave the reader with the following thoughts and the hope that you may go and dig through these books and think passionately about what you read regarding the leaders mentioned in this article. Books are a great place to start but remember they can’t be read in just a vacuum. The reader needs to actively think of situations they have been in or future situations they are involved in and act accordingly. 

Back to blog

Leave a comment