June 2014: 11 Timeless Principles of Leadership (US Army 1948)

Back in the summer of 1985 when I first entered West Point, there were many pieces of “knowledge” that the New Cadets (incoming freshman or plebes) were required to learn and be able to repeat verbatim on demand to any upper classmen that inquired.  It required hours of studying and memorization. It took self-discipline to remember them word-for-word and then confidence to repeat them under pressure when asked.  The first week these bits of knowledge included some fundamentals like “The Mission of The United States Military Academy”, “The Code of Conduct”, “The Honor Code”, “The Corps” and “11 Principles of Leadership”.


The 11 principles of leadership were first developed in 1948 and first published in an Army Field Manual on Leadership in 1951 more than 60 years ago.  What is fascinating is that they are still taught, basically unmodified, ever since. Today they are still used by all the Armed Forces in basic training including Marines, Air Force, and Navy – from entry level privates to officers at all levels.


Why are they still unchanged after being reviewed every few years for 60+ years by different people over the course of time?  Whenever I conduct leadership courses and seminars I challenge my attendees to find a 12th.  Is there one missing?  Perhaps – but what principle is not covered?  What area or behavior should be added?


A good leader frequently sets aside quiet time for reflection and journaling.  No matter where you are on your personal leadership journey these timeless principles can provide you a useful tool for that periodic review.


1.  Know yourself and seek self-improvement
2.  Be tactically and technically proficient
3.  Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions
4.  Set the example
5.  Know your people and look out for their welfare
6.  Keep your people informed
7.  Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished
8.  Develop a sense of responsibility among your people
9.  Train your people as a team
10. Make sound and timely decisions
11. Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities


Needless to say, I enjoy going back to these principles frequently when I reflect upon my own performance and look for areas of improvement.  Now that you read them – do you have a favorite or one that resonates with recent events?


Here are a few links where these principles are covered and discussed in a little more detail.  One is from a JROTC study guide and another is from the Air Force’s Air University, but downloaded from a USMC Center for Strategic Leadership Studies.



Are you a CEO or C-Suite Executive?  I will be one of the facilitators of a 4-day Senior Executive Leadership Course this October 19-23, 2014 at the beautiful Villanova University Conference Center.  We will discuss these 11 principles and much more including understanding your values, and how to communicate your vision for the company.  In addition to networking with other CEOs, The Senior Executive Course (SEC) is focused on leadership, culture, and personal development. It lets you step back from day-to-day responsibilities, reassess your value to the company, develop a broader perspective of your leadership capabilities, and creates a personal action plan to implement in your company.


Act Fast!  15 students maximum using the West Point small group learning method.

Contact me with questions or for more details.


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