Traits of successful leaders — Developing Others

May 24 · 4 min read

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By: Chad Plenge

“One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to develop other leaders. Those leaders will affect hundreds, if not thousands, of other people.”

- Eric Kail, in Leadership Lessons from West Point

Leaders develop others. Period. While that is simple to say, it is often more challenging to do. Developing people is a complex process that requires commitment, time, and effort. Learning how to effectively develop others takes practice and countless hours of personal study. This may be why some people spend more time speaking about developing others than they spend effectively developing others.

We have all likely been to those “leader development” programs where you do some sort of adventure activity or sit through a briefing. Was it fun? Maybe. Did you learn something? Maybe. However, was it effective at developing you or your team towards some sort of goal? Probably not. An article from Harvard Business Review tells leaders to stop wasting money on team building. The meaning behind the article is not that team building is bad. Rather, what most organizations spend money on is ineffective. (

Developing others does not require fancy tools or extravagant events. It requires leaders to get involved with their subordinates. This requires the leader to devote one major resource to the process: time. Leaders tend to be busy as it is, so developing others may seem like an undue burden. In his book Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek says, “Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more.” Developing others can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. Sometimes people are not receptive to development and other times people are just a “hard case to crack.” This present the leader a tremendous opportunity, though. A leader can often make the biggest impact during the most difficult of times or dealing with the most difficult people. It is much easier to develop someone who is receptive, eager, and willing. Yet, great leaders thrive in difficult situations.

It is truly awesome to see someone succeed at something they once could not do or when they understand something for the first time. These are truly magical moments as a leader. However, developing others, like saving for retirement, often requires people to embrace the concept of delayed gratification. Leaders will be able to see some of their impact, both positive or negative, on an organization while they are around. However, much of their impact may not be known until well after they are gone. As a leader, this can be challenging because you may never know the true impact you made on others. Fred Berns, a longtime advocate for abused children and the Director of a non-profit organization for young men would frequently say, “The seeds that you sow, you may never see grow.”

How important is developing others for you? If you say it is important, do you build time into your schedule do develop those around you? Developing others is not something that can only be done in a large group. It requires the leader to work with their subordinates one-on-one. This, again, requires time and energy. Yet, without it, the organization will most certainly not produce the future leaders it needs.

When growing a tree from a seed, the original planter will not see shade from the tree for decades, if ever. That can also be true when developing others. True leaders dedicate time and energy at creating tailored developmental programs for their subordinates’ short and long-term needs. While seeing the fruits of your labor may be gratifying, that should not be the reason a leader develops others. Leaders believe in doing it because they internalized the concept of leaving others and the organization in a better place. Remember, “the seeds that you sow, you may never see grow.”

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In this series we will explore characteristics of successful leaders. Here is our list of traits so far:


Mission Accomplishment

Be the Example

Decision Making

Which characteristics do you think are the most important? Do you agree with our list so far? Comment below and tell us what we have right, what we have wrong, and what we should add.

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Chad Plenge teaches leadership psychology at the United States Military Academy and develops high potential leaders with the US Army’s Center for Junior Officers. He holds a Master of Arts in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, a Master of Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Science from the United States Military Academy. Chad is a certified Project Management Professional and an active duty officer in the US Army. In his free time, he serves as the President of the board of directors as well as an Assistant Director for a non-profit organization.

Leadership Counts!

Publication of the CompanyCommand & PlatoonLeader Forum Team focused on developing company-level leaders


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Blog for the Company Command & Platoon Leader Forums, which connect leaders in conversations about growing and leading combat-effective teams.

Leadership Counts!

Publication of the CompanyCommand & PlatoonLeader Forum Team focused on developing company-level leaders