Competent, Confident, And Agile

Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.
–Vince Lombardi

Human contortionist in a glass box

How Are They Made?

If leaders are made by hard effort, as Coach Lombardi points out, then I need to know how. What traits should we strive to intentionally develop within our future leaders?

I thought about this question long and hard. I wondered if I could even “boil it down” to a list that did not infinitely consume binary one and zeros within Microsoft Word. I felt challenged by the opportunity to succinctly and coherently define the traits common to all leaders.

Finally, (as if someone turned on a light bulb within my brain) three words came to mind:

  • Competent
  • Confident
  • Agile

If you want to make a leader (since leaders are made and not born), you must develop their confidence, competence, and agility.

How do you develop Competence, Confidence, and Agility?

I know. I know. I seem to have more questions than answers. Once again, I thought long and hard trying to answer this question, and not ask another one. Finally, as I was reading It Doesn’t Take a Hero : The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf , the answers presented themselves. I was able to quantify eight actions that will help leaders develop Competent, Confident, and Agile leaders within their organizations.

  •  Constantly challenge your beliefs and assumptions (Agility)

Renown leadership coach Alan Allard once told me “What got you here won’t get you there.”

  • Be Passionate (Confidence)

You are probably asking yourself “what does passion have to do with confidence? Well, passion prevents us from getting complacent. It pushes us to expand our knowledge, leave our comfort zone, and challenge ourselves. Our successes will help build our confidence.

  • Be Aggressive (Confidence)

Leaders must be confident but they must also project confidence. Project confidence by aggressively representing your position on a subject.

  • Clarity of Communication (Competence)

Leaders influence directly their direct reports and indirectly through junior leaders throughout the organization. Mission success is totally dependent upon clear concise communication. What better defines a competent leader than mission success.

  • Know when to say when (Competence)

Sometimes you reach a point of diminishing returns. You win some and you loose some.

  • Calculate the cost (Agility)

You win some and you loose some. Evaluate the risks before hand so your not caught with your trousers down.

  • Prepare for casualties (Agility)

In war, you hope to bring back everyone you deploy with. In some cases you do and in many more you do not. Always remain on the lookout for future leaders. Develop your “second team” so you have bright and talented leaders to fill vacancies as the need arises.

  • Assume responsibility (Confidence and Competence)

 “Leaders are never right but they are always wrong.”

-TJ Trent

“A strong leader accepts blame and gives credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit.”

– John Wooden

“The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”

– D. Eisenhower

Thoughts, Questions, Concerns?

Although I am both competent and confident, I would like your objective opinion. So please, tell me how this list this stacks up against your list.

Question: Would you change anything? What would you change? What do you think about my list of actions listed above? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

This is a guest post by TJ Trent.  He is currently a Staff Sergeant in the US Army stationed in South Korea. He is married to LaShawn. They have a hairy four legged child named Roscoe P. Coltrane. You can read more from him on his blog BornTwoLead, or talk to him on Facebook, or Twitter

I’m always looking for guest posters. If you would like to guest post, you can find the guidelines at An Invitation To Guest Post.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Juan Cruz Jr.

    I have to work on my confidence. Am actually surprised to say that, but as I think about it, there are situations where I am not confident. Usually, that happens because I focus on what others can better than me. Good stuff, TJ.

    • Juan,

      Thanks brother! I used to do the same thing. Compare myself to other leaders. As a result my confidence would sag. I am me uniquely and wonderfully created by God! If I need to improve in an area I improve but I try never to compare myself.

      • Thanks for sharing how you’ve shifted TJ. I think I can use what you’ve done to help me gain confidence in the areas I lack.

        • Joe,

          It is a constant struggle brother! Especially in the Army where you are fighting to be enumerated as the best. For example, my rater needs to clearly define (within my evaluations) how I am either above, equal, or below my peers. No wonder why i compare myself to others so often.

          My last two evals were signed by a General Officer. A Soldier with more than 30 years of military service. In on of them he said “Top Ten of all Signal (Information Technology) Non-Commissioned Officers I have served with in 30 years.”

          So, all too often the corporate culture breeds this cycle of comparison into us and at the same time challenges our ability to remain humble.

    • Me too Juan. Confidence is an easy thing to lose and a hard thing to gain. What’s one step you can take that will help you build your confidence?

  • I love that you include accepting responsibility as a confidence trainer. Confidence can easily devolve into a self-centered arrogance, especially among those with strong personalities; accepting responsibility and over-sharing the credit can help us avoid such a degradation.

    • Justin,

      Thanks for commenting! Accepting responsibility for the good, bad, and the ugly keeps us confident and grounded. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      • Thanks for this post, TJ! It’s a solid reminder to people (like me) who can get away from the basics and over-complicate leadership.

        • Justin,

          Your welcome. Please visit our site and tell me what you think of our content.

    • Justin, I liked that as well. Another way that accepting responsibility could help build confidence is it shows us failure isn’t the end. It’s just a starting point. What do you think?

      • I haven’t thought of responsibility in such a way, Joe, but it makes a lot of sense! I often point out that there’s a huge difference between accepting/assigning blame and taking responsibility for a problem. You’re speaking to this point– accepting blame is admitting defeat while taking responsibility is committing to improve. Good talk, Joe!

      • Joe,

        I think you hit the nail on the head! As leaders we cannot be risk averse. We have to be willing to allow our troops to make mistake, learn from them, and grow. And we need to make sure we do the same.

  • TJ, enjoyed reading your post. I agree 100% that leaders are made. One characteristic I would add is humility. Pride always goes before the fall. What you mentioned in assuming responsibility goes hand in hand with humility. Thanks for sharing.

    • Luke, humility is a great addition. Humbling ourselves allows us to lead from a different position. One that shows others we’re no better than them, we’re just doing something different.

      • Joe,

        This is a hard one in the military service. For example, I am afforded certain customs and courtesies because of my rank and position. This is necessary in the military to instill discipline and clearly define necessary degrees of separation.

        For example, no one junior to me should ever speak to me sitting down. They also always refer to be by SSG Trent when addressing me. They should also alert everyone to my presence by calling “At Ease” if I am the senior person entering the room.

        If not very careful and grounded the leader can easily get a huge head and loose their humility.

        I always tell my juniors I am no better than you, however, the Army shows professionalism by operationalizing customs and courtesies.

        • Pride is a dangerous vice that attacks countless leaders, TJ. It’s great that you are grounded in your faith and remember that rank doesn’t mean much without the earned respect of a team behind it.

      • Very true!

    • Luke,

      Your welcome! When I wrote this article I was unsure of how it would be received. Honestly some of my battles failed to see these relationships. It all came together for me while I was reading Gen. Normal Schwarzkoph’s autobiography.

      Frankly, the Army says leaders need to be Confident, Competent, and Agile. The Lord allowed me to see these relationship through real life experiences related by Storman Norman.

  • I love how you make a connection between confidence and competence. We’ve all had a co-worker (or two) whose confidence exceeded their competence, which makes for a difficult work environment! Great stuff, enjoyed seeing you on Joe’s blog.

    • Haha, yeah we’ve all been there Tom.

    • Tom,

      I am thankful to God in this instance. Everyday he allows me to make a mistake (okay sometimes multiple ones but don’t tell everyone I am not perfect, okay?). Their is power in making mistakes though if handled properly.

      1. I am humbled and reminded I am not perfect
      2. I am able to learn and grow
      3. It helps build resilience

      Thank you Tom!

  • rcsinclair952

    Passion not only keeps us from getting complacent,(and the other things you said). Passion provides the adrenaline, not only for yourself, but for your staff. It supplies that boost of energy and motivation to your people and yourself. If you can convey that passion, you can more easily build teamwork.

  • I was never a good leader until I also learned how to assess my own behavior and performance. You can’t be competent if you are ignorant to your own shortcomings. When I figured that out, my ability to lead people effectively took off.

    • Brandon,

      Learning emotional intelligence was a big one for me as well

    • Terrific insight Brandon. Our shortcomings can quickly drag us down if we’re not aware of them.

  • Great unique points to become a successful leader, I feel that a person equipped with the above mentioned traits will always have a fair chance to become a successful leader.

  • Knowing when to say when classifies as agility, too. It seems there is some overlap here!