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Developing Subordinate Leaders

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By Gunnery Sergeant Darnell E. Patton, USMC

    There are many great leaders who lead things from small businesses to large countries. Each of those leaders had to start somewhere. Leadership starts at different stages for different people; some start learning as a small child while others may not start until adulthood. But regardless of when they start, its how they get there and where they finish that matters.
     Leaders are ultimately responsible for developing the leaders of tomorrow. Leaders cannot be too consumed with themselves; they should be consumed with the organization and the subordinates. The leaders will guide their organization through today, but the subordinates will guide them though tomorrow, and if leaders donít properly train their subordinates, it will ultimately lead to demise.
     Just because people are in leadership positions doesnít make them leaders. People are often placed into leadership positions well before they are ready to lead. But regardless, people will still look to them as their leader and expect them to lead them in the right direction. Take Eli Manning of the New York Giants for instance, who entered the NFL in 2004, but didnít become a leader until 2007. He was placed in the key leadership position for the football team well before he was ready. The problem in his situation is that he didnít have a chance to develop before he started to lead. His development started with ďon the job training.Ē He spent the first 3 years of his career learning, fighting adversity, and trying to find himself, all while he was being further developed as a leader and learning how to lead. Furthermore, he lost some of his supporting cast around him to help guide him in the right direction. Instead of supporting him, they grew impatient and ridiculed him. With all the stress placed on him, he never quit; he kept learning. Finally in mid season of 2007, everything that he learned came together. He stood up and took his place as the leader of the New York Giants
     There are many ways leaders can develop subordinatesí leadership and show them how to lead. First and foremost, leaders must lead by their own example and give subordinates something to follow, because subordinates often times become a reflection of their leaders. They try and emulate and follow in their leadersí footsteps. If leaders fail to properly set a good example for their subordinates, one of two things can happen. Their subordinates will become just like them and set a bad example. Or, their subordinates will not want to be like them. They just learned what not to do as a leader, which could result in them losing respect for their leaders.
     To further develop subordinates, leaders must be approachable. Subordinates should be comfortable enough to be able to communicate with their leaders about anything. This is a major key to their success. This will help build trust and confidence on both sides. Once established, your relationship will continue to grow professionally, which will make them more receptive to their development and eager to learn.
     Leaders have to teach them what they need to do without showing them how all the time. By just teaching them, you are allowing them to think and come up with their own ideas by exercising their mind, which will result in them utilizing initiative and judgment. Keep in mind, everyone doesnít process things the same, so some subordinates will need more guidance, and require more attention and patience.
     Leaders must be able to provide constructive criticism and twist it up and end on a positive note. When there are initiative and judgment errors, it is still the leadersí job and responsibility to correct those errors and guide them in the right direction. However, leaders must not cause discouragement, because subordinates may develop confidence issues and no longer want to excel. Help them understand that all leaders make mistakes, but itís what they learn and how they recover from them that matters.
     Subordinates must be held accountable for their actions. Subordinates must also understand that it goes far beyond that. They are not just responsible for their actions but the actions of those they lead. Take Brett Favre for instance, the former quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. When his team would lose, it was him, the quarterback, who took the responsibility because he was the leader of the team. It was ultimately his responsibility to teach, guide, mentor, and motivate while leading the team to success. After a loss, he would watch and analyze the entire game, the players, and the plays to come up with a solution to help prevent it from happening again. He would always try and find ethical ways to reach success. And after 17 years in the NFL, he only got better. That is passion. That is dedication. That is the job of a leader!
     These are just a few things leaders can do to develop subordinate leaders. Leaders shouldnít be afraid to do further research to educate themselves as well as their subordinates. No matter how good of a leader someone maybe, they should train their subordinates to be better. If they developed them properly, their legacy will live through them. And regardless if they chose to develop them or not, were they stand today is where their subordinates will stand tomorrow.

About the Author
Darnell E. Patton is currently an active duty Marine. He has held many management and leadership positions, to include an infantry platoon sergeant, the legendary Marine Drill Instructor and Drill Instructor, Instructor. He has a BS in Management, a BS in Finance, and his MBA with specialization in Human Resources. He can be reached at


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