The Leadership Principles of Colonel Glover S. Johns

Col. Glover S. Johns & Lyndon B. Johnson
Colonel Glover S. Johns, Jr. (left) with Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1961, West Berlin


In Colonel David Hackworth’s tome of a military memoir, he sums up the leadership philosophy of Colonel Glover S. Johns from a farewell speech in the winter of 1962. Hackworth’s memoir is pagan through and through, and not a book I would recommend across the board. But his 25-year, 110-medal military career illustrates countless principles gleaned from a combat leader’s life.

As a young soldier, Hackworth loved Colonel Johns. He recalls that “to hear in a single speech this great man’s basic philosophy of soldiering was like being let in on the secret ingredients of some magic formula.” On January 15, 1962, as Johns was being transferred, he gave a final speech in which he boiled down the leadership principles he had exemplified for his troops:

  • Strive to do small things well.
  • Be a doer and a self-starter — aggressiveness and initiative are two most admired qualities in a leader — but you must also put your feet up and think.
  • Strive for self-improvement through constant self-evaluation.
  • Never be satisfied. Ask of any project, How can it be done better?
  • Don’t overinspect or oversupervise. Allow your leaders to make mistakes in training, so they can profit from the errors and not make them in combat.
  • Keep the troops informed; telling them “what, how, and why” builds their confidence.
  • The harder the training, the more troops will brag.
  • Enthusiasm, fairness, and moral and physical courage — four of the most important aspects of leadership.
  • The ability to speak and write well — two essential tools of leadership.
  • Have consideration for others.
  • Yelling detracts from your dignity; take men aside to counsel them.
  • Understand and use judgment; know when to stop fighting for something you believe is right. Discuss and argue your point of view until a decision is made, and then support the decision wholeheartedly.
  • Stay ahead of your boss.


David H. Hackworth and Julie Sherman, About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), 402-3.

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