How many of us have worked for a horrible boss or had a leader that was less than stellar? Why is it that we’ve worked in groups that seemed great even when the chips were down, while other times, even when conditions could not be better, we would rather claw out our own eyes than go to work? Why are some teams more cohesive than others? Is it the talent and abilities of the team, or does the burden of a successful team lay solely on the shoulders of that team’s leader?

During my years in Special Operations and special units, working in small teams, I have seen a pattern that seems to repeat itself. There were always bad teams and good teams, and of course everyone wanted to be on a good team. But what are the key differences between the two? Is it the ability of the individuals and their skills that make the difference? Can’t be. One percent of the U.S. population joins the military and one percent of that one percent makes it to Special Operations. So we are talking about the .01 percent of the best of the best.

Besides, most of us have seen the underdog team that was not the cream of the crop be successful and cohesive. While having the correct individuals in key places in the team with the appropriate skills is very important, I believe that it is far more crucial to have a leader that sees clearly and can serve as a fusion point for their team. Based on my experience, here are the four key characteristics that make for a poor leader.


How many of us have worked for someone who was blatantly insecure in the position they were placed in? Why are they insecure? Perhaps they aren’t confident in their skills. But as a leader, do we have to know everything? Absolutely not! Some of the best leaders in our history have been those that surround themselves with good people and heed the advice given. Your team may have a better idea than you could have come up with on your own. Sometimes the most junior person on the team can have the key to the problem at hand. There’s no shame in listening to those who report to you, and you shouldn’t be jealous that you didn’t come up with the idea.

Instead, lift them up and praise them for the contribution to the team. If the leader is the only one allowed to have the good ideas, then you are stunting the success of the team. As leaders, we cannot be afraid of our team nor feel insecure about their abilities to contribute to the overall mission. As leaders, we should push for our teams to be better and support them in their growth. We are the conduits to our team’s success and the success of our individual teammates. Fear and jealousy can be cancer to a team if you allow it in.


There’s no faster way to kill the overall health of a team than to constantly be a blanket of negativity. This brings me back to the days of being in the jungle, patrolling while hungry, wet, and tired. Then, the guys on the team look at one another and start laughing. Some might think this is insanity. But in a really shitty situation, you have two choices: laugh because things really suck and find humor in how much they do, or sit under a tree, pout, and act like an asshole.

As leaders, we cannot afford to be negative even in the worst of times. Negativity is a like a plague, and it will spread through the team. Conversely, so is positivity! The world can be falling down around your team, but if you rally around one another and stay positive, it will make all the difference in the world.


This one will hurt. You work for hours, days, and weeks on a project or plan only to have the leader take credit for it as his own, saying nothing of your effort or giving credit to your team. What makes a great leader is a great team. We must work together to accomplish whatever task is at hand. Once that task is accomplished, we must recognize that it was done so by the blood, sweat, and tears of the team. When given the opportunity to explain how you accomplished such a feat, give it to your team.