WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 17, 2016) -- What's the most important attribute a young leader should seek out that will help him or her succeed in the future and win in an increasingly complex world? a cadet asked.

"Being leaders of character," Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn responded.

Allyn spoke to cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, ROTC cadets, and Soldiers at the ninth annual West Point Leadership and Ethics Conference at the George Mason University campus in Arlington, Virginia, March 17. The theme this year was "Living an Honorable Life."

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

Inspiring leadership is the "exponential variable that delivers readiness and mission success," the general said. Inspiring leadership has as its character foundation.

"Character is the foundation of trust and trust is the foundation of effective leadership," he continued. "If you don't have those ingredients, you're leading by your rank and position and not by the acceptance and trust and commitment of those that you lead." That's true no matter what the vocation chosen.

"There are some who think you can flip the switch on or off of being a standards-based, values-based leader of character," Allyn said. "Those leaders are one event away from failure. You can't surge character. You have to build it and live it every single moment of every single day."

COMBAT READINESS

A Soldier from 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) then asked Allyn about the best way to prepare for combat.

Allyn replied: "Be careful what you wish for. Combat is an unforgiving environment. While it's an incredible teacher, it isn't something I'd have folks hoping they'd experience."

The general said he and other leaders wake up every day trying to do their best to ensure they have all the skills, wisdom and knowledge so that when that call comes, they can lead effectively and ensure mission success and survival of their troops. "That's ultimately what each of us does each day."

Another great aspect of serving in the U.S. military, he said, "it's the only profession I know where every day you're trying to work your way out of a job. You're trying to develop leaders below you to take your job."

He commented: "I've been 'killed' in training events more than probably any other senior leader in the Army. Guess what? In every case, the unit still accomplished their mission because we developed the leaders below us to be ready to step up when we go down. That's what we do. That's an awesome and amazing opportunity."

The world is far different today than it was in 1981 when he entered the military, Allyn said. Today, it's much more dangerous. "Yet, our force is just half the size of what it was then. So we are going to be heavily involved in maintaining stability around the world. How much instability develops into open combat, we don't know. Hopefully we can keep that from happening."

He concluded his reply with this tip: "Take stock of the opportunities you have to prepare. It's coming."

MENTORS & MENTEES

Allyn noted that he often finds that when he interacts with junior leaders, he most often learns more than he imparts. "You need to soak up what you learn from them as well as being a good mentor. That's the beauty of leadership. It's a give and take opportunity."

The awesome thing about the U.S. military is we are "one of the only professions in the world that grows our leaders from within, from the ground up. We don't import them. What an incredible opportunity," he added.

GROWING LEADERS

The general then discussed a common debate about whether or not leaders are born or made.

He said he grew up in Berwick, a rural part of Maine, and "didn't know diddly about leadership" when he went to West Point. "What I've learned since has enabled me to be a more effective servant to the nation."

Whether young people choose the military or just commit to being "servant-leaders, that's what we want them to try to do," he said. We want to sustain the momentum of a generation that believes in giving back."

He added that as a father of two college-age kids, one who's a senior at West Point and one who's already graduated and is serving a year abroad, "I know the mindset of this generation, and it's incredibly inspiring.

"We want to build on that momentum and help young people realize their full potential," he concluded.