Military Leadership

Is military leadership any different from that in other fields of human endeavour? Does it require a similar leadership philosophy, choice of leadership style and leadership values as leadership in civilian life?

I have never served in the military, but I have discussed this question with many who have - with officers, NCO's and other ranks. And I have studied the leadership qualities and actions of many military leaders.

I have consistently been told that the principles of leadership - as shown on this website - all still hold true in the military. Nothing is taken away.

My studies of military leaders have also suggested that military leadership is built on the same foundations as leadership in all other fields. However, one element is added - discipline.

Leaders in the military still have to earn the respect of their followers. But military discipline involves two other features:

  • Respect for the rank as distinct from the man.
  • Obedience to orders.

Respect for the rank means that senior officers can expect compliance to rules and orders, but can not expect personal respect from their followers - unless they personally deserve it.

Obedience to orders means that when an order is given, it is obeyed without question - for the sake of the mission, the safety of all involved and for the sake of maintaining discipline. As we have seen in recent years, orders are often reviewed and questioned later. Leaders are still accountable!

I am told that good officers don't issue orders except when necessary. They use all the leadership skills we have identified to influence others to follow their lead. Indeed military academies and colleges pay particular attention to developing outstanding leadership skills.

A while ago I was fortunate to meet an outstanding former senior officer who had held one of the most demanding appointments in the UK's Armed Forces. He articulated what were his “10 Rules of Command.” These formed the core of the framework under which he exercised command as a Commanding Officer of one of UK’s “Front-line Units.” For those under his command it set out the values by which he exercised his authority and, ultimately, by which he would be judged. His “Rules” are reproduced here with his permission.

  1. I am here to serve you as your Commander, Mentor, Companion and Brother-in-Arms.
  2. When we are facing the Enemy, I will be in front of you. When the Enemy is behind us, I will be watching your backs.
  3. I will remind you that each of you is responsible to and for one another. You must ensure that I remember that I am responsible to and for you all.
  4. I will give you Loyalty, Integrity & Trust for free; I must earn yours.
  5. Professionalism knows no shortcuts. There are no runners-up in our business.
  6. Your job is to soldier; my job is to empower you to do your job to the best of your ability.
  7. When I ask you to do something, know that I do so because you are the best person I know to do it.
  8. Success is your crown; wear it with modesty and humility. Failure is my burden, for it will be I who has failed you.
  9. You are our most valuable asset; yours are your families. When you are away, your family becomes my family.
  10. Your job is a profession; my job is a privilege that I must re-earn every day.

These rules and values seem to me to be entirely consistent with those that I have promoted elsewehere.

I can tell you that this man showed levels of self-awarness, humility and emotional intelligence that marked out why he was an outstanding leader in one of the most demanding of circumstances.

If you have any further insights into military leadership, please do let me know.

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