Paratus Monograph 4: Military Leadership or Civilian Management Models in the Military Culture
The Changing Military Environment
The world within which the military must function is becoming increasingly complex and uncertain. Society is constantly changing in ways which can often adversely affect defence interests. Social change and technological developments have a significant effect on military structures, management and leadership.
The defence force is a part of society, but it does not operate in a civilian environment or according to civilian norms. A defence force requires its own stable and unique military culture to function effectively. It must foster and maintain its own culture as a “protective blanket” to insulate its members, enabling them to function effectively in their unique roles. It must allow its personnel to be protected from the distracting effects of change and instability in the civilian sector. The military culture also provides stability to the state.
The major issues for the officer corps are quality versus quantity; management versus leadership; and careerism versus professionalism.
The Military Must Train for War Not Peace
A period of nearly thirty years continuous involvement by New Zealand in overseas conflicts ended in the early 1970’s. Until this time the concentration on overseas military service dictated that initial military training was based on the wartime operational experiences of serving personnel. Recruitment, selection, training, promotion and development were centred on the pattern dictated by the traditional warrior image.
Despite major social changes during the last thirty years the raison d’être of military service remains constant. Though the military has not been involved in a major war for almost thirty years, it must still train for war. The military must produce combat leaders who can train and lead units capable of executing missions under combat or other crisis conditions.
“An armed force is a body of men organised to achieve its ends irresistibly by co-ordinated action”.
A military organisation’s basic function is to fight. Its effectiveness must be judged by its ability to come to grips with the enemy and dominate it by force. To impose its will on an enemy a military organisation must remain its cohesion under extraordinary stress and continue to act as a motivated team. This requires carefully selected and trained leaders.
What is Military Leadership?
The recorded study of leadership goes back to Plato, Plutarch, and Machiavelli. Yet despite extensive study by military professionals and researchers, the nature of leadership remains little understood. Field Marshal Lord Slim described leadership as “that combination of persuasion, compulsion and example which makes men do what you want them to do”.
“Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision, its practice is art”.
Battle leadership is often depicted as the “ultimate test” of military leadership.
The Need for Management in the Military
Military leadership requires more than performance on the battlefield. Leaders must be able to inspire followers in peace and war. Ironically the greatest challenges for leaders can be during major structural changes in peacetime.
Good military leaders must also be able to manage effectively. Military command and control is being increasingly affected by the bureaucratic imperatives of budgetary competition and financial efficiency. There is an increasing view that defence must be more competitive and efficient in order to retain a share of the budget. Productivity and quality improvement is regarded as the role of management. The introduction of Total Quality Management (TQM) is being increasingly accepted as the philosophy most likely to achieve this paradigm shift.
Application of Management in the Military
There has been a shift in recent years to the adoption by the military of business-orientated management techniques. The traditional focus on leadership is declining. There has been an increasing emphasis on management and specialisation. Excellence in management theories and principles are becoming an alternative to leadership. The consequences of adopting the managerial model include careerism, and concentration by officers on their own career advancement, often contrary to the needs of his subordinates, and directly contrary to his military professionalism.
War is about taking risks. In peacetime particularly it seems that it is more important not to have failed, than to have dared. Mediocrity rather than initiative is rewarded as a virtue. This encourages indecisiveness, and suits management rather than leadership.
The possession of academic qualifications should never be allowed to become a pre-requisite for promotion. Promotion should be based on professional competence and leadership, rather than management ability or academic success.
An excessive focus on academic qualification can result in a well-educated and informed officer structure that is aloof from the rank-and-file, lacks practical experience and is unable to show the required leadership when needed.
Management and Leadership are not Synonymous
Leadership and management are neither synonymous, nor interchangeable. Civilian leadership models which equate management with leadership are not applicable to the military. During peacetime the management ethos tends to be predominate over leadership. It must not be allowed to become dominant. It is leadership that wins battles, not management. As Gabriel and Savage have stated:
“the Army attempted to manage the war and the officer corps learned the hard way that members of combat units cannot be managed to their deaths. Combat effectiveness depends heavily upon the willingness to lead and this willingness is sustained by the presence of competent, brave officers willing to share risks with their men”.
Leadership unlike management is the ability to change compelled performers into willing participants, or “The art of consistently influencing and directing people in tasks in such ways as to obtain their willing obedience, confidence, respect and loyal co-operation in the manner desired by the leader”.
The Characteristics of a Good Leader
The art of influencing people is the very essence of leadership. Researchers seek to establish those characteristics and behaviours that distinguish leaders from followers, and “good” leaders from merely “average”. Leadership is a subject often regarded as distinctly military.
“Under the pressures of battle, which can be very high, the requirement to be led emerges strongly”.
The duty of a leader is to inspire soldiers to achieve their mission. Leaders must be able above all to communicate, to listen to their soldiers, to achieve their mission, and to be able to lead by example. They need the technical skills to do this, as well as management ability. To be able to lead they must show integrity and honour. To achieve management results they require industry and training.
If subordinates have faith in their leaders knowledge and abilities they will follow them with confidence.
During the fog of war, breakdown in communications, or confusion is inevitable; routine is interspersed with intense activity; comradeship develops. A leader can sustain a military force through such uncertainty and confusion.
Leaders require power of command. If a leader cannot pull his followers by force of character, he can at least push by force of law. Such is the recourse of a poor leader, or manager.
General Sir John Monash said that there were three great contributions to his success – “integrity, even-mindedness or wisdom, and untiring industry”.
Increasingly important qualities for a leader are character, knowledge, empathy and commitment. Character is the basic quality of the leader. It includes the attributes of honesty, loyalty, courage, self-confidence, humility and self-sacrifice. To lead, officers will need to know their people, themselves and their profession.
Born or bred, the essence of leadership is the ability to motivate people. A leader instils confidence in his superiors, peers, and subordinates. A leader must know his business, himself and his men. Any leader can improve his leadership skills.
A good officer has two characteristics: he or she must be perceived by his troops as concerned about their welfare, and he must be perceived as willing to share their risks and the sacrifices of battle.
Laziness, lack of interest in subordinates, brutality or corruption are all anathema to a good leader.
In Vietnam major criticisms of the US Army officers corps included that officers failed to provide appropriate examples of leadership (including leading their troops from the relative comfort of helicopters); use of troops to further their own careers; receiving medals for the performance of their troops rather than their own battlefield performance; and being required to serve only six months in theatre, rather than the twelve required of soldiers. Rampant corruption also undermined faith in the officer corps. Anecdotally there were many instances of officers being killed by their own men, such was the loss of faith trust or respect in the officer corps.
The Australian Army Handbook of Leadership, published in 1973, listed the nine principals of leadership, as follows:
Appreciate your own strengths and weaknesses and pursue self-improvements,
- Seek and accept responsibility,
- Lead by example,
- Make sure that the task is understood, supervised and accomplished,
- Know your own personnel and look after their welfare,
- Develop the leadership potential of your personnel,
- Make sound and timely decisions,
- Train your personnel as a team and employ them up to their capabilities,
- Keep your personnel informed of the mission, the changing situation and the overall picture.
Do All Officers Need to Be Leaders?
Are all officers required to be leaders? Are there too many officers? What is the role of an officer compared with that of a senior NCO?
In the German army historically less than 10% were officers, c.f. 35% in the Australian Defence Force in recent years. Germany relied on leadership by NCO’s rather than leadership by junior officers.
Field Marshal Wavell believed that the first quality in an officer was “robustness, the ability to withstand the shocks of war”.
There are different demands on junior and senior leaders. Junior officers are in direct contact with soldiers, the more senior officers indirect. This physical detachment is necessary for operational and communications purposes, and can be either an advantage or a disadvantage
Technical skills are of higher signifincance in lower levels of management, and conceptual skills are more important in the senior management levels.
Defence force faces a great degree of technical change over the coming decades. Increased reliance on technology will result in greater demand for highly qualified and skilled personnel. Officers will in future be generalists, co-ordinating the work of specialists.
There are three main types of leadership styles: Laissez-faire, democratic, and authoritarian.
The laissez-faire leader allows a group to set its own agendas, and pursue them in its own way at its own speed. The “leader” does not lead, but observe. He exerts little influence, and only provides the group with guidance if requested to do so.
The democratic leader is similar to the laissez-faire in that he allows the group to set its own agenda. However, he exerts far more influence. He steers the group by influencing decision-making, and guiding the members. He contributes suggestions, stimulates self-direction, and reinforces members own decisions. The group ultimately makes its own decision.
The authoritarian leader assumes total responsibility for a group’s agenda, goals, and methods. He often rewards or punishes the group for departure from his guidelines.
The different leadership styles are appropriate to different circumstances. “The person with the particular qualities or traits that the situation requires will emerge as leader”.
In peacetime a more participative style may be applicable. In times of crisis, or when a quick reaction is necessary, an authoritative technique is more effective.
Theorists also distinguish between transformational and transactional leaders. Transformational leadership is defined as a process where “leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of morality and motivation”. Charisma is the character trait that consistently distinguishes transformational leaders from transactional. A charismatic leader may be defined as one who is dynamic, inspiring, outgoing, sociable, insightful and enterprising.
While a transactional leader can inspire involvement, loyalty, commitment, and performance, a transformational leader can inspire a lot more. Transformational leadership originates in the personal values and beliefs of the leader, not in the mutually dependent exchange of leader and followers.
There are many theories of leadership. There is debate whether leadership is innate or can be learned. There seems little doubt that there are a few born leaders, while many people can be trained.
Until the 1950’s leadership was generally understood by an analysis of the personal traits of good and bad leaders (the ‘Trait’ school). The Behavioural school subsequently evolved to explain leadership in terms of a leader’s actions. Neither theory fully explain the nature of a system which is in reality too complicated to be reduced to any one theory.
Previously military personnel have depended on a subjective view of what being a good leader entailed. The characteristics of good leaders gives no indication of how to attain those desirable qualities. In many ways this reflected the view that leaders were born, not made.
These Universalist leadership theories hold that there is only one correct method of leadership. They believe that leaders are born (i.e. product of heredity; the trait approach) or are the product of environment (the behaviouralist school).
Recent refinements of psychological techniques have allowed researchers to study and collate information on interpersonal relationships. This information has been used by the military in studies on effective leadership.
The Contingency (or Situational) school of theories evolved in the 1960’s. These accepted that neither a leader’s personal traits nor his behaviour can explain the leadership process. They are premised on the understanding that “effective leadership depends on the leader, his followers, the situation, and the relationship between them”. The leader must adapt to the circumstances.
Models following the Contingency approach describe leadership in terms of “situational modifier variables”. These models include Fiedler’s Contingency (Situational-Trait) Model; House’s Path-Goal Theory; Vroom and Yetton’s Normative Theory, and the Decision Tree theory; and Functional Leadership and Directive Control.
Functional leadership is the form of transactional leadership favoured by the military. Successful leadership is judged by the ability of the leader to balance the needs of the group and individual while accomplishing the task.
Selection and Training of Leaders
Potential leaders must be identified at an early stage. They should be trained to develop their leadership ability and hone their management skills. It can be difficult to identify leadership skills. Should not rely on mechanical skills which suggest management ability. Potential should show.
Officer formative training should emphasise leadership, both during selection and further training.
Management skills applicable to a junior officer taught. But do not submerge ensigns in military technology or civilian management. Staff courses come later yet.
Recruitment is generally from the bottom of the system, with little lateral movement. One in, progress is either up or out. Little mobility or transfers between internal and external employment streams. Emphasis placed on training and career development courses. Between one-quarter and one-third of career can be spent in periods of formal training.
More flexible employment and remuneration packages would be desirable. Targeted recruiting to overcome end of baby boom era. There has been a significant shift in social value system in last 30 years. Youth culture developed that is-
“anti-authority, egocentric, egalitarian, and preoccupied with the achievement of self-goals and self-identity”.
There is a risk in adopting this dysfunctional value system. It would likely lead ultimately to a failure in the performance of the military task. New information systems and reduced bureaucratic controls would release personnel from routine administrative tasks. High technology CI systems also expand need for skilled technical information workers. Communication between people of different ranks tends to resemble lateral consultation rather than vertical command.
In the mid to late-1980’s the most RAN management training institutions adopted the Hersey-Blanchard Model of Situational Leadership (Life Cycle Theory) in their Management and Leadership training courses. This was not however officially adopted by the RAN as corporate management philosophy.
Military leadership training has traditionally been transactional in style. Recent organisational literature has advocated transformational leadership, on the basis that it is a more powerful form of leadership since it transforms the motivational base upon which followers operate.
The German Army training emphasised above all else the development of character. Moral strength (i.e. courage, loyalty, and integrity) and willpower (i.e. determination, persistence, resilience, and tenacity) were the necessary attributes of leaders. The approach was educative rather than didactic. It aimed to teach officers how to think, not what to think. War was considered an art where the professional judgement of officers was paramount. The theory and practice of war could not be reduced to formulae and precepts. The Army considered war to be the best teacher.
The Israeli Defence Force has a similar approach to officer training and selection. It provides formal leadership training in command training schools at a specialised leadership training school.
The “Central School for Leadership Development” emphasised technical transformational leadership for infantry officer cadets. Management is defined in the IDF as “a process of establishing and attaining objectives to carry out responsibilities”.
General Louis H Wilson summarises the distinction between leadership and management. A good leader is a good manager, but a good manager, in the narrow sense of the word, is not necessarily a good leader.
Managers imply those who are more of an administrative sort, whereas leadership implies all the broad aspects, which is getting others to do what you want them to do even though they might not undertake the task of their own volition.
Historically leadership and management are strongly distinguished in the military. In organisational literature they are often interchangeable.
“Man management is a horrible term, and I’m ashamed that the Army ever introduced it. Men like being led- not managed”.
To effectively lead management skills are needed. But an effective manager does not necessarily have to be a skilful leader.
“Managers are concerned with doing things the right way. Leaders are more concerned with… doing the right thing”.
Most military operate on the belief that the natural leaders can be selected and then developed by formal and informal leadership training. Transformational leadership can be taught in managerial workshops.
Motivational training can be conducted. Instructors receive no training in Australian Army, except for RISC and Tactics Instructors Course. Motivational training not included.
The aim of RAAF College leadership training is to develop junior officers who will be able to use their leadership skills to complement their overall management duties. The basis for most duties is on how the RAAF functions in war- these duties are much more difficult to perform in peacetime- a time when it is easy to lose sight of the real aim.
Leadership training must be geared to accommodate both the war and peace functions. Occupational analysis leads to sound and clear strategy for extensive leadership training. There must be an emphasis on communication.
Character development motivation is “The willingness of an individual to give his/her full support to a task”.
Leadership have direct impact on motivation and morale. As leaders they will have a direct impact on motivation and morale. Their leadership skills (or lack of them) will be directly responsible for the motivation and morale of the subordinate”.
Morale is “A state of mind, an attitude in the minds of individuals when they identify themselves with a group and accept group goals”.
Most successful leaders appear to have exceptional qualities such as high motivation, courage, decisiveness, integrity, judgement, knowledge, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, initiative and ability to communicate effectively.
There must be encouragement to develop such qualities to emulate desired attributes. Leaders must be taught discipline and how to plan tasks. “Command, leadership and management (COLM) training in the leadership Reaction Course (LRC). Progressively build use and test their leadership skills.
Fundamentally it is true that leadership cannot be taught, only learned. Nor can it be inherited.
Assessment of Leadership
Every leader has his own model, as does every manager. There is inevitably difficulty in evaluating performance. We need to bear in mind that there are different demands and requirements at different levels of command.
Leadership is intangible. Professional ability is easier to assess.
The annual RAAF assessment (Officer Evaluation report) has no obvious assessment of leadership ability. There should be a specific assessment of leadership ability. Officers should be promoted for leadership and professional competencies, not just seniority and technical competence.
Routine tasking and training will hone operational proficiency. Professional proficiency easier to assess.
We should not accept lowest common denominator of officer leadership. Leadership is an art and a skill, must be encouraged and can be assessed.
Lack of formalised leadership development produces officers who believe that they would be better officers if they had better troops. It is not the character and competence of the troops that decides and dictates the performance and ability of officers as leaders. To believe this is dangerous. Unfortunately many officers adhere to this view.
All officers receive own leadership studies and to pass the same assessments. They are not streamed on the basis of performance. ADFA is an academic institution rather than a school for leaders. It provides basic leadership training, but little subsequent support. Handbook of Leadership places onus on individual to seek leadership enhancement.
Application of Leadership to Staff Officers
A staff officer must be able to adapt leadership qualities to management requirements. He must is required to direct and supervise subordinates, as well as being prepared to fight. He has a major role is managing both resources and personnel.
Careerism and Professionalism
Changing in military organisations has led to an increase in the general component in the skills component of military personnel. This has contributed to changes in military service in the direction of an occupational model. This has led to the adoption of a more market oriented approach to rewards for military service, and an increased significance for the salaries component of these rewards.
Civilianising of the services can lead to a degree of convergence in which military conditions of service may eventually duplicate civilian conditions. Civilian elements of the defence structure will have an increasing impact on service attitude and identity as their influence continues to expand. The autonomy of military leaders will decrease as they become more accountable for their decisions.
Quantity over Quality
Two interrelated reasons have been suggested for the deterioration of the US Army officer corps in Vietnam. First the emphasis given to quantity over quality. The accelerated promotion of officers inevitably resulting in over promotion of many officer, and the dilution of operational experience. At the end of World War II officers accounted for 7.7% of the Army. This rose to 15% by 1972
Numerical inflation of an officer corps is almost always associated with a decline in quality. Secondly, was the move away from leadership to management. Traditional leadership model and associated military values and practices gave way to the managerial model, and the values and practices of the corporate man. The Army adopted the techniques of the business corporations, such as systems analysis, scientific management, and decision-making. It was taken over by bureaucrats and technocrats.
German Army always emphasised quality over quantity. The officer corps never exceeded one percent of the total army. By 1944 many units were commanded by junior officers. The German army also concentrated on assessment of character, and providing extensive and intensive training for officers and NCO’s. They were prepared to accept vacancies rather than promote officers early and compromise on quality.
We should not accept lowest common denominator of officer leadership. Leadership is an art and a skill, must be encouraged and can be assessed.
It is better to have a commander with expert knowledge of their profession, relying on innate leadership ability, if any, or a commander with perhaps less expert knowledge, but versed in leadership theory and practise. A commander who commands the respect and loyalty of his or her soldiers, and who can be relied upon to lead rather than merely manage their unit.
Text copyright Paratus Defence Analysts and Consultants Limited, 2004
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