When writing I often find it all too easy to end up widely off message narrating a vitriolic polemic about some imagined injustice in the world – this post was no different. I, like so many in the military, have strong views on leadership and we don’t tolerate those who shirk that responsibility lightly. But that got me thinking – why do we place such importance on leadership; maybe the problem lies with an individual’s expectation of leadership when, in certain situations, management might have been more appropriate?
‘Command is the whole complex business and a position enshrined in law;
leadership is about people and turbulence; management is about stuff and
numbers’. – Watters & Horton, cited in Leadership in Defence
So if leadership is about people and turbulence, and management is about stuff and numbers, leadership just sounds so much more interesting, doesn’t it? As a member of the Chartered Management Institute (you join these things when on resettlement) I receive their magazine ‘Professional Manager’ through the post every quarter – it makes me cringe every time I see it. The truth, however, is that it is an interesting read and this spring’s edition contains articles on the value of an MBA, how email lost its way and the rising stars of the business world. It interests me as it parallels the work I do in the military but something about the term ‘manager’, especially if I apply it in a military context, still makes me shudder.
You see, in the military to be seen as a manager is to be thought of as uninspiring, uncharismatic and output driven. It is true that an officer will have very little formal leadership training outside of initial officer training and has to rely on learning through osmosis from those above. It could be argued that an officer should be resourceful and seek out qualifications and publications in order to prove their own leadership development; they shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed. I’ve always felt that, away from a theatre of operations, it can be hard to demonstrate functional leadership especially when you may not have an adversary to rally the troops against. Back at home the days flow one into another, the task is routine and the job becomes dull – yes, management can all too quickly become the order of the day.
An important thing to acknowledge early in this post is that, as abhorrent is the thought that senior military officers might be more akin to being managers than leaders, an understanding that this might actually still serve a very real purpose is important. For example, in flying training, the hierarchy is responsible for using of all of their resources in order to get students to finish on time to meet their next course start dates. If they miss the start dates then front line manning will suffer and adjustments will have to be made that will not be conducive to a steady, well-trained and functional war-fighting machine. So although a desire for inspirational leadership, through all levels of military command, might be what we think we need, actually managers might be more appropriate in certain situations.
As the services get smaller, senior figures continue to promise the Government that the task is still acceptable – after all, no one wants to tell their boss that they can’t do what is being asked of them. Unfortunately, by the time we realise that we might have forgotten that ‘integrity’ is one of the core values of our Service, it’s probably too late and we now need to deliver on what we promised. We need to deliver the same but with less and some things will have to go. Wednesday afternoon sports or physical training went many moons ago, centrally funded educational staff rides next and the one week a year adventurous training has slipped to one week in every three years. Alongside this erosion in leadership development opportunities we still have fewer people to get the job done; but it still needs to be done – is it really a surprise that some commanders get so busy that leadership becomes a second thought?
‘Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.’ – Jack Welch
Command, leadership and management can often be referred to as the Officers’ Trinity; command being the exercising of both leadership and management. Management is about achieving output whilst leadership is about getting buy-in with your message and taking people with you on your vision. Positional power gives commanders authority but if this is solely the method of control, then in times of dire need the commander will become unstuck. At these times a very real form of leadership will be required – this can be described as ‘Personal Power’ and it is this that differentiates the leader from the manager when in a command position.
Increasingly in the military, but also in many businesses, more and more contractors are being employed to fill in the gaps and to provide a more cost-effective way of delivering defence. In the RAF, the Whole Force Concept sees contractors and civil servants mixed in with regular and reserve servicemen and servicewomen creating a very unique environment in which to operate for both sides. On my station there are 40 contractors and sub-contractors who make up 70% of the Station strength; this means that only 30% of people on the Station are military. Each contractor has their own way of operating and their own pre-conceived ideas about defence which requires the military person to employ a very unique and individual approach to their working practises. In the military we all agree that an order is an order; they are rarely delivered in such a perfunctory manner, however, but still the expectation is that, once given, the direction will be followed. This approach is not always possible when working with contractors who may have different aims and objectives.
When Tim Collins, as Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Royal Irish Regiment, gave his rousing eve-of-battle speech to his men on 19 March 2003 it was necessary and appropriate. It was what a leader is supposed to do and there is no doubt that the message Collins imparted to his men that day saved lives and helped to achieve their unit’s success on the battlefield. When Winston Churchill delivered his famous ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ speech to the House of Commons on 4 June 1940 it was at the height of the battle for France and he warned of a very real possible invasion by Germany. His speech was another stirring battle cry that motivated the country to engage in war and inevitably ensure its victorious outcome.
‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…’ – Churchill, 4 June 1940
Both of the above examples demonstrate effective leadership but do these speeches have any real place in the peacetime military or is the expectation that ‘everyman will do his duty’ enough to warrant a more distant leadership style more akin to management? I guess the question is: In peacetime, why bother with leadership at all?
I have served under many men and women in all three UK Services and under international commanders, too. Some I greatly admired but others I am happy to never encounter again – I am sure in business the same can be said. I have witnessed people progress through their careers gaining promotion based on qualities that have no place in war-fighting and who are loathed by the people they command. I have also seen commanders whose careers have been limited by being committed leaders, putting their people first and the paperwork second and who I would have followed into a high-threat environment without a second thought. So how can leadership be defined when away from the core task of war-fighting; is it truly just ‘management with a smile’?
Personally, the best description of leadership that I’ve ever heard is:
‘Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.’ – Dwight D. Eisenhower
The quote above is not too colourful and kind of bland but as a usable description of leadership, I think it works. A Google definition search on management finds it described as ‘the process of dealing with or controlling things or people’. If we look at these two definitions, albeit with the recognition that there are many more out there, leadership talks of getting someone ‘wanting to do something’ and management describes the ‘controlling’ of people.
These are very different things and here, I believe, lies the fundamental problem.
Although management, in theory and in times of peace, can most definitely be applied effectively in the pursuit of outcomes and goals, it should be acknowledged that it possesses a destructive influence on the longer term strategic aims especially in a dynamic business or in the military. Management lacks inspirational intent and if we don’t inspire our people they will eventually walk away. And let’s not think that all of our senior people are leaders, either – I remember someone saying to me ‘when you don’t aspire to be the boss, it’s time to leave’.
Leadership has nothing to do with rank; routinely I will witness a junior serviceman or woman showing significant leadership ability amongst higher ranking peers – this can be found at work or when operating in all ranks adventurous training exercises. However, with a reduction in adventure training opportunities, as the services reduce in size and the task stays the same, other ways to develop leadership will need to be found. I think we have discussed the difference between a commander and a leader but to re-iterate, all bosses have authority but they are not all leaders. I believe leaders have a responsibility for those they oversee. Leaders must make sure their charges are progressing in their careers and that they are growing as individuals; this is where I believe the difference between leadership and management is most stark. As a manager I cared about output and, because of this, I had to make sure that those responsible for that output where functional. Without a functional team I could not output students to the front line. Now, as a leader this wasn’t enough – I had to make sure that I was inspiring my team, that I personally took responsibility for their personal growth and career progression and that the product I outputted (students) were motivated to succeed on their front line squadrons; a very different task indeed.
‘Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away’. – Vice Admiral James Stockdale, US Navy, 1987
In the military, and in business, care must be taken to understand the difference between management and leadership and the consequences of both. I believe that we can, and do, populate command positions with managers that are very good at securing output, but let’s not expect anything else from them. As a military we must understand that if we follow this policy we are losing something else, something that is so very important. We are losing the ability to inspire the next generation of leaders and maintain a front-line focused, core fighting capability and this is no different in business. It might be acceptable in the short-term but as a ‘plan’ it is a poor one that will lead to the growing of process driven decision makers further down the line.
So what can be done? I think that we need to recognise that developing leadership in benign conditions is a difficult process and we should expect that the majority of our authority will be managers. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing if it is recognised within an organisation.
To be an effective leader takes practise and, if you attempt to become a leader on your own, you will probably gain haters as you are leaving the other ‘managers’ behind. A leader is someone who has integrity and sacrifice, someone who is passionate in putting the team first and themselves second. Someone who recognises that a failure of one of their subordinates is a failure of themselves. A leader will actively look for ways to make their workplace better for all, opportunities to grow their team’s skill-sets and progress the team’s careers. If you put your team first then they will find that they are capable of so much more – I have pushed my team into positions that they felt were way above their abilities but, when they saw the belief I had in them, it allowed them to achieve more than they could have ever imagined.
‘The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are
to where they have not been.’ – Henry Kissinger
It’s hard to practise getting better at playing a sport if you don’t have anybody to play against – leadership is no different. In order to practise leadership, you need to facilitate the opportunity for doing so. Organisations must make time for team building days, adventure and educational training and individual development. If we do not do this then we can only expect to develop managers who might be good at ‘stuff and numbers’ but won’t be good at ‘people and turbulence’.
It should be an organisation’s priority to not allow leadership to be left to chance.