Leadership is a key component of military training; the ability to inspire young men and women to do things requiring inordinate bravery in chaotic and dangerous situations is the cornerstone of being in the services, but if you have had no contact with members of the Armed Forces, that understanding of how they nurture this leadership (and “followership” which arguably is as important as leadership itself) could be quite distorted.
Through the course of my work, I come into contact with hundreds of organisations within industry and the commercial sector, and despite increased awareness of the services role, it has become apparent that some of our business leaders don’t fully understand the many different leadership qualities that are created, refined and practised in the armed forces.
Military wife and business owner believes that there are four defining qualities serving personnel can bring to the workplace.
- The first is Respect. Many businesses lose that sense of hierarchy in the workplace and it may sound old fashioned but it works. Those in the Armed Forces learn to respect their peers and appreciate the need to do so under the chain of command. On a battlefield this could be a life and death situation and it’s learned in a way that leaves a lasting effect.
- Responsibility is a quality that is invested in relatively junior commanders at an early age, be it a 21 year old Second Lieutenant straight out from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, or a Lance-Corporal who has just 4 years military experience and then given the responsibility for 4 soldiers. This is a theme that grows exponentially over a career so with each promotion, further responsibility is added to the rank achieved.
- Many of the technical activities conducted by soldier tradesmen in the Army are Process-driven. The ability to understand process and carry it out quickly, diligently and efficiently is another quality which is fine-tuned at an early age. There are finite resources in the military and soldiers are drilled to understand that equipment husbandry and materiel efficiencies are critical to ensuring that the scarce resources are used in the most cost-efficient way. This quality has much utility in the commercial sector where the bottom line, rather than scarcity of resources, drive the business.
- Camaraderie born out of shared experiences and enduring hardships is a final quality. It creates unique human bonds which underpin teamwork and collective effort, and while these may appear to be difficult to foster in the civilian sector, those who have experienced once it will actively seek to reaffirm it – industry would be advised to recognise this and harness its potential.
Colonel Neil Jurd trains and develops leadership through collaborative team planning; if the planning is shared, then everyone is ‘bought-in’ from the outset. Since leaving the Army he has given a lot of thought to rank and status. “I think it has the potential to limit individual effectiveness if people are allowed to hide behind their position, either to avoid challenge or limit their own ceiling of responsibility. I think in the civilian world people are as not ‘rank aware’ or ‘status conscious’ as they are in the forces, but I would recommend that the ownership of planning is shared out amongst the team – if it is their plan, they will be committed to it”.
“Military doctrine defines the ‘Mission Command’ way of working, which involves everyone understanding the commander’s intent, and building a team where there is trust, mutual understanding and an expectation that leaders will make quick and effective decisions. This way of working can be applied in any working environment, and is very similar to a model I used at the Leadership Trust to help prepare Team Scotland for the Commonwealth Games”.
“Team building is really important; in the forces we live together, work together, play sport together and socialise together – and we are hugely proud of what we are part of. Civilian companies rarely come close to achieving this level of moral commitment, but they could. If people understand and believe in the purpose of the organisation, and understand how they contribute to the overall effect, that really helps. Group planning and team building events are a good use of time; people bond, and people will work more effectively when they know each other well, and will be far less likely to let each other down. Building a strong team is good for retention, reduces sickness absence, and increases output.”
In summary, Leadership is a nebulous concept which Generals, academics and the business world have struggled to effectively contain and define (Field Marshall William Slim defined it as “just plain you”); however it is important – the ability to drive a team to achieve results through nurture, passion, belief and force of personality is a rare quality and one that is intuitively understood and developed by the armed forces. It has universal applicability to the commercial sector, and those leaving the services could undoubtedly make a valuable contribution to any organisation seeking to promote leadership (and “followership”) through investment in a shared vision and utilising those leadership skills honed throughout a military career.
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