Revisiting Leadership in the Armed Forces*

By Bazmi, Aslam | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Revisiting Leadership in the Armed Forces*


Bazmi, Aslam, Air & Space Power Journal


MANY BOOKS AND articles have extensively discussed the subject of leadership. In dealing with some of its aspects, therefore, one will likely repeat (albeit somewhat differently) what someone has already said. Basically, the essentials of good leadership in the profession of arms have changed little over the past decades. Although we still hold sound leadership in high esteem, poor leadership has become much less tolerable today and much more dysfunctional than it was 50 years ago. Rapid progress made in the modern technological era demands that present-day leaders use their abilities, attitudes, and perceptions to overcome the polarity caused by the vanity of human power and the neglect of life's pristine values.

What Is Leadership?

Leadership makes people place their faith and trust in a single leader whom they follow and for whom they are willing to give their best. Leaders must be able to inspire their followers by demonstrating superior qualities of body, mind, and character. Their success derives from inspiring their subordinates to think, feel, and act the way they do. A gift of character, leadership can be polished and improved.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery of Great Britain defined leadership as "the will to dominate, together with the character which inspires confidence" (emphasis in original).1 To lead and dominate others, one must first acquire force of character tempered by energy, a sense of purpose and direction, integrity, enthusiasm, and moral courage. People look up to leaders and trust their judgement; leaders inspire and warm the hearts of their followers. Indeed, Field Marshal Sir William Slim of Australia viewed leadership as "the projection of personality."2 In its highest sense, leadership is the goal that all officers must continually seek if they wish to remain worthy of their rank and insignia.

Qualities of a Military Leader

The qualities that we associate with great leadership are so numerous that no one can possess all of them. The following sections briefly discuss a selection of traits typical of celebrated leaders-traits that military officers should strive to acquire.

Conspicuousness

During the period of indecisive inactivity created by an emergency, some people may begin to act doggedly and inspire others to follow them by virtue of their physical prowess, outstanding appearance, or some kind of unique attribute. Such individuals may not have thought of being leaders but simply respond to situations more quickly and assertively than others. Alternatively, leaders-to-be may consciously assume that role and make themselves conspicuous. In the armed forces, we do not have to adopt either of these methods because Conspicuousness comes naturally to us by virtue of our uniforms and insignia on the one hand and, on the other, by the training that prompts all personnel to turn to those of higher rank for guidance. Officers in the armed forces should therefore earnestly strive to acquire qualities that will mature and refine their leadership abilities.

Courage

Speaking of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, Voltaire praises "that calm courage in the midst of tumult, that serenity of soul in danger . . . [which is] the greatest gift of nature for command."' Most people have physical courage but lack moral courage, which is indispensable for a leader. Moral courage consists in being honest and admitting one's mistakes when things go wrong. It shows itself in the ability to make decisions, keeping interests of the service and the country in view against personal interest or self-perpetuation. Lack of moral courage can impel persons with ostensibly strong nerves and great character to make absolutely wrong decisions. Lacking moral courage and not ready to accept defeat, Adolf Hitler cost millions of people their lives. His generals, deficient in courage, turned him into an unbridled demon. By demonstrating moral courage, a leader can avoid many a wrong decision.

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