Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Military Leaders and Global Leaders: Contrasts, Contradictions, and Opportunities

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Military Leaders and Global Leaders: Contrasts, Contradictions, and Opportunities

Article excerpt

Leadership has long been a focal point of human curiosity but has recently gathered even more attention. As globalization becomes increasingly the dominant force in political, social, and economic affairs, leaders far and wide are being called upon to take on new roles and address emergent challenges. This trend may be most prominent in the arena of national security. In particular, military leaders must now interact with a broader range of social communities as engagements span national and cultural boundaries.1 While in the past, national militaries or their forces or branches acted alone, most of today's engagements involve coalitions, "partners", or joint forces. How do the traditional traits and characteristics of military leaders align with this new environment? This paper will examine several traits or characteristics of military leaders, compare them to those of other global leaders, and suggest ways to prepare military leaders for global leadership roles that go beyond parochial interests.

Military Leaders: Character and Skills

Over the years, there has been a greater focus on what makes for good leadership as research results converge on the key traits, attributes, and prerequisites of effective leaders. At the same time, there has been a shared recognition that effective leadership combines elements of both art and science. The science derives from a process of identifying required leadership skills and building educational programs to promote those skills. The art of leadership derives from certain apparently innate attributes or traits such as perseverance or conviction. For leaders to be truly effective, they must have not just skills (competencies) or traits (characteristics), but both.2

The study of military leadership has itself a lengthy history. Among its recurring themes is, "big man theory," according to which there are certain individuals just born to be military leaders, from Alexander the Great to Napoleon to George Patton. When it comes to the nature of military leadership in today's national security environment, there are several traits that appear to be universally essential. Among them are the propensity to make good decisions quickly, the capacity to act with conviction, and the ability to take a position, be it of policy or strategy, and compel it on others.3 Each of these characteristics is distinctive, but in the conduct of leading others they are not simply complementary but synergistic as well.

Making Decisions Quickly

Battles may be won or lost at a moment's notice. When the circumstances arrive to attack (or retreat), an effective military leader must not delay but decide on a course of action and begin to implement it. If there is one trait that can undermine one's regard for a military leader, it is the inability to make a timely decision and then act quickly on the basis of that decision. Some of the explanations for why the U.S. Civil War lasted so long point to the indecisiveness of General George McClellan and his hesitation to take action against the Army of Northern Virginia despite the disproportionate power of the Union Army.

Acting with Conviction

Decisions facing military leaders at the strategic, operational, or tactical level often have clear and direct implications for the health and well being of those under their command. One of the simple definitions of a leader is someone who has followers. Followers engage with leaders who are able to communicate the correctness of their decisions, and thus evoke within followers the strong sense or faith that the right course of action is being taken.4 A commander who is unable to demonstrate or show conviction is less apt to have followers who implement their orders with zeal, especially if their lives depend on the outcome. When General Robert E. Lee ordered the charge of Pickett's brigade up Cemetery Ridge at the battle of Gettysburg in 1863, he demonstrated conviction that the direct attack would break the Union line. …

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