Academic journal article Military Review

Battle Leadership Examples from the Field

Academic journal article Military Review

Battle Leadership Examples from the Field

Article excerpt

More than 40 years ago, management guru Peter F. Drucker reiterated that the first systematic book on leadership, written 2,000 years ago by Xenophon, a Greek general, is still the best on the subject.'

Xenophon's book on combat leadership describes leadership actions during a five-month campaign when he and others, although surrounded by a hostile and numerically superior foe, led 10,000 men in a retreat from Babylon to the Black Sea. If the concepts of battle leadership written 2,000 years ago are so powerful they attract the recommendation of probably the greatest management thinker of our time, I thought they might well apply to nonbattle environments also.

The fact is, a professional soldier, sailor, Marine or airman spends most of his career preparing for war or cleaning up after a war-not fighting. Moreovermodernwarfare requires a supporting cast far larger than just those who actually wield weapons. So, whether assuming combat responsibilities or serving in a noncombat function as a "war supporter," combat leadership potentially seems to have something to offer outside the confines of the battlefield.

Is Conventional Thought Wrong?

That combat leaders have anything to offer noncombat leaders flies in the face of conventional thinking. Even some military people feel that war is war and so unique as a human endeavor that nothing derived from it has any noncombat application. Yet, much technology and cures for diseases have sprung from wartime developments. No less a military thinker than B.H. Liddell Hart, writing of his concept of the indirect approach in his classic book Strategy, states:

"With deepened reflection, however, I began to realize that the indirect approach had a much wider application-that it was a law of life in all spheres."2

Many military leaders who never served in battle probably apply combat leadership principles without considering what they are doing or where their ideas and leadership philosophies originated. General Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded the largest seaborne invasion in history. However, he had no actual combat leadership experience. General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold was the only airman to wear five stars, and he commanded the largest air force in history. But he never served as a combat leader either.

Some civilians believe that leadership in battle consists only of running around shouting orders. If this were true, there would not be a lot we could learn from it to apply elsewhere. In my judgment, battle leadership represents probably the greatest leadership challenge for any leader. There are significant hazards. There are poor working conditions. There is probably greater uncertainty than in any other type of human activity. It may be the only leader activity where both followers and leaders would rather be somewhere else. Further, as Drucker points out, "In no other type of leadership must the leader make decisions based on less, or less reliable, information."3

While there are true military geniuses in battle, the majority of people in the military, as in most organizations, are ordinary men and women-not military professionals.

And, not all are suited to their jobs.

Whether a professional or a trained amateur, all soldiers are stressed far more than those in any civilian situation or occupation. Also, leaders must not only carry out the mission, they must also be responsible for the lives of those they lead. So, battle represents a "worst-case" condition.

No wonder traditional motivators such as higher pay, good benefits and job security are not much good.

There is no "business as usual" on the battlefield.

Under these conditions, good leaders enable ordinary people to routinely accomplish the extraordinary. In battle, leaders help their followers reach difficult goals and complete arduous tasks. People in such an environment cannot be managed-they must be led. And under terrible conditions, successful combat leaders build and lead amazing organizations that get things done ethically, honestly and, for the most part, humanely. …

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