6 Inspiring Military Leadership Ideas You Need To Know

Lead well — the British Army Way

Mark J Kingsfield
Sep 25, 2019 · 5 min read
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© Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty

I have served 14 years as a British Army Officer and was fortunate enough to be subject to arguably the finest leadership development regimen in the world. Having attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to undertake the 44 week Regular Officer Commissioning Course, I joined an organisation which has, historically at least, generated some of Britain’s finest Leaders. I had a lot to learn.

Amongst the things that the British Army does well is celebrate its heritage, and is increasingly improving its ability to learn lessons from the past. This may be a contentious subject when considering recent operations, but that will not be discussed here.

One element of the organisation which thrives is the concept of Leadership, and how we develop our own, bespoke, personal style of Leadership and Command. I benefited greatly from it, in many respects.

It was my honour to command and lead British Soldiers at various levels, on and off operations, and was privileged to do so. Over the years, I have picked up a number of pithy quotes, principles, axioms, and maxims, which I always found of some use when considering how to handle challenging situations.

The ethos of an organisation is set by the Commander; it was not a responsibility to be taken lightly. As with all such things, there is no panacea, no one single answer. The situation, context, character, personality, and the task at hand all significantly alter the approach to leadership in any moment.

For anyone in a leadership role, and even for those who aren’t, I consider the following a useful list of intellectual way points, which I hope some may find at least of interest, and hopefully of some use:

This is the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and arguably the bedrock of British Military Leadership. The premise is simple; you Lead, by selflessly Serving your soldiers and subordinates. One cannot get people to do extraordinary things, unless they know you will do the same for them. The concept of Servant Leadership is a golden thread which runs through the British Army Chain of Command, and its leadership approach.

Quite simply; subordinate your own needs and wants, to ensure appropriate and prioritised action. “The standard that you walk by is the standard that you accept” is a supporting idea, and reinforces that a Leader must do the correct thing at all times, however difficult or unpleasant it may be. Importantly, this also speaks to the requirement to make difficult, unpopular decisions (a fundamental requirement of Leadership), as well as promoting self-discipline. Soldiers, and indeed any subordinate, notice everything you do, or indeed, what you do not do.

A Leader must always understand what their desired end state is, and strategize comprehensively to deliver it. The British Army speak of ‘second and third order effects’, which articulates the importance of understanding the inter-connectivity of activity: If we do X, Y will happen, which may result in Z. Thinking to the finish focuses on avoiding impulsive, short-termist decision making and activity, understanding the context within which you are working, and detailed consideration of how to deliver your aims and objectives.

If an organisation is able to master its fundamental skills and outputs, it can deal with any situation which it may face. Being the best at what you do is what separates any organisation from others, be it warehouse management, coding, or the delivery of lethal effect. The ability for a leader to inculcate this ideal in his subordinates is fundamental; it breeds confidence, capability, and agility. Furthermore, if the leader is a master of their own brief, understands intimately what they do and how to do it, it gives them credibility, respect, and enables rapid and informed decision making. Time is not wasted on the basics (how to do it) when a situation imposes challenging demands on time or activity to respond. With mastery of the basics, the leader has the cognitive burden eased, as does the team, to work out what to do and enable tinely decision making.

Enthusiastic, passionate, and motivated leaders may pride themselves on the speed of their decision making. Any rapid response to a situation is, in its immediacy, subject to reflex and heuristically biased reactions. Taking the time to think things through, known colloquially as a ‘condor moment’, can be incredibly useful. A reaction is immediate, broadly unconsidered, and will often lack the nuances demanded by a complicated or challenging situation. Taking a short moment, even half a minute, can ensure that appropriate, considered, and intelligent decisions are made can be the difference between critical success or abject failure.

The ability to communicate information effectively within any organisation is fundamental to its successful management. However, the traditional idea of ensuring that ‘passage of information’ is taking place from the top to the bottom, and indeed sideways, is lacking in nuance. Information is everywhere, and bombards people from every direction; internal communication within an organisation is no different. The ability for a leader to disseminate information, but in doing so ensuring it is fully understood by every member of the team is a game changer. If people truly understand what they are being told, moving on from ‘what’, to ‘how’ and ‘why’, and what it means to them, co-ordinated activity and unity of effort will drive the team to the ultimate objective. If no one truly understands what is happening and why, they cannot be expected to drive towards the collective goal. A leader must ensure that his people understand.

There are of course many more which could be discussed, and indeed if there is interest, I am more than willing to spend more time on explaining some potential transferable benefits for the commercial world to consider. As guiding principles, the above have served me well, and for any leaders reading this, I hope they assist you in making your teams, whom you will feel privileged to lead, happier, more effective, motivated, and driven towards collective excellence.

You set the tone, make sure you set the correct one.

Thank you for making it this far! I know that your time is precious and I am grateful for you spending some of it on my work. More is available at thenowman.com

If you enjoyed the article or have any comments, recommendations, or tips for improvement please do comment below.

Thanks again, happy reading, and good luck with your writing!

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Mark J Kingsfield

Written by

Leader | Writer | Army Officer | Husband | Dad. Not in that order. Focus on Leadership, Personal Growth & Self Improvement.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Mark J Kingsfield

Written by

Leader | Writer | Army Officer | Husband | Dad. Not in that order. Focus on Leadership, Personal Growth & Self Improvement.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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