Leading a Team on the Battlefield, Could You?
Leading a team in adverse environments or in challenging circumstances can be difficult to say the least. In my experience the battlefield conjures up images of sadness, needless violence and the results of political failure but out of all the negatives emerge some positive lessons.
For thousands of years some of the most famous leaders in the world have developed their craft on battlegrounds across the globe. On the surface I would suggest it would seem that it is an obvious place to find individuals who possess the traits and characteristics that society feels are required to enable us to award someone the title of leader.
Leading a team on the battlefield requires frontline leadership and both officers and soldiers to be team players, selfless, agile, decisive, quick thinking and – above all, courageous.
General George Patton stated that the most important quality of a good leader was a willingness to make decisions and this takes courage. Courage is the hub of all good and effective leaders as all the other traits and characteristics become spokes leading ultimately back to the centre i.e. courage (both moral and physical).
Courage is essential when leading a team, in Afghanistan my team and I came under intense enemy fire and two soldiers were cut off from the main team. One of my soldiers ran out into the open in order to draw the fire towards him so the stranded soldiers could join back up with us. The was an act of utter bravery but courage is relative; it could be the courage that empowers an individual to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, decisions that ultimately will lead to the success of the task. It may be a decision that takes the hardest route both physically and emotionally.
To reinforce the importance of courage in the corporate/business context, consider some high-profile situations where courage was demonstrated. One good example was the company CEO who recently poised in front of the cameras and admitted responsibility for the horse meat scandal. Whether they guided the organisation through negative economic impacts or corporate reorganisations it still required the leader to display courage in the face of adversity.
Leadership is not difficult; leading a team through difficult situations involves common-sense, a calm head and some logical thinking, all of which are inside each and every one of us. If those skills were not inside everyone then only selected people would become parents. Being a parent is the type of leadership most people embark on without realizing it. Children need to be motivated, guided, mentored, praised, encouraged, disciplined and respected and so do people.
In Afghanistan, soldiers leave the protected environment of their bases daily and patrol for many hours or days. They are now working in an extremely uncomfortable environment, surrounded by the unknown, physically demanding due to severe temperatures and the weight of equipment. They are in a world of heightened tension and this increases the importance of good effective frontline leadership. Team members look to leaders for reassurance, guidance, and direction. The effective leader, one with courage, is able to deliver.
In a similar vein, the corporate leader too can go outside the wire — leave a predictable and familiar environment — and enter a setting where his/her courage in leadership is tested. The business leader who acts with courage and has built his/her leadership skills on a solid footing by the effective, continual, and daily exercise of leadership will succeed. It doesn’t matter if you are on the battlefield or in the boardroom; it is all relative as are the pressures and uncertainty.
I propose that leaders should possess four essential attributes if they are to successfully lead in times of trouble, times when others actually look to them for help and guidance. The first three can be seen as being supported by the fourth – courage.
Loyalty. Loyalty is not very often mentioned in business but it is crucial. A good leader must display two way loyalties. Loyalty must be shown to those above and therefore to the organisation. At the same time, loyalty must be shown to those below, to one’s subordinates. For the leader to show disloyalty to either would undermine the team cohesion, trust and organizational ethos.
Knowledge. Leaders should be Subject matter experts (SMEs) if they are to gain the respect and trust of the team and if the leader lacks knowledge, he/she lacks credibility.
Integrity. Integrity is fundamental. It means refusing to deceive others in any way, no matter what the circumstances, in other words, real leaders don’t shake responsibility to others.
Courage. All leaders need courage. It is the lynchpin of effective leadership.
If there is one thing that I have learnt in my 26 year Military career and all the leadership roles I have had the privilege to undertake, is that actions speak louder than words. Leaders at all levels must, demonstrate honesty and openness, loyalty must never waver, leaders must establish and maintain open communications, team members need to know that their suggestions will be listened to and considered, give them a voice. All of these leadership points are facilitated by a leader who has courage.