Leading a Team on the Battlefield
Leading a team on the battlefield, in adverse environments or in challenging circumstances can be difficult, to say the least. In my experience, leading a team on the battlefield conjures up images of sadness and needless violence. It reflects the results of political failure. However, out of all the negatives emerge some positive lessons.
For thousands of years, famous leaders in the world have developed their craft by leading a team on the battlefield. It is an obvious place to find the traits required to enable us to award someone the title of leader.
Leading a team on the battlefield requires frontline leadership. Both officers and soldiers to be team players, selfless, agile, decisive, quick thinking and – above all, courageous.
General George Patton stated the most important quality of a good leader was a willingness to make decisions. This takes courage. Courage is the hub of all good and effective leaders. All the other traits and characteristics become spokes leading ultimately back to moral and physical courage.
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.
Courage in the face of adversity
Courage is important in the context of the corporate/business world. 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. These traits are evident when parenting a child. Being a parent is the type of leadership most people embark on without realizing it. A parents job is to guide, mentor, praise and encourage a child.
Leading in an uncomfortable environment
In Afghanistan, soldiers leave the protected environment of their bases daily and patrol for many hours or days. Soldiers work in extremely uncomfortable situations on patrol. The severe temperatures and weight of their equipment are physically demanding. 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 can go outside the wire. These leaders can also leave a predictable and familiar environment. 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.
Essential attributes for leading a team on the battlefield
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.
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.
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 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.
All leaders need courage. It is the lynchpin of effective leadership.
If there is one thing I have learnt in my 26-year Military career and all the leadership roles I have had the privilege to undertake, is 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 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.
This Article was updated in May 2019