Abstract: This article aims to explain and evaluate the importance of leadership in a military environment. Proper leadership as a tool for prospering and efficient functioning has become the driving force for many civilian organizations. In recent years, its importance also penetrated the military world and transformed it into a modern and efficient organization. Leadership is a process that requires creativity, daring, and a lot of skills to become effective. This article analyzes some of the skills and methods that every good leader should master to motivate his subordinates to follow him and achieve the goal together.
Problem statement: How to explain the role of a leader and leadership as a process?
Bottom-line-up-front: Military leadership displays specific aspects that can be examined. Several parallels with art in its classic sense may be observed as a dynamic process, such as creativity. Every leader chooses his colors and style to create – and to lead.
So what?: A thorough analysis of the meaning of leadership itself is the basis for understanding it. Understanding provides the basis for effective implementation into the daily life of the unit and the armed forces as a whole. The art of leadership shall be taught to future leaders on all levels. Military academies and other educational institutions with experienced lectors shall provide the newest leadership trends to military leaders throughout their careers.
Source: shutterstock.com/Panchenko Vladimir
Leadership, Leader, Command and Control
When it comes to fulfilling the mission, everyone desires to win, and people doing the fighting want to believe in the mission’s purpose. This statement very roughly outlines the purpose of leadership. When defining leadership, we start by examining numerous definitions of leadership by various authors that can be found in the literature. One of them defines leadership as ”the process of persuasion or example by which an individual (or team) induces a group to pursue objectives held by the leader or shared by the leaders and their followers“. Another definition focuses on „persuading others by an individual or a team of leaders“. According to this idea, leadership represents „a process that promotes achieving goals“. Leadership may also be defined as „the effort to force people to perform tasks willingly on behalf of the leader“. This effort is based on the leader’s charisma, their behavior, and the enforcement of their opinions“. Indeed, leadership should be efficient. Efficient leadership is performed in a process where an individual or a group of people succeed in their effort to define the reality of others, by which they manage to make others adopt their opinions. is the leader aims to set the direction and recruit people to follow it.
When it comes to fulfilling the mission, everyone desires to win, and people doing the fighting want to believe in the mission’s purpose.
In comparison to command and control, leadership is based primarily on defining the aim and motivating people to strive to achieve the aim. At the same time, the leader is characterized by greater authority followed by greater responsibility. The main tasks of a leader today include:
- high-level performances, which ensure the prosperity of the organization while motivating others to perform on a high level;
- take higher responsibility and strive to ensure the welfare of their subordinates;
- helping individuals with their personal growth and development and, eventually;
- prepare them for promotions.
The essence of leadership should not be viewed just from one point of view, i. e., the command of several basic competences or styles of leadership. Instead, leadership should be viewed as an overall change of mind, behavior, and understanding of the issues of leading people. Leadership is about the preparedness and willingness to cooperate and positively affect people. According to M. R. Covey, leadership means that a leader expresses the value and potential of their subordinates in such a way that they start to realize it by themselves. In simple terms, understanding leads to willingness, and willingness leads to better performance.
Leadership is about the preparedness and willingness to cooperate and positively affect people.
Thus, the aim of leadership is clear: to make people do what they should to support the mission and the team. However, the performances vary from person to person. Leadership consists of many aspects that each leader must discover to achieve unique know-how. Leaders vary, subordinates vary, colleagues and superiors vary. Each person has its individual characteristics and traits, and world views. Therefore, leadership becomes a difficult and complex area.
Leaders’ tendency to act a certain way in different situations, or in other words, their personalities, can highly affect the process of leading. Their ability to influence others even when they disagree, willingness to take charge and get things done, and strength in times of crisis or in the decisive moment can set the course of the whole mission. Their decisions could differ whether they are open to new ideas, cautious, responsible or careless, energetic or reserved, compassionate or critical, or anxious or confident. Disagreements are frustrating and time-consuming. Good leaders should be able to find a solution quickly, cope with different personalities, including their own and find an efficient way to „blend the different colors into convenient shade”. Leaders should manifest various character traits that help them lead a group of people, whether small or big. In fact, it is very difficult to name just several of these traits considered crucial.
The question of whether leaders are born or made can be answered as follows: some are born with typical leadership traits. They are charismatic, talkative, witty, decisive, able to take risks even if others hesitate, and they can remain level-headed even in chaotic and extremely tense situations. This does not mean those lacking these traits cannot become efficient leaders. In fact, those who are willing to learn, humble, willing to improve and seek constructive criticism, disciplined and trained, and who can develop these traits even if they are not born with them. Such training is crucial, as, without it, no leader can develop the basic skills or obtain a reasonable level of certainty regarding their ability to communicate and lead. Leadership comes in several basic forms, in which we may examine the leader´s traits; while some may manifest greater talent to lead, others may not, but it is still possible to train these traits. Each leader must understand that their behavior affects the behavior of their subordinates.
Some are born with typical leadership traits. They are charismatic, talkative, witty, decisive, able to take risks even if others hesitate, and they can remain level-headed even in chaotic and extremely tense situations. This does not mean those lacking these traits cannot become efficient leaders.
To build and strengthen the organization, there are four processes or concepts that all leaders perform – concepts that drive the organization forward and create its very base. Leadership blending with management, command and control gives the organization the ability to focus on opportunities and deal with threats:
- Leadership drives the interpersonal aspects of the organization, such as morale and team spirit.
- Management deals with the conceptual issues of the organization, such as planning, budgeting, and organizing.
- Command guides the organization with well-thought-out visions that make it effective.
- Control provides structure to the organization to make it more efficient.
Veber defines “command and control as the set of all activities needed to be performed for the proper functioning of organization“.
However, Bělohlávek considers command and control “a process of systematic planning, organizing, leading people to achieve its assigned goals“. These definitions describe the activities to achieve each organization’s objectives successfully. Control stems from effective coordination and deciding on what and when to perform tasks and who is responsible for the tasks. The organization’s role is to achieve the goals with the least possible costs at the highest possible level of quality.
At present, two levels of command are distinguished: command of people in managerial activities and leadership. A good manager leading others to follow an organization’s aims is not necessarily a good leader. The differences between command and control, manager and leader, have been described especially by P. F. Drucker: control means doing things well, and command means the right things are being done“.
Typical features can characterize military leadership because its environment is typical for several levels of command, where obedience and following orders are required. The ability to lead people is required of commanders on the highest levels and all levels of command. Various military operations test the commanding abilities of commanders, who must accept the following facts:
- nothing is certain;
- the success of the selected strategy depends on the responsible approach to solving each situation;
- there are no second chances; thus, all tasks must be performed at full speed;
- whatever happened cannot be undone; and
- each operation comes with the commander´s responsibility for concrete decisions.
Besides these, a future leader must embrace some other facts, such as:
- UNDERSTANDING – the leader bears the responsibility for his world and all included in it;
- EMOTIONS – reasonable use of emotions, being professional – objective, and impartial;
- EGO – controlling oneself;
- LEARNING – never-ending process, being able and willing to learn; and
- STANDARD – using standards enhances good results and gives space for motivation, enforcement measures, and monitoring.
Functional leadership is especially crucial in specialized military units such as SOF. These units are characterized by their wide range of capabilities operating in high-intensity combat areas. Regarding these operations, the unit might lose its commanders, and it is necessary that any other unit member replaces them. Therefore, each unit member must be able to lead and accomplish the mission. Some aspects of this practice could be used in the training of other units. The first important step to accomplishing the mission is understanding. If a soldier doesn’t understand why and how to do so, they cannot bring their creativity to the table, they cannot continue if communication to a superior level is lost. Every professional soldier shall be ready for such situations. Thus, all professional soldiers shall be trained in leadership.
Functional leadership is especially crucial in specialized military units such as SOF. These units are characterized by their wide range of capabilities operating in high-intensity combat areas.
Military leadership consists of a set of competences, by which commanders command their subordinates, develop their skills and knowledge, and form their attitudes within various situations. A military leader should also be able to motivate his subordinates to be willing to perform all tasks with full dedication. The commander must comply with the rules when achieving goals, thereby setting an example for his subordinates. Each commander must be aware that he performs three important tasks; the role of the leader, the role of the manager, and the role of the coach. As a leader, he sets goals, simultaneously represents how specific goals will be fulfilled, and inspires his subordinates to fulfill them. In the position of a manager, he assigns tasks, effectively uses the assigned forces and resources, supports subordinates in the performance of tasks, evaluates them, solves operational situations, manages changes related to the fulfillment of goals, and controls the fulfillment of tasks. In the position of a coach, he supports the development of the abilities of his subordinates and leads them to independence. The position of leader and manager can be applied in both peace and combat situations, while in combat situations, the leader should prefer the position of leader, which is more effective for subordinates. The position of a coach can be used to the fullest earlier in a peaceful life.
Leadership experience exists in various forms. From a career with direct subordinates to an individual contributor who serves as a role model, the path to leadership in an organization does not represent a straight line. Although the transition from the military to the civilian world has its pitfalls, much of the leadership experience gained during a military career also serves well in the civilian world. The experience of military veterans has proven to be very beneficial for a wide range of civilian organizations, and the military method of leading a team is becoming increasingly popular. The explanation for this phenomenon can be simple. The military world exposes leaders and their subordinates to complex situations where their abilities are shown and can be used to the maximum. Whether it is the daily life of a unit or the combat operation itself, leaders are responsible for the lives of their subordinates and completing the task. In situations they normally encounter, commanders must be able to make a quick and effective decision, anticipate its consequences and calculate with the available resources, often in seconds. This requires perfect knowledge of the subordinates and qualities that allow for completing an incomplete image. That is why military leaders are some of the most effective leaders ever.
Leadership experience exists in various forms. From a career with direct subordinates to an individual contributor who serves as a role model, the path to leadership in an organization does not represent a straight line.
There is an interesting tool the military commander has at his disposal. The behavior management system that comes from the military is “optimal communication for adaptability.” The idea behind this methodology is that team members’ recorded statements and behaviors can be analyzed later to derive consequences for the mission that the Head of Mission is unlikely to recognize otherwise: team morale and the state of the mission. Thus, in simple terms, the tool is feedback from its subordinates in the form of reports, which provides the commander with a so-called ” helicopter view” on the general condition and helps him complete an incomplete picture.
Maintaining a “helicopter view” through data collection could be an ingredient that distinguishes a successful organization from an unsuccessful one. Although many civilian organizations have adopted this approach, they struggle to apply the data obtained in practice. For example, (not) dealing with toxic relationships in the workplace is still a barrier to achieving productivity.
If the unit commander wants to be perceived as a leader, s/he should adopt the following important principles:
1. LeadershipisEveryone’sBusiness—being a good commander (leader) and leading people is not just for those who have innate leadership qualities or for those chosen for leadership positions, but for everyone. This may be more difficult for some, but everyone should master the basic qualities of a commander.
2. TheBasisofaGoodCommanderisHisCharacterTraitBuiltOnCredibility,WhichMotivatesSubordinatestoVoluntarilyFollowHim– character credit consists of several important qualities of the commander. These qualities are later reflected in behavior and leadership.
3. ThePersonalValuesoftheCommanderEncouragethePreoccupationofOthers – the commander is expected to be transparent to others and to be able to sell these values to subordinates. From this point of view, the best commanders are those who can connect their values with those of their subordinates.
4. TheCommanderEitherCommandsbyExampleOrDoesNotCommandatAll – the actions of the commander should be in accordance with his values in order to convince subordinates that his values are really important.
5. AnImportantPrerequisiteforSuccessfulLeadershipistoLookAhead – every good commander should have visions about the unit’s progress and be able to deliver on their visions. The ability to demonstrate to the unit a tangible vision for the future significantly distinguishes the commander-leader from commanders who cannot do this.
6. LeadershipisNotJustAboutaCommander’sVision— agood commander must understand people and have social feelings.
7. ChangesareOpportunitiesforDevelopment– the commander must be able to deal with any changes and use them for the benefit of the unit.
8. TheCommanderisaTeamPlayer – the commander himself will never achieve anything. All achievements are in synergy with the subordinates he commands.
9. LeadershipisaRelationship– when leading, a commander must realize that his relationship with subordinates should be dynamic and have respect, trust, and support.
10. TheHeartofLeadershipisto sit carefully – a commander honors and respects the emotions and needs of his subordinates.
In a military environment, leadership is divided into three levels of command, depending on the military organization:
- DirectLeadership – or even face-to-face leadership – is typical of squad, platoon, or company commanders. These commanders are involved in their subordinates’ personal education, exercise, and upbringing.
- OrganizationalLeadership–this level of command is typical for commanders of battalions, brigades, regiments, and above. This chain of command requires skills to prepare and manage the complex nature of the exercises.
- StrategicLeadership – this is the highest degree of leadership exercised by a different element of structure, depending on a country’s structure and organization, such as the General Staff. Within this level of command, tasks with a high degree of complexity are performed, which are generally related to the political situation in the country.
When it comes to strategic leadership, we may not forget his counterpart, tactical leadership. Although we may find some similarities with the levels of command, the comparison of strategic and tactical leadership is not a structural issue but a difference in styles. Both tactical and strategical leadership can be applied to all levels of command, but their use is more or less appropriate depending on the individual levels. It’s for the best to create a balance between them.
Tactical leaders focus on the literal tactics, or maneuvers, that are needed to get what needs to be done. It’s a relentless daily focus on checking off tasks. They can manage and maneuver through critical incidents and try to shift things around to maximize efficiency. Their approach to work is one of logic, which is supported by an underlying rationale that supports that logic. Major strides in what gets done today are given attention, commendation, and celebration to produce a tactical advantage. The disadvantage of tactical leaders is that they can lose sight of the vision — of where the company wants to go. They don’t always lead people around them to understand that longer-term picture. Because they like the efficiencies that established systems and processes bring to the company, they aren’t masters of change management.
On the other hand, strategic leaders are always thinking about the long-term implications of what they’re doing. As a result, their work is almost always determined by the bigger picture, the longer-term vision around what we’re doing today—and how it links to a future state. The advantage of strategic leaders is that they focus on the longer-term vision and plan accordingly. As a result, they have an almost natural preference for solving problems, removing roadblocks, and figuring out what needs to change. The disadvantage of strategic leaders is that they can focus almost too much on future intent. While that can be inspirational, they can get “lost” in their vision and lose sight of current reality.
The disadvantage of tactical leaders is that they can lose sight of the vision — of where the company wants to go. They don’t always lead people around them to understand that longer-term picture.
Communication In Military Leadership
Another inherent feature of a military commander and the cornerstone of leading people is the ability to communicate effectively. If a leader wants to manage people successfully, they must be able to communicate with them at different levels. There is no general guide to successful communication since each character is specific to something else. For the leader, it should be important to know what factors influence a given communication, how to use the generally applicable rules and principles, and the communication conduct. Knowledge of the basic parameters, rules, and principles of communication helps to cope with communication situations of all kinds.
For the leader, it should be important to know what factors influence a given communication, how to use the generally applicable rules and principles, and the communication conduct.
Who or what motivates soldiers? The most probable hypothesis is that a military commander’s motivating-that the inspirational function is personally fulfilled. However, there are situations that a formal commander is just a coordinator of work (manager), and commanding functions, including motivating-inspirational functions, are realized by an informal leader, naturally selected from a group. As a matter of fact, the aim of leadership is: “the ability to influence others, their will to change attitude and values”. Consequently, the aims of leadership are nearly identical to the objectives of communication. Therefore, communication should be considered as an indispensable element of leadership. Only thanks to appropriately applied communication tools obedience can the trust, respect and loyal cooperation of the “own men” be obtained. Certainly, this is not an easy task.
In the military environment, the method of communication between the commander and their subordinates is regulated by internal regulations, based on which both parties must comply with certain specific rules. Since commanders are mostly role models for their subordinates, they should follow these rules. In the military environment, various terms are also used that are specific to this area and also greatly affect the possibility of communication.
The specific peculiarities of communication in a military environment include brevity, volume, and objectivity. Expressing any emotions is not desirable. In this environment, commanders, whether in smaller or larger units, are often exposed to the need to talk to more people, which is associated with nervousness, and the source of stress they have to manage in a given situation. The commander in his position will get used to these ceremonies for a long time and learn to communicate with an audience.
The specific peculiarities of communication in a military environment include brevity, volume, and objectivity. Expressing any emotions is not desirable.
In combat situations, communication between a superior and a subordinate can be significantly influenced by the circumstances in which both persons find themselves. Adverse conditions can cause increased stress, which provokes chaoticness in a person, quick and ill-considered decision-making, or a pronounced manifestation of emotions. The leader, in this case, is expected to be able to communicate clearly and effectively, where they must demonstrate decisiveness, clear judgment, and instructions based on the provided information. Subordinates rely mainly on their commander in combat, so they should be able to communicate in any situation.
As part of crisis intervention, the commander should be able to provide special interviews with individuals and, where necessary, with entire units. In the case of an individual, it is an individual structured conversation called defusing, and in the case of a group, it is a debriefing. Defusing is a private conversation of the commander with a subordinate, where the subordinate tells the commander all the things that weigh on him. As a rule, a subordinate confides in the commander only if they see the support and fully trust them. Debriefing is a group conversation where important events are discussed. This kind of conversation allows one to relive the whole event or situation together with colleagues and thus relieve the stress or pressure that the situation could generate.
Most commanders in the army are located at a certain level of the communication system, where they must hold several roles. The commander is usually expected to collect information and process and report the accumulated information quickly and efficiently. In a hierarchical organization such as the armed forces, the prompt transmission of information is very important and represents the basis for the success of any action.
Communication is the foundation for success in any organization. Not only communication experts but also professional experience confirms that high-quality internal communication is a fundamental process essential for the organization’s effective functioning and management. Quality communication has positive, motivating effects on employees, satisfaction, and willingness to stay in a given organization for a long time.
The leader performs an important role as a communication hub in the military organization. The functioning of the entire communication system depends on its capabilities to receive, process, and further distribute information in performing tasks. Using his communication skills, the leader represents the organization among other entities. Communication is not only the process of transmitting information but also the main tool for influencing people. With the help of communication, the leader must be able to influence subordinates to fulfill the visions and goals of the organization.
The leader performs an important role as a communication hub in the military organization. The functioning of the entire communication system depends on its capabilities to receive, process, and further distribute information in performing tasks.
The leader is expected to be equally effective, factual, and correct, both in peace and wartime conditions. The unit primarily relies on the fact that the commander can rationally process information, even in mentally difficult situations, based on which s/he makes the right decisions. The aim of the educational and didactic activities of military academies is to ensure that a graduate can create such emotional relationships with her/his subordinates which make her/him an unquestioned leader when such a need comes. During peace, such bonds are to be built to encourage soldiers to follow their leaders, enabling them to present analogical behaviors during combat. Achieving such an end state is possible only under systematic work with a team and under the condition of possessing structured knowledge and professional skills.
So, in short, the commander needs to adhere to the principles of effective communication adapted to the military environment. These principles can be summarized in the following areas:
- UNDERSTANDING – to understand and be able to explain, if a commander wants to inspire and be followed must believe in the task. To achieve a goal, faith is often much more important than training or equipment;
- SIMPLICITY – understanding subordinates lies in the brevity and clarity of task assignments;
- RELATIONSHIPS – top-down and bottom-up leadership, feedback;
- PLANNING – awareness, shared creativity, lessons from the past;
- PRIORITISATION – releasing the pressure by gradually completing tasks;
- COMMAND – decentralized and demarcated;
- DECISION-MAKING – the ability to complete an incomplete picture based on available information and then make a decision;
- TEAMWORK – coverage and movement, mutual cooperation, complementarity; and
- BALANCE – respect versus humility as two sides of the same coin.
If leadership is an art, then may leaders be the artist. It is more or less up to them to pick a material, color, and style to create what they aim for. Despite the simplicity of this statement, leadership requires a lot of will and determination. The definition of the word ‘correctly’ remains the same for both art and leadership: there are an infinite number of correct answers.
Leadership is one of the most important industries for a future officer. Every academy graduate becomes a leader at a certain level of command structure. In the Slovak Republic, the graduates of the Armed Forces Academy of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik start with the rank of lieutenant and become commanders of a platoon. Already at this level comes the first experience with leadership, so it is important that already after graduation, the graduate is ready to command the unit. The power of leadership in the Slovak Armed Forces is significant, and its principles are taught to future officers throughout their studies.
Leadership is one of the most important industries for a future officer. Every academy graduate becomes a leader at a certain level of command structure.
As a dynamic process, leadership has several parallels with art in its classic sense of the term, which may be observed, such as creativity. The most important colors on the palette of military leadership include communication, standards, know-how, and the whole spectrum of abilities, skills, and experience, mixed with a bit of talent, leading to the creation of the final work of art.
Alžbeta Budinská, cadet of the Armed Forces Academy of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik, student in the 5th-year study programme in State security and defense. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of the Armed Forces Academy of General Milan Rastislav Štefánik.
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 Ibid., 88.
 Ibid., 89.
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