Article: The British Army, The Led & Leadership

A very good extract spoken by Corporal Doug Proctor in an article written by Sydney Jary MC.

“During my six years army service I knew many Officers – some good – some bad.

The most obvious difference between them was not in their tactical awareness as one might expect, but in the relationships they had with their soldiers. No matter how tactically aware an Officer may be, it counts for little unless he can command the trust, loyalty and respect of his men and is able to inspire them. The good Officers, without exception, enjoyed that trust, loyalty and respect.

In the Army of today weapons may have become more sophisticated and tactics more involved, but the qualities that are necessary in a good officer remain unchanged – he is a leader of men and should have the trust and respect of those he leads, but unfortunately this is not always the case, and although in peacetime the consequences of this are not so damaging, in times of war the effect can be disastrous.

A newly commissioned Officer commences his practical training in how to use and apply his power of command the moment he joins his Regiment and is appointed to his first platoon. The realities and problems of leadership then come to the forefront with startling clarity – especially if war time conditions exist.

He must approach his first command with an open and receptive mind, with the aim of gaining the respect and confidence of those he leads and as a first step towards this end, has to show that he himself is sincere and caring and respects the men under his command. Some Officers no doubt expect trust and respect to be theirs by right, and fail to realise that these two essential factors in the relationship between officers and men are not cheaply or easily given but must be worked for and earned.

The Platoon should be thought of as a family, and the Officer at its head should not insulate himself against the demands – emotional or otherwise – ‘his family’ will make upon him. He should give them his time and his friendship, and show a genuine interest in his men as individuals with their many and varied problems. Friendship for his men does not mean an end to discipline, as trust and respect imposes its own self discipline and he will find that the courtesies of rank will always be observed.

Friendship is not to be confused with familiarity.

The wise officer will listen to and learn about his platoon from his senior NCO’s whose help and loyalty is to be highly valued, and will be freely given if approached without arrogance or patronage.

He should foster within his Platoon a spirit of friendly competition, and whenever possible join in and compete on equal terms with and against his men. Beating him will be the aim of them all and will engender within the Platoon a wonderful spirit of competitiveness and togetherness. Being beaten – as he surely will be – should be accepted with good grace and a sense of humour.

The young Officer must be scrupulously fair in all things, and must let it be seen that he is fair – double standards in his conduct towards his men must be avoided at all costs.

Tactics can only be truly learned by actually experiencing battle conditions, but in training the Officer must always take the lead, demonstrating that he is asking nothing of his men that he cannot do himself. When things go wrong, a cool, level-headed, common sense appraisal of the situation is essential – a good Officer will never ‘flap’ or show indecision. In this way, trust and respect is cemented.

To summarise: A good Officer will command trust, loyalty and respect by:

  • Being sincere and caring.
  • Being a good listener.
  • Giving his time and friendship.
  • Showing genuine interest in his men as individuals.
  • Competing with and against his men.
  • Having a sense of humour.
  • Being scrupulously fair.
  • Leading from the front by example.
  • Being calm, level-headed, with good common sense.
  • Never showing indecisiveness.

Source: Jary, S. (2000) Reflections on the Relationship Between the Led and the Leader. Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps. 146, pp.54-56.

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