A Study into the Leadership & Gender of the British Army Officer

Research Paper Title

The British Army Officer – A Study into Leadership and Gender.


The study addresses the question of whether men and women officers in the British Army lead in different ways. The research methodology adopted was phenomenological. The research methods included Repertory Grid and Critical Incident techniques and were conducted through a semi structured interview format. The research population was identified as the Defence Academy of the UK. The interview sample was designed on a non probability basis, and identified twenty four informants across the combat arms, combat support and combat service support areas. The sample was split equally by gender, and the rank profile was largely at the level of Major and Lt Colonel. As a consequence of the design, the study makes no claims in the area of generalisability. However, the aim was to identify a nomothetic model of leadership from the data.

The literature review located a rich and varied landscape of theory with the concept of transformation/transactional leadership being identified as highly influential. There is, in addition, an emerging body of research on gender and leadership. This has found limited evidence that women, in a situation of congeniality, have a re-disposition to practice a transformational leadership style. The researcher’s findings were that the Army has a pronounced androcentric culture, with women officers barred, by policy, from filling the high status close combat roles critical for promotion. The researcher also found that the women interviewed did not consider the Army context to be congenial for them. Possibly as a consequence, they constructed a leadership model that differed from men, particularly in the area of own gender management.

To identify this gender distinction, the researcher constructed from the data a Military Leadership Factor model (MLF) that covered both men and women. The factors identified differ
from transformational and transactional theory in key areas. It identifies, for example, the absence of change management as a construct of military leadership but finds a strong emphasis on the construct of professional competence. The study reflects on why this might be, and concludes it derives from the unique nature of the military task. The issue of power emerged from the data and the study examines critically the extent of the power that a military officer can exercise and the impact this has on the MLF model.

The study concludes with a number of policy suggestions for the British Army and an outline of further research to test the study’s finding on a more statistically representative sample.

You can read the full research paper here: British Army Officer, The – A Study into Leadership & Gender (Dunn, 2006)


Dunn, M.D. (2006) The British Army Officer – A Study into Leadership and Gender. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Bristol.


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