Halsey dining with the crew of USS New JerseyThis post is part of a series titled “Perspectives on Military Leadership” by CAPT David Tyler.

Leaders are people professionals…and must master the subject matter of their vocation.

Military mindsets tend to be overly mechanical and process oriented. While mastering the tools of war and upholding procedures are extremely important, they are not the currency of leadership. Man is more than a rational, solitary being. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of our species is its social nature. Humans have a strong desire to be esteemed within social networks. If leadership is the primary function of officers and non-commissioned officers, then leaders must comprehend the subject matter over which and through which they are to exercise their roles. That is, leaders must understand the psychological forces that cause individuals to act.

Components of effective leadership are two-fold; (1) mastering the position of a leader, and (2) managing the forces that move people. To help leaders exercise influence over a group, the Navy empowers certain positions with authorities. But these vested charges do not make one a leader. Leaders must earn their broader powers from their followers. As stated in the Declaration of Independence (itself a statement of terms between the led and their leaders), “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Before conceding any power “the led” must trust that their prospective leader will act in their best interest.

So back to the proposition that leadership is a contract between socially inclined creatures. The more “the led” trust their leader, the more power they will loan and thus the greater will be their equity and commitment to achieving group goals.

The virtue that exemplifies someone as trustworthy is integrity. Integrity is uprightness of character, the quality of truthfulness and honesty. It is the preeminent character of a leader because it the quality that individuals must believe is present before committing to followership. The relationship between leaders and followers is reflected in the ethos, moral nature, of the group.

Accordingly, leaders should focus a significant portion of their time and efforts toward nurturing trust-based personal relationships at all levels of the group. The goal and byproduct of building such a command relationship is confidence, respect, and loyalty. Leaders that take time to express a genuine interest in the aspirations, ideas, and problems of others reap the golden coin of leadership; trust.




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  • P.S. Wallace

    I just finished reading Essame’s “Patton: A Study in Command” last week, and everything said above melds with some of the observations in that book. I think Patton’s genius was that he spent time thinking of what a slashing attack army needed to be a slashing attack machine and then went out of his way to make sure it happened. He didn’t just rely on the existing system to give him what he needed. Thus, when it came to “leaders must understand the psychological forces that cause individuals to act.”, he did: and based a lot of what he did on suppressing some of those forces and instilling others. For this, the 3rd Army loved him, the 7th probably didn’t. Military officers are not politicians–understanding does not mean catering to, just as understanding the foe does not mean yielding to him and cultivating his desires. Understanding means exactly that–surveying the land, getting the lay of it, seeing what can help you achieve what is needed, and reinforcing those things, while likewise seeing what can stop you, and mitigating it.

    And this leads into the second point: “Leaders that take time to express a genuine interest in the aspirations, ideas, and problems of others reap the golden coin of leadership; trust.” Absolutely, but I do not think it need to be “touchy-feely” in a combat organization. The aspiration and problems of the G.I. in the 3rd Army was to stay alive while doing a job that could not be avoided. In Patton, they saw a man who was making them better soldiers–hence better able to kill Germans, hence better able to get home, because they weren’t going to go home unless they won. In Patton they also had a man who took extraordinary pains to insure that on the small things, they were as well taken care of as possible. And yet I doubt any “dogface” thought Patton was “touchy-feely”. But they did trust him, because he put a lot of thought into how best to enable them to do the job they needed to do, and he realized they were the ones who were going to be doing the job (dying while doing so), not he and his staff–and yet without strict military discipline, the soldiers would not do the job as well.

    So, as to what I think is an aspiration of every one who joins the service, at least at some point–they want to be part of a crack outfit, they want to be sharp, they want to be “razors”. And at the same time they will complain about discipline until they realize they are part of a crack outfit. It is the job of a military officer to run as tight of an outfit as possible, and as human of an outfit as possible, while making it clear to the troopers why it is being done.

    • P.S. Wallace

      As a corollary, becuase I just thought of it–running as tight of an outfit as possible does not necessarily mean spit and polish for the sake of such. I think specifically of Gatch of the South Dakota during the Guadalcanal campaign, who, having limited time in a combat zone, let the ship get incredibly dirty while drilling the crew constantly. For Patton, ties outside the combat zone were needed to keep crisp order for men involved in degrading dirty environments daily. The men eventually figured this out for themselves, even if only intuitively. Crisp order saves lives. For Gatch, going the exact opposite was needed to keep men focused on what would win battles, to make them razors, when the pace of operations at the time did not allow enough time. Gatch built trust with his men because they knew what was important, even if only intuitively. By going opposite directions–Patton insisting on spit and polish uniforms, Gatch allowing his men to wear any old thing but training them relentlessly–both men were focused on what mattered–what kept combat skills up. Both the South Dakota and 3rd Army loved their keaders because those men knew those leaders were trying to make them, each individual, the best.

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