Is Doctrine affecting Military Leadership?
24 Jan 19
This article will highlight how Army Leadership Doctrine is counterproductive in developing effective leaders. It will argue that military education and process encourages narcissistic leadership, which is detrimental to the effectiveness of an organisation, long-term. UK military doctrine defines leadership as:
“A combination of character, knowledge and action that inspires others to succeed”.
US and British military doctrine use prescriptive verbs to define leadership, with an overarching insistence on success. Inadvertent messaging of this nature influences junior leaders and cultivates narcissistic tendencies, which carry throughout officers (and NCOs) careers. Implanting a necessity for success creates a sycophantic leader keen to protect and promote his/or her outputs for self-serving purposes, which creates dysfunctional leadership. Conversely, Field Marshall Slim defined leadership as:
“Leadership is that mixture of example, persuasion and compulsion which makes men do what you want them to do. I would say that it is a projection of personality. It is the most personal thing in the world, because it is just plain you.”
This definition highlights that revered leaders realise that success does not determine an effective leader. Furthermore, it highlights that compassion and empathy is critical, which the doctrinal definition neglects. Finally, academia similarly defines leadership as:
“Leaders are role models who influence the values, system, culture and action of people working in an organisation.”
Noting both references lack a measurement for leadership success, there is an argument that non-doctrinal definitions are broader and more effective. Furthermore, we must consider that effective leaders may not always be successful in their endeavours: Shackleton, never led a successful expedition, but is widely considered a successful leader. This therefore highlights that effective leadership is not always dependant on success, and the level of leadership matters: organisational/strategic or individual/tactical. Both Shackleton and Slim are used as leadership paragons in military education, but this fails to translate into the doctrine, or culture. An argument can be made that success as a measurement of leadership can become counterproductive.
We can see that a traditional military system – for which doctrine is based around – impedes the development of effective leaders, but promotes sycophantic leaders and followers in a morally decaying organisation. The quotes above make a case that military doctrine influences the military environment and culture, which encourages ruthlessly pursuing success and therefore narcissistic tendencies. However, the short tenures of military command restrict destructive effects from fully emerging. This is not to say self-serving leaders cannot be effective, as long as the organisation is aware and can ensure the leader doesn’t become destructive. With the world and modern warfare becoming more interconnected, with a proliferation of skills, relationships will be pivotal. A leader who can galvanise a team, to create the sum of parts, will be critical in successful leadership. This lesson has already been pioneered by McChrystal, in his book Team of Teams, and emphasises the future will be network based leadership across all domains, and pan-government: Network Leadership. With that in mind, it is time that the military revised its doctrinal definition of leadership, to be more compassionate and empathetic. This will ensure the right values are instilled in our junior leaders early and thereby develop effective leaders for tomorrow’s environment.
How this relates to the Royal Marines?
Royal Marine training attempts to enhance mutual understanding and therefore empathy across all ranks, by integrating training at the Commando Training Centre and reinforcing the Commando Ethos. This therefore limits the effects of narcissism on commando leaders. However, doctrine is the foundation of all we do as military practitioners. Consequently, these lessons seep into our actions – more so within the officer cohort – when undertaking staff training or working within the Joint environment. As the Royal Marines conduct many of its operational tasks in the Joint environment, it is crucial that compassion and empathy are the cornerstone of commando leadership. This should support and embolden other critical factors such as knowledge, credibility and integrity. The Royal Marines must ensure that it continues to insulate itself from the doctrinal leadership definition defined above and instead focus on the latter definitions. The drive for success that narcissism delivers can be seen as an attractive trait for immediate success, however, we must be careful to protect the individuals that this can effect, if left unchecked. This is the responsibility of senior leaders to assign and monitor the performance of its subordinate leaders. 360 reporting offers a way of monitoring this.
 Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Army Leadership Doctrine (ALD). (MoD.2016).9
 ADP 6-22. Army Leadership. Department of the Army. 2016,1
 Bryman. Leadership. The SAGE Handbook of Leadership.(SAGE Publications:2011),402
 ALD. 2016.9
 Gyanchandani. The effect of transformational leadership on team performance in IT sector. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, Vol XI, (2017).
 Morrell and Capparell. Shackleton’s Way. (Brealey: 2001),1