What is leadership – and what is a leader?
Colin Powell, an American military leader and diplomat, noted that ‘leadership is the art of achieving more than the science of management says is possible.’
According to the British Army’s definition, leadership is ‘a combination of character, knowledge and action that inspires others to succeed.’
The Army Leadership Code (2016) uses the mnemonic LEADERS. This stands for:
Lead by example
Apply discipline and reward
Demand high performance
Encourage confidence in the team
Recognise individual strengths and weaknesses
Strive for team goals
Value of Leadership
Many business leaders will believe that: ‘the truest wealth and strength of an organisation lies in its brains, character and leadership.’
This statement is focused on an organisation’s people, its current and future leaders. This means those in charge now, as well as those selected (or identified within a succession plan) for future leadership roles.
Identifying Leadership Potential
But can leaders really be selected? And if they can be identified at all with any confidence, then how and by what process can this be done?
There is an idea that every woman and man has the potential to be a leader. Or, as Henry Harris says: ‘all are called and all may be chosen’ at one time or another. In this way, ‘selection should open (and keep on opening) the gates of opportunity’.
A selection process can only choose those who should become leaders; it can’t predict who will become a leader.
Leadership and intelligence - like other human functions - are inherited only as potentialities. Referring to the Group Approach to Leadership Testing by Henry Harris, the onus of discovering that potentiality rests on:
- Training it skilfully;
- Providing the opportunities that will extend it fully.
These opportunities must rest on the community. This is because experience changes us as people; it alters our views and modifies our behaviours.
Other pertinent questions might also be: who (what manner of person) thinks that they are a leader; or, who thinks that they might have leadership potential – and why?
I will use the British Army as a case study. Here are two very different – and yet complimentary – advertising campaigns designed to appeal to potential soldiers, as well as to potential officers/leaders:
Millennial Leadership Drivers
The ‘who’ may be identified here as the target audience (18-24 year olds) for both officer and soldier candidates.
Reflecting on the 2017 campaign, advertising agency Karmarama said: ‘We decided to highlight real and authentic Army contexts and moments that clearly show the importance of being part of a strong and selfless family that accepts you for you and gives you the chance to work together for a meaningful purpose.’
Interestingly, the ‘why’ might be partially answered by Simon Sinek in his 2016 discussion entitled ‘Millennials in the workplace’ (‘millennials’ meaning those born after 1984). He notes that these individuals are looking for a vehicle, a focus, something that will catch their imagination: ‘somewhere to belong – creating a sense of community when [all other] social relations are fractured and complex.’
Tellingly, Army recruiting campaigns have been inching towards this ‘added value’ (or added values?) of belonging and making a difference - from ‘Do more, be more’ (2013), ‘More than meets the eye’ (2015) and ‘A better you’ (2016), to ‘This is belonging’ (2017). The current officer-specific campaign is entitled ‘With heart. With mind.’
Leadership Lessons from the Army
The mission of the Army Officer Selection Board is to select potential officers for training and education to command soldiers in peacetime and on operations and for specialist functions in the Army. The selection process has the reputation of being scrupulously fair to all. ‘Leadership is a dynamic and adaptive function, varying with both the group and the task, waxing and waning with the demands of the total situation, fluctuating in time.’
In 2017 there are very few things that anyone can potentially ‘fail’ at - a driving test and Army officer selection are two.
So, what is the Army looking for in its leaders – and how can leadership potential be identified? In general terms, the Army is looking for personality, a level of physical fitness, practical ability, the ability to cope with pressure and the ability to plan. But more than anything, the Army is likely to be looking for an individual who can truly ‘Serve to Lead’ – the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. In the past, ‘serve to lead’ meant ‘horses first, soldiers next, officers last.’ It will always mean someone who puts others first - always.
The idea of ‘serve to lead’ is about, and intrinsically linked to, our values – nature and nurture – how we were brought up, our family values, our education, our varying experiences as we move through life. Tellingly, the psychometric assessments that we carry out with clients of Leaders Consultancy (leadersconsultancy.co.uk) can capture this information perfectly. We utilise combined assessments to enhance self-awareness and to enable clients to achieve their personal and professional best.
Just like the Army’s recruiting campaign slogan, we are all ‘more than meets the eye’, and we can all be great leaders within our different organisations – especially when we can align our values and find out where we truly belong.