‘Habit of Excellence ‑ Why British Army Leadership Works’ is the first officially sanctioned publication to bring together all aspects of Army leadership in an attempt to show how the fusion of a 300-year-old institution and very modern ideas should inspire. And its lessons, says author Lt Col Langley Sharp, are as relevant to a boardroom in The City as they are to understanding why the old-fashioned approach used by commanders in Beijing and Moscow ultimately weaken their forces.
Gone are the days when soldiers were expected to surrender their personalities, character and thoughts for the sake of one-size-fits-all martial uniformity; now the emphasis is on “servant-leadership” and considering the needs of the individual.
Where, once, achieving a task may be all that mattered, now “a mission has not been successful if the team or individuals were broken in the process”, says the book.
Next month the Army’s official leadership doctrine ‑ dubbed “ a handrail for leader development across all ranks of the Army.” ‑ will add the new elements of “followership” and “emotional intelligence” as part of its five-year refresh.
Changes are well underway. Last year the army established a new Diversity and Inclusion Directorate to ensure employees ‘feel authentic in the workplace’, that people’s differences are ‘valued’ and that ‘everyone’s needs are considered’.
Partly, these changes are due to having to accommodate the needs Generation Z recruits (born after 1997) which “represent particular challenges to an organisation that is based around rank, hierarchy and command authority”.
Challenges include coming to terms with a mentality that prizes individualism, self-expression, wants a say over work schedules and values friends over family.
“An institution like the Army that has traditionally stressed service before self and the primacy of team must find an accommodation between these enduring philosophies and the growing emphasis that many place on autonomy, self-direction and personal values at work,” says the book.
But the other driving factor is the changing battlefield which, by 2035, is predicted to be “congested, cluttered, contested, connected and constrained”, with smaller units expected to take on heavier responsibilities without a long chain of command.
“As the character of war changes, introducing new technical and moral challenges, the importance to the Army of values-based leadership has never been greater,“ says the book.
It was only in 1999, following the suspected suicides of two recruits in Deepcut Barracks (another two would die in 2001 and 2002) ‑ that the Army first established its six values and three standards: Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty Selfless Commitment and Lawful, Acceptable Behaviour and Professional.
It first published its first official Army Leadership Doctrine in 2016 and created the Centre for Army Leadership, now headed by combat-hardened Para Lt Col Langley Sharp, the following year.
Speaking last night, Lt Col Sharp said: “Younger generations demand and expect more, They tend to be better educated, ask more questions and want to understand why. It’s not a bad thing ‑ it’s something we can leverage. So our approach has changed.
“Historically, we’ve been very task-focused and team focussed. That needs to endure,
“But we also need to focus far more on the individual viewpoints that are key to enable us to better deliver in more complex environments.”
While the questioning of “illegal or unethical” orders isn’t new, a more collaborative approach to decision-making was essential to combat “stove pipe thinking”.
“We need to have that combative diversity to harness problem-solving. And it’s important for the leader-follower relationship. You can’t have leadership without followership,” he said.
“Commanders must have the confidence to empower others, to listen to others and to be challenged.
“Behind all of this is trust.”
But he disputed claims that this is leading to “softening”.
“There’s still a hierarchy, there’s still discipline, there are still clear lines of authority in which people need to operate. But this doesn’t devolve people’s responsibility to offer their experience and add value,“ he said.
And this transformation, being carried out in tandem with allies, would deliver advantages over Chinese and Russian forces.
“What Russia and China do is their business. We fight the way we fight, we operate the way we operate. What we require is to operate effectively alongside our allies,” he said.
“But if you harness more from individuals, you are better and stronger. “
These lessons apply equally to corporate life because “we are all dealing with more complex problems and the answer requires bringing your individual capabilities, organic talent and experience, together for a stronger, collective capability”.
Ultimately, however, the nature of soldiering will not change
“Whatever the technological advances, we will still need people to fight on the battlefield, to close in on and engage with the enemy, to take life and potentially sacrifice their own. “