Leadership Challenges For The Armed Forces Management Essay

1. The above quote is from the 20th century technology innovator and a successful leader of the corporate world. The greatest leaders that this world has seen had the ability to find untapped potential in people and then empower them to do great things. The leadership styles have undergone an incessant change over the centuries. The organizational focus of the leader has evolved over the last few centuries. Earlier organizations with authoritarian leaders believed that employees need to be essentially changed over to make work environments more conducive to increase productivity rates. Today, organizations are transforming into places where people are empowered, encouraged, and supported in their personal and professional growth throughout their careers. As the focus of leaders has changed over time, it has influenced and shaped the development and progression of leadership theories.

2. Military leadership too has seen changes since the time men went in to battle. History is a testimony to it that, throughout time, people who were fortunate enough to have great military leaders has prospered by controlling their territory and dominating their neighbours and those civilizations without strong military leaders got conquered, destroyed or perished. To bring up a good army demanded a good leader.

Statement of the Problem.

3. The existing leadership styles are inadequate and are felt to be ineffective in the present and future due to the effect of technology and changes in socio-economic scenario. It is planned to analyse the problems likely to be faced by military leadership in future and assess the inadequacy of existing leadership styles, thereby arriving at a model for leadership styles demanded by the armed forces in 21st century.


4. Present day leadership styles are insufficient for the leadership models demanded for future armed forces of 21st century.

Justification for the study

5. In times to come there is a requirement of having better leadership because of the socio economic changes in society and technological advancements. There is a need for the armed forces to focus and review the leadership styles practiced by its leaders. The road to effective 21st century leadership will be determined by the various facets such as technological advancements, information technology, ethical practices, subordinate empowerment and socio-economic-political scenarios to name a few. In addition, the resources which will be at the disposed of the military leader will be much less as compared to earlier times, which means leaders will have to do much more with less resources, thus posing a challenge to military leadership.

6. The military leader of the future will have to have detailed knowledge of intricacies of the operations and men he commands so as to accomplish missions. The existing military leadership styles are unable to meet the requirements of the changed environment to which major contributing factors have been technological and socio -economic changes. The existing environment has even adversely affected the moral and ethical values of the men. The men whom the leader commands are much more informed than the men of earlier era. In times to come, military leaders are likely to be faced with peculiar problems of man management as questionable loyalty, integrity of men, insubordination etc. Hence, these changes need to be analysed in detail to enable military leaders in deciding the most effective ways and means of exercising their command and control for accomplishment of the assigned task successfully.


7. This dissertation aims to study the various challenges that a military leader is likely to encounter in future. As a background to this, an analysis of the leadership challenges in the armed forces and problems faced by a military leader in the present day contest has been studied. The study restricts its analysis to above deliberations and thereafter compares various existing models to arrive at a recommended leadership model for the military leaders of the 21st century.

Methods of Data Collection

8. The Defence Service Staff College, library is the basic source of data. In addition, some relevant periodicals and journal containing the subject available in print and on internet were perused. The studies and surveys earlier conducted on similar subject was also examined.

Definition of Leadership

9. ‘Leadership’ is defined in the oxford dictionary as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this” similarly the dictionary defines a ‘leader’ as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country”. However, the below given quote appropriately describes that leadership cannot be defined in so simple terms as it encompasses various distinctive features:

“There are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” 

Stogdill R.M (1974)

10. As described by PG Northouse [1] , leadership means, that it is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal. Further, defining leadership as a process means that it is not a trait or characteristic that resides in the leader, but is a transactional event that occurs between the leader and his or her followers. Leadership involves influence; it is concerned with how the leader affects followers. Leadership occurs in groups; it involves influencing a group of people who have a common purpose and this can be a small task group, a community group or a large group encompassing an entire organization. Leadership includes attention to goals; which means that leadership has to do with directing a group of individuals towards accomplishing some task or end and leaders direct their energies toward individuals who are trying to achieve something together.

Leadership Redefined

11. The fundamental meaning of leadership has not changed in all of recorded history. It has always been about the person in charge of the group. Being a leader has always meant having power over people and the authority to make decisions for the group. We have tweaked the meaning of leadership a little bit, thus moving from dictatorial to more participative styles but the essence has remained basically unchanged for centuries.

12. Our definition of leadership [2] needs to change for a knowledge driven world that is no longer rigidly hierarchical, stable or static but one that is fluid, fast changing and less formally structured. Leadership has always been based on power. For the conventional view, this means the power of personality to dominate a group. But in our knowledge driven world, business is a war of ideas where the power to innovate and promote new products is the new basis of leadership. This is the power on which leadership will be based in the future. But such leadership can only be occasional influence, because no one can monopolize good ideas. Anyone with critical knowledge that could alter business direction can show leadership and this is thought leadership. It can be shown by front line employees who don’t manage anyone. It can be bottom-up as well as top-down. It can even come from outside. It can be shown between organizations too as in market leadership. Leadership re-invented is an occasional act, like creativity, not a role or position. Those at the top sometimes lead and sometimes just manage. Leadership is based on youthful rebelliousness, the drive of young people to challenge the status quo and find a better way and bottom-up or thought leadership is more like the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. than of business leadership wherein his demonstrations had a leadership impact on policy makers in the U.S. government though they did not report to him. This shows that leadership is really just about taking a stand for what you believe and trying to convince people to think and act differently. Management reinvented takes its rightful place alongside leadership as an engaging, supportive, facilitative, empowering and developmental function. Managers are catalysts, coaches, enablers, facilitators, developers of people and decision makers, not controlling bureaucrats.

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13. Conventional leadership theories paint a distorted picture of leadership by focusing narrowly on people in positions of power. These theories are in crisis today because they face an unpalatable dilemma: either they have to say that CEOs no longer lead or they have to change the meaning of leadership. Another option is to retain the older notion that leaders promote new directions but to say that CEOs no longer have a monopoly on leadership. By saying that leadership means promoting new directions, such as new products and services, we open the door to everyone being able to show leadership. This means that CEOs manage as much as lead. But to make sense of this move, we need to upgrade management, to make it a more positive concept. At present, management is cast in a negative light. Leadership in the 21st century is no longer a fixed role. In a fluid, dynamic environment where innovation rules, leadership is only an occasional act that can come from any direction including outside the group. Showing leadership means convincing others to change direction. It is time to separate leadership and management. We need to upgrade management to take its rightful place as a constructive force for getting the best out of people and managing all resources along the lines of investment, which is to get the best possible return. The 21st century leadership is thought leadership, an occasional act that all employees can show even if they have no inclination to be a manager.

Military Leadership

14. Military leadership is defined as “the art of direct and indirect influence and the skill of creating the conditions for organizational success to accomplish missions effectively.” In general, junior leaders exercise their influence directly, while senior leaders must employ both direct and indirect influencing methods.

15. While the basic tenets of leadership can be applied to the military environment without any difficulty, the greatest challenge faced by military leadership is of leading subordinates into the face of certain death and motivating them to fight. There are no profits involved for the organisation or the individual to fight in the face of death. In such an environment the military leader has to lead from the front and become the ‘larger than life’ figure for his subordinates to follow. In the military environment, leadership is not a domain of the few. Every individual at every level is a leader in his/her own way and thus leadership qualities are a must in all uniformed individuals. This may not hold good in the civilian environment where in the leadership reins may be in the hands of few and the others are mere followers.

“Standing up for what you believe in regardless of the odds and the pressure that tears at your resistance, is courage.”

– Napolean



“In matters of style, swim with the current;

In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

– Thomas Jefferson.

14. This leadership quote from Thomas Jefferson’s who was the third president of United States, is a strong reminder about when to be flexible and when to stand strong. Too often people are inflexible on their style and flexible on their principles-the opposite of what he advocates. Leaders have both good and bad traits, qualities that characterise their behaviour and we need to determine those traits which needs to be developed and the ones to stay away from. A trait can be defined as a constant attribute which potentially lasts throughout one’s entire life.

Leadership Traits


“Master the mechanics and techniques; understand the art and profession; and

be smart enough to know when to deviate from it”

–   General Anthony Zinni

15. It is believed that Napoleon listed 115 qualities of leadership [3] and the common belief is that he stopped before completing the list. The US Army’s doctrinal leadership manual, FM 22-100 [4] , Army Leadership, has a cumulative list of forty-one competencies. There are enormous quantities of writing available on military leadership. Almost every military leader while writing has enumerated a list of traits necessary to be a successful leader. The three significant pillars of leadership has always rested on the following: –

(a) What a leader must be: the values that form character (e.g., loyalty, duty, respect) as well as the mental, physical, and emotional attributes needed to support these values.

(b) What a leader must know: areas of knowledge ranging from very general (e.g., interpersonal, conceptual) to very specific areas of expertise and skill over a range of disciplines.

(c) What a leader must do: the kinds of actions leaders must take to make their organizations accomplish their tasks and function effectively (i.e., influencing, operating, and improving the units and systems under their control).

16. Leaders who are not connected with these basics of leadership will be unsuccessful, notwithstanding their superior technical or operational skills, as their subordinates will not follow them. Beyond this basis, challenges posed by the new operational environment demands more emphasis on certain kinds of leadership skills and background.  

Discovering Leadership Traits

17. In psychology, a trait is a stable characteristic–potentially lasting throughout one’s entire life. Coming up with an exact list [5] of set of leadership traits is difficult due to:

(a) Culture – What works in the West does not work in the East, a trait that works in France will be less successful in America.

(b) Context – What trait is appropriate depends on the context one finds oneself.

(c) Paradox – Leadership is paradoxical. It defies logic due to unconscious factors and emotions.

(d) Means and Ends – Leadership is both a means when it focuses on process and behaviors and an end when leaders focuses on goals and outcomes. 

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18. Though an ideal listing of traits is impossible, does not mean that leadership traits are not important in leadership development. It basically means that different experts will come up with different listing; therefore, certain amount of confusion will need to be accepted. It’s reasonable to assume that certain personality traits are associated with leadership, while others are not. Some research articles talk about traits associated with leadership success and failure.

Leadership Traits Associated With Failure

19. Many times we focus on leadership traits associated with success, but it is interesting to understand failures of leadership as well. This includes:

Shift in Focus. When leaders forget the big picture and shift focus on little things. Like making money or fixating on fame as the reason why they are doing what they are doing.

Poor Communication. Great leaders understand that followers don’t read minds. Great leadership is about communicating ideas.

Risk Aversion. This trait talks about the fear of failure and how past successes can be a treasure.

Ethics Slip. There has to be a close relationship between what a leader does and what he/she is.

Poor Self-Management. It’s very important that the leader takes care of him/herself to be able to achieve goals. (Physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs)

Lost Love. Leaders have to remember the vision that brought them there. Stay on track-stay the course.

Five Enemies of Effective Leadership:

20. This is about how employees don’t want to be managed, but need to be lead. It covers five “enemies” to successful leadership that include [6] :

Selfishness. here we focus on what we want and don’t consider what other people want and need.

Power Struggles. As leaders, we have to learn to serve, not demand.

Poor Communication. If we don’t communicate well, our message will be misunderstood, misinterpreted and misplaced. We often use wrong words, tone of voice, or our body sends a different message than our mouth.

Behavior: we need to know ourselves and what are the issues that get us out of control are, we need to learn when we have to delegate.

Jealousy. we need to learn that more does not always lead to happiness. 

Core Values

21. Core values pervade leadership at all levels, at all times. Leaders at the lower levels must display the personal leadership qualities that are needed to create a unified section fully supportive of achieving its assignment. Mid-level leaders must use people and team leadership to progress the organisation’s responsibilities within the structure of the operational assignments. As the seniority increases it becomes more essential for the leaders to influence on the institutional excellence of the organization. The ability to influence people, improve performance, and accomplish a mission is part of all levels of leadership.

22. The soldier’s core values are the foundation of leadership in the Armed Forces. The core values are an account of those organizational values and principles of conduct that provide the moral structure within which military activities take place. The military ethic consists of fundamental values such as integrity, service, and excellence. These morals are the set of values that show the way members of the armed forces function. Success revolves around the amalgamation of these values in to the lifestyles. In today’s time-compressed, dynamic, and risky battle space a soldier does not have the comfort of examining each issue at leisure. Leaders must fully imbibe these values so as to know how to instinctively act in all situations upholding integrity, displaying service before self, performing with quality and promote the same in others.

23. There are some of the most relevant and common traits in the characteristic of leadership those are all the more important to analyse while we study the requirements for 21st century armed forces:

(a) Empathy: generating a genuine understanding with the staff makes it less likely that personal issues and antipathy can creep in and upset the group. When the team is aware that the leader is compassionate to their apprehension, they will be more likely to work with you and share in your vision, rather than foster negative feelings. With the complexities of living style increasing with the changes in socio-economic scenario, men find themselves in stress and strain, this warrants leaders to show more empathy when dealing with subordinates.

(b) Consistency: Being a dependable leader will gain you admiration and standing, which is essential to getting continuous acceptance from the group. By setting an example of righteousness and reliability, the group will wish for to perform the same way. The present generation subordinates are well informed and therefore leaders must understand that if they should perform to the standards demanded by the group.

(c) Honesty: Another feature of leadership that contribute itself to credibility. Those who are honest, naturally tries to address the problems rather than avoiding it. Honesty also allows for improved appraisal and progress. In the present century the image of armed forces leadership are at times challenged by untoward incidents, therefore, honesty and integrity of the officers need to be the most excellent at all times to ensure that the standards expected from the armed forces officers are maintained.

(d) Direction: Possessing the foresight to select and maintain the objective as well as to understand course to maintain to achieve that objective is an essential characteristic of good leadership. By visualising and organising the goals, an effective leader can create remarkable change. Losing way on the approach to objective will result in subordinates losing faith in leaders which should be guarded against.

(e) Communication: Effective communication helps keep he team working on the right projects with the right attitude. If you communicate effectively about expectations, issues and advice, your staff will be more likely to react and meet your goals. In the present info-tech era, leaders must explore all possible means to reach out to his group in conveying his thoughts clearly as well as maintaining transparency in dealings.

(f) Flexibility: All problems posed to a leader might not demand the same solution. If you are flexible to new ideas and keep the mind open to varied options, you enhance the probability of finding the best possible answer. As the complexities of future battle field increases, the leader needs to be flexible enough to adopt to new situations and open to ideas from subordinates. Rigidity will not only bring unpleasantness amongst the team but also make problem solving difficult.

(g) Conviction: A strong visualization and the willingness to see it through is one of the most important characterizes of leadership. The leader who believes in the mission and works toward it will be an inspiration and a resource to their followers.

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24. There are a number of other character traits which come into play when practicing leadership. However, the basic few traits mentioned above are displayed, leaders will be well equipped to lead a team effectively.

Character Development

25. As per the Army Field Manual FM 22-100 (the U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual) [7] On the day a person joins the forces, leaders begin building on that character. Armed Forces values emphasize the relationship between character and competence. Although competence is a fundamental attribute of armed forces leaders, character is even more critical.

26. Leaders in the armed forces are responsible for cultivating the personality of soldiers. The questions that arise are that how can the forces ensure proper character development and what can the leaders do to inspire these core values in their subordinates? The core values are taught to every new member once he is inducted to the forces. Once they learn these values, as they progress in service, their leaders ensure adherence of these value system. Adhering to the principle values is essential, as unethical actions are unacceptable in armed forces. Unethical behaviour damages the morale and unity of the group; this dents the faith and confidence which is crucial for efficient functioning of team and its task achievement.

27. The ethical conduct must display the values and convictions, and not the fear of punishment. The Indian armed forces is undergoing a bad patch in this regard where incidences tarnish the image of the forces, however, soldiers stick to values as they would like to live morally and advocate these set of values to others. Eventually, leaders are responsible for developing character and values in subordinates. The Figure [8] below shows that how the actions by the leader can contribute to character development among his subordinates.

Character Development Pyramid


Army leaders must teach their subordinates moral principles, ethical theory, Army values, and leadership attributes. Through their leaders’ programs, soldiers and DA civilians develop character through education, experience, and reflection. By educating their subordinates and setting the example, Army leaders enable their subordinates to make ethical decisions that in turn contribute to excellence. Subordinates gain deeper understanding from experiencing, observing, and reflecting on the aspects of Army leadership under the guidance of their leaders.

Inculcating Army values doesn’t end with basic training. All Army leaders should seek to deepen subordinates’ understanding of the ethical aspects of character through classes, informal discussions, one-on-one coaching, and formal developmental counseling. Army leaders can also improve their own understanding through study, reflection, and discussions with peers and superiors.


Leaders reinforce and discipline behavior to guide subordinates’ development. To help subordinates live according to Army values, leaders enforce rules, policies, and regulations. Still, soldiers and DA civilians of character do more than merely comply with established institutional rules. Acting correctly but without complete understanding or sound motivation is not good enough in America’s values-based Army. People of character behave correctly through correct understanding and personal desire. Understanding comes from training and self-development. Personal desire comes from a person’s realization that Army values are worth adopting and living by and from that person’s decision to do just that.

Character stems from a thorough understanding of Army values; however, this understanding must go beyond knowing the one-line definitions. Individuals must also know why Army values are important and how to apply them to everyday Army life. Leaders can promote Army values by setting the example themselves and pointing out other examples of Army values in both normal and exceptional activities. Army leaders can use unit histories and traditions, prominent individuals, and recent events to bring Army values to life and explain why adhering to them is important.


Doing the right thing is good. Doing the right thing for the right reason and with the right intention is better. People of character must possess the desire to act ethically in all situations. One of the Army leader’s primary responsibilities is to maintain an ethical climate that supports development of such a character. When an organization’s ethical climate nurtures ethical behavior, over time, people think, feel, and act ethically-they internalize the aspects of sound character.

Leaders should influence others’ character development and foster correct actions through role modeling, teaching, and coaching. Army leaders seek to build a climate in which subordinates and organizations can reach their full potential. Together, these actions promote organizational excellence.


Leadership trait theory [9] is the idea that people are born with certain character traits or qualities. Since certain traits are associated with proficient leadership, it assumes that if you could identify people with the correct traits, you will be able to identify leaders and people with leadership potential.

Most of the time the traits are considered to be naturally part of a person’s personality from birth. From this standpoint, leadership trait theory tends to assume that people are born as leaders or not as leaders.

There is a lot of value in identifying the character traits associated with leadership. It is even more valuable to identify the character traits that followers look for in a leader. These traits would be the characteristics of an individual who is most likely to attract followers.

However, the idea that leadership traits are inborn and unchangeable appears to be incorrect. It is true that many of our dispositions and tendencies are influenced by our personalities and the way we are born. However, most people recognize that it is possible for someone to change their character traits for the worse. Someone who is known for being honest can learn to be deceitful. The whole idea of saying that someone was “corrupted” is based on the fact that people can learn bad character traits.

If people can learn bad character traits and become different than the way they are naturally through conditioning, it logically follows that they can learn good character traits as well. A person who is prone to being dishonest can learn to be honest. A person who avoids risks can learn to take risks. It may not be easy, but it can be done.

Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job. That takes all of the good characteristics, like integrity, dedication of purpose, selflessness, knowledge, skill, implacability, as well as determination not to accept failure.

-Admiral Arleigh Burke


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