Small Wars Journal

The Role of Leadership

The Role of Leadership

Keith Nightingale

What is leadership? It is the role of inspiring, helping and guiding people. It can be direct or indirect and its effect may be largely unknown and unseen by the leader as the true impact lies within the led. It is distinct from management in that it deals directly with people, not issues. The ability to combine both true quality leadership and intelligent effective management is a rare skill and should be nurtured and supported whenever it occurs.

Many people achieve positions of responsibility and manage their position but they don’t lead. Others may be superb leaders and be responsible for very little but significantly influential. It all depends on how the personality impacts the people within the sphere of influence and exposure. Leadership ranges from parents to coaches to athletes, to individuals, to military and bosses to singular obscure personalities who have some significant positive effect on those around them.

Leadership can only partially be taught or coached-true leadership has to emanate from the heart and soul of the leader though he or she might never use that term in regard to themselves.

Leaders demonstrate and promote performance quality, individual and organizational, by setting the example, encouraging help-seeking behavior and by remaining actively engaged with their peers and surrounding personalities. We can do some teaching of this skill set by having individuals reflect upon and understand their own levels of desired qualities and then learn how to assess, nurture and draw out those in other people.

We know leaders foster an environment of trust and respect when they demonstrate genuine care for their surrounding people and exemplify the values we intuitively desire in all. Leaders, regardless of position or hierarchy, develop an environment of mutual trust and respect which benefits all in a thousand different ways. The organization becomes better as do the people within it.

Personal interaction is the core facilitator of leadership. Leaders know and understand the people they affect-either by physical interaction or fiat of position. In turn, those affected gain trust and the confidence of interaction toward a common cause. Leaders reinforce the notion of the collective We rather than the commanding Me. Managers direct and leaders lead-there is a significant difference.

Modern technology has created huge opportunities for personal connections but equally huge opportunities for management to replace leadership as the dominate skill. The wonders of technology can make a person believe he or she can effectively guide, control and influence all people reachable at the end of the fingertips. While that is physically true-it is management, not leadership and lacks the necessary human interaction needed to gain any extra effort of devotion and purpose. People naturally gravitate toward a person that is caring, honest, comforting and reasonably open to conversation. A hashtag correspondence or beautiful graphic and textual display cannot do that. People do not give extra efforts, self sacrifice or decisive commitment to a plasma screen. They look into the eyes of a person and sense a quality of goodness-all else follows.

Leaders are able to inculcate extra efforts, intelligent exchange and quality production through a variety of tools ranging from physical exercise to intellectual stimulation and any tool in between. They may tax their people to the point of exhaustion but in so doing, they will establish new and greater lines of personal internal limits. People do not embrace work or training that is theoretical or rote classroom exercise. Leaders understand that and allow the idea or issue to drive the interchange rather than a more simplistic solution driven dictate. Leaders intuitively understand and exercise the concept that no one of us is as smart as all of us and seek avenues to exercise the principle.

Leaders understand that some level of personal or positional risk is present with this form. Disagreement, conflict and emotion potentially are always present. But once exposed, these become less imposing than the perceived necessity for a collective quality choice. Once that track is understood, the issues become Our issues and Our solution to be resolved with total dedication-not a vague directed mandate to be implemented with half a heart and equal interest.

Leadership and management are not countervailing. They can collectively be a hugely powerful tool-resident in an individual and an organization. The achievement of this symbiosis is exactly dependent upon the attitudes and desires of the several participants working in common cause-it might be a pair of figure skaters, a vast army or all the options and possibilities in between. It is totally dependent on participants fully willing to permit service to trump self. In the end, in this environment, everyone wins.

Categories: leadership

About the Author(s)

COL Nightingale is a retired Army Colonel who served two tours in Vietnam with Airborne and Ranger (American and Vietnamese) units. He commanded airborne battalions in both the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division. He later commanded both the 1/75th Rangers and the 1st Ranger Training Brigade.