Monday, January 26, 2009

A Definition of Leadership

Erik Jendresen was the supervising producer of the wonderful series BAND OF BROTHERS. I have just come across a note I was sent some years ago by the man who inspired the series, Richard Winters (played in the series by Damian Lewis). I had written to Mr Winters to tell him what his story had meant to me, and told him I was hoping to go into politics, so he sent me this note from Erik Jendresen on leadership.

Leaderhip is ineffable and independent of ambition. There are those wjo seem to radiate a field of influence to which others will respond in the same way that metal filings line up in a magnetic field. A leader is invariably self-motivated - not to achieve any particualr ambition, eather motivated to purse personal excellence. Invariably, human beings respond to and follow individuals who are themselves motivated. The best leaders are motivated by a need to excel; that pursuit is a passion and a source of deep personal satisfaction.

The idea, early on in one;s career in the miliatry, that "the best way to get through this - the most effective and safest way to survive the bullets and the bullshit - is simply to do the best that I can" is not about impressing superiors or getting noticed. It is about a personal choice of action based on standards that are set by the individual and in this way independent of (and sometimes higher than) the standards imposed by the military establishment. In seeking to acgieve those standards the leader is by definition a man or woman of action - self motivated and self governed - and their actions speak louder than ehortations or pep talks.

The great secret of leadership is to empower others - to strive for ecellence and peak performance. Thus the officer always acts "for the men" - and this commitment generates force loyalty. All of which to say is that leadership can truly be distilled into a two word formula. Follow me.

Follow my example. Follow my commitment. Follow my formula for personal satisfaction and peak performance. Follow me over that hill and into harm's way, because I will go first and show you the way.

So a leader allows actions to speak louder than words or posturing. He or she puts the individuals under his/her command first - even before themselves. He or she is a master of training, not merely a graduate. I imagine that a man of ambition cannot achieve true excellence as a leader because men of ambition are motivated by more than excellence - they have one eye on advancememt, one ear cocked toward unit politics, one nostril flared to sniff out opportunity, and, invariably, subordinates can sense ambition and ulterior motive in a leader like a dog can sense fear.
And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have an eloquent explanation of why Tony Blair was a leader of men, while Gordon Brown will never be.


Guthrum said...

Great Post- Winters is a man of utmost integrity, I am sure you will treasure that note.

Unfortunately I would not follow Cameron into the trenches any more than I would Brown.

My Grandfather said to me , the good thing about war is that all the useless, chinless wonders who think they should be in charge are rapidly culled through being killed and/or incompetence in the first months of being tested. Then the real leaders come forward.

Newmania said...

Brillaint blogging at the moment Iain , Great balance . I wonder sometimes if you have not outgrown the form. Good stuff though

rob's uncle said...

Hooey! Blair was a man of ambition blessed with charm, intelligence and acting ability. Leadership doesn't come into it.

Bonetired said...

I would strongly suggest that you, Iain, read Bill Slim's magisterial book (Defeat into Victory) on how he took a defeated, demoralised army and turned it into one of the finest armies that Britain has ever put into the field.

As a book on leadership it is beyond parallel.

David Boothroyd said...

If you accept as true the analysis written by Jendresen, then you also have an explanation of why David Cameron will amount to nothing. A man of action does not adopt a "do nothing" strategy in the face of crisis.

Trend Shed said...

I can recommend Winter's own book - a fascinating story and inspirational also.

It makes you wonder if you could ever measure up to the achievements and attitude of Easy Company. they set a very high bar indeed.

Windsor Tripehound said...

David Boothroyd said...
... A man of action does not adopt a "do nothing" strategy in the face of crisis.

The oracle speaks!

And out comes a load of nulabor guff. More very poor stuff from Boothroyd

strapworld said...

Boothroyd brings a gutter view of Leadership I am afraid. Quite awful.

However, Iain, does Cameron have the qualities of a leader?

Last week, with the three line whip on MP's expenses, designed to counter those conservatives who had made that shocking 'deal' showed leadership.. BUT is it enough to convince people that he is a leader.

Clarke is a natural leader. A Churchillian character.

Johnny Norfolk said...

How was Blair a great leader. He did not have those qualities. He was for himself he stll is and always will be.

Conand said...

I'm too partisan to have any interest in A Blair.
I did however find this fascinating. I thought I'd just do a quick note about political leadership from the perspective of a (Conservative) political activist.
Ages ago I started thinking of Cameron as the Chief Conservative activist. Not some remote, puffed up Supreme Leader or party grandee.
So unlike Guthrum@9:14 I will indeed follow him over that hill.

Lola said...

Tony Blair was NOT a leader of men. Tony Blair used his shallow gift of charisma to charm people. He did not use it to inspire them. He achieved power by finding a sales pitch that caught the zeitgeist of his time and he maximised the opportunity - for himself. You only have to look at the point at which he exited to understand this. He left just as the going was going to get tough, and at the peak of personal advantage. He is like the super salesman that joins a company, closes a large number of great sales deals, collects the commission and the accolades and then moves on. The deals that he leaves behind then are found to be very poor and a lot cancel.

To reinforce the military analogy I would never ever at any time have taken Blair on patrol with me.

Brown is just functionally useless, as a leader, as a technician and as a trooper. One of the other rules for being a good commnader is to be able to take orders. Brown, as evidenced by his action in trying to back stab Blair and to undermine Blairs orders shows tha he cannot take orders either. And lastly he is a deceitful man. The quality of deceitfulness automatically condemns you as not capable of leadership. Honesty is everything.

Anonymous said...

Guthrum your comment and that of your grandfather is shite (though not as full of it as Boothroyds).

You know nothing of for instance WW1, where many able and potentially able officers were killed through no fault of their own. Just the terrible circumstances.

Band of Brothers was a great series. People should realise that the attrition rate 'from D-Day to Berlin' was not far short of that for the Western front in WW1. Except in the case of Generals - there were many more generals killed in WW1 than WW2.

Word verification 'tramsest' TD's definition - 'two carriages having sex on the Docklands Light Railway.'

Lola said...

Boothroyd, don't be such a plonker. One, do nothing is always a perfatcetly valid option and must be included when takling any situation otheriwse the analysis is not complete. Two, Dave has not said 'do nothing'. It's a soundbite created by the incompetent shits that currently lounge about in the places where government was once exercised. Either that or they are running about like headless chickens.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

David Boothroyd said...
"A man of action does not adopt a "do nothing" strategy in the face of crisis."

Cameron has done plenty for the Conservative party, taking it to a 15% lead in the polls. If you are talking about running the country, that is not his job at present. If you want to find out his strategies Brown should call an election and Cameron will let us know what they are.

Anonymous said...

There was an old bigot called Boothroyd
Vindictive, malicious and android
Like an unfunny clown
He'd kiss-a** Brown
Somewhat akin to a haemorrhoid.


gadfly said...

How very true: in politics, as on the battlefield, what makes a leader great is his physical courage and his spirit of self-sacrifice.

Timid backstage manoeuvres and inelegant little ploys don't inspire people.

As to Gordon Brown, pulling his chestnuts out of the fire with the cat's paw appears to be his favourite leadership tactic.

His political epitaph will be: "He did not dare".

Eddie 180 said...

n Brown is a leader of the world - he tells us often!

In fact a few years ago, in a Treasury
Press Release
he told us how the Finacial Services Authority, which he established, was a world leader in how to regulate the Financial Services sector.

"We will look to apply on a wider basis the principle of risk based regulation to financial services legislation and the work of the FSA. The FSA, which we set up in 1997 as a world leading example of how to regulate financial services, was itself a merger of nine regulators into one.

It has already done valuable work on adopting a risk based approach and I welcome the thinking it is doing about how it can further reduce the burden of financial regulation."

Of course, he now claims that the lax regulation (in other countries) was to blame for the current crises, and he is leading the world to solve it!

Lola said...

Band of Brothers is a great series. It should be compulsory viewing for all children, in fact everyone. It moves me to tears.

The problem with it is again the Americanisation of history. I bow to no-one in my admiration of the contribution played by the US in the defeat of global Fascism in WW2, but it does rather get up my nose that film and TV persistently portray the victory through US eyes.

Here in the UK we raised a giant citzen army, expanding the pre-war cadre of (I think) about 250,000 men to several million at its peak at the beginning of 1944. Our TV and film dramas have not done nearly enough to show the valour and contribution of our squaddies in battles like Normandy (where someone else has pointed out, the infantry casualty rates reached WW1 proportions). It is about time that someone did a 'Band of Brothers' equivalent to show the sacrifices of UK, Commonwealth and Dominion troops and the contribution they made. A good place to start would be with Slim's 14th Army, as another poster has indicated.

Lola said...

Just to continue that theme, what about dramatising Kohima? A pivotal action if ever there was one.

Jess The Dog said...

Alas, wide of the mark. The outstanding leadership of Lt Winters (later Lt Col I think, certainly Maj) throughout his service is well known – in training, in combat and as a regimental staff officer – thanks to the Band of Brothers drama. The assault on the guns at Normandy was later taught at West Point as the textbook example of an effective assault against a fixed position.

However, Blair was certainly no leader in the Winters mould. He did not lead by example, he was not selfless, he did not share the dangers and deprivations of those he directed. The most effective leaders tend to be modest men, if direct men – think Field Marshal Slim rather than Field Marshal Montgomery – and this is true of Winters. Also, the fundamental principle of leadership is trust – underpinned by truth - and Blair threw this away at the earliest opportunity. Men will always follow a trusted leader, even if the truth is unpalatable. They will not follow a liar who they do not trust.

Blair falls into the second worse category of leadership – the vain self-believer. He has squandered opportunities and lives and his failure to accept the truth of intelligence briefings – the increased terrorist threat following the Iraq War – demonstrate his unfitness to lead. Of course, Brown is the worst possible leader – the man who cannot decide and who will hide away from a problem. Neither of these men can be compared to the likes of Winters and that generation of war leaders.

Lola said...

Jess the Dog - "think Field Marshal Slim rather than Field Marshal Montgomery" or Alanbrooke

Yak40 said...

BoB, one of the best series ever made bar none.

I never saw it on TV but watched the boxed set of DVDs. Some of the interviews with the survivors after many of the episodes were very moving.

Yak40 said...

People should realise that the attrition rate 'from D-Day to Berlin' was not far short of that for the Western front in WW1.

I didn't know that.
My father was active from D-Day to Berlin (at least damn close). He also survived Dunkirk.