Explain Combat Leadership Essay

There are dozens of personal traits that can affect leadership and some, namely integrity and character, that are absolute. But in many years of experience, I have observed that the way leaders develop and deploy the eight know-hows is influenced by a handful of them: ambition, drive and tenacity, self-confidence, psychological openness, realism and an insatiable appetite for learning. These personal traits manifest in many different ways. Do you stew over a decision alone, or bring in trusted advisors for candid discussions? Do you allow yourself to be influenced by other people, changing your position in light of better analysis by a subordinate? Are you a procrastinator who wants more and more data – more certainty – before making a decision? Or are you impulsive, making a snap decision based on your gut instincts? Do you like to be liked? Your personality and psychology play an important role in how you interact with your business. Will you impose your will on the organization, or seek a productive consensus that aligns the entire business with your goals.

Ambition: A desire to achieve something visible and noteworthy propels individual leaders and their companies to strive to reach their potential. Leaders need a healthy dose of it to push themselves and others. But ambition can be blind. That’s when you see leaders making flashy acquisitions that are financially unsound or setting attention-getting goals or taking on more priorities than the organization can handle out of a desire to do everything. Overambitiousness, combined with a lack of integrity, can lead to undesirable behavior and even corruption. Drive and Tenacity: Some leaders have an inner motor that pushes them to get to the heart of an issue and find solutions. They drill for specific answers and don’t give up until they get them. Their high energy is infectious. They consistently drive their priorities through the organization. They search tenaciously for information they’re missing and keep tweaking their mental models until they arrive at a positioning that works. But drive and tenacity can cause a leader to stick to a plan that isn’t working, or outdated assumptions, or an investment that is no longer promising. Self-Confidence: You have to be able to listen to your own inner voice and endure the lonely moments when an important decision falls on your shoulders. You have to be able to speak your mind and act decisively knowing that you can withstand the consequences. It’s not a matter of acting tough. It’s having a tough inner core, or what some refer to as emotional fortitude. Underlying fears and insecurities can be just as detrimental to your know-hows as can excessive self-confidence in the form of narcissism or arrogance. Some leaders have a need to be liked. They therefore tend to go easy on people. They have an especially hard time dismissing people who have been loyal to them. Such leaders often find their own progress slowed because they promote people for the wrong reasons, tolerate nonperformers, and allow the social system to corrode. A fear of response is also common. Such leaders tend to avoid conflicts and find it hard to challenge people on their performance or point of view. They back off when they should be giving brutally honest feedback and sometimes have a third party do that work for them. Leaders with a fear of failure are often indecisive, defensive and less likely to spot opportunities because they are risk-averse. They find it hard to select goals for fear of choosing the wrong ones and wait too long to connect the dots in the external environment or to reposition the business. Self-confidence also affects your use or abuse of power. Every leader has to use power from time to time in assigning tasks, allocating resources, selecting or promoting people, giving differentiated rewards or redirecting dialogue. An excessive fear of failure or fear of response can make a leader uncomfortable using power, and not using power appropriately actually erodes it. Failure to deal with a recalcitrant direct report, for instance, diminishes the leader’s power. On the other hand, narcissistic leaders tend to abuse power, using it irrationally or against the interests of the organization. Psychological Openness: The willingness to allow yourself to be influenced by other people and to share your ideas openly enhances the know-hows, while being psychologically closed can cause problems. Leaders who are psychologically open seek diverse opinions, so they see and hear more and factor a wider range of information into their decisions. Their openness permeates the social system, enhancing candor and communication. Those who are psychologically closed are secretive and afraid to test their ideas, often cloaking that fear under the guise of confidentiality. They’re distant from their direct reports and have no one outside to bounce ideas off of or to provide information that counters their own beliefs. In the new environment of complexity, being psychologically closed makes it particularly difficult to reposition the business, because the leader lacks perspectives from diverse disciplines, functions and cultures. Realism: Realism is the mid-point between optimism and pessimism, and the degree to which you tend toward one or the other has a particularly powerful effect on your use of the know-hows. Optimism can lead, for example, to ambitious goals that outstrip the company’s ability to accomplish them or can compromise your judgments of people: “I know his ego has no bounds, but I can coach him to become a team player.” But pessimists don’t want to hear ambitious plans or bold initiatives and can find all the flaws and risks in pursuing them when they do. They’re likely to miss opportunities. A realist is open to whatever hand reality deals him. Only the realist wants to get unfiltered information that can be weighed, measured, evaluated and tested to determine what step to take next. He spends time interacting with customers, employees and suppliers, getting information and a “feel” from those constituencies about their thinking. Appetite for Learning: Know-hows improve with exposure to diverse situations with increasing levels of complexity, so an eagerness for new challenges is essential. Leaders who seek out new experiences and learn from them will build their know-hows faster than those who don’t. [Copyright © 2007 by Ram Charan from Know-How: The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don’t. Published by Crown Business, January 2007.

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Research overview

Currently, ARI’s Ft. Hood Research Unit, together with Aptima, Inc., is conducting research to understand the leadership challenges that are present in today’s garrison environment. The purpose of the research is to uncover the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that junior noncommissioned officers (NCOs) need to be effective within that environment. The KSAs identified by the research, as well as information uncovered about the garrison environment, will support NCOs leading soldiers in operational units.

Problem to solve

Today there is concern that many of the Army’s leaders — particularly our junior leaders — are not equipped with the KSAs required to effectively train, lead and discipline soldiers in the garrison environment (Department of the Army, 2010; Graham-Ashley, 2010; Stairrett, 2010). Prolonged, recurring combat rotational requirements have produced leaders who are highly skilled warriors but unaccustomed to taking care of soldiers in the garrison environment. Given the post-9/11 changes that have characterized the garrison environment, value of, and appreciation for, good order and discipline practices need to be instilled into the officer and NCO corps.

Training will play a key role in efforts to restore strong leadership to units in garrison, although a simple return to pre-9/11 professional military education (PME) curricula may not be enough. Implementation of effective training of leadership skills for the garrison environment will first require research to identify leadership skills and requirements that may be unique to today’s Army. The Army has operated at a high operational tempo for more than a decade now and, as a result, junior leaders may be less experienced in garrison leadership than their counterparts of the past. Thus, research is required to identify leadership skills and requirements that are unique to today’s Army, and to determine whether or not current PME curricula needs to be adjusted to account for the experiences and training that today’s leaders have (and have not) accrued since 9/11. It is especially important that such research be conducted for the Army’s NCO corps because — as stated in FM 7.22-7, The Army Noncommissioned Officer Guide (Department of the Army, 2002) — among the many duties of NCOs, training and taking care of soldiers are their priorities.

Solution and approach

The research described here is focused on defining the garrison environment and the associated leadership challenges. After the garrison environment is properly defined, the KSAs that junior NCOs need to be effective within that environment will be analyzed. A combination of both operational input and leadership theory is being utilized to conduct this research. First, a comparison of the operating environment as described in field manuals from 1976 to the present is being conducted. The purpose of that analysis is to understand the primary training and operational foci of the Army at various time periods, and hence the related demands placed upon Army leaders. A comparison of the descriptions in the manuals will yield valuable information about how and what leaders should be trained on. In addition, input from current, active-duty soldiers is being solicited to understand how they define the garrison environment — what are the current challenges that they face? And, what tasks must they conduct within this environment? Input is being obtained not only from NCOs, but individuals up (e.g., lieutenants and captains) and down (e.g., their subordinates) their chain of command. By gathering input from all levels, a more comprehensive picture of the duties and leadership challenges faced by junior NCOs can be developed. Finally, leadership theory is being used to frame the analyses in sound, scientific theory. For example, functional leadership theory (Hackman & Walton, 1986) argues that a leader’s main job is to accomplish whatever is needed to meet the needs of his or her subordinates. By applying functional leadership theory to the current problem, the identification of KSAs will be easier. For instance, the garrison environment can be represented as a number of leadership challenges, which can then be broken down into more specific leadership tasks, from which trainable KSAs can be derived.

Finally, information gathered from military doctrine, leadership theory, and the soldiers themselves will be combined to create training recommendations. It is important to note that the recommendations put forth from this research will not only focus on what needs to be trained, but how the training should occur and when to train specific KSAs. The Army puts forth three pillars (i.e., methods) of leader development (institution, self-development, and experience). Each of those pillars can serve to augment an NCO’s leadership capability, and hence, the KSAs identified as important for effective garrison leadership will be analyzed in relation to each of the three training methods. In addition, careful consideration will be given as to when in an NCO’s career certain skills should be learned. By taking this continuous learning approach, training recommendations can be made that provide NCOs with the skills needed for success at various points in their careers.


To date, data have been collected from 29 Command Sergeants Major (CSMs) who were completing a two-week CSM course at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. The average age of the participants was 43.89 years (SD = 3.69), and the average time in service was 23.67 years (SD = 2.94). The CSMs interviewed reported that leading soldiers in garrison was generally more difficult than leading in theater. The most frequently discussed challenges associated with leading in garrison included the following: a lack of (or lack of knowledge about) resources available in garrison; less control over soldiers and more distractions compared to while in theater; and, a lack of training on how to lead soldiers in garrison.

The CSMs also spoke about the KSAs junior NCOs need to be effective leaders in the garrison environment. However, despite the fact that the participants discussed the challenges of leading in garrison, the KSAs mentioned did not differ greatly between garrison and theater environments. Across both environments, general leadership competencies such as mentoring and self-awareness were discussed. The one skill set frequently mentioned was interpersonal skills. Given that NCOs must watch over and be concerned for the well-being of their soldiers while in garrison, that skill set certainly seems relevant.

Preliminary data are currently being examined from a functional leadership perspective to gain more insight into the KSAs required of junior NCOs. For example, specific, trainable KSAs can be discerned from understanding that NCOs must attempt to minimize distractions and keep their soldiers focused on the tasks at hand. Future interviews and focus groups will seek to identify additional tasks required of junior leaders to help define what the garrison environment looks like and to also uncover the necessary skill sets.

This research will support junior NCOs leading soldiers in operational units. It may also help to enhance the training and education curriculums for junior leaders. NCOs are the backbone of the Army, and research must continue to understand how to help them maximize their effectiveness in all environments.

Additional information regarding this research may be obtained from:

Dr. Krista Ratwani
Aptima, Inc.
1726 M St NW (Suite 900)
Washington, DC 20036

Dr. Jeffrey Fite
U.S. Army Research Institute
Fort Hood Research Unit (Mail Stop 70)
Fort Hood, TX 76544 

About this spotlight

Spotlight on research showcases research from R&D laboratories within DoD, partnering organizations, as well as the academic and practitioner community within military psychology. Research will include a wide variety of studies and programs, ranging from preliminary findings on single studies to more substantive summaries of programmatic efforts on targeted research areas. Research will be inclusive of all disciplines relevant to military psychology — spanning the entire spectrum of psychology including clinical and experimental, as well as basic and applied. If you would like to showcase your research, please email Krista Ratwani or call her at (202) 552-6127.  This spotlight features research being conducted by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences (ARI) on the challenges associated with leading soldiers in the garrison environment.


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