Title - $10.99The Tactical Operations Center




Toward a Paradigm of Combat Leadership

Table of Contents



Methodological Approaches






Operational Definitions


Appendix A - Nominal and Scale Variables for Measuring Combat Leadership

Figure Captions



Combat operations are intense, dangerous situations with unknown and known risks and hazards. Combat leaders must effectively lead and manage their troops under challenging situations, against an enemy, whose purpose is to destroy those troops, preventing them from accomplishing their mission. The challenge for teaching leadership in the military is to mentally prepare leaders to make the right decisions at the right times. This can be done by exposing leaders to real life situations that veterans faced, along with the decisions they made and why they made them. For a researcher, the key is to combine case studies with an analysis of quantifiable date to determine those qualities and characteristics of successful leadership on which future leaders can model themselves.

Methodological Approaches

In order to understand the dynamics of combat leadership, it is instructive to examine the methodologies in common use today and determine which serves as a ‘best fit’ to base the research on. Arbnor and Bjerke illustrate three approaches, each changing as the complexity of the paradigms increase. The three approaches also overlap each other somewhat. Paradigm 1: Reality as concrete and conformable to law from a structure independent of the observer. This is a completely Analytic approach, using empirical data to draw conclusions. Paradigm 2: Reality as a concrete determining practice. Paradigm 3: Reality as mutually dependent fields of information. While 2 and 3 can be examined using empirical data, they can also be examined from a Systems approach. Paradigm 4: Reality as a world of symbolic discourse. Paradigm 5: Reality as a social construction. Paradigms 4 and 5 are largely examined using the systems approach and the actors approach. Paradigm 6 uses the Actors approach entirely: Reality as a manifestation of human intentionality.

The Analytic and Systems approaches seek ultimately to explain events, using subjective, measureable criteria. The analytic approach surmises that reality “is the whole of its parts” (Arbnor & Bjerke, 1997, 50). The systems approach differs in that “the whole differs from the sum of its parts” (Arbnor & Bjerke, 1997, 51) because of synergy. From a systems perspective, how the parts interact is much more important that individual components. This approach feeds into the next. The actors approach is much more objective in nature, because it explores individual human character, component interaction and decision making, items that are often made based on incomplete information or external factors.

Kuhn (1996) admits to the utility of paradigms as a starting point for knowledge advancement. He points out that scientists “never learn concepts, laws, and theories in the abstract and by themselves. Instead, these intellectual tools are from the start encountered in a historically and pedagogically prior unit that displays them with and through their applications” (Kuhn, 1996, 46). In other words, the concepts do not exist in a vacuum. This, plus his explanation of scientific revolutions, indicates that he is concerned with systems theory; the sum is not the whole of its parts. Research may be the root of the synergy that allows the scientist to arrive at alternative conclusions or applications.

Kuhn delineates between evolutionary and revolutionary advances in scientific knowledge when he states that the examination of anomalies is the standard for revolutionary advances. (Kuhn, 1996, 52) Kuhn further suggests that while sometimes paradigms will change as a result of scientific inquiries; this may not be the rule. (Kuhn, 1996, 56)


Critical lessons in military leadership can be learned through conducting case studies, surveys of veterans and one-on-one veteran interviews in order to understand those defining characteristics that make combat leaders successful at times of extreme stress and uncertainty. Further, future military leaders can be taught the tenets of transformational leadership as an enhancement to transactional leadership.

“Transformational leadership adds to the effectiveness of transactional leadership; transactional leadership does not substitute for transformational leadership” (Bass, 1999, 21). In other words, despite the popularity of espousing the benefits of transformational leadership, transactional leadership remains the foundation on which all other leadership is based. For military leadership purposes, this suggests that transactional leadership ensures that the mission is accomplished, despite the cost, even under the most adverse conditions.

A reasonable assumption in the study of military history is that there are timeless principles of combat leadership that can be derived using both qualitative and quantitative measurement and analysis. For practical purposes, this means that a discussion of General George S. Patton’s leadership style and techniques is as valid in today’s military as it was during World War Two. It is important to differentiate our discussion from one of tactics and technology with illustrations of personalities, characteristics, virtues and charisma. While many lessons can be learned, it is further critical to understand that modeling a particular leadership style is not the same as aping it, lest that style become a caricature. For application purposes, this means that a leader studying Patton would not desire to begin wearing ivory handled pistols because that was what Patton did.

Further, it is suggested that there is just as much that can be learned from unsuccessful or even successful leaders about what a leader should not do or the types of behavior he should not engage in. Again, for application purposes, the Patton slapping incidents in Sicily are illustrative of this concept. A key to being a leader is knowing what to do and when, just as much as it is knowing what not to do.


Any discussion of the study of combat leadership involves the study of the classical treatises on warfare. The two are inevitably linked because it is opposing commanders who plan and execute military operations in the pursuit of national objectives. Possibly no other theorists have been more widely studied than Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. An intriguing point of study as well is that their philosophies on the Art of War are also reflected in their respective cultural roots: Occidental versus Oriental, Western versus Eastern, linear versus circular.

Sun Tzu’s approach to warfare (and thus tangentially leadership) incorporated the variety of tactical themes (offensive and defensive operations) in an approach with four main concepts:

(1) continual probing of the opponent's organization and dispositions to display capabilities, limitations, patterns of movement, and intentions;

(2) continual efforts to shape an opponent's perception of the environment in order to manipulate his plans and actions;

(3) a strategic value system that focuses one's own operational efforts against the opponent's plans as preferred policy, attacks the opponent’s alliances as a second course of action, attacks the opponent’s military forces as third best, and only directly attacks fortified cities or established fighting positions when there is no alternative; and

(4) always employs Cheng (direct, orthodox) and Ch'i (indirect, unorthodox) maneuvers to create unexpected changing conditions (i.e., obvious & hidden, usual and unusual maneuvers, always in concert so that one does not exist without the other, with each turning into the other as conditions change). (Griffith in Sun Tzu, 1963, 34) This method, also widely used in martial arts, is combined in order to quickly and unexpectedly hurls strength against weakness.

Clausewitz’s Art of War was decidedly different from that of Sun Tzu. Central to his theory are three operating concepts to a commander’s decision making cycle:

(1) top-down control emphasizing a strict adherence to echeloned command and control and the support of the next higher commander’s intent,

(2) standardized methods and routines at the tactical level and

(3) friction: those factors in conflict that impede or inhibit planned operations, like weather, poor logistics, scarcity of or inadequate information; or emotional and psychological factors, like fear and panic.

An important discussion in the nature of friction is that of his description of the fog of war: It is that combination of danger, uncertainty and perhaps above all, chance. (Clausewitz, 1968, 144) The element of chance is that occurrence of a random, unplanned and unforeseen event that dramatically alters the situation, requiring an immediate response. A commander’s ability to react to fog and friction gives us a good understanding of his mental flexibility and ability to be creative.

Clausewitz encouraged the exhaustion of the opponent by forcing the increased expenditure of effort for increasingly fewer returns. At the same time he aimed to overcome his own friction by identifying the opponent’s "centers of gravity" upon which his power and movement depended. Once the centers of gravity were identified, the Clausewitz approach was to direct operational efforts in time and space against them into the fewest possible moves (not unlike chess). The Clausewitz approach subordinated all minor and secondary actions towards seeking a decisive battle using a superiority of force and conditions to force a quick strategic victory. Like Sun Tzu, Clausewitz places the responsibility for managing the army on the leader’s skill and will.

The U.S. Army credo defining leadership is, rather oversimplified, “Be, Know, Do.” A great deal of emphasis in evaluating individual officer performance is focused on officers being what is termed, “technically and tactically proficient.” As pertains to technical terms, this means that the leader understands basic equipment functions (such as radios, weapons systems, navigation equipment and vehicles) and how to use the equipment to accomplish the unit mission. Tactical proficiency is defined as understanding how to ‘shoot, move and communicate.’ A commander must know how to apply force (shoot), occupy, defend or attack (move) and coordinate all subordinate units activities while keeping in contact with his superiors (communicate).

Military operations range in complexity based on unit size, terrain (geography), the nature of enemy forces and assigned mission. Further, decision making by commanders is subject to a number of variables, some known and some unknown. The known variables include the resources (or units) immediately available to the commander, combat multipliers (other resources available to the commander but not necessarily assigned directly to him, such as artillery, close air support, air defense artillery, engineers, military intelligence and Army aviation), and combat power. See Figure 1, Mission Complexity, for a graphic representation of this.

From this model, it is apparent that combat power increases as the size of the unit increases (in this instance Army units are illustrated). However, as both unit size and combat power increase, so too does the complexity of the unit’s mission. It should be noted that missions tend to be the same across units, derived from the higher commander’s intent and thus is more of a continuum than single set piece orders. Missions are planned in order to support the next higher unit’s objectives. It is important to keep in mind that an opponent’s actions can have a detrimental effect on the unit’s combat power due to combat loss, wastage or allocation of resources (including that of reserve forces). However, combat multipliers, while increasing the complexity of the mission, should exert a positive impact on combat power, provided that they are applied judiciously, as will be explained in Figure 3.

A commander’s decision making is influence by many factors: Units assigned to him, intelligence on his opponent, time available to plan, coordinate and execute operations and above all else, the mission. The unknown variables include the nature of the opponent (capabilities, limitations and intentions), what Clausewitz refers to as friction and the fog of war. (Clausewitz, 1968, 189) Figure 2 illustrates the decision making model.

From this model, we see that as the size of the unit increases, so does the complexity of the commander’s decision making. We also see that an opponent’s actions or operations will decrease the amount of time and increase the complexity of the commander’s decision making. We further understand that friction will cause the commander to take more time in making a decision as he is unable to coordinate and control the actions of his subordinate units.

Commanders also understand that accomplishing their mission is their primary objective. Colonel David Perkins, a brigade commander in the 3d Infantry Division during the attack on Baghdad understood this prior to the mission. “He knew American soldiers would die the next day….the mission’s main goal was not to avoid getting anyone killed. It was to force the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime” (Zucchino, 2004, 84).

S.L.A. Marshall, the noted military theoretician and historian asserts in his critically acclaimed work, “Men Against Fire” that “when the chips are down, the main question is not how you go about your mission but whether it succeeds.” In addition, he notes that the “criterion of command is the ability to think clearly and work hard rather than to strike attitudes or accept disproportionate risk” (Marshall, 1978, 186). Martin Van Creveld echoes this sentiment, stating that any operations must be based on: “A clear definition of the objectives to be attained; thorough planning; and a proper order of priorities” (Van Creveld, 1987, 195).

A commander’s ability to leverage combat power against an opponent can only be accomplished provided that he has a reliable and redundant communications network through which he can issue orders, receive information, allocate and coordinate resources and request assistance from a higher echelon if needed. Figure 3 illustrates a model of Command and Control requirements.

This model illustrates that as the mission grows more complex, command and control requirements also increase. Generally, a commander will only be assigned a complicated mission provided he has adequate combat power to accomplish it. His geographical position on the battlefield will also change depending on the size of the unit he commands and his span of control. S.L.A. Marshall succinctly sums up the importance of span of control when he says, “fire (combat power) and person-to-person communication are the twin essentials of successful minor tactics (generating) spontaneity of action (initiative) and reuniting of effort in the face of any battlefield emergency” (Marshall, 1978, 135). Van Creveld attributes the success of the Israeli Defense Force during the Arab-Israeli wars to “innovation during execution itself; discipline; and improvisation…” (Van Creveld, 1985, 185).

Further, the variable of combat multipliers has a positive effect on combat power. However, additional combat multipliers increase the commander’s requirements to coordinate the additional assets in order to leverage them as combat power. Friction has a damping effect because combat multipliers are usually assets outside of the commander’s immediate span of control and routine command channels.

One multiplier however, that remains within his immediate control is that of his reserve. A popular military aphorism, which is probably apocryphal, is that “The winning commander is the one who commits his reserves last to the fight.” S.L.A. Marshall notes that “A reserve is always a tactical base of operations, a fulcrum to work from, a chief tool in the hands of the commander” (Marshall, 1978, 187). The reason for this is that the reserves provide a commander with the ability to adapt his plans once they are in motion and he is able to discern his opponent’s movements and intentions.

Clausewitz outlines two uses of the reserve: the first is for continuing operations; the second is for its “use in case of unforeseen events” (Clausewitz, 1968, 284). This flexibility is exemplar of situational leadership. The commander who can respond immediately to a changing environment is the one who retains battlefield initiative and can thus get inside his opponent’s decision cycle. The successful military leader is the one who can make independent decisions and implement them effectively. See Figure 5 for more on this.

The methodologies for the area of study, the challenges of combat leadership, are case studies and interviews with veterans. The paradigm, how do we link the two; is that we can derive critical lessons for leaders based on the experience of the past. More succinctly, we can prepare and educate future leaders by providing them not just with stories or explanations of past performance, but we analyze that performance, good and bad, in order to determine why and when leaders made the decisions they did.

There has been much discussion and debate within the US military since the invasion of Grenada in 1979 over what are colloquially termed “Joint” operations. Joint military operations are those that combine Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines into a seamless, coordinated effort. The term “Purple” is used as a euphemism for these operations as it combines the colors of the various services respectively: Blue and green.

A common problem with Joint operations, which still exists today, is that commanders must overcome service rivalries with respect to budgetary dollars, national resources, public (Congressional) relations and even doctrinal divides over who does what and when. Ash (2001) posits that an applied ethical approach emphasizing shared virtues is the best method to overcome intra-service rivalries.

The ‘cardinal virtues’ Ash emphasizes are: Justice, prudence, courage and temperance. He draws a further conclusion using the United State Military Academy at West Point ’s motto: “Duty, Honor, Country provides linkage between the commission, the oath of office, and the professional military ethic” (Ash, 2001, 37).

Air Force Major General Charles Link says in part, “Aerospace power grows out of the contributions of many airmen, often doing different things in separate locations and using innovation and initiative to support a single vision” (Link, 2001, 10). This type of empowerment means that these individuals must be trained for their specialty, given the tools required to accomplish their task, provided clear mission parameters and then allowed to carry out their duties. Without doubt, this means that little or no immediate supervision is expected or given. In this instance, transactional leadership would interfere with accomplishing the required tasks. Further, it would be impossible, given the disparity of tasks, to minutely supervise all of these specialists. Because of this, transformational leadership is required.

Drew (2001) outlines the basic tenets of transformational leadership. Essentially, leaders must understand how to best leverage available resources towards accomplishing the organization’s mission and priorities. Some of the variables inherent in mission accomplishment include the opponent’s operations, friction and the fog of war. How a commander leverages available resources against mission requirements is the definition of combat power.

Drew presents three fundamental challenges that any leader must resolve in order to be successful: Understanding the capabilities and limitations of existing resources; the second is access to timely and accurate intelligence; the third is the force of character or will to accomplish the mission. Martin van Creveld asserts: “war consists of two independent wills confronting each other” (Van Creveld, 1985, 266).

Drew emphasizes the importance of understanding your own organization’s “disabilities, limitations and vulnerabilities” (Drew, 2001, 26). Most of the time, business managers are more concerned with what their competitors are capable of doing. Military commanders and business leaders understand that candid, internal assessments can help focus an organization’s vision and resources towards the stated objectives.


A critical aspect of combat leadership is action; doing the right things at the right times. Put another way, it is knowing what decisions to make, when and then implementing them. However, the decisions that need to be made become more complicated as the level of command and the span of control increases. As Model 2 makes clear, a commander must not only react to an opponent’s operations and decisions (at least as far as he can discern them), he must attempt to overcome the limitations of friction. This is the commander’s force of will. S.L.A. Marshall comments that “true strength of will in the commander develops from his study of human nature, for it is in the measure of that he acquires knowledge of how other men think that he perfects himself in the control of their thoughts and acts” (Marshall, 1978, 177).

Such decision making is more art than science, more qualitative than quantitative. The German military has a term for such decision making that has been adopted and is widely used in the US Army: Fingerspitzengefuhl, meaning, the feeling at the fingertips. Jay Conger makes a very strong argument justifying the use of qualitative research in the study of leadership:

In our field today, qualitative studies remain relatively rare. They are time intensive and complex. They are also perceived to be fraught with methodological challenges that make certain of our colleagues skeptical of such methods. At the same time, they can be the richest of studies, often illuminating in radically new ways phenomena as complex as leadership. They are responsible for paradigm shifts, insights into the role of context, and longitudinal perspectives that other methods often fall to capture…

Conger’s central thesis is that qualitative research can capture the nuances and complexities of charismatic and transformational leadership better than quantitative research; which tends to focus on one particular characteristic of the overall approach. Conger defines the three dimensions of leadership “multiple levels, dynamism, and social construction” (Conger 2001, paragraph 16) and is critical of quantitative research in that it cannot discern the complexity of human nature and character in the same fashion that quantitative research can.


We can derive critical lessons for leaders based on the experience of the past. More succinctly, we can prepare and educate future leaders by providing them not just with stories or explanations of past performance, but we analyze that performance, good and bad, in order to determine why and when leaders made the decisions they did. Charles F. Hawkins lays out the challenge perhaps the best: “To identify and list observable data of the leadership phenomenon to see what patterns exist and what derivative ideas can be developed” (Hawkins, Conclusion, paragraph 2).

Gibson and Pason contend that the most challenging issues in teaching leadership are the “cultivation of attitudes and ethical codes that allows for the proper application of the common skills and talents developed by the leadership programs” (Gibson & Pason, 2003, 23). They suggest that teaching organizational skills such as time management and proper use of resources are simple in comparison.


The methodologies for researching combat leadership are those of original source documentation, case studies and interviews with veterans (both those in leadership and non-leadership roles). A final method is that of terrain assessment. The challenge for the researcher is being able to discern truth from perceived reality. We are challenged in that veterans’ memories are faulty or may be biased. Further, as pertains to source documentation, we need to know that the documentation may be missing or may be incomplete. A sample of nominal and ordinal variables is included at Appendix A.

Source documentation is best derived from duty logs, logs of radio communications or even e-mails, battlefield Situation Reports (or SITREPS) and immediate After Action Reports. Unit Histories can be and often are considered source documents, however, these are often written from the vantage of hindsight and tend to cover or gloss over important errors or tactical mistakes.

Of equal importance is the need to gather as much source documentation or interviews from enemy veterans. This information can provide insight into the opponent’s action and decisions based on his knowledge (or lack thereof) on friendly unit movements and operations.

A note on terrain is important. An often overlooked factor in the study of military history is the effect of weather and terrain. Both of these variables can have profound effects on military operations. Of equal importance to the researcher is what is colloquially termed “the Staff Ride.” The Staff Ride serves as a method for the researcher to walk or drive the battlefield armed with all of the necessary information regarding unit dispositions, movements and knowledge of the commander’s decisions. For the researcher, he must be able to put himself into the commander’s place: To see what he saw, hear what he could hear, to know what he did not know. In this method can the researcher begin to understand the circumstances and conditions under which a commander made his decisions.

Finally, all of the above information must be tied together and integrated as part of the validation process. Such integration permits the researcher with not only an overarching view of what occurred and when; it also provides some insight into why commanders made certain decisions when they did. The important part of integration is that the process permits the researcher to validate information. In other words, the researcher does not have to rely, nor should he, on single source documentation that a certain event occurred when and where and how it did.

Researching perceptions and attitudes towards leadership should also be concerned with the type of military unit which an individual veteran has served in and what level of leadership they exerted or were subject to. While some veterans were involved in close combat with opponents, the further up the chain of command a leader is, the further removed (usually) he is from immediate danger and often immediate decisions that need to be made.

In addition, researchers should understand that the particular branch of the military service an individual served in will color perceptions of leadership. While the Navy and Air Force are considered the most highly technical branches of the military respectively, the Marines and Army are less so. In this respect, most writers on the subject are in agreement that the more skilled a service member is, the more technical their duties are, and the less effective is direct supervision of that soldier, sailor or airman. In this instance, instead of the transactional leader, such as an infantry platoon leader ensuring that his platoon moves from point A to point B and establishes a defensive position; a transformational leader, such as the Electronic Intelligence Battalion Commander who relies on his intelligence specialists to fulfill their individual missions, must leave it to the individuals to accomplish their collective missions essentially unsupervised. Figure 4 illustrates the leadership continuum linking individual technical ability and the complexity of the mission.

A transformational leader must communicate his vision and his will (or colloquially, the commander’s intent) to his soldiers. Soldiers do not want to be kept in the dark about their operations, they do not want to blindly follow their commander. Such ignorance is not only dangerous, it can have a devastating effect on morale. Further, in the absence of information, soldiers are likely to make up information just for something to talk about. S.L.A. Marshall comments that “When all else was obscure, just a little knowledge in the ranks would have been priceless to the higher commands” (Marshall, 1978, 141).

Colonel David Perkins understood this; he had to motivate and inspire his soldiers prior to their attack on Baghdad . “It wasn’t enough to know their mission. They had to know their purpose” (Zucchino, 2004, 80). Clearly, his subordinate commanders not only shared his vision, they communicated it down to their soldiers. One of his company commanders, Captain David Wolford, during his pre-combat mission briefing “delivered a performance,…because a combat commander needs to perform for his men, to inspire them and persuade them that the mission at hand is the most important thing on earth at that moment” (Zucchino, 2004, 89).

The timelessness of this concept is illustrated by the story which Staff Sergeant Pete Deine related to S.L.A. Marshall of a battle in the Pacific during World War Two: “I knew then that the only way to get confidence back into the platoon (after the commander had been killed) was to talk it up, as a man might do in a football game.” Continuing his attack on enemy positions, he began yelling to his soldiers, “Watch me! This is what you’re supposed to do. Get at it” (Marshall, 1978, 142).

The transformational leader then understands that one of his goals is that of building and maintaining unit morale. As discussed above, morale is a qualitative, not quantitative commodity. S.L.A. Marshall, noting the soldiers fight for their comrades, not out of any sense of duty or responsibility to their country, asserts that “Battle morale comes from unity more than from all else and it will rise or fall in the measure that unity is felt by the ranks” (Marshall, 1978, 138).

A commander’s ultimate goal has more nuances than simply accomplishing his primary mission. Any military commander is ultimately fighting his opponent’s will and intentions, not just enemy forces. A successful commander is able to gather information, allocate resources, plan his operations and execute them. Planning does two things for a commander: First, the end result is a formal document that is disseminated to his subordinates which provides specific guidance, coordinating instructions and sub-unit missions. Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that it is a process by which the commander can approach his mission intellectually and war-game different Courses of Action before deciding on one. Further, it gives him the opportunity to think about ‘branches and sequels.’ This method of thinking permits him to war-game alternative operations based on his own losses and enemy operations. We understand then that the execution of our own plans is subject and thus variable to the enemy’s operations. As one military thinker puts it, “Moltke’s dictum (is) that plans should only go as far as the first clash with the enemy” (Van Creveld, 1985, 203).

This means that while planning is important, so is innovation and responding to the environment. In addition to being transformational, successful combat leaders are situational leaders. They can improvise, adapt and overcome. “He who relies on the situation uses his men in fighting as one rolls logs or stones” (Tzu, 1968, 95). The commander understands how best to use the resources available to him within the environment he operates in against the enemy opposing him.

A common variable is that of time. The commander’s decision making cycle is always subject to time. Every phase of an operation runs on a time line. Planning for an operation can take days, weeks, or even years. The planning for the invasion of Haiti by the 82d Airborne Division in 1995 began in 1991 when the Division returned from Desert Storm. The more time spent planning an operation can help a commander develop ‘branches and sequels;’ develop and wargame additional courses of action and obtain additional intelligence to help him understand the situation, the terrain and the enemy better. A certain amount of time is always required to move a unit from one point to another; or to establish a defensive position; or to simply rest and rearm. A commander who is able to get inside his opponent’s decision cycle is one who is able to take the initiative and set the conditions of battle, in both time and space. This commander is able to choose how, when and where to engage his opponent. Figure 5 illustrates this concept.

In this illustration, we note that the blue force commander is able to make and implement decisions in a shorter time frame than the red force commander. This means that the red force commander is always reacting to the blue force commander’s decisions and operations. The blue force commander is able to respond quickly based on available information provided to him by his assigned units and his combat multipliers.

Operational definitions

John Keegan, in his landmark study on the subject, “The Mask of Command,” delineates four types of command leadership, using historical leaders as examples. He also believes that leadership styles have changed as military technology has altered the fighting environment. In the past, commanders were able to see the entire battlefield and directly controlled their unit’s actions while in combat. As technology progressed and units became larger, commanders became further removed from the field both in time and in space. Increasingly, they came to rely on subordinate leaders and communications devices to gather and disseminate information and orders.

Keegan’s first definition is that of heroic leadership, wherein the commander always leads from the front. Keegan equates this type of leadership with leadership from classical times, using Alexander the Great as the model. Keegan states that the nature of combat in classical times required the leader to not only command his units, but to lead them directly into battle. The psychology of heroic leadership then is being seen by your soldiers as willing to take the same risks and being personally involved in the act of fighting the opponent.

Second, anti-heroic leadership is defined as leading from the front when the situation requires it. Keegan takes the reader forward in time to the Napoleonic era, using Wellington as his model. From this standpoint, the commander is somewhat removed from the front line and immediate danger, observing the battle and managing his combat resources. However, in time of crisis, the anti-heroic leader does place himself at the front with his soldiers, both to inspire them and to lead them. In terms of leadership, we see that the anti-heroic commander uses situational leadership to dictate his position on the battlefield.

Un-heroic leadership is that style that never leads from the front, but directing others while maintaining an overarching view of the battlefield. Keegan attributes this style to Union general (and later President) Ulysses S. Grant. Grant, who has had a book on his leadership style published, is perhaps the archetype of today’s military leader: He does not draw attention to himself; is quietly professional; keeps his own counsel; remains in control of himself; makes the right decisions at the right times.

Finally, there is the false heroic model, which Keegan aptly describes as the style of Adolf Hitler: The leader who pretends to be heroic. Hitler’s leadership is perhaps not as uncommon as one would hope or prefer. The false heroic leader is the one who ignores the sound advice of experienced subordinates. He deludes himself into believing that nothing can stop his success; that his will, if only properly executed by his subordinates, can allow him to achieve his goals. Any failure of his plans is automatically blamed on disloyal or incompetent subordinates, rather than on the actions of his opponent or an unrealistic appraisal of existing resources.

Adolf Hitler’s leadership style has also been described as “pseudotransformational” (Bass, 1999, 19). This is largely because the tenets of National Socialism drew on a false image of the past and the supposed superiorities of the Aryan race. Hitler’s use of oratory to promulgate his ideas was an example of idealized influence; however, in this instance, it was used to promote genocide and racial hatred.

Keegan ends his work with a style for the nuclear era, defining the post-heroic leader in the terms of what we also know as the transformational leader. Keegan asserts that the introduction of nuclear weapons into warfare has further complicated the role of the politico-military leader. No more is the leader simply concerned with actions directly on the battlefield. Since the actions of those he leads could have catastrophic consequences for mankind, the leader must also consider the social and moral outcomes of his decisions.

S.L.A. Marshall’s description of the art of leading is both situational and transformational: Leading “is the art of dealing with humanity, of working diligently on behalf of men, of being sympathetic with them, but equally of insisting that they make a square facing towards their own problems” (Marshall, 1978, 160).




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Appendix A: Nominal and Scale Variables for Measuring Combat Leadership


Age of respondents: 17-99

Age that respondents were while engaged in combat operations: 17-99

Rank of respondents while engaged in combat operations: Private through General.

Engaged in previous operations: Yes or No.

Combatant Role: Soldier or Troop Leader.

Type of Unit: Fire Team through Division level

Size of Unit: 2-18,000.

Wounded during combat operations: Yes or No

Outcome of Combat Operation: Won, lost, indecisive outcome.

Operational status: Offensive or Defensive.

Personally engaged enemy forces: Yes or No

Duration of combat operation: 1 day (or less) through 30 days.

Type of training prior to combat operations: Basic, advanced, unit wide.

Leadership Scale: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how effective was your immediate leader during the combat operation?

Leadership Vision: Prior to the operation, did you have poor, fair or good understanding of what was expected of you and your unit?







Figure Captions

Figure 1: Mission Complexity

Figure 2: Decision Making

Figure 3: Command and Control Requirements

Figure 4: Leadership Continuum

Figure 5: The Commander’s Decision Cycle


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