Wars, the product of forces in the international political stratosphere, are prosecuted by generals who are usually far from the battle-front. Battles are fought by middle-rank and junior officers, JCOs and soldiers. But even without formal declaration of war, the Indian army faces enormous challenges of defending inhospitable borders and operating in the counter-insurgency role, where the troops on-the-ground are directly and immediately affected. Facing these challenges and remaining prepared for war, calls for training to maintain a motivated fighting force which is doctrinally and technologically upto-date. Thus training is essentially for winning battles or military engagements, or effectively carrying out other operations in hostile and challenging environments.
The selection process for entry into the army essentially determines his trainability, and the training process, especially in the recruit or cadet stage, instils military values in him and gives him knowledge and skills to be an effective member of a fighting team.
Fighting is about team-work, with members of the team cooperating and supporting one another. At every level there is a team-leader of appropriate rank, depending upon service experience and performance. Each leader has his capabilities and ambitions, and there is inevitable competition for professional self-advancement. Individual training focuses on the soldier (the man of any rank in any arm or service – and recently, also the woman, but we will retain the masculine pronoun), to develop his physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual capabilities to lead his men and utilize the fighting resources at his command to win, always putting his country first, his army next, his men third and himself last. Group training harnesses individual strengths to create sub-units, units and formations with disciplined, formidable fighting capabilities. Training has to help the soldier cooperate for better fighting effectiveness, and compete for improving his physical capabilities, professional skills and knowledge.
Every entrant into the army is an individual with needs and aspirations, and his own value-set, knowledge-set, skill-set and world-view. The selection process for entry into the army essentially determines his trainability, and the training process, especially in the recruit or cadet stage, instils military values in him and gives him knowledge and skills to be an effective member of a fighting team. Later, in-service training on courses and exercises, and day-to-day functioning in various postings and deployments reinforces military values and builds team-spirit, motivation self-confidence and morale.
The leadership structure is NCOs and JCOs, junior officers and field officers who lead and command troops after training together as a team. At every level, there is the command function and responsibility implicit in the rank, from general down to NCO. One of the functions of command is to provide leadership and simultaneously encourage leadership among the commanders down the line.
Every nation gets troops from amongst its own people, and thus troops are a “given” whom officers have to train and train with, and lead and command. Chetwode’s motto regarding country, men and self in that order “always and everytime”, concerns prioritizing an officer’s attention in decision making and action. Apart from the effect of higher command-and-control and logistics on the conduct of operations, an important determinant of the outcome of any military operation is some integral of leadership at various levels within a unit.
Apart from the effect of higher command-and-control and logistics on the conduct of operations, an important determinant of the outcome of any military operation is some integral of leadership at various levels within a unit.
It is a matter for justifiable pride that the officer-to-men proportion of battle casualty is the highest in the Indian army, because traditionally, our junior officers, JCOs and NCOs lead from the front, as demonstrated in 1965, 1971, Kargil 1999, and over decades in the on-going Siachen and CI operations. Junior leadership in active operations is simply superb. However, notwithstanding that every general was once a junior officer, their leadership qualities (e.g., Kargil 1999) do not quite match up to these standards.
Every soldier soon makes out how he fits into the military environment, and his personal values determine how he interacts with his environment. Values are mostly formed in early life and are shaped by exposure to the world around, starting with family, community and school, but also by his observation and understanding of society around him. Some of the core values that make up a value system are truthfulness, honesty, compassion, social sensitivity and duty. Noting that there are no absolutes in these values, how a person utilizes the strength of his body, mind and spirit for himself and for his group or society is based upon his own values.
The quality of leaders from NCO upward to general rank, is influenced by the quality of individual training in training establishments and in units and headquarters, the collective training regime, regimental tradition and esprit de corps. Training establishments serve to set standards and bring the men who enter their portals, up to a certain level of functioning including bringing out nascent leadership.
Development of leadership is a self-generating, positive feedback process by which every leader at his own level in the rank structure contributes to creating a sub-unit, unit or formation that carries out its duties, assigned tasks and responsibilities during war, IS duties or peace, in a manner that enhances the efficiency and image of the army as a whole. This self-generating, positive feedback process continues even if there are a few misfits, bad hats or disgruntled men among junior or field officers, but there is surely some point beyond which if the number of such men increases, the process of leadership development goes into a negative spiral, causing fall in organizational performance. Thus, while the values of the men in the ranks and junior leaders are very important, the values of officers are even more important because of their command and control responsibility and the disciplinary authority which they exercise.
An aspect of the relationship between a leader and his subordinates is a leader’s expectations of his subordinates and the way in which subordinates act and react to them.
Perhaps the most important attributes of a leader are professional competence, professional integrity, moral courage, loyalty, self-motivation, and the ability to exercise effective command and control with understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses and those of his subordinates. Leaders at every level are observed, though most often not deliberately, by their subordinates and peers. A leader should be observed by his superiors for the purpose of exercising command and control and for confidential reports, but also to spot potential and talent for grooming and advancement. A good leader, confident of his own capabilities and standing, would not see talent and potential in his subordinate as a professional threat to himself. Every officer knows how his first CO influenced his outlook on professional matters and on the “style” of command and control.
An aspect of the relationship between a leader and his subordinates is a leader’s expectations of his subordinates and the way in which subordinates act and react to them. A leader who is less than confident – for whatever reason – may subconsciously seek information or advice from subordinates who do not disagree with his outlook. Such a leader, albeit only in a particular tenure, would unknowingly or knowingly encourage yes-men. In such a circumstance, subordinates may set themselves up to “please the boss” and resort to flattery and to creating a “comfort zone” for him, that goes beyond the physical.
The military ethos is instilled at the time of initial training and reinforced during early service years. With training, service experience (places of posting, deployment, meeting and working with soldiers from other parts of India, etc.), and exposure to military values as he observes them practiced or violated by his peers and superiors, a soldier matures in leadership, but his personal values remain relatively unchanged.
Role models, reputations and promotions
Leaders at various levels provide role models to their subordinates by setting personal examples. Choosing one’s role model is obviously based in good measure upon one’s own values. If my personal values cause me to admire a superior who works for promotion-at-any-cost, there is a good chance that I would model my own professional work on those lines. On the other hand, I might emulate a professionally sound superior if I value professional competence. Since the superior admired – for whatever reason – may not remain in close observation due to postings and promotions, and due to changing exposure to various levels of superior leadership, every leader at every level keeps shifting his style of functioning howsoever slightly, as his own duties and responsibilities change with promotions, postings and deployment. But what remains relatively constant is his personal value-set.
The training system includes imparting military skills, and setting methods to select subordinates for promotion by matching performance against a set of standards.
A value-set is a set of beliefs clustered around and in consonance with a central belief that is relatively enduring in time, and leads to a particular way of feeling, thinking and acting. It indicates what the person “should” strive for (terminal values) and how he “should” conduct himself (instrumental values), together defining values by aim. Values are also defined by context, namely personal and social conduct with all ranks in the unit or headquarters, with some obvious overlaps. [Ref.1]. These are, as stated earlier, relatively unchanging, because a person may change his aims and his conduct depending upon personal and professional circumstance, exposure, responsibility, opportunity, etc.
It is not possible to change the value-set of an individual except perhaps only marginally. But training and the quality of the environment in which he trains and functions influences his actions and reactions in challenging situations. Thus, an individual would be assessed for promotion in the leadership ladder based upon the combined effect of his value-set and his training as they affect his demonstrated performance in day-to-day functioning and in specific tasks and deployments.
Every leader, especially at officer levels, carries a certain reputation regarding his leadership and his style of functioning. When he assumes command, his subordinates initially act and react according to their understanding of his reputation that precedes him. They change their actions and reactions according to his actual performance as observed by them, and according to inevitable “barrack-room discussions”. And accordingly, the leader’s reputation changes, howsoever slightly, for better or for worse. Subordinates judge quickly and fairly accurately, how a leader is viewed by his peers and superiors, and what are his personal values and military values, regardless of what he may speak in sainik sammelans and elsewhere.
The reputation that a leader creates for himself over the years is in reality an intangible “snapshot” of his value-set as assessed by his subordinates, peers or superiors. Every leader would have an opinion of most of the superior, peer and subordinate leaders with whom he has served. But also, every leader holds an opinion of leaders with whom he has not served, not even seen, but only learned about. That opinion is the “spoken reputation”, and most officers consciously or otherwise choose role models based on their reputation. Fact is that everybody holds an opinion about everybody else regardless of rank or appointment, though the system permits only the superior to formally report his assessment of his subordinate, with its effect on promotions and postings.
The training system includes imparting military skills, and setting methods to select subordinates for promotion by matching performance against a set of standards. However, it is apparently not implemented adequately to prevent or minimize promotion of undeserving and stagnation of deserving individuals. While stagnation of deserving individuals can be a loss to the army, promotion of undeserving individuals is dangerous for the organization because it allows mediocrity to succeed in leadership and command, and this adversely affects morale and functioning.
A leader sets an example for moral courage and his loyalty towards his subordinates in his dealings with leaders superior to himself in the chain of command.
In the present system, especially at officer level, the ACR initiated by an immediate superior and reviewed at higher levels, can make or break an officer’s career. The fact that cases of appeal concerning unfairness or bias in reporting are many compared to some years earlier, indicates that there is shortfall in the command and control function of the IO, and/or very strong desire for promotion and personal self-advancement of the leader reported upon. One way of overcoming this real or perceived unfairness or injustice, is to suitably introduce randomly chosen and suitably weighted peer and subordinate assessment in addition to the IO and reviewing officers.
Deliberately or not, every leader sets an example. The most visible example is his appearance, bearing and physical fitness. Leaders who dodge physical tests or fudge the results, or influence medical officers regarding fitness in the “ACR months” are easily identified in units and formations, especially by the rank and file. When a leader’s physical condition is not up to the mark for rigorous military service, his psychological, social and cognitive capabilities suffer.
A leader sets an example for moral courage and his loyalty towards his subordinates in his dealings with leaders superior to himself in the chain of command. To varying extents and varying degree of reliability, soldiers at every level know the plusses and minusses of their leaders. Thus, even with comparable professional competence, some get to be known as yes-men or pliable or manipulative or corrupt, just as some others get to be known as forthright or morally strong or honest, thus determining his “spoken reputation”.
The junior or field officer who spends time in rubbing shoulders with senior officers in social or sporting activities does not command as much respect among his subordinates as one who interacts actively with them in training and joins them in troops games. This writer’s random, informal conversations with junior and field officers reveals that the numbers of the first kind are increasing, and also reveal motivated bad-mouthing of superiors, practically unheard of earlier. This is not to suggest that earlier officers were better or present officers are worse. It is attributable to the changed situation in which large numbers are deployed in CI operations, that expose them to more risk and stress than in earlier times. It is also based on frustration from real or perceived injustice, or on loss of self-image due to scams regarding senior officers that come to light. These frustrations are magnified as units operate with hard-scale officer postings even in active operational roles, government is seen as increasingly being influenced by the bureaucracy against the defence services, and the apparent leadership failure of top ranks over the years in facing up to this continuing devaluation of the defence services.