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.
Every officer needs time for his own leisure, relaxation and personal and professional development. In practice, every officer strikes a balance between time and effort spent on his profession and his personal life, on the basis of his personal value-set which includes his sense of duty and his professional ambition. Therefore, an officer’s cadet training and, later in service his seniors’ guidance, needs to include helping him set his personal and professional priorities, and manage his time accordingly so that both are addressed adequately. Having a role model is vital in this regard, but it appears that available role models are few, though there may be no shortage of mentors with parochial tendencies.
Levels of violence and corruption in contemporary society are probably higher than they were even one generation earlier. This is because violence or corruption in civil society is hardly ever punished and news gets around many times faster than it did in earlier times…
There is a demand for “excellence” creeping into military parlance and practice adopted from management in the corporate context. This has led to a shift in interpretation of professional success, where competition for personal advancement supersedes cooperation and mutual support essential for survival and success in operations [Ref.2]. It can be argued that while the military model of leadership and command-and-control may be worth emulating in the corporate boardroom, the corporate model of leadership by excellence in performance cannot be transplanted into the military context. Leaders who tend to follow the corporate model also equate success with promotion and the privileges that go with it, and set personal examples incompatible with the military ethos.
Values from society
Levels of violence and corruption in contemporary society are probably higher than they were even one generation earlier. This is because violence or corruption in civil society is hardly ever punished and news gets around many times faster than it did in earlier times due to TV, mobile phone, etc. This shapes opinions, and points to a general lowering of values in society to the point where wrong-doing is winked at, and outright corruption is accepted as a fact of life. It even extends to subscribing to ideas like “every man has a price” or “show me the man and I will show you the rule” or “only a fool is honest”, as pragmatism or realism.
Earlier, recruits came almost entirely from the rural agricultural segment, but there has been a clear shift towards the urban-suburban in the last couple of decades, while those who join as cadets are today almost all from urban-suburban background. Today, the recruit and cadet intake into the army comes almost entirely from the lower- to upper-middle class. While the value-set of today’s recruit or cadet may be different from, and perhaps a tad inferior to, that of one generation earlier, his world-view is certainly wider and his skill-set – technical ability, for example – is superior. Most of the present recruit and cadet intake would have aspired to, even tried for, jobs that call for education, which would place him an economic step above that of his parents. The value-set of today’s recruit or cadet emphasises personal achievement, material success and the ambition to “get ahead”, especially in the economic sense. [Ref.3]. This statement is not judgmental, but merely empirical. It does not imply that earlier intake lacked ambition, but that present ambitions are more materially-oriented.
Today, ambition is more connected with promotion which confers power and material benefit, than with the search for professional competence that may “only” bring a good reputation. The need to “get ahead” often overrides consideration for others, and includes circumventing laws, rules and regulations while expecting subordinates to observe them, thus vitiating the military ethos. The situation is not an absence of values, but rather a conflict of values with the associated hypocrisy that subordinate ranks easily perceive. This is not to say that hypocrisy was absent in earlier times, but that it is now merely more widespread. However, this is not peculiar to the defence services but is merely a reflection of larger civil society.
A leader needs to strike the fine balance between being friendly or familiar, strict or harsh, or understanding or lenient in his dealings with his subordinates in the course of his duties.
Personal aspirations and parochialism
Every individual at all levels has personal aspirations just like he has his own idea of duty, rights and needs. To a large extent, his value-set will determine what those would be, and his professional environment (leaders in the command chain, the location and type of deployment, etc.) would dictate the rest. According to military ethos, personal ambitions must be subservient to the call of duty and the functional needs of the team (sub-unit, unit or formation), which may be called the value-set of the army as an institution. A soldier also interacts with his subordinates, his peers and his superiors in the chain of command, each of whom has his own personal aspirations. Military training plays a role, among other things, in creating broad agreement between personal values and military values. But whenever there are conflicts of values, the soldier has to strike a balance between his value-set and the value-set to which he is required to conform. This is not to say that personal aspirations and professional ambition are incompatible with success of the team in operations. Indeed, a soldier without ambition would also probably score low in initiative.
Every soldier has his close friends within the sub-unit or unit, men with whom he spends time whenever possible. A leader needs to strike the fine balance between being friendly or familiar, strict or harsh, or understanding or lenient in his dealings with his subordinates in the course of his duties.
In our regimental system, a degree of parochialism frequently creeps in. Deciding in favour of one’s regiment or a soldier or officer from one’s regiment over another, against one’s better judgment, sense of justice and fair-play, is parochialism. Parochial decisions, whether based on regiment, religion, language, caste, etc., finally affect reputations, but also adversely affect team-spirit both laterally and vertically. Usually, such tendencies would be self-limiting since the reputation of the leader would be affected, with consequent effect on his command and leadership that would reflect in the ACR system, placing promotion-posting limitations on him. But if parochialism happens at a very senior level, it can have serious long-term negative repercussions on the army as a whole, especially if there is political linkage, as for example, in the recent “line of succession” issue.
The Chetwode motto that puts decision making in the context of country, command and self in that order is the first bulwark against parochialism, but undue focus on promotion, professional success and material gain, can and does often overcome the sense of justice and fair-play.
…poor leadership of a CO may result in the ill-effects showing up only in his successor’s tenure.
Command is a lonely responsibility that brings with it a degree of privilege. But when privilege and rank-superiority become reasons to perpetuate the distinction between the leader and the led, then leadership goes astray. Such a commander would become disliked, even hated, and may fail in high-stress situations because he cannot carry his team, leading to sub-unit, unit or formation failure to achieve objectives and targets. One aspect of this is the much-debated “sahayak” issue, noting that flat denial of misuse of sahayaks in non-soldierly work (not duty) in officers’ homes will not solve the problem of an insidiously growing emotional distance between officer and OR, which can only impact morale negatively in the long-term.
There is a minuscule minority of officers who live and function on a perverted Chetwode motto of self, men and country in that order. If unfortunately, the command environment is similarly inclined, the unit can reach a state where the mutual trust and respect between officers and men is irretrievably broken, because soldiers see officers only as commanders who demand respect, not as leaders who command it. In such units, the incidence of discipline cases, suicides and fratricide could be higher. Of course, poor leadership of a CO may result in the ill-effects showing up only in his successor’s tenure. The deplorable incident of physical violence involving officers and men of the same unit (Nyoma, Ladakh, 2012) was the outcome of a “sahayak problem”.
Values and the next generation
Leaders at every level, directly through exercise of command and control, and indirectly by example and imparting training, transfers military alues to every man under command. However, the instilling of military values for officers begins at the cadet level.
The Honour Code for GCs in IMA reads, “I shall not cheat, steal or lie or tolerate those who do so”. There is no particular military flavour to this Honour Code, but it is meant to reinforce what would normally be within the value-set of the civilian lad who has decided to take the army as a professional career. As the GC’s training proceeds and he begins to see himself as a warrior, he is exposed to the Code of the Warrior.
Without quoting the whole Code, suffice it to say that by adopting it, he determines to better himself professionally by self-motivation. Indeed, it ends with the sublime, “God give me strength that I ask nothing of you”. IMA grooms the GC “in conformity with cherished historical and cultural values of our army and nation”, to prepare him to assume leadership responsibilities in the Indian Army of the present and the future. He dons his pips in Chetwode Hall where the Chetwode motto is written in letters of gold to guide him in his priorities in decision-making in leadership. There can be none better than the military values defined and instilled in IMA at the start of an army career, but the problem arises later in service when the shine of IMA wears off.
The public image of the army is more strongly influenced by these failures than by successes, because of the army not institutionally communicating adequately with the media, the bureaucracy and political leadership.
The effects of promotion of mediocrity by and into senior ranks, though not unheard of even in earlier times, have been increasingly reflected in the national media in the form of scams. Whether the revelations are true or not, ill-motivated or not, the results are severe damage to morale and military self-image, with adverse long-term effects on the army’s performance. The public image of the army is more strongly influenced by these failures than by successes, because of the army not institutionally communicating adequately with the media, the bureaucracy and political leadership. This affects a soldier’s self-image and morale. Every soldier admires and respects the senior officer who, without fear or favour, honestly represents the army’s issues with his own superiors within the army, with the media, the bureaucrats or the political hierarchy. But such straight-talking role models with moral courage are increasingly scarce.
In light of the foregoing, some urgent systemic introspection is called for, to seek answers to questions including: Does an officer compromise or, even more unfortunate, need to compromise his values to win selection grade promotions? Is it the same junior officer who led his team in battle and survived, who does not hesitate to use questionable means to win promotion to higher ranks? How and why does promotion cause some above average officers to slide in their military values in higher ranks? Should we revise the system of selection for promotion? Are changes needed in the entry-level training establishments, namely regimental centres and NDA/IMA? A systematic survey as done by the Israeli army [Ref.4, Note 1] could form its basis.
1. Prof. Vijay Padaki, Bangalore; Personal discussions and communications with this author.
2. Sumit Batra; “Winning, at what cost?”; The Hindu, February 25, 2013; <http://www.thehindu.com/features/education/winning-at-what-cost/article4451853.ece>.
3. Jayabrata Sarkar; “Lost in the Middle: Indian Middle Class and Consumerism”; Frontier, Kolkata; April 2013.
4. Richard A. Gabriel & Paul L. Savage; “Crisis in Command – Mismanagement in the Army”.
Note 1. A survey conducted in the Israeli army among soldiers regarding officers, notably immediate commanders, showed that the officer ‘knew his job’ (82%), ‘gave clear orders’ (100%), ‘was resourceful’ (98%), ‘often praised his superiors’ (11%), ‘was interested in men’s personal problems’ (85%), ‘stuck to the letter of his superior’s orders’ (43%), ‘gave impossible orders’ (3%), ‘had initiative’ (93%). A suitably designed similar survey conducted in our army would provide a realistic picture of the quality of officer leadership.