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.