Home A Perspective on Strategic Leadership

A Perspective on Strategic Leadership

“ In the end spirit always conquers the sword.”    - Napoleon

Strategic military leadership, or the Army’s highest-level thinkers, war fighters, and political military experts, is endowed with the responsibility of putting in place a foundation and the framework for the force of future. This entails a focused vision, formulation of right policies, ensuring their effective implementation and personally leading the change. Strategic leadership in our context faces complex challenges in the prevailing politico-military environment.

Expectations from the leaders at functional, directional and conceptual levels are entirely different. The challenges to perform increase as the level of leadership rises due to the enormity of the stakes involved. Besides the responsibility to meet the aspirations of the men being led, the higher military leaders are also forced to make decisions within the constraints of the resources at their disposal, and keeping in mind the overall priorities at the national level. The strategic leadership is expected to be transformational in nature, imaginative enough to anticipate the uncertainties of the future, and tolerant of ambiguity.  Strategic leaders are also responsible for nurturing motivated functional and directional leaders, and ensuring a culture that reflects the right values and attitudes amongst all ranks. At the same time, the critical functions of higher levels are increasingly conceptual (abstract) in nature.  Analytical skills alone are not enough because of long-time horizons and the massive scope and scale of resources being committed.

To build long-term vision of where an organization must move over the next 15 to 30 years, leaders must be creative. Creative thinking is very different from critical thinking. The creative process demands synthesis skills, a willingness to take moderate risks, and a degree of personal comfort and confidence in decision making when exploring the uncertain and unknown.

As India moves to occupy its rightful place on the world stage, senior Indian military leadership has to alter its frame of reference and view the responsibilities accordingly. Military leadership is a product of the system. Having been developed by the system, the expectations of the environment from the top echelons of military leadership are very high.

Political and diplomatic initiatives are as important as war. It is seen that whereas military leaders do understand political implications, political leaders and the bureaucracy often lack comprehension of military matters. As war is nothing else but extension of policy by other means, strategic military leaders, political leaders and the bureaucracy must have mutual understanding of related issues. They must put into action a synergised effort to achieve the laid down objectives. The modalities to institutionalize this interaction could be considered mutually at an appropriate level. Although a beginning has been made in integrating the nascent higher defence organizations, there is still need to make them fully functional. Until and unless these organizations and setups are made functional and given due importance, no worthwhile advantages are going to accrue.

At the strategic level, as problems get more complex, multiple perspectives and more elaborate frameworks are required to accommodate the multidisciplinary and often inter-related decision inputs. There is a need to involve think tanks, intelligentsia, academicians and institutions engaged in research on strategic issues. Consensus building is, therefore, one of the most important functions of strategic leadership.

In the current environment, management of strategic perceptions has emerged as one of the most important responsibilities of strategic military leaders. It has become an important tool in building consensus and limiting avoidable debates on strategic issues. The role of media in this regard must be exploited to its full potential.

Strategic leaders can only be developed and groomed within the organization. The organization must ensure that potential leaders are identified and selected at an early stage to be developed and groomed to become confident, competent, cognitively resilient and comfortable with ambiguity. All this would entail exposing them to a strategic planning environment.

Contemporary strategic environment acts as a guide to redefine national interests and also dictates the paradigms of security strategy. The military strategy forms a sub set of the overall security strategy and basically complements the same. The analysis and assessment of the complex layers of this environment and consequent security policy and decision-making should remain one of the major responsibilities of strategic leaders.

“You must make a close study of human nature, for that is the raw material with which a commander has to achieve his end. If you neglect the human factor, as a leader you will fail.”
- Field Marshal Montgomery

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O S Dagur

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