Military leadership belongs to the group of primary operational topics in the field of national securities. The challenges faced by the armed forces in the framework of today’s security architecture call for a practical empowerment of military professionals. In this context, the lack of leadership can lead to fatal consequences. Military commanders have the dual responsibility of protecting our brave men and women and realizing the necessary potential for making their operations successful. Unfortunately, it is precisely the context of armed groups, where the concept of leadership is most often confused with other notions such as “command” and “management”. Moreover, the understanding of leadership in the military context is further complicated by varied and overlapping definitions used in other areas: sports, business, and politics. The military leader is best defined through the possession of three major qualities: intelligence, integrity, and courage. This paper aims to explore the meaning of these three characteristics and explain why each of them is indispensable for a good military leader.

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The first necessary component is intelligence. The management and problem-solving capacity of the leader are largely dependent on his or her acquired skills. Intelligence is a multi-dimensional concept that can entail general and concrete operational knowledge as well as certain ‘soft skills’ such as good memory, concentration, and ability to make quick decisions under stress. Furthermore, knowledge is a broad concept in this context as well. For instance, if we adhere to the premise that leadership generally is a social phenomenon, the necessary knowledge would require cultural awareness and social perceptiveness. In some cases, the skill is further stratified into categories of intelligence acquired directly through cognitive resources (experience and learning) and decision quality. While the latter depends on a broader set of traits that do not necessarily qualify strictly as ‘intelligence’, it is just as indispensable for a good military leader. Intelligence plays a crucial role in effective communication, coordination of military command and achieving the requisite level of confidence. All in all, personalities that are perceived as ‘more intelligent’ are typically recognized as having the ability to lead in a group. The military is not an exception to this rule.

The second pillar of military leadership is integrity. The centrality of this feature to the composition of a strong leader should not be underestimated. Unfortunately, integrity is probably the most challenging when it comes to giving an elaborate definition of the concept. We should be convinced about one thing though: the word “integrity” cannot be used lightly. It entails a broad range of elements: responsibility, trustworthiness, honesty, dedication, independence, and morality. These words are all used, for instance, when describing the integrity of George Washington as a prominent example of a military leader. While intelligence is necessary to establish effective communication in command structures, integrity brings one beyond that. It is essential for nurturing lasting relationships between across the armed forces. Integrity should never be assumed. The best evidence of possessing this trait is the ability to adhere to personal commitments and lead by example. Therefore, integrity can make a military officer appear to his peers and subordinates as a motivating individual capable of leading the forces towards their mission.

The final element that we will discuss in this paper is courage. Despite the seemingly obvious character of this pillar, it is, in fact, the one that calls for an extensive explanation. The most stereotypical view of courage is the way of defining it through ‘masculine’ and ‘warrior’ virtues. Such a simplistic view does not do justice to this noble trait. We offer a more sophisticated understanding of the concept. At least, a two-fold definition is required: first, courage entails the idea of overcoming fear and acting bravely in spite of that fear; second, it is also the way in which the fear is overcome – with grace, firmness, and nobleness. Hence, courage is built upon a complexity of virtues: it is facilitated by confidence, calmness, and a touch of heroism. The establishment of a leadership role in the military is quite unthinkable if the person lacks the necessary courage to lead his or her people. In the context of armed forces, military leadership largely embodies the art of sensible command patterns that involve leading by example. Thus, courage can be one of the most ‘productive’ virtues in the process of developing military leadership skills by a given officer. In the long run, the sustainability of authority is largely dependent on trust. To this end, a demonstration of one’s courage can be of great significance: it is a valuable contribution to establishing lasting confidence in the officer.

To summarize, the exact meaning of military leadership is not easily defined. It entails a wide range of values and virtues that facilitate the evolvement of a robust leadership role in the armed forces. The concept of military leadership should not be confused with similar notions such as authority and command. In our view, there are three key pillars. They can be summarized under the following umbrella terms: intelligence, integrity, and courage. First, military leadership is unimaginable without the necessary level of intelligence which entails both experience and knowledge and as wells as a set of ‘soft’ operational skills. Secondly, integrity, although not easily defined, is an indispensable virtue because it is the essential element for nurturing sustainable relationships based on trust. Finally, courage involves both bravery and grace that are important for leading by example. Hence, the adherence to the aforementioned values provides a solid foundation for military leadership.

  • Laver, Harry S, and Jeffrey J Matthews. 2008. The Art Of Command. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky.
  • Walker, Robert William, and Bernd Horn. 2008. The Military Leadership Handbook. Kingston, Ont.: Canadian Defence Academy Press.