Leadership Traits in the Face of Battle Essay

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Leadership Traits in the Face of Battle

What leadership traits are needed when a military officer and his men are under fire in a war zone? How to real leaders respond to the terror of war? What qualities to soldiers look for in their officers as the troops are being led into battle? These and other issues will be discussed in this paper.

What Traits Allow Leaders to Establish Trust in their Units?

Before an officer can lead his troops into battle, there must be an element of trust within the ranks for the fighting to be successful. Does any given officer have the leadership traits to engender a sense of trust in his men? Patrick Sweeney, writing in the peer-reviewed journal, Military Psychology, explains that trust is "…built and strengthened through cycles of interactions where each partner demonstrates a willingness to be vulnerable to the other partner's behavior" (Sweeney, 2010, p. S73). The degree of vulnerability in the leader-follower dynamic increases when troops are deployed into a combat situation, Sweeney explains. At this moment in time, the behavior of the military leader is more acutely monitored by his troops "…to ensure that the leader has the ability and character traits to produce the expected cooperative and/or proficient responses" to meet the upcoming challenges in battle (Sweeny, S73).

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In this time of vulnerability, if the leader is seen as competent and cooperative, "the trust in the relationship will deepen," Sweeny continues on page S73. In his conclusion, Sweeney notes that the degree to which followers are dependent on their officer is related to his "…trustworthiness" which includes his "ability, benevolence, and integrity" (Sweeny, S86).

The Literature -- Military Leadership -- W.J. Wood

"The first thing for a commander to determine is what he is going to do, to see if he has the means to overcome the obstacles which the enemy can oppose to him and, when he has decided, do all he can to surmount them…" (Napoleon, quoted by W.J. Wood).

Essay on Leadership Traits in the Face of Battle Assignment

War historian and journalist Samuel Marshall writes that things on the battlefield don't get done "…simply because a leader wills, or wants to will an outcome" (Wood, 1995), but they get done in combat "…because they are doable." Marshall, whose book, Men Against Fire, has been criticized as exaggerated -- he wrote that only one-fourth of all infantry soldiers in WWII actually fired their weapons -- nonetheless pointed out that a strong, courageous leader can't simply exercise his will until after he "knows its limits in the situation in which he finds himself" (Wood).

This approach to leadership on the field of battle is a rather bland compared to some of the literature about how leaders inspire others in a war situation. Still, it points out that good leaders don't just charge into enemy fire to stir the passion of their troops in order to have a platoon of men wildly spraying gunfire on suspected enemy positions. It is a more practical, pragmatic trait that some leaders must display during potentially violent combat scenes.

Marshall believed that a good general is nothing more than a "…good company commander in his post-graduate course"; Marshall further believed that the "ultimate test of a combat leader's will" can be seen at the moment he must be capable "…of making his men accomplish their mission in spite of their inherent human frailties" (Wood).

General George Patton: Bully, Racist, and Maverick Military Leader

In the First World War, the tough, unflappable Patton showed his style of leadership as a combination of fearlessness, arrogance, and bravery. In Harvey's book, Chapter 11, Patton is reported to have made sure his men were well fed and well accommodated, but in return for that he expected his orders to be followed precisely -- as he laid down the rules with brutal clarity. He had been assigned to tank warfare, and issued orders to his troops driving tanks that in no way were they to abandon their tanks to the enemy. Should a soldier's guns be spent, then "squash the enemy with your tracks," Patton ordered, demanding that they "cut them with the tail of the tank" by making quick changes of direction (Harvey, 2008, p. 347).

On September 25, 1918, when Patton's tank crews were bogged down in deep mud, He "…himself helped to dig tanks out of the mud under intense shellfire," Harvey writes. Ascending a hill, he was hit by machine-gun fire in the thigh while men around him were being "cut down" -- but he recovered after being in the hospital for a month (Harvey, 348).

There are myriad instances in Patton's active military career when his main trait was a near-fanatical drive to lead his troops any way he could. In 1942 during WWII he along with his 24,000 troops were supposed to land on North Africa; but Patton's landing craft was destroyed in an accident and when he did land "…he angrily kicked and pulled his troops out of the beachhead foxholes they were digging," calling the foxholes "graves" and "exhorting them to advance (Harvey, 350). Typical of Patton's leadership traits, he was impossibly pushy, impatient to succeed, given to temper tantrums, but in the process of his extreme behaviors, he certainly inspired his troops.

During the invasion of Sicily, Patton showed his unique (and controversial) style: dressed in "carefully pressed clothes, tie and polished riding boots, with his pearl-handled pistol strapped to his side" he strolled onto the beach with "shells exploded in the water around him" (Harvey, 352). The traits that Patton displayed included being insubordinate to his superiors, strictly because he was "…eager for glory and furious at being asked to play second fiddle" to the British, who he hated with a passion (Harvey, 352). He had another negative trait and that was abusing his men. He is noted for brutalizing a private that actually had malaria among many others. And that was just one example of a trait that he showed that put a negative light on his career.

Major Doug Crandall, writing in the book, Leadership Lessons from West Point, emphasizes that leaders who are willing to share risks with their troops have a profoundly positive affect on the men they are in charge of. "Conversely," Crandall explains, "soldiers who found their leaders to be unwilling to share the risk had little and lost motivation" for the leader and the assignment (Crandall, 2006, p. 165).

It comes as no surprise that competence is expected of a military leader since any leader in any context has to show that he or she is competent to the task. To make his point, Crandall (166) refers to the erroneous stereotype that many lay people attach to the typical military leader: "an authoritarian martinet who commands subordinates who must robotically obey." To the contrary, Crandall continues, "Only competence commands respect, and respect is the coin of the realm with in extreme settings" (166). In a war zone, the average soldier would rather be court-martialed than to follow the orders of an "incompetent leader," Crandall asserts, and uses a quote about his leader from a U.S. Army soldier serving in Iraq:

"He took charge every time that he needed to take charge. He was doing a hundred things while I am down there doing one thing…he was over-

whelmed, but he handled it very well. He did everything he had to do.

He maneuvered the troop or parts of the troop when nobody else was around to do it. He did more than you could ask of him" (Crandall, 166).

A Marine in Iraq -- in a dangerous, war-zone setting -- was quoted saying the following about his unit's officer:

"I don't like the guy. I don't know how to deal with him when we get off work, but as far as being a professional and being out there in the trenches, he is a great… squad leader. He [will do] the right thing, but sometimes it's a very unpopular thing, because he's the squad leader"

(Crandall, 167).

Echoing what Sweeney wrote earlier in this paper about trust, Crandall asserts, "If competence is the building block of an extreme leadership, trust is the house" (167). The major believes that building trust is a "quite deliberate" practice; but when trust-based relationships are not built, "organizational cohesion [is] nearly nonexistent within extreme" (war zone) situations (169). Those followers that are at risk in battle zone environments sense that their lives are threatened, hence "feelings of optimism, hope, and resilience literally define the promise of future life and are therefore desperately sought by those at risk" (Crandall, 170). Authentic leaders that have the traits to understand what their underlings are going through are likely to be the most trusted and most successful leaders.

In the University of California ROTC literature, the authors point out that the "Trait Theory" assumes that people are born with the correct traits to become leaders, but the "Behavioral Theory" -- more appropriate for military leadership development purposes -- posits that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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