Also read “An Introduction to Strategic Leadership: Part I.“
The upper echelons of the military, particularly in Western democracies, epitomize many of the theories regarding strategic leadership. For example, general and flag officers need to have a clear vision and understanding of evolving multi-domain environments, react and respond through a thoughtful method of decision-making (MDMP) based on input and experience, and consider the ramifications of their decisions (Pripoae-şerbănescu 2012). In addition, most strategic-level military leaders benefit from experience density and mentorship as they gradually rise through the ranks during their service time. However, this is not always the case. There are situations like Afghanistan and Iraq where a regime, including its military, has been deposed, and those who replace them have not received adequate mentorship or experience for their newfound seniority (McChrystal 2014).
Norzailan, Othman, and Ishizaki (2016) outlined four core competencies for a successful strategic leader. Comparably, former general David Petraeus’ four strategic leadership tasks are getting the big ideas right, communicating them throughout the organization, overseeing the implementation of the philosophies, and making the necessary changes through constant evaluation and refinement (2015). These tasks parallel the previously mentioned competencies, specifically deliberate practice and reflective learning. “Wargaming” – conflict simulations – are an essential tool for strategic military leaders to intuitively plan for future conflicts and find what skills their organization and the individual components need to sustain or improve (McCreight 2013).
Similarly, these simulations and after-action reviews allow for faster MDMP in a changing environment, such as the contemporary “fourth generation” and asymmetric warfare environments (Pripoae-şerbănescu 2012). However, clarity of mission, unity of effort, and adequate resources can determine the success or failure of a task force regardless of intuitive planning, experience, or will (McChrystal 2014).
In closing, Petraeus (2015) and McChrystal (2014; 2015) inferred that a successful military-strategic leader needs to be a warrior, scholar, and politician. To this end, they must understand the human security factors outside traditional military responsibilities, such as economic and environmental, and how they will impact the overall mission and objectives. Similarly, strategic military leaders must create an organizational culture, logistical support, procedures and policies, and consensus before entering a combat environment. As the adage goes, “no plan ever survives first contact.” Therefore, they and their subordinates must prepare to adapt quickly and effectively to a rapidly changing environment where the rules of engagement can be confining, the enemy is non-hierarchical, and there is a lack of local support because of means or malfeasance.
McChrystal, Stan A. 2014. “Operational Leadership.” The RUSI Journal 159, no. 2 (2014), 38-42. doi:10.1080/03071847.2014.912800.
McChrystal, Stanley, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell. 2015. Team of Teams : New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. [United States]: Portfolio.
McCreight, R. 2013. “Scenario Development: Using Geopolitical Wargames and Strategic Simulations.” Environment Systems & Decisions 33 (1) (03): 21-32. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy2.apus.edu/10.1007/s10669-012-9426-1.
Norzailan, Zumalia, Rozhan B. Othman, and Hiroyuki Ishizaki. 2016. “Strategic Leadership Competencies: What is it and how to Develop it?” Industrial and Commercial Training 48 (8): 394-399. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/ICT-04-2016-0020.
Petraeus, David H. 2015. “On Strategic Leadership.” Parameters: U.S. Army War College 45, no. 4 (Winter2015/2016): 75–79.
Pripoae-şerbănescu, Ciprian. 2012. “Psychological Aspects of Military Leader’s Decision.” Strategic Impact 42 (1): 141–47.
Ben Varlese is a former U.S. Army Mountain Infantry Platoon Sergeant and served in domestic and overseas roles from 2001-2018, including, from 2003-2005, as a sniper section leader. Besides his military service, Ben worked on the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq’s protective security detail in various roles, and since 2018, he has also provided security consulting services for public and private sectors, including tactical training, physical and information security, executive protection, protective intelligence, risk management, insider threat mitigation, and anti-terrorism. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies from American Military University, a graduate certificate in Cyber Security from Colorado State University and is currently in his second year of AMU’s Doctorate of Global Security program.
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