"It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes."[1]


As a consequence of the 1990 'Report of the Commission on Remuneration and Conditions of Service in the Defence Forces', commonly referred to as the Gleeson Commission, the Defence Forces are in the process of the most significant reforms since it was first established on the 1 October 1924. The changes taking place are removing many of our old concepts and traditional methods. While there are opposing views on some conclusions in the Report there is general agreement with Para 2.2.4 which states "Officers provide leadership and direction for the Defence Forces and are critical in the design, development and the implementation of change. It is essential therefore, that the promotion system ensures that the best and most suitable people are selected for promotion.  A commonly-stated perception among officers of all ranks was that individual officers can best protect their career prospects by avoiding positions which carry risk or extra responsibility. The predominant reliance on seniority fails to offer any incentive for officers to demonstrate innovation or initiative. Avoiding taking any risk is perceived to be an important element in securing promotion."[2]

By recommending changes to the promotion system, it must be presumed that Gleeson agreed with the "commonly-stated perception among officers", and that the new system should create incentives to demonstrate innovation, initiative and some risk-taking, three traits fundamental to successful leadership. The intent of this reform therefore is to seek to improve military professionalism. Throughout the Report there is a strong emphasis on management and management policies. Nowhere in the Report however is there a distinction made between management and leadership. Did the commission consider them synonymous? We don't know because it doesn't say. Certainly, since the report was published the terminology of business has increasingly entered the lexicon of our everyday military speech. So much so that it is possible nowadays to hear Captains and Commandants being referred to as 'middle-managers'. In addition to the Gleeson Report, the review of the structure and organisation of the Defence Forces by the Efficiency Audit Group (E.A.G.) has further necessitated the usage of managerial terminology. While accepting that it is only terminology that is being used, it is not unusual to find that where language is accepted the culture of that language is also adopted. That is to say should business-language become the acceptable nomenclature of military speech then it very likely indeed that business culture and ethics[3] will slowly be inculcated within the Defence Forces. If this should occur it is very possible that the distinction between business management and military leadership could gradually become obscured.

U.S Military Experience.

In our reading of military endeavours, we record that the U.S military began a similar subtle transformation towards business managerialism after the appointment of Elihu Root as Secretary of War in 1899. Arising out of what was considered to be incompetence during the Spanish-American War, Root, a lawyer with no military experience, oversaw a complete reorganisation of the army.[4] To improve efficiency, he encouraged the military to adopt management practices of business and industry. Over the next few years efforts were made at their adoption but because of resistance within the military there was only limited success. Resistance was overcome during the Second World War when General Marshall, looking at the outstanding success of U.S industries, found support for the war effort in civilian management theories.[5] However, it was not until twenty years later, following the appointment in 1961 of Robert McNamara as Defence Secretary, that civilian management practices moved from being in support of military leadership to accomplishing a 'take-over'.

By then leadership and management in the U.S military were considered synonymous. Officers became identified with the business executive to the point where the functions of command were perceived as identical to the functions of departmental management.[6] An increasing number of officers were sent to take advanced degrees in business management or administration. Systems analysis and career management became the army's buzz words.[7] Gradually and subtly the Army ceased to be a genuine military institution. By the time the army arrived in Vietnam traditional military leadership had become obsolete, indeed it had become unnecessary. There in Vietnam, as a consequence of its personnel, promotion and rotation policies, which in business would appear quite normal and logical, the overall quality of the army deteriorated.[8] Over time, loyalty and trust between soldier and officer broke down, unit cohesion, so essential for individuals to cope with stress and for units to perform successfully, virtually disappeared. Arising from post-Vietnam civilian criticisms, and internal military self-examination and analysis[9] the need for a return to basic leadership doctrine was identified. As a consequence, the US military undertook a major organisational and cultural shift away from managerial values towards the conception of a broad, values-based military leadership philosophy. Emphasis on integrity and moral courage, both fundamentals of leadership, became the hallmarks of the post-Vietnam military.[10] It was the lack of these fundamentals on the part of senior leadership during the war which "evoked a sense of disgust and revulsion among officers such as Lt Colonels Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, who more than two decades later would be the senior officers who led American forces to victory in the Persian Gulf".[11] Analysis at the end of the Gulf War shows that “technology provided the means to win the Gulf War, but it was leadership, the painstaking creation of a quality force and years of hard training that brought the victory about. The lessons of the Vietnam War had been learned and learned well".[12]

Distinction - Leadership and Management.

But you might rightly ask at this juncture what is the distinction between leadership and management? It has been said that more books have been written on leadership then on any other single military subject, thus it is difficult to find an agreed standard definition. It would be foolhardy of me therefore to set forth any single definition in this short article. Nevertheless, it is still possible, without agreeing on exact definitions, to make distinctions between leadership and management. To begin some management activities include direct interpersonal relationships while some others do not. Leadership on the other hand, because by its nature has to involve at least two people, the leader and the follower, is always interpersonal. Another distinction can be found in the different focus of their energies and degree of selflessness. Leaders to be successful, unlike managers, must subordinate their personal interests to the needs of their men and unit. And while management focuses on the logical, rational or cerebral, leadership desires to influence human emotions.[13] For people the two terms arouse two distinct psychologically sensations: management invoking visions of controlling, dominating, arranging, containing, demeaning and reducing; while on the other hand, leadership inspires feelings of team building, motivating, inspiring, freeing, growing, advancing, energy releasing, but above all trust and confidence.[14]

Soldiers are not Chess Pieces

Mutual trust and confidence between leaders and followers are pre-requisite for military forces to be successful. That is to say leaders must have trust in the abilities of their subordinates, who simultaneously must have confidence in the military competence of their leaders. Good leadership then is synonymous with inspiring confidence in those who follow.[15] Of course, military managers do co-exist with leaders in most armies and probably do possess the technical and scientific skills to train, supply and move soldiers from one place to another. That would be sufficient if soldiers were chess pieces and the 'playing field' was a chess board, but they are not.[16] While it may be possible to manage soldiers like chess pieces up to the battlefront it certainly is not possible to manage them into battle. This is because "the business of war has always been individual and distinct from any other pursued by man".[17]

Therefore, to get soldiers to overcome their innermost desires to stay put and safe behind cover, and then to get them to willingly 'go over the top' in the face of the enemy and to defy death, they must be led, and more than that they must be led well. It must be self-evident then that efficient management cannot substitute for leadership. But there are some who argue that as an officer advances in rank there is a requirement for him to do less leading and to do more managing. This is a fallacy. It is correct to say that a leader's management skills must improve as he advances in rank but it should not be forgotten that his leadership skills must develop accordingly to meet the challenges of his greater responsibilities.[18]

This can best be understood by the fact that the demands on his moral courage, integrity and other personal leadership characteristics become all the greater as an officer advances in rank and responsibility. It is the example, values and culture[19] created by senior leadership that sets the tone throughout an army. Machiavelli put it succinctly when writing on leadership in the fifteenth century "what a prince does the many also do, for to their eyes the prince is ever in view"[20]. Indeed, it is very doubtful that any of the great military leaders of the past, Alexander, Wellington, Lee, Patton, Rommel or Ridgeway to mention just a few, ever saw themselves as military managers. In fact, it is much more likely that they saw themselves as military leaders who knew how to manage their resources to lead vast armies.

Israeli Defence Forces Experience.

In contrast to the abundance of managers and business executives throughout the world there has always been a difficulty in finding individuals who could be classified as leaders. In fact, armies go to extraordinary lengths and expense to find and then train individuals whom they consider to have leadership qualities. None so more in this than the Israelis who established a leadership ethos for their defence forces under General Dayan more than three decades ago.[21] As Israel's Chief of Staff in the 1950s, Dayan reshaped and revitalised an Israeli Army that had lost its high 1948 standards. Ever since the Israelis have insisted that they want officers who are able to lead fighting men in conflict and not officer managers in uniform.[22]  Israeli Defence Forces (I.D.F) officers at all levels, up to the highest echelons, are expected to lead by personal example 'from the front'. Evidence of this 'follow me' policy is borne out by their casualty rates which shows that I.D.F officers are three to four times more likely than other ranks to become casualties in combat.[23] Because of their history one can understand why the Israelis should pay particular attention to conflict, however conflict is not unique to that force. In fact, conflict is the raison d'etre of military forces who throughout the world are either training for, suffering in, or trying to prevent it. But unlike any other profession, they are preparing for something that they hope never to have to do.[24] In fact, armies which have never been involved in combat are inclined not to even contemplate its possibility. This is perilous because it is axiomatic that pre-conflict preparation prevents casualties. According to military history the inculcation of the spirit of leadership and the development of unit cohesion are vital to that preparation.

Leadership and Cohesion.

Cohesiveness may be defined as the ability of a military unit to hold together and to withstand stress. Historically it has been associated with successful armies and with effective leadership. It originates with soldiers identifying with their leaders and with sharing common experiences. It is not an overnight accomplishment but must be nurtured and strengthened over time and is eventually represented in soldiers’ feelings of being of value, of belonging to a group sharing mutual solidarity, pride, loyalty and trust.[25] ". Cohesion should therefore be understood as a group-orientated phenomenon and as the antithesis of individualism. Therefore, policies which position the individual before the group or common good must be considered to be detrimental. Nevertheless, societal influences may dictate that such policies be implemented. This can best be understood in the claim that military forces are a microcosm of society and that changes to society are eventually reflected in military life.[26] Hence armed forces policy-makers must take cognisance of the progress that individualism has made during the past decade,[27] as a result of which other collective identities such as family, community and religion have been very much weakened.


Military history teaches that armed forces are prone to suffer misfortune if they fail to absorb readily accessible lessons from recent history.[28] Accordingly, as the Defence Forces go through their most significant reforms, involving changes to the status quo and modification of structures, it is imperative that careful attention is paid to lessons learnt from recent history. An important one of these is that when armed forces become subject to reform, especially from outside agencies, it is very easy indeed for the distinction between management and leadership to become blurred. As already stated, the U.S military have learnt this painful lesson and have returned to a leadership philosophy. The fact that the Israeli Defence Forces, which out of necessity needs to keep pace with the ever-changing Middle East and understand the imperative of carefully managing resources, have continued to maintain a leadership ethos after three decades of conflict, should not be ignored. The Israelis understand that Napoleon's dictum "ce sont les officers qui font les troupes" nowadays taken to mean "there are no bad regiments only bad officers" has not become invalid with time. Therefore, as the Defence Forces seek to improve military professionalism it is imperative that it seeks leaders who know how to manage and not leaders who sees themselves as managers.


[1] Machiavelli. Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. (Penguin Books, Middlesex, England. 1983). p 51.

[2] Report of the Commission on Remuneration and Conditions of Service in the Defence Forces. (Government Stationery Office, Dublin. 1990). para 2.2.4.

[3] Robert C. Solomon's Business Ethics in A Companion to Ethics, Blackwell Press, 1993. pp 354-365. "Executive self-image state that managers of a business are bound above all by one and only one obligation, to maximise the profits for stockholders". While there are many myths in relation to modern day corporate culture recognising the place of people in the organisation, it cannot be ignored that the bottom-line in business is the pursuit of profit and personal self-interest, both of which are measured in terms of cash. "In traditional free-market theory, the employees labour is itself just one more commodity, subject to the laws of supply and demand. Any organisation that treats its employees as nothing but disposable parts, should not be surprised if the employees start treating the organisation as nothing but a transient source of wages and benefits". While this may be sustainable in business it is completely anathema to military culture

[4] General Sir John Hackett. The Profession of Arms. (Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd, Hertfordshire, U.K. 1983) p 184.

[5] Richard A. Gabriel & Paul L. Savage. Crisis in Command, (McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd, Toronto, Canada. 1978). p 18.

[6] Ibid, p 19.

[7] . For example, Henry Kissinger wrote "A new breed of military officer emerged: men who had learned the new jargon, who could present the systems analysis arguments so much in vogue, more articulate than the older generation and more skilful in bureaucratic manoeuvring. On some levels it eased civilian-military relationships; on a deeper level it deprived the policy process of the simpler, cruder, but perhaps more relevant assessments which in the final analysis are needed when issues are reduced to a test of arms". Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Little, Brown & Co, 1979), pp 30-31.

[8] "Many of these problems were the direct effect of fighting the war in a 'peacetime' mode - individual replacements, twelve-month tours, battlefield 'cost- effectiveness', statistical measures of progress (body count) - all outgrowths of a top-level management structure concerned with preparation for war (primarily concerned with military economics) rather than war preparation (concerned with military strategy)". Harry G Summers, Jr, Colonel of Infantry. On Strategy, A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. (Dell Publishing, New York, 1984). p 191.

[9] , In April 1970 while the war was still raging in Vietnam, General Westmoreland, the Army Chief of Staff directed the Army War College to conduct an immediate analysis of the moral and professional climate of the Army. The result of the analysis was the Study of Military Professionalism. Colonel Harry G. Summers Jr (ret) On Strategy II, A Critical Analysis of the Gulf War, (Dell Publishing, New York, 1992) p 54.

[10] Ibid, p 55.

[11] Ibid, p 54.

[12] Ibid, pp265-266.

[13] . Paul B. Malone III. Love Them and Lead Them. (Synergy Press, Annandale, Virginia, U.S.A. 1986).

[14] Tom Peters & Nancy Austin. A Passion for Excellence. (Random House, New York, U.S.A. 1985). pXIX.

[15] Norman Dixon. On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. (Macdonald & Co Ltd, London. 1976). p212.

[16] Eliot A. Cohen. Commandos and Politicians, Elite Military Units in Modern Democracies. (Harvard University, U.S.A. 1978). p35.

[17] Carl Von Clausewitz. On War. (Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A. 1989). p187.

[18] For discussion on senior level leadership challenge and responsibilities see 'Senior Level Leadership by Comdt D. Parsons in An Cosantoir, June 1992.

[19] "Culture can be seen as ' the way we do things around here'. A more sophisticated definition reminds us that the culture of the military organisation is the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes military personnel from members of other public sector organisations". Dr Gwyn Harris-Jenkins. An Cosantoir Review 1994. p86.

[20] Niccolo Machiavelli. The Discourses. (Penguin Books, London, U.K. 1983). p484.

[21] Reuven Gal. A Portrait of the Israeli Soldier. (Greenwood Press. 1986). p129.

[22] "Its style of leadership is very clearly defined, characterised by adventurous officers leading from the front, using initiative, improvisation and flexibility rather than going by the book". Hugh McManners. The Scars of War. (Harper Collins Publishers, London. 1993). p43.

[23] Samuel Katz. Israel's Army. (Presidio Press, California, 1990). p110.

[24] McManners. p7

[25] The IDF keep the same group of soldiers together in the same units during and after training. Individual soldiers thus identify strongly with their units, and the leaders get to know their men well Some British regiments derive tremendous strength from the continuity of their personnel with examples of whole families serving in the same regiment". Ibid. p 19

[26] Hackett. p159.

[27] Just one example of many, taken from an article in the Irish Independent 10.07.95 on the British Army's Parachute Regiment. The Regiment's problems have been linked to a breakdown in Britain's old social cohesion. Working men no longer automatically defer to upper class officers. It is said that officers have become 'yuppies in uniform', thinking of post-service careers rather than earning the respect of their men.

[28] Eliot A. Cohen & John Gooch. Military Misfortunes, The Anatomy of Failure in War. (The Free Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc, New York, U.S.A. 1990). p 26.