The Other General

I had the opportunity, yesterday, to go and listen to General the Lord Dannatt, Baron of Kewsick, GCB, CBE, MC, DL (former Cheif of the General Staff – Head of the British Army) talking on the topic of ‘Leadership in troubled times’.  The first thing that was striking was the vibrancy of his faith and the power of his conversion testimony.

But the wisdom poured out in his 40 minute lecture on several aspects of leadership and a disciplined life were very inspirational.  Here is a whistle stop tour of his words…very quotable!  The stuff below on mission command is, I believe, especially helpful. (All quotes in italics, other text is mine)

On salvation:  

  • “Kneeling at the foot of Christ’s Cross is the recruiting office where our spiritual journey and duty begins. This is where our spiritual pilgrimage is focussed and where the real challenge of spiritual warfare begins.”
  • “surrender is the end of fighting and the beginning of peace.”

  • “hearing is one thing, doing is another, and what Christ wants from us is full commitment and not a half-hearted compromise. I have been down that track and it does not work.”

On discipleship:

  • “Jesus managed to get people to follow, not out of curiousity, but with confidence in him.”
  • “Following his Father’s plan and doing what he had to do cost Jesus Christ his life, but his belief and confidence in his Father’s plan led to Him opening up the way to peace and purpose in this life – and life beyond – for those who also are prepared to put their trust in Him.”

On leadership:

  • “a good leader, stressing the adjectives as well as the vowels,  needs absolute fitness, complete integrity, enduring courage, daring initiative and undaunted willpower. To these, add three other prerequisites: knowledge, judgement and team spirit.”
  • “I first came across leadership as a subject to be considered formally while I was a cadet at Sandhurst.  It was treated differently to other subjects that we studied.  For leadership discussions, we did not sit in the classrooms; instead we sat around in armchairs in the company bar and we were asked for our ideas, as opposed to just being told what to do and perhaps what to think.  I believe that immediately sets leadership apart – it is a personal, an individual and an intuitive thing.”
  • “No matter how clever the plan and how good the leader’s ability, unless there is a really strong capacity to lead, then successfully promoting followship is quite another challenge. To arrive with no one behind you is a very lonely experience, and many a young officer has only been followed out of curiosity.”
  • “The motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is “Serve to Lead”. Christ, in his lifetime, is a very clear example of that maxim. When Christ washed his disciples’ feet, he was doing the most menial and humble task –and by serving his disciples he was earning the right to lead them. He would ask of others nothing that he would not do himself.

  • “It is my experience that a life which is obedient to God, committed to Christ and open to the Holy Spirit sustains and guides in these turbulent times.”

On mission strategy:
The General outlined a comprehensive Mission Command strategy for executing any mission.  He defined the three levels as ‘Strategic, Operational and Tactical.

Strategic:  this is where the big thoughts are thought.
Operational:    “sits between the Strategic and the Tactical, and  which is the level that sits between the ideas and the action – it is the level which turns the ideas into action, and in my book that is the level which lifts the mediocre to the exceptional”….”It is at the Operational level where the General or the Captain of Industry does his real work, and where an End to End plan is formulated to transform the original idea – the Big Idea – into success on the battlefield.”
Tactical – “where the rubber hits the road”…”the tactical level is about delivery and action”

 The General then spoke of how leadership needs to function in each phase:

“Three components to what we call Mission Command, all of which hinge around the leader:   

  1. Strategic the Commander/the Leader needs to think through his problem and convert his strategic goals into the front end of his Operational or Campaign Plan, and this results in him clearly setting out his Intent. He needs to have applied sufficient analysis and intellectual rigour so that he can set out to his subordinates or his employees his statement of what needs to be done and his overall intentions as to how it is to be done. This, I suggest, is more than just a rather wishy-washy Vision Statement.   
  2. Operational:   in a non-prescriptive way, is to separate out the tasks that need to be done and delegate them to subordinates along with the necessary manpower, equipment and financial resources to carry out those tasks. But he doesn’t tell them what to do – he tells them what they are to achieve; this is output or outcome focussed, not input focussed. 
  3. Tactical:   this is where the process can go wrong – having delegated the task appropriately, he needs to supervise the execution of those tasks – not in a way that stifles the initiative of the subordinates to whom the tasks have been delegated, but in a subtle way, remembering that while tasks can be delegated, responsibility can never be delegated – the buck always stops with the boss.”

Further quotes on leadership and mission command:

  • “On God’s instructions he [Gideon] endorsed an amazing Concept of Operations, deploying his tiny force at night – a force equipped more like the Regimental band and Quartermaster’s Department than crack troops! The result was that 135,000 Midianites were defeated, with 120,000 casualties. This was a fantastic victory stemming from obedience to God.”
  • “The Father wants us to use the abilities that we have been given to work to bring peace to the lives of individuals, whether we are doing so as a leader at the Strategic or Operational levels, or as a fighter at the Tactical level.”

Hope you enjoy chewing all that over!

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