LEADERSHIP – AN OVERVIEW
LEADERSHIP – AN OVERVIEW
Lieutenant Colonel J P Dwyer AM OAM CF (Rtd)
Leadership – the action of leading a group of people or an organisation.
If ever there was a subject that has been written about, practised, pulled apart
and built on, it is leadership. Going back thousands of years from the days of the
Egyptians to the present day it has been an integral part of the advancement of
the civilised world. The theories, models and application of leadership have also
been a core of my own working life. Wonderful examples of good and
successful leadership abound over the millenniums, matched side by side with
some appalling failures. Now when I look at the current dearth of quality
political leadership across the western world, in parallel with the rise of national
dictators over the rest of the globe, I have some reflections that spur me to add a
little more to the topic.
Leadership decision-making processes that decide on the successes and failures
within our civilisation as we currently know it, embrace a topic that is not only
engrossing but unfortunately, probably the least understood by many of those
who are in positions to apply it, understand it and practice it. My own small
library has many books on leadership and leaders and the world is awash with
theories and models from Churchill and Adair to Drucker and Covey, just to
name a few authors that come to mind. This of course begs the question, as to
why should I even attempt to make further comments on the subject?
Nevertheless, as leadership was integral to my effectiveness as a career officer
in the Australian Army and subsequently in my work with business ventures,
community activities and Australian history projects a personal overview can do
no harm, not to mention a recent request from a grandson in The Army Cadets
seeking ‘some good drum’ from Pop!
Before I proceed, however, it is important to outline my own view on the
subject. Leadership has been described as a key enabler spanning many other
processes. The ‘art of influencing others towards achieving a clear common
goal in such a way as to engender loyalty, respect, and a willing cooperation’ is
a statement I can only agree with wholeheartedly. Interestingly the term ‘lead’
comes from the Saxon ‘laed’ – ‘To set out on a quest’ to ‘Navigate into the
distant horizon’! Perhaps apt terms when I reflect on my life from teaching and
leading soldiers into battle, to influencing staff to perform in corporate and
community matters. Despite the plethora of written and digital leadership
information available to those interested in its study or application, I will in this
short overview, simplify my comments to just one model as a guide that may
interest the reader. It is termed the ‘Action-centred Leadership’ theory.
This theory focuses on what people ‘do’ and the core actions that a leader must
‘do’ to lead effectively. It encompasses a three-tiered model developed in the
1960’s by a British academic, John Adair, partly to dispel the myth surrounding
the concept of ‘born leaders’. Action-centred leadership relies on the belief that
leaders are developed, not born and it has resonated well with me because of its
simplicity of application since being taught its fundamentals at my Officer
Cadet School, also in the mid 60’s. As a practical and simple theory to
understand, it works, and has been my personal model to follow with successful
and recognised results for the past 6 decades.
In essence, while the definition of leadership is straight forward, it cannot work
unless three integral elements in its application are in place – the leader, the
organisation and the individuals involved. Inherent in these are vision, trust,
mutual respect, passion and sound values. Values, particularly, must encompass
all those elements with those participants involved. To me, it is also axiomatic
that when we use terms such as trust, values and respect, the ‘leader’,
irrespective of his/her position in any hierarchy, must also display the same
inherent qualities and characteristics to achieve successful and measurable
As a ‘doer’ during my working life, this theory has met my own needs. The
model consists of three functional circles of action: Task, Group and Individual.
Within these are clear inter-actions required to develop successful and
TASK needs – Actions you take to achieve a goal:
GROUP needs – Actions at the group level to develop teamwork and cohesion:
INDIVIDUAL needs – Actions to develop each team member’s unique needs:
A leader’s attention to the inter-action of these three elements, with a focus to
meet the needs, will be critical. For example:
·Too much attention or obsession to the TASK may well lead to a
reduction in TEAM effectiveness and INDIVIDUAL effort. Resulting in
failure, poor or unsuccessful results. Juggling the application of
leadership to meet these three elements is the real challenge!
Let me give a practical example through personal experience in a key leadership
role. In my three years as the Commanding Officer of the Australian Army’s
(Field Force) Battle School in the 1980’s, attention to the critical aspects of the
three elements were proven and outcomes were successful by:
·The achievement of the task(s) to the highest standards in teaching
tropical warfare. Proven and confirmed officially.
·Effectively utilising the collective experience and teaching ability of the
instructor teams. A noticeable feature, and
·The sound training of the individuals, both Australian and Foreign
soldiers, particularly in Jungle Warfare techniques and skills.
Action-centred leadership works, as of course many other theories and
applications, however at the end of the day it is the appointed ‘leader’ who has
the final responsibility, good or bad for the outcomes. May I sum up this short
discourse on an overview to leadership with a couple of quotes, relevant to
those individuals currently in leadership roles:
‘You manage things, you lead people’.
‘Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality’.
Visits to equivalent schools in Singapore and Brunei during the Battle School posting, including the
successful training of elements of the Australia SASR, PNG Defence Force and the US Special Forces
Delta Team also confirmed results. Post Army service, the adoption of this leadership model
continued successfully in my business and community affairs work. Reflected in my three national
awards for leadership by a grateful nation.
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