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Legitimacy of British Military Command

Written by on 13 December 2010

The British Military model for effective command and control is based on the command model. This has three enduring principles - firstly, leadership, secondly, command and finally, management. It is through the synthesis of these foundation themes that the British Military exercises effective command and control.

The key is the right leadership model

Mission CommandThe British Army select their leaders at a very young age. They have little experience of acting as a leader within an organisation and have therefore learnt few techniques for leadership. This raw state is perfect for effective evaluation of leadership potential.

The British Army select their future leaders through a rigorous selection program that takes place over a three-to-four day course. The key is to find individuals that have a set of values combined with key skills (communications, cognitive analytical skills etc). These qualities provide the foundation upon which good leadership practices can be taught. It is important that the leadership selection is appropriate for the organisation and possesses the qualities that are required for effective leadership in the organisations operational context (The British Army operate within a complex and volatile context, they require leaders who can make effective decisions based on incomplete information).

Command paradigm

The British Army, like so many other armies, use a well understood, hierarchal system to illustrate authority. The wearing or rank signifies the level of authority that has been placed in the individual on behalf of the organisation. It is important that the investiture of such power is seen as legitimate (sometimes people talk about whether the individual has “earned it”). It is not just the military that uses this system of symbology in order to signify power investiture, business also uses such a system, with titles such as CEO or MD, which convey a well-understood framework of legitimacy. By providing them with a clear metaphor through which they can understand the level of authority, an individual can evaluate the legitimacy of the direction the leader conveys. All leaders need to act in a way that is legitimate within the confines of the level of power (authority) that has been invested in them either by the organisation or through the collective.

When legitimacy is lost

When individuals act beyond the acceptably framework of legitimacy, their actions can be perceived as illegitimate which, in turn, erodes the standing of the organisation and its empowerment process. This can be illustrated when military forces act in a way that is inappropriate to the role or function they have been tasked with. The shocking events of the Abu Ghraib prison, where a US interrogator overstepped his remit and committed torture of prisoners, led to illegitimacy and the individual acts had an enormous adverse effect on world opinion and seriously impacted the perceived legitimacy of the US intervention. The US is not alone, any military force that has acted beyond the perceived legitimacy of it's mandate has run the risk of seriously undermining it's position. The loss of legitimacy will almost certainly lead to the loss of the strategic campaign, as the Vietnam War will stand testimony to.

Leadership through management

The combination of leadership - exercised through a legitimate authority paradigm - provides the foundation from which effective management can be delivered. Although management is primarily concerned with the ordering of resources and prioritisation of work in order to maximise efficiency, it is also the process through which leadership, authority, legitimacy and culture is best manifested. The ways people are managed reflects upon the beliefs of an organisation.

Combining the core principles to obtain effective outcomes

It is critical that the individual components are selected, trained and managed in order to provide effective outcomes. The British Army have utilised the Command model with a high level of success over many years. It enables the individual components to be separated and analysed and at times modified in order to ensure relevance and utility in the current operational environment.

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