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OpinionPeople and Leadership

Serve to Manage

The lack of sex appeal in the phrase ‘serve to manage’ tells you all you need to know about most Service Personnel’s perspectives on management, yet at a time of significant under-manning and high commitment, excellence and high performance in management among our Officers is more important than ever.

Serve to Lead is the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) where young and dynamic “Potential Officers” are taught the many models of leadership theory, learn the importance of fitness, courage, and leading with humility and from the front.  All the while in the shadow of the Army’s new Leadership Institute (Centre for Army Leadership) and other noble and historical buildings.  These buildings are all crammed with portraits of inspirational leaders to which they should aspire to be more like.  As a result it should be no surprise that I and many other Young Officers have tripped up and become entangled in what are relatively straight forward management rather than leadership challenges.

Firstly, what’s the difference between the two?  By combining a few references and keeping it fairly simple, I offer this pair of sentences:

  • Leadership sets (and lives) the vision and motivates people toward an end state.
  • Management organises and applies a resource, whether it be people or things.

Leadership casts its eyes toward the glowing horizon but it is management that takes care of the journey there.

Having left RMAS with no management training whatsoever, the first years of Officerhood were a frustrating struggle.  Why?  I wondered, after a gruelling year at RMAS, was this not easier?  I knew how to look to the horizon, run at the head of the pack and use inspirational briefings to motivate, but none of it seemed to be effective. It wasn’t effective because I hadn’t inherited, nor was I able to build a strong procedural foundation with a unifying purpose. (I pity my first OC). It has taken me 10 years to truly understand what I was lacking in those first years.

There is no need to become a deep expert (‘Blackbelt’ if you really must) in the pseudo-sciences of Sigma 6 or Agile but to have even the simple management tools from which to choose would lift many young officers out of a lonely and confusing place.  (I urge anyone in that funk to read How to be a productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott).

Take learning from failure for example:  A leader will rightly tell you that blame is wrong and people should be encouraged to aim high.  But it is the manager that has at their disposal the skills to identify the impacts of the failure, the root causes of a failure, what was the trigger and to find a resolution that leads to “action items”. (see Google’s “Post-mortem”process).

Search for images relating to “Leader Manager” and it is clear that Leadership is commonly viewed as the better, more noble inspirational approach and management the disliked, more directive approach of  a “Boss”.  But the terminology is not fit for purpose, leadership and management don’t exist at two ends of a spectrum. They must co-exist in the same person simultaneously.  One is not better than the other and they are certainly not mutually exclusive.

On tumbling from the steps of Old College rosy-cheeked and thinner than they’ll ever likely be again, we shouldn’t expect our young Officers to be good managers.  While some will have management experience or an innate ability to manage, most will require training and coaching in organisational and management tools and techniques.  This will remain the case as long as RMAS remains fixed by the beguiling appeal of leadership at the expense of the dowdy foundations of management.  There is no need for us all to pretend that management is everyone’s idea of sexy, but the importance of management as a foundation in good leadership should be extolled louder than ever.

Remember, get management right and life is better, people are happier and more productive. Now that IS exciting.

Good management is possible without good leadership. Good leadership is impossible without good management.

The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to the wavellroom through the contact form

British Army

Horis has 11 years of leadership experience, working in operational theatres across the world.

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