Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

General George S. Patton Jr.1


1. Even though the key to successful leadership is very difficult to define, many authors have tried. Jay A. Conger summed up the definition of leadership by stating that leaders must establish direction, gain commitment to this direction and then motivate group members to achieve the direction's outcome2. The primary challenge for the Service Officer in the future will be to establish this direction in a technologically complex world. With the end of the Cold War at the end of the 1980's, it appears that any armed conflicts in the near future will not include massive land armies, navies and air forces facing each other. The most likely situations for the use of force will be regional in nature and these situations will not be easily foreseen or predicted. Therefore, since there may be little time for any form of build up, future leaders must have established respect for themselves during peacetime so that they are capable of quickly deploying to a war zone to conduct a winning campaign.

2. The aim of this essay is to predict the leadership qualities that the military leader will require to gain commitment from, and then motivate others fifteen years into the future.


3. It is important to understand the future military environment if predictions are to be made on what leadership qualities will be effective at that time. To set the scene for the military environment in 2012, I will discuss the important issues of continuous technological change, military confrontation scenarios, cost constraints and skilled manpower.

Continuous Technological Change

4. I believe that the multitude of major technological changes that have been occurring over the past few years in all of the world's military forces will continue. It will be essential for the leader in 2012 to support technological change throughout his or her career. Unlike in the past where it was possible to opt for a typewriter instead of a computer, employment in the future military occupations will require members to embrace continuous technological change as a basic job requirement. The leader will have to dispel any anxiety associated with this constant change by encouraging training, cooperation and the satisfaction associated with working in a cutting edge field.

Military Confrontation Scenarios

5. If present trends continue, the physical confrontation between opposing individuals in the air, at sea, and on the battlefield will, in most cases, be replaced by interaction between a warrior and his or her machine. In the past, much military training has stressed the need for much Douglas McGregor's theory X style motivation3 arguing that armed combat required immediate physical responses to command. The theory X style was much used in the military of the past, and assumed that workers were lazy, disliked work and avoided responsibility. I believe that the kind of quality decisions that will be required from all participants in the future battle will be much more theory Y style which assumes that workers can self-direct, are creative and seek responsibility. The response that the leader may require from subordinates in the military confrontation of 2012 could just as easily be a careful decision as opposed to a physical reaction.

Cost Constraints

6. It is fact today, and will be in the future, that military spending measured in real dollars in most developed nations is declining. This trend will continue as the electorate in many nations perceive no viable threat to their territory. Historically, many military forces have had terms of service that gave a serving member who maintained a satisfactory level of performance virtually a job until retirement. As personnel costs contribute to a high percentage of defence spending in developed democracies, a major leadership challenge will be how to lead in this environment where that 'job for life' is no longer a reality.

Skilled Personnel

7. Historically, the military forces of developed countries have enlisted recruits that may not have completed high school. With the increasing technical complexity of modern weapon systems, the military will be competing with industry for personnel capable of managing information systems in the environment that will dominate in 2012. The leadership challenges presented by this group of highly skilled future soldiers, sailors and airmen will be different than in the past so that the leader, when asked questions may not know the answers but will have to know how to get them. Informed explanations will be expected, not just the simple commands that may have been given in the past.


8. In 1979, a few years before the PC revolution, Kotter and Schlesinger wrote that an individual is likely to resist change for three reasons: uncertainty, concern over personal loss, and the belief that the change is not in the organization's best interest4. I believe that these words will still be relevant in 2012 as the future leader will need to be an expert at recognising and dealing with resistance to technological change. There are three abilities that could be employed in the future to overcome this resistance.

9. The first required quality will be the ability to educate and train. The leader must understand more than just what is being implemented. Both subordinates and superiors must be made knowledgeable about systems to be implemented, and when new systems are introduced, sufficient resources must be spent on initial cadre training. The current trend of introducing technical systems without training must be reversed, and military members must be prepared by their leaders for a lifetime of learning.

10. The second required quality will be the ability to communicate effectively. Much resistance to change results from subordinates not understanding the shortcomings of the past and not being aware that the current way of doing things will have to be continuously evaluated and updated. Even with the increased communication of the electronic mail age, care will have to be taken to communicate face-to-face to effect change smoothly.

11. The third required quality will be the ability to facilitate in personal situations. Counselling a subordinate has always been a Service Officer's responsibility but the move to electronic offices from platoons, ships and squadrons has resulted in much less formal counselling and an overall lack of experience in Service Officers in conducting both formal and informal counselling. While it is a time consuming process, it will be essential to conduct effective counselling especially if it is clear that the resistance to change is centred about one person or a small group. With the increased responsibility and participation of each individual member, the leader must value each individual's worth to the team and concentrate on interpersonal interaction.

12. Assuming that the leader in 2012 has these abilities, he or she will have to use them at the correct time and in the right situation. This implies flexibility. To illustrate why flexibility will be important in a modern military, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf replied that if someone had asked him on the day he graduated from West Point, in June 1956, where he would fight for his country during his years of service, he was not sure what he would have said. But he is "damn sure that I would not said Vietnam, Grenada, and Iraq"5. The past ability of political and military leaders to predict future conflicts has been poor. This flexible leader will have to employ practices more representative of McGregor's theory Y style. It has been my experience in technically complex situations that the most effective leaders set the goal, but do not over direct. The subordinate's sense of worth is enhanced, and solutions are not constrained by the leader's experience.

13. With the increased focus on reducing costs, the leader will have to deal with two issues that result from the downsizing process. If members leave voluntarily, especially with a financial package, the first to leave are the confident, mobile and technically proficient. In this situation, the onus will be on the leader to make it clear to their top performers that reorganising comes with the potential for increased responsibility and opportunity. Past studies have shown that individuals with more challenging jobs have less anxiety, depression, and physical illnesses than those with less challenging jobs6. The leader of 2012 will have to ensure his or her workers are challenged and are given sufficient responsibility. If members are forced out, the leader will have to deal with increased conflict among the members as well as possible decreased motivation brought on by the 'it may be me next' feelings. In my opinion, the most important trait the leader in this situation will require would be the ability to communicate. Whether voluntary or forced, downsizing shakes the pillars of a military force, and the members look upward for reassurance and direction.

14. The results of reducing costs are very much linked to the issue of maintaining a skilled and motivated workforce. Military forces worldwide will be competing with industry for the same workers, so it will be essential to motivate these members to keep them in military service. The cost of training replacement members will be high, and high turnover rates will adversely effect combat efficiency. The retention of skilled personnel will be key to maintaining this efficiency, and very much an issue of leadership. It is possible that these skilled workers will be overwhelmed by information overload in 2012. An effective leader will help his or her subordinates to manage the information as too much information will be just as much a problem as too little information is today.


15. The military environment of 2012 will be characterised by the adage which says that the only constant will be change. With the increased entry standards of the future recruit, our military leader will be challenged by having to motivate better trained and educated subordinates in a field which will be increasingly more complex. Our future military leader and his or her subordinates will have to be prepared for a career which will include continuous learning. The ability to learn, teach, explain, communicate and facilitate will be crucial. An excess of information will be as much of a problem as a shortage and I suggest that a leader will need to become an information manager. Our flexible leader will, as General Patton suggests, decide what has to be done, but not necessarily how it will be done. As military budgets will no doubt continue decreasing in real terms through to the year 2012, the retention of a technically skilled and motivated military force will be essential to maintain combat efficiency. Success in future armed conflicts will depend on the nation's military leaders establishing the proper direction and motivating their members to achieve the desired outcome.


1. Quote from General George S. Patton Jr. United States Army.

2. Conger, J.A., Learning to Lead, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1992, p. 18.

3. McGregor, D. The Human Side of Enterprise, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1960.

4. Kotter, J.P. and Schlesinger, L.A., Choosing Strategies for Change, Harvard Business Review, March-April 1979, pp. 107-9.

5. Schwarzkopf, H.N. and Petre, P., It Doesn't Take a Hero, Bantam, New York, 1992, p. 503.

6. Stress and Boredom, Behavior Today, August 1975, pp. 22-25.