The Question of Leadership

Jul 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: Cultural, Historical, Military/LE, Psychological, Sociological, Strategies


One of the most striking differences between counterinsurgency (CoIn) and conventional warfare is the need for solid leadership in the military and civilian organizations. Unlike in conventional warfare, where the fighting is left to the military, CoIn requires civilian leadership actively leading the war. 

The reason for this is that unlike conventional wars fought between to countries, counterinsurgencies are fought between a ruling government and insurgents from its own populace. As such the military is only concerned with the separation of the insurgent from the populace and destruction, while the government is occupied with removing the reasons that support recruitment efforts of the insurgent. 

Counterinsurgency requires sensitivity to the local cultural, historical, psychological and the sociological components of society: both the present situation and what led to the current events. This contrasts with the military point of view, which is to search, control, and overcoming the enemy. 

Because of this, it requires a much more attuned civilian leadership, one that can not only understand and confront the political message of the insurgent, but also comprehend and best utilize the nation’s military, paramilitary, and law enforcement. The civilian leadership must not only have a good vision for the future of the country that appeals to the people at large, but has the rapport and charisma to lead them there. 

There are some very important qualities that a good leader needs during counterinsurgency: 

· Initiative
· Empathy
· Disciplined Integrity
· Devotion to the cause
· Organization
· Creativity
· Flexibility
· Rapport/Charisma 

Initiative is pretty explanatory. It’s the ability to get things started. If there’s a problem the leader knows there’s a problem and doesn’t wait to fix it. More importantly, the leader initiates a plan that will prevent it in the future. Most humans are simply reactive, which is why we have so many insurgencies throughout world and history—why wait until squeaky wheels need to be greased to prevent a flare-up? Once an insurgency develops from strictly political to hot guerrilla action it’s going to be a long haul… 

Empathy between all command structures and the public majority

Empathy is often lost on many leaders when objectives are confused. Is the objective to kill as many of the enemy as possible, or end the war in a win for the ruling government? If body counts are the rule, then a war of attrition is inevitable: and the longer a counterinsurgency war is conducted the better the chance it goes in favor of the insurgent. Insurgents can fight and slip away into the populace, regain strength and come back again—this why insurgents are like a Hydra, cut one head and two replace it if the reasons for the start of the insurgency are not resolved. 

Leaders have to separate themselves from the direction of counterinsurgency, and focus on how their actions effect the majority: win the non-committal majority (more on this in our next article on the 15-70-15 of a nation’s populace) and your counterinsurgency is successful, relegating the insurgent back to the role of opposite minority, social outcast and mountain bandit. There’s no room for soft skin in counterinsurgency. 

Counterinsurgencies can be long. We’re talking about either correcting a present political structure, or something much deeper: cultural restructuring. The devotion needed for leaders is great: both in willingness to deliver the time, resources, and energy toward success. One of the major benefits of apparent devotion to the cause is that it helps shorten the length of time to terminate an insurgency, especially if the leader of the insurgents doesn’t have at least the same amount of dedication. If an insurgency has begun under a “dedicated” leader’s watch, it then begets the question of why if there was such devotion an environment ripe for insurgency was born and grew to a hot war in the first place. Surely a leader that is dedicated and who has initiative would have recognized the indications of a rising insurgency—and through empathy, creativity and initiative acted successfully. 

A good leader needs to know the whole campaign and be able to communicate with his military and civilian government representatives with solid understanding. This takes excellent organizational skills. On a personal level, it’s as simple as knowing daily duties and objectives and lining up plans to be executed, but also being able to delegate the appropriate duties to support personnel who don’t necessarily have the whole pictures, but know completely their parts of the whole action. The leader’s role is to be organized sufficiently to reach for any asset toward the whole strategy, and know how to organize people towards efficiency and have the discipline to lead them to achieve their counterinsurgency goals. Organization also prevents second guess actions and flip-flopping, that only feed into the propaganda of the insurgent—ultimately leading to the government being interpreted by the public as weak. 

Creativity is what makes guerrillas so successful and what enables counterinsurgent to quickly overcome the moves of the insurgent. Innovation and creativity go well together in developing a counterinsurgency leader’s identity. Speed to overcome and surround an insurgency force, either political or military, requires paramount creative ability. 

Corruption can destroy other successes

A leader without disciplined integrity is quickly thought of as corrupt and untrustworthy. Public recognition of a leader’s integrity is built years before that commander is in office or in the field. It’s the little things that the person develops in their resume, from child to adult, and is recognized along that path, back in high school, parental upbringing, college, graduate school, military academy, first military command, and on to either voted for national leader or rising-in-rank military general. Lincoln and Washington’s integrity (the real one and not just the myths created over generations) is what made them great leaders in the past and why they are so revered now: disciplined integrity has extreme longevity. 

Insurgencies are fluid—insurgents lose their strength when they become rigid, especially if they become too much like a conventional fighting force to too early. One moment they’re strictly propaganda attacks, the next they’re full on guerrilla force and terrorist actions against the citizenry or the government. Leadership needs to be flexible enough to act appropriately to each and every situation. 

Charisma is a tricky one, because it’s really a response, and interpretation by the public, to the outward presentation and identity of a leader. Leaders can build charisma by building rapport with both his or her directly subordinates and the populace directly, and also through solid rapport skills to the public at large. Sometimes they work well, sometimes not so well as done by Glenn Beck on his show, and President Obama during speeches, where they’ve used neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques in order to reach and convince the public at large. Next time you see either of them stand in front of an emotionally, or psychologically, charged image; or does a self-point at the moment saying the word “successful,” as President Obama had done during a speech only a few weeks ago, you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. 

As the public becomes more aware of psychologically manipulative techniques that are taught in just about every public speaking or sales class, the more persuasive quality of charisma and rapport will be better built through actual solid reputation built through evident integrity, devotion and empathy—and a solid track record. Quick fix skills do work on an unknowing majority, but as that majority becomes more knowledgeable, the risk of alienation becomes extreme. There’s also a sense of respect that adds to that charisma of a CoIn leader. 

Now, few leaders through history had all the qualities above. But, there’s a common thread through all successful CoIn commanders of having at least integrity, devotion, flexibility and charisma, the more of the rest the better. 

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