This question has a multitude of different answers depending on the author and so instead of attempting to define what strong leadership looks like I would like to pose some thought provoking questions. A standard definition of leadership is defined as ‘the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal’. Therefore, this short article will look to briefly explore whether there has been a barrier between leadership and gender, define some characteristics of a ‘good leader’ and finally give my own experiences of leadership.
First to try to identify traits of a good leader, a short look back in history will define some rather charismatic and influential leaders, but interestingly a simple Google search of great leaders reveals a top 12 list; all of whom are male. When the parameter of ‘Military’ is added into the sentence this list exceeds 20 names without one female amongst them.
This is not to detract from some of the outstanding work the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill have accomplished, but if times are changing should our definition of great leadership evolve too, to include some of the amazing work women have achieved? Is there still an underlying bias towards women in power? Should there be subsets of leadership to better encompass everyone?
At present the UK Armed Forces report that it has 10.9% of its workforce identifying as female opposed to only 6% in 1990. Therefore, if there are proportionally less females within the workforce, statistics will show that their exposure to situations where they are able to express ‘great leadership’ will surely be less. Or is our expectation of strong leadership set at too higher level, after all we empower our Junior Non-commissioned Officers at the lowest level of the leadership ladder.
Added to this is the fact that most exceptional military leaders forged in history were in significant positions of power or indeed legendary battles. Given the fact that only recently has the Army allowed females into combat roles could this too of disadvantaged some exceptional ladies being formally recognised?
There are many attributes that make a great leader and I believe that everyone has their own interpretation of what they value above all else. In my experience, there are some basic qualities that I have seen first-hand in some exceptional leaders that I will elaborate on below.
Communication. This is a given, the ability to communicate and reach your audience is fundamental to allow you to inspire your team.
Resilience. The ability to not give up when the going gets tough. This can be difficult especially in some of the situations military personnel are placed in, but experience has taught me that a positive leader, someone who leads from the front and does not give up earns the respect of their peers and subordinates alike.
The ability to empower. I would argue this is one of the most important qualities. When you have total trust and loyalty then empowerment can be a strong lever in leadership.
Keeping these traits at the back of my mind have assisted me in honing my leadership skills over time. I was fortunate enough to start my career as a Soldier and work my way to the position I am in now, which gave me the rare opportunity of seeing both sides. Added to this is the ever-growing power of technology. I am now part of various groups that offer me expertise and guidance when needed, something that wasn’t present when my career first started. One of the most useful forums brings together the vast network of female officers; past and present. This level of peer support cannot be underestimated, and I would advocate similar forums for everyone irrespective of their background or industry. The ability to learn from previous lessons too separates those who are leaders to those who are great leaders.
“Definitions of leadership have no bearing on age, sex, race, background or sexual orientation therefore the argument can be made that anyone can be born a leader but it is the circumstances and opportunities you find yourself in that make you a strong leader. As Field Marshal Slim said, leadership ‘Is just plain you’.
Written by Major Samantha Lucas-Floyd is a Regimental Administration Officer at 159 Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps.