The Army: The Inclusive Leadership Imperative

Why Inclusive Leadership is Important to the Army

Inclusive Employer.  The Army has always viewed itself as a meritocratic employer; there is an increasing imperative to be regarded as an inclusive employer, reflective of the society from which it recruits with the associated benefits that greater diversity brings.  To truly be an employer of choice the Armed Forces needs to offer equality of opportunity for all.  Inclusive Leadership is one of the concepts to assist with the organization’s ultimate Equality and Diversity end state. 

Always remember that what your subordinates think is far more important than concerning yourself with the views of your superiors.

- Historical quote: Sir Nigel Bagnall,
Representing the essence of Inclusive Leadership

Leadership in the British Army.  Leadership is the lifeblood of an army; success on operations relies on getting the very best from its people in arduous, dangerous, challenging situations.  Developing an organization with a more inclusive style of leadership will attract and retain the very best talent and enhance the reputation of the Army as an employer of first choice. Most importantly it will get the very best from those already serving, in an organization that relies on every individual “to go the extra mile.” 

The Army’s Values and Standards.   Leadership is based on the moral and ethical values embedded in a leader’s character and demonstrated in their behaviors.   These are courage, discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment and are applied to the Army’s standards of lawful, appropriate and professional.   A consistent and overt demonstration of Army values underpins leadership. 

Spreading the Inclusive Leadership Effect amongst Leaders.

Elements of the Army’s approach to leadership may be coincidental with Inclusive Leadership rather than based on the model.  In terms of strengths, the Army’s leadership model is adaptable and resilient. There is significant emphasis placed on moral courage and honours and awards for exceptional leadership and courage in difficult situations are common.  The Army relies on leadership at all levels and leaders are emulated; this is true for virtues and vices.  In terms of challenges, the hierarchical nature of the organization is a factor to be considered in the implementation of any initiatives.  There is significant reliance on rank in terms of how the business functions and how people are valued.  Annual employee engagement surveys suggest that there is still more progress to be made to ensure that all serving personnel feel valued and encouraged to use their talents to the full. 

The size and geographical spread of the organization restricted the options available to run the project.  Implementation took a 2 pronged approach; firstly future leaders currently in command positions were exposed to the project through the inspirational Masterclasses.  Secondly existing leadership training courses were adapted to incorporate some of the training tools to develop Inclusive leadership competencies and behaviours.

To spread the Inclusive leadership effect, a semi targeted approach was used to encourage new Commanding Officers to attend the Masterclasses.   This audience was selected for two reasons; they are the senior leaders of the future and importantly are currently in positions to have an impact on the serving population now.  Therefore the impact can felt and a difference can be made to the daily lives of soldiers immediately. 

Inclusive Leadership Training in Core Leadership Training Packages. 

By developing inclusive leadership capabilities the Army is seeking to:

  • Change behaviours and attitudes which will start to effect long term cultural change.
  • Enhance the organization’s understanding of the benefits that Inclusive Leadership can bring.
  • Challenge the status quo and have a tool kit that leaders at all levels can use to do things differently.

Leadership training is central to all career courses; the organization fundamentally relies on the development of the leadership qualities of all its people from the rank of private to General.  There are ever increasing demands to fit more into existing leadership  courses and therefore the most effective strategy was to dovetail elements of Inclusive Leadership into extant training courses.  This coincided with work to reframe D&I in the organization, as it is widely perceived that it is about fulfilling legal requirements and is the domain of specialists rather than about treating your people well and getting the very best from all. For this reason, inclusive leadership needed to be embedded into the existing leadership framework.

  1. Junior Officer Leadership Training.   An example of the training is at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; a world renowned leadership Academy that trains officers at the start of their career.  Many of the competencies and behaviours are not new to the Army, although some are counter cultural, for instance 360 degree reporting is not an established practice and is a challenge in a hierarchical organization.  Conversely a famous quote by General Sir Nigel Bagnall; is  “Always remember that what your subordinates think is far more important than concerning yourself with the views of your superiors.”  Despite it being a historical quote; this absolutely holds true today and is the essence of Inclusive Leadership.  The Sandhurst training that was previously labeled Equality and Diversity was rebranded as Inclusive Leadership training with the aim of examining approaches to diversity as  junior leaders with significant focus developing competencies and the language of Inclusive leadership.
  2. Wider Leadership Training.   More widely, a training DVD was developed on Challenging Behaviours with the aim of developing behaviors and actions that characterize great inclusive leaders.  The package sought to look at advanced behaviors on IL. The DVD includes 6 scenarios, and includes the “Who is My Inclusive Leader” exercise.  The training package was developed to include questions based on the inclusive leadership competencies and how leaders can be more inclusive to those within their command.

Personal Examples

The view of a Major involved in the Masterclass Sessions:

“In addition to the professional satisfaction in rolling out initiatives, the Inclusive Leadership Project has had a real personal impact on me, as it made me reflect on some of the leadership styles that I have witnessed and experienced throughout my career. 

I now personally focus more on the value of diverse teams and completely appreciate how a more inclusive approach can maximize the potential of all.

I now personally focus more on the value of diverse teams and completely appreciate how a more inclusive approach can maximize the potential of all; making individuals feel valued and enhancing their confidence to engage and contribute to the benefit of the individual and the organization.  I personally rated the “Who isse your Inclusive leader” exercise as I had never truly made the direct link between working for an inclusive leader and the levels of motivation and empowerment that an individual feels.  This was personal to me, as it was at a time when I was considering leaving the organization and it was purely the inclusive approach of my line manager that made me reconsider my decision.  I absolutely saw that he treated everyone differently in order to treat them the same and get the very best from all in his team.  Subsequently the role has been one of the most enjoyable that I have had in my career; I have thrived personally and professionally and have learnt much from that inclusive leader and am a more authentic leader and personally feel more personally resilient.” 

The view of a Commanding Officer involved in the Masterclass Sessions

“Inclusive leadership is important to me because the Army, and my Battalion, are filled with a diverse range of soldiers and officers, from different cultures and backgrounds, all of whom need to work together as a team to deliver our capability.  To do this, I need motivated people, who understand each other and how to get the best out of each other, so that I can maximise my organisational outputs.

To improve understanding, I ran a two day training session for the whole of my Battalion.  This was organised into two parts:  the first day was a ‘round robin’ of events where small groups were given presentations by various networks and diversity leads, to improve understanding of different cultures and groups.  This exposure to a different approach has sparked much interest and discussion, and the feedback was extremely positive, with a significant and notable change in people’s attitudes.  The second day was Respect for Others training, concentrating on issues such as bullying and harassment in the workplace, and how to be more understanding of individuals’ needs.  This two day package delivered a really positive step towards inclusivity within my Battalion and has shaped the past year’s training.

I have attempted to inculcate an inclusive approach in all that I do within my Battalion – to encourage my leaders to approach people and deal with them as individuals and to empower them to be open and honest.

I have attempted to inculcate an inclusive approach in all that I do within my Battalion – to encourage my leaders to approach people and deal with them as individuals and to empower them to be open and honest.  The bureaucratic rank structure of the Army poses barriers to this so it is absolutely key for our leaders to import their personality to get around this barrier.  I have set up a Service Parents’ Clinic that we run monthly to encourage those parents who are serving, to come together to share their knowledge on childcare, and to use each other as a support mechanism, and it also serves as an outlet for me and the Welfare Officer to pass on information concerning their rights, and how we value them so that they feel supported by the chain of command.  This has helped to retain young soldiers who otherwise would have left the Army due to perceived difficulties and rigid working hours.”