Habit of Excellence by Lt Col Langley Sharp MBE

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4.00 star(s)
Why British Army Leadership Works.

Langley Sharp is the head of the Centre for Army Leadership, part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Centre for Army Leadership is 'responsible for championing leadership excellence across the British Army'. As such Sharp would appear to be eminently well-suited to opine on Army leadership...

First, I think it worth stating that this book is really well written. It is Sharp's first book but you wouldn't know it: his style is fluent and the book, despite its potential for dullness, given the subject matter, is really easy to read.

Habit of excellence.jpg
Having a read a number of tweets and other reviews which vary, seemingly according to the reviewer's view of the British Army, I came at this book slightly hesitantly. I've read, and discussed, both sides of the argument when it comes to considering the British Army's successes and failures since WW2. I think I would agree that the Army arrived in Iraq with an over-confidence in its counter-insurgency capability, based on its experiences in Northern Ireland. I would also counter that just because the Army didn't 'win' in Northern Ireland, doesn't mean it hadn't learnt valuable lessons; I would also suggest that many of the reasons for (possible/perceived) strategic failure were political and out of the Army's hands. That is not to absolve the Army hierarchy for all aspects of its time in Iraq (and Afghanistan), but it is to observe that the case is not open and shut one way or the other.

I make this fairly laboured point because much of the criticism of the book appears to be based on reviewers criticising Sharp for suggesting that the British Army can be used as a leadership model, given its perceived (strategic) leadership failures over the past two decades.

I would posit that Army leadership should be looked at through the filter of the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic levels of operations. I think it can safely be said that the Army's (lower) Tactical hierarchy emerged from Iraq and Afghanistan with its head held high: I include everyone from the LCpl Section 2IC up to the COs of regiments and battalions based on the back streets of Basra and the tangled Green Zone of the Helmand river valley. At Brigade and Divisional level (and I'll leave others to debate the actual vs theoretical divide between higher Tactical and Operational) we also led well, but we must acknowledge that we were politically forced to take some questionable military decisions (cf the withdrawal from Basra to the COB, for instance). At the Strategic level, the Army is probably at its most vulnerable: accused of acting like politicians, rather than standing up to politicians.

Again I have laboured the point, but it underpins the fact that I believe it is perfectly reasonable to take the tactical level of leadership of the British Army as an exemplar of good practice, even if that cohort of leaders were serving on campaigns that ultimately met with limited success.

All in all, I think this is a well-written book that is easily readable by both those in the Army and outside. The lessons are valuable whatever your level of leadership: this should be mandated reading for those going through the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and those attending Junior/Senior Brecon (and their all arms equivalents).

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Smeggers

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Why British Army Leadership Works.

Langley Sharp is the head of the Centre for Army Leadership, part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Centre for Army Leadership is 'responsible for championing leadership excellence across the British Army'. As such Sharp would appear to be eminently well-suited to opine on Army leadership...

First, I think it worth stating that this book is really well written. It is Sharp's first book but you wouldn't know it: his style is fluent and the book, despite its potential for dullness, given the subject matter, is really easy to read.

Having a read a number of tweets and other reviews which vary, seemingly according to the reviewer's view of the British Army, I came at this book slightly hesitantly. I've read, and discussed, both sides of the argument when it comes to considering the British Army's successes and failures since WW2. I think I would agree that the Army arrived in Iraq with an over-confidence in its counter-insurgency capability, based on its experiences in Northern Ireland. I would also counter that just because the Army didn't 'win' in Northern Ireland, doesn't mean it hadn't learnt valuable lessons; I would also suggest that many of the reasons for (possible/perceived) strategic failure were political and out of the Army's hands. That is not to absolve the Army hierarchy for all aspects of its time in Iraq (and Afghanistan), but it is to observe that the case is not open and shut one way or the other.

I make this fairly laboured point because much of the criticism of the book appears to be based on reviewers criticising Sharp for suggesting that the British Army can be used as a leadership model, given its perceived (strategic) leadership failures over the past two decades.

I would posit that Army leadership should be looked at through the filter of the Tactical, Operational, and Strategic levels of operations. I think it can safely be said that the Army's (lower) Tactical hierarchy emerged from Iraq and Afghanistan with its head held high: I include everyone from the LCpl Section 2IC up to the COs of regiments and battalions based on the back streets of Basra and the tangled Green Zone of the Helmand river valley. At Brigade and Divisional level (and I'll leave others to debate the actual vs theoretical divide between higher Tactical and Operational) we also led well, but we must acknowledge that we were politically forced to take some questionable military decisions (cf the withdrawal from Basra to the COB, for instance). At the Strategic level, the Army is probably at its most vulnerable: accused of acting like politicians, rather than standing up to politicians.

Again I have laboured the point, but it underpins the fact that I believe it is perfectly reasonable to take the tactical level of leadership of the British Army as an exemplar of good practice, even if that cohort of leaders were serving on campaigns that ultimately met with limited success.

All in all, I think this is a well-written book that is easily readable by both those in the Army and outside. The lessons are valuable whatever your level of leadership: this should be mandated reading for those going through the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and those attending Junior/Senior Brecon (and their all arms equivalents).

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An excellent review for an excellent book. I have started reading it myself and, far from being a dull, dusty tome as the title would imply, it is written in a style that would be just as much of benefit to the potential Lance Corporal as it would to the Officer corps. I would certainly recommend it to all ranks.
 
I completely agree with the above comments. I've just read this in preparation for AOSB and (obviously) found many great talking points in the officer specific chapter - and what makes that role different in expected behaviours and qualities needed in a PO compared to NCOs and senior officers. For exactly the same reason, this book is great for all ranks and aspirants to gain a flavour of what is expected of them throughout their career in the army. To stick to the point of the thread; to review the book, I do have a couple of things to add.

Firstly, there are a few moments where the author (who as mentioned above is fluent given it's his first work) shoehorns in references to applicability of the contents to civilian life. It seems as if he proof-read it and then thought, "I haven't mentioned civvy management roles for a few pages so will add a sentence in here." - just to make sure he fulfils the promise of bringing lessons from army leadership to a wider audience. While this isn't a problem it is a little jarring, although in one or two instances it is certainly apt.


Secondly, there is a real mixture and therefore lack of consistency throughout the book as to what 'leadership' is. I don't know the answer to that question. But the title implies it's a habit, sometimes it is an 'action' or 'behaviour'. Other times it is a 'spirit' or 'quality' that is taught or developed, and so on. This is not a major complaint or gripe; I maintain that more consistency or a repeated definition would be useful to the author’s purposes in clearly describing the importance of quality leadership.

I've only raised these points on top of the previous commentator's positive words which I wholly echo, I really think this is a book worth reading, particularly for NCOs and junior officers, as a bulk of the examples and context is particularly applicable to them. Highly recommended overall.
 
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