How Relevant Is Royal Marines "Servant Leadership" Beyond the Military Context?

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#21
The RM model of Officer training suits them. It probably wouldn't suit the Army, which is a much bigger organisation. It is also worth remembering that the RM YO's course is the CC and PCD combined, so to ascribe its whole length to purely officer training would be a false analogy.
I would also say that the RM system seems a lot worse at certain things than the army. I've spent a lot of time working alongside RM officers and I've gradually come to the conclusion that their training system makes them, on average, significantly better platoon level officers than the majority of army officers. However, I also think that they generally make worse officers than their army counterparts as soon as they're away from junior tactical leadership.

This is very much a general rule, not a description of 100% of RM officers and two of the very best commanders I've ever worked for have been RM. That said, they were the exception of those RM officers I've met. I wonder if the less academic nature of the training (they only do 1wk at Faraday hall) and the increased focus on junior leadership isn't a hindrance once you've moved past your first troop command role.
 
#22
I was once told that most people are promoted to the point where they're most likely to fail.

I pondered this somewhat, and assigning that logic to many that I've known, realised that it was probably correct. One more step, one more responsibility, a slight change in direction, and it would all come tumbling down...and no doubt, it would be my fault :rolleyes:^^
AKA the peter principle.
If truely applicable, then randomised promotion could create more efficient organisations
Ig Nobel Prize Winner: If The Peter Principle is Right, Then Organizations Should Randomly Promote People
Try selling that as a replacment to APC and avoid getting burnt as a heretic!
 
#24
AKA the peter principle.
If truely applicable, then randomised promotion could create more efficient organisations
Ig Nobel Prize Winner: If The Peter Principle is Right, Then Organizations Should Randomly Promote People
Try selling that as a replacment to APC and avoid getting burnt as a heretic!
Bollox.....I always thought that I'd stumbled across a unique concept and with that, a book or 2, a PHD, maybe even a knighthood....Arrise Sir Sundog :salut:

Didn't realise that it was already an academic concept...oh well...back to working for a living =-D
 
#26
Bollox.....I always thought that I'd stumbled across a unique concept and with that, a book or 2, a PHD, maybe even a knighthood....Arrise Sir Sundog :salut:

Didn't realise that it was already an academic concept...oh well...back to working for a living =-D
... and never forget the Peter Pyramid, which looks at hierarchies and bureaucracy. It demonstrates that organisations, given half a chance, form organisational structures based on pyramids resting on their points!

The ultimate paradox in designing a successful leadership mechanism is trying to balance the needs of the organisation against the motivation of the individual. Making a distinction between desirable and undesirable traits in the selection of leaders is extremely difficult in practice as much depends on context. History is scattered with examples of individuals who were extremely successful in one situation, but useless in another.

Much of the issue is down to the system used to "breed" and select leaders. The problem is that such systems need to be maintained for extended periods so that there is trust and belief in the system, however the longer a system exists, the more likely it will become gamed and corrupted. Everything becomes a "Game of Thrones" in the end. The Guards and the Greenjackets/Rifles have been at this forever...!

The best solution seems to be to try and keep these systems in some form of dynamic tension, so that opposing needs can interact and reach sensible short term goals without spinning the system completely off track. You can see these opposing structures all over the military.. Officers v NCOs, Teeth Arms and Services, Army v Navy (...lets leave the juniors out for the moment!). They fight cat and dog during normal jogging, but when sh1t hits rotating surfaces, just get on with it...

Regrettably, I feel much of the balance has been lost over recent decades, and that the military is in danger of spinning off uncontrollably. Some of the factors I think are at play here are:

1. Monoculturism. Working organisms consist of many cultures and specialisations. The trick is to get them to cooperate and not compete. The military has officer and nco cultures which need to dynamically co-exist for the organism to work. Centralising and imposing order from too high a level destroys such activity. Diversity is not just for inner cities you know!
2. Too much civilianisation of military functions leading to loss of corporate knowledge and experience. I have no issue with putting people into specialist roles for extended periods, however putting an individual who is subject to a separate command chain does not work.
3. Centralisation of personnel management functions. Individuals need to be led in hierarchies. Placing selection and control functions outside that hierarchy both weakens it by depriving it of the practice of wielding authority, and empowers those who would wish to undermine it. HR breaks the two golden rules of divide and conquer and separation of power and authority. Leaders must be allowed to lead, and also to lead leaders..
4. Cult of the Amateur. For some reason, we seem to hate "experts", and try to either ignore them or get rid of them. Organisations need experts to make decisions, and need to have means and strategies to grow and retain them. Some experts may be leaders, some may not. The idea that you can do without experts and buy in expertise when you need it is generally a myth!

So to my point.. Let Royal do whatever Royal want if it works for them. They are very good at what they do and it seems to work. However, let us not necessarily assume that it will work elsewhere. Do not for example, let Royal anywhere near logistics.. Like the Rocks, they are very good at screwing stuff from their rich parents! Royal is an expensive luxury.. never forget this!

There are times when making "Military Mayonnaise" has not been a good idea. I give you the Royal Logistic Corps as a prime example! Mixing the supply and transport functions may make sense from the POV of an outsider, but the reality is far from this. They have precious little in common both in culture and expertise and placing them under a unified command structure is unlikely to prove fruitful in the long term. From my perspective, it makes as much sense as amalgamating RE and RA on the basis that they are "Not Infantry".
 
Last edited:
#27
I was once told that most people are promoted to the point where they're most likely to fail.

I pondered this somewhat, and assigning that logic to many that I've known, realised that it was probably correct. One more step, one more responsibility, a slight change in direction, and it would all come tumbling down...and no doubt, it would be my fault :rolleyes:^^
A rough restatement of the "Peter Principle."
 
#28
My understanding from a mate who is a mid-seniority Officer in the RM is that there is an element of 'essential and practical' in the everyone attends Lympstone concept.

Simply put, with c40-50 YOs undergoing training per year, and a couple of hundred 'nods' (enlisted recruits), if they want a 'Commando Training Centre' - which, according to my friend, is one of the icons of the Corps - then they are almost bound, by numbers & geography, to train everyone at that location. When you are dealing with such small numbers you gain synergies & savings by doing joint YO & nods training exercises. There is an argument that they couldn't really do it any other way, and the integrated training concept [nods seeing the JOs getting beasted etc etc etc] is a very beneficial spin-off, but not the primary reason for the concept.

Lastly, and no offence here JJH, but I stand wary of 'fetishising' Marines (or indeed any other group of people, apart from aviators clearly:p:p:p).

No-one is ten feet tall and made of titanium (contrary to what the Bootneck publicity machine would have you believe). Plenty of other units & organisations train people hard, instilling in them a sense of esprit de corps and a belief that they will smash any task given. Not many other organisations feel the need to constantly carp about it, in the same way I have seen from the RM in the operational and headquarters environment.

I cite the example of a presentation I sat through years ago when an RM OF-5 briefed on their Op HERRICK experiences; through nuance, carefully shaped phrases and slides, and intelligent use of photos and interviews, had you just landed from Mars you would've been forgiven for thinking that 3 Cdo Bde on HERRICK was entirely RM. When a SCOTS DG bloke sitting next to me piped up and asked why there'd been no mention of the CS / CSS elements provided by the other services (primarily but not exclusively the British Army), aforementioned OF-5 literally went purple, from the neck up (no pun intended).
No offense taken old fellow although I do recall some psychologist chap saying we ALL have our own fetishes. My experience visting in numerous British military messes over the years convinced me of that truth. ;-)
 
Last edited:
#29
My understanding from a mate who is a mid-seniority Officer in the RM is that there is an element of 'essential and practical' in the everyone attends Lympstone concept.

Simply put, with c40-50 YOs undergoing training per year, and a couple of hundred 'nods' (enlisted recruits), if they want a 'Commando Training Centre' - which, according to my friend, is one of the icons of the Corps - then they are almost bound, by numbers & geography, to train everyone at that location. When you are dealing with such small numbers you gain synergies & savings by doing joint YO & nods training exercises. There is an argument that they couldn't really do it any other way, and the integrated training concept [nods seeing the JOs getting beasted etc etc etc] is a very beneficial spin-off, but not the primary reason for the concept.

Lastly, and no offence here JJH, but I stand wary of 'fetishising' Marines (or indeed any other group of people, apart from aviators clearly:p:p:p).

No-one is ten feet tall and made of titanium (contrary to what the Bootneck publicity machine would have you believe). Plenty of other units & organisations train people hard, instilling in them a sense of esprit de corps and a belief that they will smash any task given. Not many other organisations feel the need to constantly carp about it, in the same way I have seen from the RM in the operational and headquarters environment.

I cite the example of a presentation I sat through years ago when an RM OF-5 briefed on their Op HERRICK experiences; through nuance, carefully shaped phrases and slides, and intelligent use of photos and interviews, had you just landed from Mars you would've been forgiven for thinking that 3 Cdo Bde on HERRICK was entirely RM. When a SCOTS DG bloke sitting next to me piped up and asked why there'd been no mention of the CS / CSS elements provided by the other services (primarily but not exclusively the British Army), aforementioned OF-5 literally went purple, from the neck up (no pun intended).
Of course your latter example involved an 0-5 and it is common knowledge that all officers are lobotomized at 0-4. ;-)
 
#30
I would also say that the RM system seems a lot worse at certain things than the army. I've spent a lot of time working alongside RM officers and I've gradually come to the conclusion that their training system makes them, on average, significantly better platoon level officers than the majority of army officers. However, I also think that they generally make worse officers than their army counterparts as soon as they're away from junior tactical leadership.

This is very much a general rule, not a description of 100% of RM officers and two of the very best commanders I've ever worked for have been RM. That said, they were the exception of those RM officers I've met. I wonder if the less academic nature of the training (they only do 1wk at Faraday hall) and the increased focus on junior leadership isn't a hindrance once you've moved past your first troop command role.
I worked for one RM OF-4 in my mercifully short time in the Op / Strat level HQ environment. There was no other way to say it, he just wasn't the calibre of his predecessor, a Cavalry bloke. He (the RM Lt Col) went on to command at Unit level in 3 Cdo Bde; to say jaws were hitting the floor in our open plan work area when this was announced was one way of putting it. (Deliberately vague for PERSEC)

At this time there was an RM VSO kicking around who, again, wasn't the calibre of his RAF predecessor or the Army bloke who succeeded him. I'm not in a position to criticise VSOs, and I'll never be one, but you can call what you see.

Flip side of the coin - from my time in Leatherneck, Mark Gurganus and Greg Sturdevant were every bit as s**t-hot as their USAF / US Army counterparts. I thought both were treated pretty shoddily by the USMC after the attack on BSN.
 
#31
I am getting married to an MBA... great on theory. I have been led by MBAs... great on theory
Our new CO invited a few of us to dinner, with partners, to get to know us (I should say that several of my era reckoned him to be one of the best COs we had in nearly twenty years [1]).

On asking my beloved what she did for a living, and hearing the word "consultancy", he made the fatal mistake of the classic joke that consultants can't do what they consult. At which point she handed him his head by pointing out that she'd run the Benelux operation of her then-employers for three years as FD, thank-you very much (our Training Major eventually heard about this, and asked whether she earned more than the CO. I had to point out that she earned more than the Brigade Commander...)

I didn't quite whimper when we got on to the subject of his MBA studies; my beloved pointed out that in her opinion the MBA wasn't much use. Either you understood business sufficiently, in which case it didn't really add anything; or you didn't understand, in which case it wasn't going to give you the necessary understanding within the available study time. Then OC Assault Pioneer Platoon chips in, to agree that he makes this point when he's teaching on his University's MBA course...

[1] All respect to said CO; he took it with dawning understanding, rather than retreating into the green comfort zone. He eventually left the Army after the crime of giving off-message truth a journalist, and promptly became very successful operator in the business world - as I said, hardly a surprise; he was rather bright, a good listener, a good learner, and a damn good leader.
 
#32
Of course your latter example involved an 0-5 and it is common knowledge that all officers are lobotomized at 0-4. ;-)
It's worse than that. A NATO equivalent rank of OF-5 (Colonel) is an O-6 in US parlance. NATO OF-1 covers both second lieutenants and lieutenants (Army ranks).

My own experience of this is that I was a good leader of technical specialists (As a WO and offr) because I had the added common experience of having been a technical specialist. Now, however, I am a leader of leaders of technical specialists and my original background, whilst not irrelevant, plays only a tiny role in success.

ETA: After I wrote that I cogitated on it for a while, then realised it is not true. Whilst I may no longer wield the metaphorical screwdriver, understanding which screwdriver is required, how it works, how long it takes to achieve things is a key factor after all.
 
Last edited:
#33
Really interesting thread from an outsider like myself.

One observation I'd make from "beyond the military context", is the increasing practice of pushing responsibility down. I'd like to say that's because of a desire to develop people and enable them to grow but the reality is it's just cheaper when the whole team have less experience. What this leaves is less time developing those practitioner skills but also it leads to is less experience in understanding what makes the team work for the team as opposed for their management. That makes it increasingly hard to develop a sense of empathy with people who are up against it with a tough task but also stops you from chipping in as you're less of a practitioner. Literally the worst of all worlds.

So I wonder if the servant leadership idea actually becomes more relevant in that context. As for time studying these things, everyone should be obliged to study these things, professional development is a good thing, for everyone on all axis.
 
#34
With some of the 'results' coming out of APC, they might as well promote at random!
Amen to that! Reading the last few Board Proceedings, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling that there is an unhealthy abundance of either psychotropic substances or patronage in that place.

[SoapboxRant]As for the article flagged up by the OP, it is just oversimplified coffee break clickbait aimed at driving traffic to Vanguard Solutions. There is no consensus on what constitutes 'leadership' (a study made Joseph Rost in the early nineties identified 221 distinct definitions), and certainly no consensus on what is the 'right' or 'best' theory. The MOD doesn't have a Leadership Doctrine, and the Army only produced a nascent effort in 2015 based on a blend of 'transformational/transactional' theory, with a curiously vague sniff of 'authenticity'. But what is patently obvious to anyone who has served even for a day is that no officer or NCO can possibly remain in a single leadership 'mode' 100% of the time. They have to be commanders and managers too.

Are there examples of bootnecks being charged by RM officers? Of course there are. Which means a coercive, transactional approach — which isn't a feature of Servant Leadership theory — is also alive and well in the RM. What about 'Path-Goal? Or Leader-Member Exchange? Or the more recent Authentic Leadership? The truth is, the more successful leaders tend to morph between traits that belong variously to all of the above, and more besides. A lot of this is to do with emotional intelligence, or the ability to sense when something is or isn't appropriate in a given situation. Not everyone has it. [/SoapboxRant]

If anyone is seriously interested in the shortcomings of most major leadership theories, I can recommend Prof Tourish's Dark Side of Transformational Leadership which looks at the pathologies found in cultic organisations (although the Armed Forces aren't mentioned, odds are you'll be left thinking "yup, seen that happening...") such as Heaven's Gate, Enron and Militant Tendency, and raises the question 'is too much power placed in the hands of leaders?'
 
#35
You can lead those who have the technical knowhow without possessing it yourself, however, and I've yet to meet someone who really remembers this at all times, you must accept that if they say the job takes five days not three or can't be done without thing X you can't afford to buy, they are correct and amend your plans accordingly. The risk in this, as happens with politicians and civil servants, is that they then con you into doing nothing by bullshitting you about the difficulties.
Once upon a time I used to run a little team that installed networks into GP surgeries. We made it a rule never to turn up until 11am.

We got busy enough for the boss to take on a general manager who was otherwise excellent but kept nagging me as to why we didn't turn up to a surgery at 0830 so I arranged an install of 16 PCs at 0830 on a Monday morning and invited him along.

When we got there I asked him if he'd just tell the senior partner that we needed complete access to reception and all the consulting rooms.

The senior partner told him to fack off and come back at 11 when morning surgery was over.

I was taken seriously after that...
 
#36
Once upon a time I used to run a little team that installed networks into GP surgeries. We made it a rule never to turn up until 11am.

We got busy enough for the boss to take on a general manager who was otherwise excellent but kept nagging me as to why we didn't turn up to a surgery at 0830 so I arranged an install of 16 PCs at 0830 on a Monday morning and invited him along.

When we got there I asked him if he'd just tell the senior partner that we needed complete access to reception and all the consulting rooms.

The senior partner told him to fack off and come back at 11 when morning surgery was over.

I was taken seriously after that...
Did you point out that this was the reason you turned up at 11? Did they/would they not have believed you? Did you have to make the point in that way?

I'm not being an ass (well I'm not trying to be, although some would say it comes naturally :p), sometimes you just need to make a point in the most effective way possible and that might have been it, but I'm interested in how/what could have been done to shape the organisation in a way where you didn't have to do that.
 
#38
Did you point out that this was the reason you turned up at 11? Did they/would they not have believed you? Did you have to make the point in that way?

I'm not being an ass (well I'm not trying to be, although some would say it comes naturally :p), sometimes you just need to make a point in the most effective way possible and that might have been it, but I'm interested in how/what could have been done to shape the organisation in a way where you didn't have to do that.

I explained why on a number of occasions but I suspect he thought we were just being lazy so I let a red faced choleric old GP convince him that I was right :)
 
#40
I explained why on a number of occasions but I suspect he thought we were just being lazy so I let a red faced choleric old GP convince him that I was right :)
:)

Bringing it back to the thread, do you think that was a personality issue or was it more of an issue of background? i.e. if the person had been someone who'd been there done it, they'd have believed you?

My point is, it's potentially not the leadership model that would have made one iota of difference here.
 

Latest Threads

Top