Field Marshall William Joseph Slim fought in both the First and Second world wars and was wounded in action three times. During World War II he led the 14th Army, the so-called “forgotten army” in the Burma campaign. He was born in 1891, and in 1962 at The Seventh Elbourne Memorial Lecture talked about his views and experiences of leadership.
Slim believed that leadership to be a combination of persuasion, compulsion and example that encourages others to do what you need them to do. He felt that the basics of leadership were:
Courage is first, because it is the virtue in a person. Without courage there are no virtues. Faith, hope, charity, and the rest do not become virtues until it takes courage to exercise them. For example, a leader has to have courage to make the right decisions and stand by them.
Next is willpower – the determination to see something through.
Then judgment, a cool balancing of the pro’s and con’s, which is essential because the greater a person’s courage, the stronger their determination and the greater the disaster if they choose the wrong course.
With a changing world, flexibility of the mind is essential. So ‘I’ve done it this way for the past 10 years and been successful’ is not a good reason as it may once have been for traditional approaches.
Knowledge is also vital as he or she must keep a jump or two ahead, not just competitors but also followers, otherwise they have no justification for trying to lead them. A leader can therefore never stop learning.
Finally, leaders must have integrity, and integrity in a leader is more than honesty, it also means a having a genuine love your people.
However, Field Marshall Slim lead was born over 120 years ago and lead men in two world wars so do his views still apply in the 21st Century?
To answer this question, one only has to look at the study conducted by James Kouzes and Barry Posner (published in their book the Leadership Challenge), where they surveyed nearly 1500 managers about what values they looked for and admired in their superiors. The most frequent responses in order were:
- Integrity (is truthful, has conviction),
- Competence (capable, productive, efficient), leadership (inspiring, decisive, provides direction).
This shows that the qualities identified by Slim fifty years ago are still relevant today, but perhaps with the addition of being forward looking and providing direction. Perhaps this was not as important in Slim’s day, after all what he was trying to achieve was probably very clear to his troops anyway.