Ten puzzle pieces build a picture of successful leadership

What is required of a Swedish officer serving overseas? How does the officer prepare him- or herself or those serving under his or her command, subordinate officers as well as soldiers, for the problems and opportunities they will meet? Researcher Fritz Eriksson writes below about one of many projects, based at the Swedish National Defence College, which focus on the well known concept of Lessons Learned.

The objective of the study is to provide material helpful for both officer's training and in preparing for overseas service.

The National Defence College (FHS - Försvarshögskolan) has for many years undertaken research assignments on behalf of the Armed Forces (FM - Försvarsmakten). Research at FHS focuses on the various aspects of a human being. This article presents the conclusions of a study that seeks to answer the question of what is required of a good Swedish officer serving on international missions. A collective picture is put together: from material gathered from ten deep and comprehensive interviews with Swedish officers possessing a great deal of experience of international operations, from analysis of academic research and other information sources, as well as the results of a major workshop with contributors from both civilian and military fields of expertise.
The objective of the study is to provide material helpful for both officer's training and in preparing for overseas service. The picture is therefore presented in the form of ten principles.

1. Carrying out the assignment

Changes to the world around us lead to new demands, requiring changes to national and international assignments. A new world is formed and we are a part of it. Ultimately, we stand up for democracy, the rule of law and international co-operation. We do that together with other countries. Carrying out the tasks assigned to us is about strengthening the local foundations upon which peace, and internationally recognised states regulated by the rule of law, can be built.
An officer's role involves putting into practice the given assignment, translating the mandate into a set of concrete activities. An officer's strength must lie in the ability to understand, and embrace, the objectives of the mission, as well as in giving meaning to these objectives in the minds of subordinates - but it is also necessary to formulate practical measures and operational targets as steps along the way to fulfilling the goals of the mission.
Roles can vary on the ground: sometimes acting as a protector, as a helper and occasionally as an opponent. An officer must be constantly alert , studying his surroundings and refining his perceptions of the situation and the parties involved. The situation on the ground can change between the moment when you start to learn about the place and the moment of arrival.
Upon arrival the mission can shift from peace-keeping to peace enforcing, or from dialogue to combat. It is, therefore ,vital to be aware of how the situation develops at all times - what has happened, what is occurring at the present moment and what could happen in the future – and, upon that basis, be prepared to adopt new methods in order to adapt to a changing situation.

2. Developing strong leadership – Fair, Firm and Friendly

The "good" officer is able to employ, and has knowledge of, different ways of leading people. This enables a flexible style of leadership that is able to adapt to the demands of the current situation - whether it be dealing with internal matters or with external problems - switching between the poles of Fair, Firm and Friendly. It is fundamental that the officer's style of leadership is shaped both by the demands of the prevailing circumstances and by the contours of his own personality. This flexibility goes hand in hand with clarity - the officer is able to always clearly define, and communicate, the leadership style suitable for the situation at hand.
A clearly defined leadership requires self-knowledge of the leader/officer - awareness of both strengths and weaknesses. The personal leadership role, as officer, is central to the task of performing the assignment. Such a role involves, among other things, taking care of personnel as well as being able to implement unpopular decisions, and always being able to resist the distraction of side issues in favour of concentrating on more important matters.

3. Cooperating successfully - as part of a whole

Cooperation, both internal and external, is central to any international operation.
The role of the officer is to enable, create and develop successful cooperation.
A critical aspect of this is to foster a cohesive team spirit in the unit. In order to succeed in the mission the officer must be able to see past each individual task to the greater whole, seeking out synergy effects. This requires working together with other nations or local organisations (such as police), media outlets and international bodies (for example, aid organisations). Most of all, it requires working together with those the mission is supposed to help - the local population.
A healthy spirit of co-operation at all levels is established by fostering trust through self-confidence. Self-confidence is generated by collective, or individual, performance, while trust grows through interaction and dialogue. One of the tasks of an officer is to find ways of working together in order to be able to establish an atmosphere of trust and, thus, win over "hearts and minds".

4. Taking risks, but with awareness and understanding.

As an officer it is essential to be able to make, and implement, decisions, but also to be willing to face and understand the consequences of those decisions. That means standing up straight even when the wind blows hard or when decisions are unwelcome to others.
When a decision is made the officer sets a number of processes in train that one hopes will turn out for the best. Willingness to make decisions is about taking those decisions on the basis of uncertain and incomplete information. There will always be arguments for and against a certain course of action. It is important to be willing to let loose opposing forces, as well as to take responsibility for decisions later.
No-one does everything right from the beginning - one has to have enough self-confidence to be able make mistakes and then own up to them. But one must also posses the self-assurance to be willing to act there and then, on the spur of the moment. That requires a developed sense of awareness in all situations.

5. Aiming high as an example to others.

An active role model lives according to the Armed Forces values every day, through actions, codes and rules of conduct, respect, etiquette, behaviour, dress and so on. During an operation an officer is on duty the whole time, "24/7", which means there is never a time when the objectives of the mission can be placed to one side. An officer is an active role model all of the time.
Being secure and self-aware as a role model requires that one knows one's own strengths - but also knowledge of those aspects which may need further work as well as of those values and motives that govern one's thoughts and actions. Cultivating such a state of self-awareness requires that one observes one's own behaviour in order to be able to develop the ability to react: both physically and mentally.

6. Assimilating differences and make sense of your surroundings

An officer on service abroad is at once a citizen of both Sweden and the World. The work of international operations is based on the idea of promoting internationalism at the same time as local values are respected and understood.  It is not enough just to believe that one is working for democracy and world peace.
One of the many requirements is the need for a practical understanding of conditions on the ground - the value of a cow if it has been run over, in monetary terms and otherwise.
An officer needs to develop something that can be called active listening. This involves being able to see differences - not necessarily always accepting them - but working with that knowledge in order to get things functioning.
Officers, just like anybody else, have their own understanding of right and wrong, but in interaction with others there is, ultimately, no set answers to moral questions. In spite of that, it is important that an officer is prepared, within himself, to act according to his own moral code, not least when there is a need to break a deadlocked situation. This applies even when it means breaking an generally accepted norm. So, even when participating in an international mission, we are reminded every day that there is an enormous difference between what we in Sweden regard as a problem and that which is considered problematic on the ground in the area of operations.

7. Making use of experience and fresh thinking

As a consequence of the flexibility required in undertaking an assignment an officer/leader needs to not only make good use of experience - lessons learned - but also actively seek out new ideas and unknown solutions. This involves listening to the experience of others prior to the mission, but not believing that the present operation will be the same as previous missions.
Over the course of the operation, good ideas should be adopted, for example those emanating from the area's residents in possession of local knowledge. In the post-mission phase such acquired knowledge should be widely shared. An important factor, here, is to assist competent colleagues in gaining appropriate new positions.

8. Acting within a system

A robust system provides for operational support before, during and after the mission. The basis of such support is found in the requirements placed on an officer on service overseas and in the events on the ground.
The system - in this case the Armed Forces - should offer support by encouraging and enabling officers to listen to, and learn from, the experiences of others already prior to the start of the mission, and also, once operations have concluded, taking care of knowledge acquired during the mission. During the active period the system should give assistance in the form of comprehensive round the clock support from mission command, intelligence specialists, logistics and so on. The officer must be ready and able to make demands on the system on the basis of his, and the operation's, requirements, before, during and after the mission.

9. Valuing the importance of a happy and secure home life

As an officer one needs to stay focussed on the mission at hand. That requires preparing yourself, both emotionally and professionally, by taking care of the home front. International missions are responses to needs all around the world. No-one knows when an operation, requiring just my skills and abilities, will be needed. Therefore, a continual dialogue within the family, preparing for a possible mission, is absolutely essential.
Regular contact back home, enabling the family to follow the course of events, is vital during operations. Upon return home an awareness is required of the need to re-assimilate in stages, both at work and at home, in terms of one's physical surroundings as well as emotionally. An assignment involves both personal and professional growth, but also experience of matters that are very alien to life back home.

10. Taking pride in professional skill

Regardless of branch of the Armed Forces, rank or task all have in common participation in our operational defence. It is through the military profession that contributions are made to preserving and creating peace, nationally as well as internationally.
An officer has the very difficult and demanding task of establishing security, of offering protection, and, in the very worst of circumstances, being forced to take a life. The basis of being a good officer, and also a good peace keeper, is skill in, and knowledge, of armed combat. That is the distinguishing feature of our craft, of our profession, and should always be performed in the best way possible. It is in this way that pride in the profession, both inside and outside the Armed Forces, is cultivated.

The National Defence College has the following web address: www.fhs.se.

Background Fritz Eriksson:

Wing Commander emeritus in the Air Force. Eriksson started his career as a fighter controller, serving for over twenty years in a variety of staff officer positions and in a number of different units, mainly in personnel. Eriksson then worked on the Armed Forces' programme for Research and Technological Development. In recent years Fritz Eriksson has worked with the Swedish National Defence College in Stockholm on research into the Armed Forces' international operations.

Fact file: National Defence College

The National Defence College has existed in its present form since 1997, but has its roots in Artilleriläroverket in Marieberg from the beginning of the 19th century. The college has the task of contributing to national and international security through research and teaching.
The National Defence College teaches military and civilian leaders,at national and international level, and is the only institution in Sweden to offer university courses in its areas of specialist expertise. It possesses academic departments of Leadership and Management and Security and Strategic Studies, as well as the department of Military Studies.
Academics from the National Defence College are often to be seen in the media, contributing their expertise to the public debate.