Head of Chad mission gives his perspective on leadership

Lieutenant Colonel Peder Ohlsson is head of the TD 01 force currently stationed in Chad. For a week in spring he was back home in Sweden in order to meet with the friends and family of the soldiers under his command, to brief the Supreme Commander – and to discuss leadership with Insats&Försvar (Mission&Defence)

As commanding officer you have to repress your natural desire to maintain control over every detail and instead focus on the broader picture, says Lieutenant Colonel Peder Ohlsson, head of the TD 01 force. Photo: Combat Camera

"We are all the same people, in both places, in Chad or back at home, but in some way it as if differences in personality types become exaggerated in an environment like that in Chad".
Peder Ohlsson is a marine officer who finds himself in the middle of an African desert, leading a unit intended for amphibious operations. When it came to putting together the Chad mission, the strengthened marine company Amf 1, based in Berga, was simply closest to hand.
"If you are used to being the one who gets things done, you become even more driven and effective down here. A happy, open personality seems to become even brighter. And those keen on being neat and tidy are even more diligent.
Spring has come late to Sweden. The thermometer hanging from the window outside shows a temperature of barely seven degrees Celsius".
"Air conditioning in the tents is a necessity to be able to take an hour’s rest in a Chadian afternoon. Otherwise the temperature would be more likely to above the 50 degree mark than under. Hot and dusty …"
"Sure, it’s extremely wearing for our personnel. It’s hardly surprising that the smallest niggle can be take on gigantic proportions, if you don’t deal with it. And deal with it at once".

No ready answers
The abbreviation TD 01 indicates that this mission in Chad is the first of its kind.
"There are no ready answers, no handbook sitting on the shelf. The feeling of being present in the here and now is tangible. Decisions have to be taken".
Peder Ohlsson goes on to describe a critical phase in the cycle of a mission: "when a unit’s internal source of energy starts to wane" Which is when?
"Quite simply, the period that comes straight after the unit has established itself in place and operations proper have begun, when the pioneer phase is replaced by a daily routine. When the unit’s original stock of supplies needs replenishing. It’s easy, in those circumstances, to lose momentum and enthusiasm".
The commanding officer’s role changes when that moment arrives. In a way he or she has to take a step back:
"Placing trust in your subordinates is the decisive factor. As commanding officer you have to repress your natural desire to maintain control over every detail and instead focus on the broader picture. The applicable tactic is to assign tasks and then let those responsible get on with performing those tasks as they see fit. Don’t give detailed orders, let your subordinates work things out for themselves".

Live operation
In daily life at home Peder Ohlsson isn’t the sort to keep a diary. Things are different in Chad. Written observations are a great assistance, something to hold on to:
"Pretty much everything is different. Three days of exercises back home are here at least 30 days in a tough, totally different environment where daily life can be overturned at a moment’s notice by a live operation".
Unit commander Ohlsson does not hide that fact that he, as a leader, has been confronted with new experiences and that he has modified his own view of what good leadership is:
"No-one is perfect. You have to accept the fact that not everything works out as you intended. Time available and distance to be covered, which often amount to the same thing, constantly alter the rules of the game".
Peder Ohlsson returns to the necessity of keeping up a continual dialogue with colleagues … listen, communicate, be clear.

Make demands
"Certain things cannot be compromised on. I consult my officers before making a decision, but in return I expect properly considered replies. In short, changing course, as soon as things get a bit sticky, will simply not do. If an alternative course of action involves a completely different set of activities, then it’s often impossible to switch to that alternative plan when things have been set in motion".
"Distances are enormous and they, therefore, restrict our options, as does availability of water and fuel, as do security requirements – as well as the obvious aim of getting the right things done at the right time".
During an on-going operation, or military mission – does the commanding officer get an opportunity to get away from it all for a moment, find a time and place for himself, and maybe space for what’s sometimes known as reflection?
"I am certainly one of the few with the opportunity to enjoy the luxury that seclusion and privacy offer when you live in each other’s pockets. I can even grant myself the occasional privilege of relaxing with a few pages from a book".

Sven-Åke Haglund

Footnote: The "privacy and seclusion" that Peder Ohlsson talks about consists in a green curtain drawn across a section of a tent shared with thirty others, in which the temperature never falls below 30 degrees Celsius (86 °F). The book, by the way, is about … the Finnish Winter War.