In a firefight everything is chaos. Noise and dust fills the air, the enemies’ actions are unpredictable, your own life as well as that of your troops is at stake. The best combat leaders are able to navigate in chaos, face the danger, and make rational decisions under extreme pressure.
Danish officer directing mortar fire during operation operation “Panthers Claws” Helmand, Summer 2009
But I am not only talking about formal leadership. In combat everybody has some responsibility of leading: The soldier who sees the enemy must be able to react. The soldiers around him must be able to return fire and take up positions without waiting for orders. The point man’s actions sets the stage for the unit’s handling of the situation. The five characteristics are thus useful not only for the formal leader but also for the soldier on the ground. Let us have a look at them: Continue reading
The ability to make tough decisions when needed is crucial in leadership. It is not always easy to make unpopular decisions and leadership can feel like a lonely job. However, it is a leader’s responsibility to make decisions, especially the tough ones.
I use these steps to find the courage to take action: Continue reading
The marksman aims at the insurgent sitting on a motorcycle. There are 400 yards between the muzzle of the soldier’s rifle and the target. As he is about to fire, the insurgent suddenly picks up a small kid and places it in front of him.
Military leaders often face ethical dilemmas on the battlefield. They are required to make tough decisions under time constraints in hostile situations. Ordering soldiers to kill other humans is a tough decision. The leader must be sure beyond any doubt that he is doing the right thing. Continue reading
Classic leadership attributes are generally described and manifested through work and achievement. The good leader thus makes good decisions. However, the ability to accept not knowing what the right decision is and to not make decisions is just as important for the good leader. The concept is called negative capability. Continue reading
The best combat leaders all have one thing in common: they lead from the front. They share the same burdens as their soldiers. They never spare themselves. They never ask a subordinate to carry out a task they are not willing to do themselves and in combat they physically place themselves in the line of fire shoulder to shoulder with the troops under their command.
But why does leading from the front work so well? Continue reading
In the Danish army men and women serve in combat units on equal terms. I had a female driver in my reconnaissance platoon in Iraq and two female riflemen in my infantry platoon in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Does leading women in combat create special challenges?
”Soren, how does the body react in combat?”
I am often asked this during the Q & A when I speak about Afghanistan.
Reactions in combat are the body’s reactions to stress. Talking about them is often taboo. I had no idea how comprehensive such reactions were before I started studying them prior to my first deployment to Iraq in 2007
In their extreme forms a psychologist would label it ”acute stress reactions”. Such experiences are not limited to soldiers only. Any humans that are exposed to extreme stressors or traumatic events can suffer from acute stress reaction. Continue reading