Morale And Leadership

By Flight Lieutenant E.J. Kingston-McCloughry, D.S.O., D.F.C., R.A.F.
Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, Vol. LXXIV, Feb to Nov, 1929.

Morale, that instinct which inspires achievement as against self-preservation, is the most important factor contributing to success in war, for it increases the efficiency of a force out of all proportion to its physical strength. Morale exists in two forms, individual morale and collective morale ; in either case it is a product of enthusiasm and confidence. Endowed with high morale an individual or a force is prepared to make sacrifices for ideals, and each man has confidence in himself, his comrades, his force, and his commander.

Enthusiasm, we find, springs from a sense of duty, loyalty, patriotism, esprit de corps and self-interest. Confidence grows from other qualities such as the possession of knowledge, strength, skill and full faith in superiors or in the force under one's command.

Individual morale is dependent upon all the foregoing factors, and the cultivation of these is of paramount importance to a strengthening of morale. Thus the more these qualities are developed the higher will morale be raised. It should be remembered, however, that any of the above factors may be sapped by fear. The individual, therefore, with a high degree of morale will possess a reserve which can better withstand that instinct of self-preservation, which so constantly endeavours to assert itself, than an individual whose morale is not fully developed.

Collective morale is very different from the morale of an individual. It is frequently born of an unbalanced instinct. Moreover, it is irrational in that at times it produces a feeling of being invincible in consequence of numerical strength alone. Because of its inherent inability to reason, collective morale is overpersuaded by suggestion.

How can the faculties of morale be developed and maintained ?

Enthusiasm is not a permanent phenomenon; indeed, it is unstable, and is liable to wane from many causes, such as discomfort, monotony, injustice, inaction and fatigue. The best form of enthusiasm is based upon high ideals, which must be inculcated and continually refreshed in the minds of all.

Confidence needs creating, but when it has once been created it is important that the elements upon which it is based do not decay. In the individual, confidence can be developed and maintained by education, training and health. In a force, confidence is the result of organization and equipment. Confidence in one another can be developed and maintained by discipline and esprit de corps; confidence in a commander is the product of good leadership.

These foundations of enthusiasm and of confidence which are essential to the development of high morale are produced and maintained by efficiency, good environment and inspiring leadership, and, generally speaking, the greatest of these is leadership. The history of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick, Napoleon and others tells that when these leaders fell, the forces they left behind became demoralised.

Leadership is that quality in a commander which influences and inspires his officers and men; it controls his forces as the brain controls the human body. It must be realised, however, that it is not sufficient for the commander-in-chief alone to possess the qualities of leadership, commanders of all grades must develop the quality to the highest possible degree. How can this be done ? We have to guide us books and essays, the biographies of the great leaders; and our own recollections of leaders under whom we ourselves have served. Personal experiences, however, are too limited to enable an accurate impression to be formed of the relative value of morale and physical force. History, on the other hand, illustrates again and again how the great leaders of the past took moral force into account in their plans and what high value they placed in it compared with physical force. Whilst our own impressions are the more vivid, history provides us with many striking examples of leadership.

Leadership is required both in times of peace and of war. Possibly it is in some ways easier to achieve in war, as not only does the common danger develop mutual loyalty, but a good commander has little difficulty in inspiring his men by his achievements and victories. Indeed, we find many examples of this in history, such as Nelson and Wolfe. These great commanders and many others have even been worshipped, but this worship has only arisen from the fact that the forces were engaged in warfare. On the other hand, in times of peace a commander to a great extent can be identified only by his personality and character. But it by no means follows that a commander who is successful in times of peace will also succeed in war. There are many qualities, such as physical and moral courage, endurance and a ready acceptance of responsibility which can be tested only in the actual trials of war. It is not too much to say that in peace time there is a danger that intellect, to the detriment of courage and an acceptance of responsibility, is allowed to count for too much. One is tempted to remark that the high standard of education renders leadership to-day more exacting than in the past. Although commanders have always been subjected to criticism, now-a-days the minds of subordinate officers and men are far more analytical than of old. It is obvious, therefore, that whatever the conditions which have prevailed, to-day commanders must be chosen for their ability.

Battles can be won only by movement, and the best results are obtained only when the conception of a movement takes place in the commander's mind. Movements conceived otherwise may not form part of his plan, and are then a waste of effort. Let us examine the way in which a commander's thoughts are formed and how they are conveyed from his mind to his force. His thoughts begin with reason, that is, his memories focussed to the existing conditions. Since, however, war is not an exact science, reason is not sufficient. The unknown must be dealt with, and to do so the commander's imagination is called into play as well as his knowledge acquired from experience or even from history. The medium which transmits the commander's mind to his force is his will, and this is no more than the conscious fixing of his thoughts in one direction and the projection of his personality.

Qualities of Leadership.

The first quality necessary in a leader, therefore, is reason: a reason which is prompted by high ideals and directed by knowledge, efficiency, energy, judgment and self confidence. The second quality is imagination. Not only must a leader be able to picture the circumstances of the enemy, but he must also feel the pulse of his own force and be able to place himself in the midst of the conditions which are being experienced by his men ; he must be able to realise what fear and discomfort mean to his men, as long as he is not obsessed by them. Lastly, a leader requires a strong and determined will, with energy to carry through a resolution.

The foregoing qualities are essential, but at the same time a leader must have many other attributes. For example, qualities are needed to enable his will to be sympathetically received by his force, for no matter how correct a decision may be and how strong his will, if a force does not believe in the honesty, justness and courage of the commander, if he is not calm and has not an even temper, if he lacks tact, a knowledge of human nature and a sense of humour, then the best results can never be obtained. A leader must also possess the ability to judge character, for the days when one had physical control of an operation are gone. Responsibility must now be delegated more than ever, and the execution of the plan left to subordinates.

To be a genius a leader must have the power of creation. He must be above imitation. He must appreciate causes, their effects and their varying combinations when united. Thus can a genius produce original combinations from the elements of war, and with a plan of simplicity, surprise the enemy. This faculty, however, is a natural gift and can never be learnt. Such, then, are the qualities of a leader. No man can possess the complete equipment, but what he must have to replace his deficiencies is a knowledge of his own weaknesses and limitations.

A Comparison of Two Great Leaders.

A study of the biographies of successful leaders of the past shows that the qualities which have been enumerated above were common to nearly all of them and that the more highly developed these qualities the more successful was the leadership. Let us take Wellington and Wolfe and see to what extent they possessed these qualities.

Ability.—Wellington was a leader of great knowledge, ability and common sense. Early in his career he gained a minute knowledge of the whole conditions which governed a soldier's activities. Later he made a serious study of science, history and the tactics of war. He had also the ability to write his papers and despatches were comprehensive simple, clear and profoundly sagacious. Wellington was fortunate in his early years in acquiring experience of statesmanship under his brother in India, though he never had the breadth of mind of a great statesman. He suffered from the inability to work well with another Service, or, indeed, as a subordinate.

Wolfe also possessed great knowledge, ability and common sense. He had great mental capacity and was widely read. He had one thought, and that was to improve his knowledge of soldiering. Moreover, he understood naval matters and had a knowledge of the world. Wolfe did not suffer from Wellington's inability to work with others, and it may be claimed that he worked well both with the Navy and with other commanders.

Enthusiasm.—Wellington had a great sense of public duty, and he looked upon everyone as a tool of the country. He had great strength of will, in fact he was imperturbable ; he also possessed great physical and mental energy, and was very ambitious. He threw his heart and soul into his career. To Wolfe the honour and welfare of his country were the mainsprings of his life; and to these he devoted his whole soul and thought. Moreover, his patriotism was so great that he had no time for such matters of professional prejudices and jealousies.

Tact and Human Knowledge.—Tact was not one of Wellington's strong points. His severe criticisms were resented, he was cold and punctilious and never secured the affections of his officers and men. He subjugated his army, and inspired few disciples except the members of his staff. He managed, however, to overcome these defects by his manliness and by securing for his army brilliant victories. He also gained the confidence of the inhabitants of the areas through which his armies passed by his unsparing repression of marauding, by the excellent degree of discipline to which he had brought his troops and by the fact that he always paid for his supplies.

Wolfe, on the other hand, had great tact and good sense. He was universally loved and admired. He was of noble character, modest, unselfish and mixed freely with his men. Although of a frank disposition and of a somewhat hasty temperament, he was courteous. Like Wellington, he was just and honest, but he lacked Wellington's iron sternness.

Courage.—By nature Wellington was temperamentally daring. He made for victory at all hazards with a calmness and self-possession which were unshakeable. He had great self-reliance and never shirked responsibility.

Wolfe also was a man of great valour and indomitable spirit; although impulsive he was not rash, and he had the merit of never displaying anxiety nor despair. He also welcomed responsibility.

Judgment.—Wellington possessed great shrewdness and was a penetrating judge of character, and particularly knew the Oriental. He was always looking ahead, and could picture the other side of the lines.

Wolfe also possessed good judgment, and could estimate character. He was exceptionally quick in taking advantage of every opportunity.


Our ideas can be summarised as follows:—

(1)     Individual Morale is the product of—

(a)     Enthusiasm: the result of the high ideals of duty, loyalty, patriotism and esprit de corps, and of the ambition to succeed. The ideals once inculcated must be continually refreshed for they wane with monotony, discomfort, injustice, inaction and fatigue.

(b)     Confidence: the product of knowledge, strength, skill and trust in superiors. It is produced and maintained by education, training, health, discipline, esprit de corps, organization, equipment and leadership.

(2)     Collective Morale must be based upon individual morale; it cannot, however, be influenced by reason. Governed by sentiment, habit and confidence, it is best produced and maintained by efficiency, clean living, good environment and leadership.

(3)     Good leadership necessitates—

(a)     A capable mind, which is the product of:—

(b)     Reason, inspired by high ideals and directed by knowledge, efficiency, energy, judgment and self-confidence.

(c)     Imagination, which must envisage the circumstances of one's own forces as well as the enemy's.

(d)     Will, strong and energetic enough to carry through any resolution.

(e)     The power of creation, i.e., the ability to effect surprise by originality.

(f)     Sound judgment of character and ability in others.

Finally, leadership necessitates such personal attributes as honesty, justness, courage, physical energy, an even temper, simplicity and tact; last, but not least, a leader should realise his own weaknesses and limitations.