The idea that business leaders should consider themselves as Generals at the helm of a military force is hardly new. Indeed, for those who’ve spent too much time in corporate environments, it’ll probably evoke the well worn and laughable cliché of a hapless executive’s desk top, occupied by a pocket edition of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War propped up against a Newton’s cradle…

In truth, to find a real insight into how military thinking can be adapted to increase our leadership skills in the work place, we needn’t look to the ancient wisdom of the east, pertinent though it may be, when there is much to be learned from the principles used to organise the modern military forces of the west.

Most of these ideas are taken from the dictums first concocted by the German strategist, Carl Von Clausewitz. The ten key principles of the British Defence Doctrine, for example, use his work as their model. The second of these ten principles, ‘Maintenance of Moral’ should be of particular interest to anyone whose professional life demands them to demonstrate qualities of leadership.

This is because “a shared sense of purpose” (to quote the doctrine) is seen as being key to generating the sense of esprit de corps necessary to succeed. The fact that cohesion is essential to moral is something bosses often overlook when considering the subject…

But, as a leader how do you go about creating this sense of cohesion? If the military’s approach is anything to go by, and it probably should be, considering the stakes involved in their operations are a lot higher than the possibility of a poor quarterly performance, the answer doesn’t lie so much in inspiring camaraderie in the workforce as it does in having a clear game plan for them to follow.

With this in mind, it’s worth remembering that ‘Maintenance of Morale’ is only the second of the ten principles of war. It comes after the ‘master principle’, which is ‘Selection and Maintenance of the Aim’. This consists of finding a single, all important objective to work towards with all your energy, the idea being that concentrating your efforts increases their impact. A good analogy would be a ray of sunlight, which is completely harmless until focused through a magnifying glass, at which point (if you happen to be a cruel child with a distaste for insects) it becomes a weapon.

The military’s insistence that morale is of secondary to this sense of focus is very pertinent to the business context, especially when it comes to inspiring a workforce. It strongly suggests that, far fro being a separate issue, morale is actually of how leader’s set out their aims. Therefore, team building exercises are all well and good, but only as long as they’re augmenting the skills of a force that is actually directed to work, as a unit, towards a clearly defined goal.

Even if you have a situation where, to all appearances, morale is high (everybody get’s on, respects each other’s working priorities, feels an obligation to their co-workers etc) you can’t properly utilise this asset unless it’s directed toward a set aim.

By the same token, if you have a situation where morale is ostensibly low, there’s a strong likelihood that it’s a lack of a obvious directive from the top that’s to blame. If this is the case, organising social events, dress down days or other ‘morale boosting’ ploys are likely to fail. After all, people can only pull together if they all know which direction they’re supposed to be headed.

Author Bio: Will Kerr writes on a number of business issues, including financial topics such as credit and insurance. You can read more of his work at

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