How to become an effective leader with Lt Col Langley Sharp

Media Thumbnail
  • 0.5
  • 1
  • 1.25
  • 1.5
  • 1.75
  • 2
This is a podcast episode titled, How to become an effective leader with Lt Col Langley Sharp. The summary for this episode is: <p>In this episode of the Janes podcast, Lt Col Langley Sharp shares lessons learned in leadership from his career in the Parachute Regiment which has seen him deployed to Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Among his many varied roles, he has led a counter-insurgency Task Force operation, commanded a Parachute Regiment Battalion, and delivered the Ministry of Defence’s training programme for the London 2012 Olympics, for which he was awarded an MBE.</p><p>Lt Col Langley Sharp is the author of The Habit of Excellence; the official British Army book on what makes its leadership so successful, and how to become a better leader yourself - whatever your field.</p>

Terry Pattar: Welcome to The World of Intelligence, a podcast for you to discover the latest analysis of global military and security trends within the open- source defense intelligence community. Now onto the episode with your host, Terry Pattar.

Terry Pattar: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Janes podcast. I'm Terry Pattar. I'm joined on this podcast by a very special guest, Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp. Langley, welcome. And thanks for joining me on this podcast.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Terry, it's great to be here. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Terry Pattar: I'll give you a quick introduction for the audience to who you are and what the topic is, but we're going to be talking about leadership. The reason for that is that you've just published a book, The Habit of Excellence: Why British Army Leadership Works, which we'll come on to talk about. And just for everyone's benefit, your background is pretty stellar in terms of some of the achievements you've got listed against you. You're currently head of the Centre for Army Leadership, part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and responsible for championing leadership with excellence across the British Army. You graduated from Sandhurst two decades ago and had a career in the Parachute Regiment serving in Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and amongst a variety of different roles. You led a counterinsurgency task force operation, commanded the Parachute Regiment battalion, and delivered the MOD's training program for the London 2012 Olympics, for which you were awarded an MBE. Congratulations. Actually, there's other thing I was going to mention about your background. I heard recently on your own podcast, The Centre for Army Leadership Podcast, which I will give a plug to because you've got some fantastic guests that you've spoken to on there. And so anyone who is interested in this topic, we're going to talk about leadership. Definitely check that out because it's an excellent resource. But you mentioned that something about from your background, not all of your experience in leadership has necessarily come from being in the Army. And as a younger guy, you trained in boxing, and you trained with Brendan Ingle.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yes, I did. Yeah.

Terry Pattar: He's somebody you specifically mentioned. I thought I'd mention that because I know at least one person who listens to this podcast, there's a big boxing fan.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: All right.

Terry Pattar: Because that will definitely resonate with him.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yeah. He's a phenomenal individual. Unfortunately, he's no longer with us, Brendan. But yeah, he trained many world champions. But I think, as I said the other day, he had paid as much attention to eight- year- old school kids as he did to world champions. And he literally changed people's lives through his work. So yeah, inspiring guy.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. It's amazing. I want us to really kick off by talking about the book that you've written. So this is just coming out now for anyone's interested, The Habit of Excellence. And it was interesting reading through it. I mean, it was fantastic, I found. Because there were so many quotable lines in there that I thought you could literally take away and just use almost in isolation, but placed within the context of how you've written this. I think it'd be really interesting to delve into the detail of what the book is, why you've written it, and how it references some of the Army's own doctrine on leadership that you've obviously played a big part in developing. So, maybe we can kick off there and you can talk about the book and what your aims were in writing it.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yeah, for sure. Again, thanks very much for having us on the podcast Terry. It's great to speak to you. Firstly, in terms of the aim... If I was to distill it down into one easy sentence it's to raise awareness of the power of leadership. And I think in an organization such as the Army that relies so heavily on leadership, and we can talk about perhaps why that is the case later on, but we passionately believe in the benefits that it brings. And it really it's director leadership. My boss, General Duncan Capps would say," It's our principal professional competence and it really underpins everything we do." It was really a chance for us. And I say us because generally, it was a team effort as all these things are amongst the Centre for Army Leadership team. It was really an opportunity for us to share our lessons, the Army's lessons from 360 years of, as we framed it, the art of science and practical application of leadership. Not always getting it right, we still don't get it right today. We're not a perfect organization. I don't think that such an organization exists. But the importance of learning from where we got things wrong and indeed where we've had successes. And so, really it was an offer to anyone from any walk of life in any leadership role. And let's face it pretty much all of us are always in leadership roles, one description or another. It was a perspective to add to that continued debate about how important leadership is in all sectors.

Terry Pattar: Really interesting. I think what I really liked about it was also how you've woven in some lessons from outside of the Army and you take it in some quotes and principles and things that other people mentioned. So, there's quotes in there from the chief talent officer of Netflix, for example, and things like that. Things which people might not expect when they first come to this book. How important was that for you, bringing in those lessons from outside of the Army to also add into the work that you were doing, or is that part of the day job anyway?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: It is part of the day job. I mean, the whole reason, the sense from the leadership, the small team that I worked for were setups five years ago was to calibrate the Army's thinking, be the conscience for Army leadership. And of course, a lot of that involves understanding how others outside the military think about this subject and how they deliver leadership, albeit in very different contexts. But we've... As much as we feel that we've got lessons to teach, we've equally got much to learn from other people. And so, absolutely part of the day job is having those conversations with others from different sectors to get those perspectives. But including that in the book was really important as well, because whilst the context in which we operate is unique by the very nature of the Profession of Arms and the Army and what we do, the fundamentals of leadership, how you look after your people, how you motivate people, how you build teams, how you deliver successful outputs, missions, however you want to phrase it, it's just as applicable in any other walk of life. And it's not necessarily about the CEO or the Governor, or the team captain, which often leadership is seen as a position of authority. And whilst yes, it's applicable to that. It's just as relevant to people starting off on their leadership journeys, junior interns, whatever it may be. It's just an applicable tool. So I think, whilst the book was an Army perspective, it was important to draw some of those parallels to show and illustrate the enduring nature of leadership.

Terry Pattar: Yeah, that's really interesting. To take those lessons and to distill them into what you're doing and try and learn from them. And some of the things you mentioned there are obviously applicable to a wide range of different fields and how people are seeking to lead others and lead themselves as well in those fields. But, in terms of the... Looking at this title of the book, Why British Army Leadership Works, what makes British Army leadership unique?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: That's a good question. And this tested us quite a bit, actually, when we were doing the research for this amongst the team. What is it about military leadership, Army leadership, and then British Army that makes it unique and is trying to pair those down? I talked about this in the book. So I think there's two aspects that I draw on here. One is our culture and really based on our regimental system and the other is the Profession of Arms itself. And I'll start with the latter, the Profession of Arms, and the very nature of our business is that we fight wars. We fight wars on behalf of the nation, and with that comes responsibility. And responsibility to put people into situations of mortal danger and the legal rights and duty to apply lethal force. And so, significant responsibilities come with that. And therefore you need, and we demand good leadership to ensure that lethal force is applied appropriately and that people whilst they're put into harm's way, they are protected as best as possible while still achieving the mission. And if you think about the sorts of situations that you might envision, the extreme Army personnel being involved in our people were pushed to the physical and mental limits of their endurance and to keep motivating people under such circumstances requires leadership. And a bit of a sidetrack, the reason it's called the habit of excellence is because you can't turn on the attributes required in those moments of crisis when you're motivating people to keep pushing on, keep going forward when everything in their mind and bodies tell them to go in the other direction. Everything that is required for those moments of crisis so to speak are developed in the days, the weeks and months and years, decades beforehand. They've got to be habitual. They've got to be part of the way you operate. So I think that Profession of Arms makes it unique that concept in... And particularly in the land environment, because Profession of Arms clearly is relevant across the military. The Army operate in the land environment, whilst leadership is absolutely as relevant in the Air Force and the Navy. In the Army, it's very much a human endeavor. And by that, I mean, on land, face- to- face with your enemy, and the other actors on the battlespace, by nature, it's a lot more interpersonal. So that's the Profession of Arms. It's about motivating people in a moment of crisis. And second, what makes us unique is I'd say our regimental system which really sits at the heart of Army culture. And again, other armies, other militaries have a similar regimental system, a cause, and regiments. But I think few have the richness and the depth of history, tradition, and ethos that pervades in the British Army reaching back as I say 360 years. And for us to be able to draw on the richness of that history and those traditions and that ethos is really important to the way we do business. It's always a balance about how much do you draw, and this is explored in the book. How much do you draw on that whilst knowing that the world around us changes? So what endures and what changes is really important. But I think that rich regimental culture is quite unique.

Terry Pattar: I found that fascinating actually reading that part of the book and how you talk about the role that history plays. And I guess it's not always been useful. Sometimes it can be a little bit of an obstacle, but is that part of the reason why maybe the Army has gone through this process of developing a leadership doctrine? And as you mentioned, they're professionalizing and the Profession of Arms, but there's been a professionalization of leadership as well as in there over the past few decades. And I suppose, encapsulates by the leadership doctrine that was first published in 2016, and I think updated just this year. So maybe you can talk about how important that's been in the evolution of leadership in the Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Absolutely. I mean, leadership itself has been professionalized, as you say over decades. I'd say even centuries, and in changes to both successes and failures in the way we've operated, some of the operations we've conducted all peace times, successes and failures, but also changes in society. So it's a constant evolution. And the Army itself has become more professional. One of the notable points in our history of that was in the 1980s when the doctrine was introduced, which was codified how we conduct operations, how we fight wars. And that was the first time that the organization had a core, centralized position on how it operated. There were writings before that, going back to the field Army manuals, for example, on the turn of the century. But, it was the first time in the Army we really codified it. But that wasn't leadership, that was how we report and how we operated. And as you say, it's only five years ago, that our doctrine was produced for leadership. And that came off the back of an institutional review in 2015. So the year before, it was directed by then CGS now CDS General Sir Nick Carter, who was reflecting back on some of our successes and failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, also with an eye on the future and knowing that the Army was about to undergo some substantial changes in order to deal with the changing threat environment. And he understood the importance of leadership to us as an organization and hence the review. And a number of recommendations came up, but one of those was to codify what some leadership actually means to the Army. And I think that why there was a hesitance before that is, I always say it's summed up in Field Marshal'Bill' Slim's quote about leadership is just playing you. And I think a lot of people have felt previously that... Well, it's still doing rightly so that leadership is very personal. It's very individual. You bring your own personality and style experience, et cetera, to your leadership, and that still stands, that's fundamental. But I think the danger we had before is that with no centralized position, it was hard to train and educate, hold people to account, reward people based on their leadership if there was no core position on what it actually means. So I think for us, it's been critical to that ongoing journey of professionalizing our organization, but particular our leadership. But I would say, we're still not there yet. At the moment that doctrine, which we refresh only a couple of weeks ago, actually version two was out, it's a one size fits all. So it's a framework for thinking about leadership, which is just applicable for our private soldiers as it is to CGS. And the next stage, which is work that is ongoing, which perhaps we can come on to is, developing broader doctrine to unpack what it means to lead at different levels of responsibility and different roles within the Army. So provide that next stage of understanding for our people.

Terry Pattar: I actually did read through the doctrine. And what I really liked about it was that you used actual case studies. Some of which might make uncomfortable reading for people because they are pointing out things that have gone wrong and actually things that leaders shouldn't do, which I thought was really powerful actually in a way to make the doctrine something that people can actually apply. But how do you actually do... I mean, beyond just giving people case studies, how do you go about making that doctrine applicable for people? How do you get them actually doing it and living and breathing it, rather than it just being a document that they might read and forget about?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: That's a great question. And it's difficult and it's a constant education. I mean, the doctrine itself, certainly the leadership doctrine, it was specifically designed to be accessible. So we often say it's simplified, not simple. And therefore, it's accessible to all ranks to understand it. And you're right to point out, that we put various case studies and vignettes in there. The highlights when leadership doesn't go right. Because I think we often know that you learn probably more from mistakes and failures than you do from when you get things right. And actually, in the revised edition, we've brought forward toxic leadership as an example into the second chapter to really highlight some of the dangers of when leadership goes wrong and actually where it sits on a continuum. And so, that was quite important. In terms of... To be fair, the doctrine is just a baseline of understanding. How do we incorporate that into our organization? Ultimately, it's everyone's responsibility, which is a bit of a non- statement in many ways. But everyone has a responsibility within the Army to ensure that not only they are behaving in accordance to the standards we set if you like, and the expectations that we have, but also that we're role modeling for others in the chain of command. And a lot of that is done through our training and education pathways that provides the base knowledge and understanding. And both our officers and soldiers go through a number of stages throughout their career, where they get trained and educated on leadership as part of their wider development. But actually, I always say, in the every day is where you really learn. It's in the experience part. It's in barracks. It's on exercises, in training, and of course, it's on operations. And hence, why the doctrine really is just a framework and a baseline. It's up to the chain of command to be able to take that and inculcate that into everyday business and to make it applicable and real for people through example, ultimately.

Terry Pattar: Yeah, that I guess is the only way you can really do it, isn't it? I suppose making it leadership by example, and getting people to understand what it means in practice. In terms of just delving into some of the detail, I think it'd be useful for people who aren't familiar maybe with, oh, British Army leadership and the doctrine, et cetera. So just to touch on, a few of the points I thought really stood out for me were... You mentioned the three real important elements, values, mission command, and then this idea of service. Maybe you could just talk a little bit about those and what those mean and what role they play in British Army leadership.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Absolutely. So I would say these three elements, they're the core of what British Army leadership's about, but equally, they are just as applicable elsewhere. And I think if sort of key takeaways for others of other sectors and other walks of life. I think these would resonate well. The Army has their values and standards. We have six values, courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty, and selfless commitment, and three standards lawful, acceptable behavior, and totally professional. And these, if you like, were bought in around 2000 or in 2000. These really provide the boundaries from which we expect our people to behave and to operate. Be who you are, bring all your talent, the experience, but operate within these boundaries. And the role of the leader is to be an exemplar of those values and standards, one thing. So it goes back to our point there. It's about demonstrating by example, being role models. But it's also about being able to translate those, particularly the values, into everyday life. And that's where it goes back to our previous discussion just now about it's in the every day, it's in the experience. Because value is always contextual and society is changing around us at pace. So it's the responsibility for the leader to understand how you apply those values in a particular context, of how to translate that to their people. But it's really about role modeling and certainly examples of what good looks like and inherent to those values. So bringing them to life. So they're not just words on a page or on a corporate brochure so to speak. Mission command is our command philosophy brought in in the 1980s. And really in simple terms, our commander can tell people what they want them to do and why, but not tell them how to do it. And letting the individuals that have to enact the mission to bring their skills, knowledge, and experience to bear on the problem. And that creates speed of action. And a lot of people, those that are listening to this from a military background, it would be quite intuitive to them, but it empowers your people, creates initiatives, speed of action. And it lets the people on the ground nearest to the problem, nearest to the fight in our language, to be able to make the decisions at the point of contact. So it very much empowers your people. But they do so, understanding the intent of the commander, the person with the authority, and understanding why they are to achieve the mission they have.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. So that's really important what you mentioned there in terms of people understanding why and understanding the intent. Yeah, that's critical.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yeah. Gone are the days where you can just tell people what to do and expertise them with it. It doesn't work like that.

Terry Pattar: Because I think that's a really important point to touch on because I'm sure there'll be people who will look at the book and say," Well, it's different in the Army because they can just tell people what to do, and people are trained to follow orders." But I think it's worth explaining that myth here. And, as you said, it doesn't work like that.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: It doesn't work like that. I mean, and I guess part of the... Coming right back to your first question, and why the book and part of it was just... They're all myths about how leadership is enacted in the Army. You go back a couple of hundred years and you may see a strict hierarchy with commanders issuing their orders and subordinates blindly following those orders. There are moments. We still have a rigid hierarchy. We still have clear command and authority invested in people. And discipline is still part of Army life. We rely on far more on self- discipline,, the enforced discipline, but it still matters to us. And that's important at particular moments where that more transactional leadership needs to occur, particularly, decisive moments in crisis. But that's pretty rare. And actually, leadership is a lot more nuanced. It's about understanding your people. It's about motivating your people. It's about tapping into their goals and their visions and developing your people, building cases, teams, as I said before, for a much more effective, collective capability. So yeah, it's so much more nuanced than public perception can often be.

Terry Pattar: Yeah. And I suspect actually, that a lot of other organizations that are non- military organizations are actually more hierarchical than people think they are. You know, commercial organizations, businesses, people tend to look upwards to see," What's the intent here? What are the orders flowing down? What am I meant to be doing?" And they do look to the more senior people in the organization for leadership. So I don't think it's not a completely different world in that sense.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: It's not. And that hierarchy is important because that's about understanding who are the decision- makers and who owns the responsibility at a particular point in time for making decisions. The key point is that, what leadership enables you to do is to take your team and involve your team and all their talent and experience to support decision- making. But there will come a point where the person, the man or woman that is in that position of authority has to make that decision and has the responsibility to own that and is held to account for those decisions being made. And you're absolutely right, whilst our hierarchal system is a lot more evident, and it's a lot more visual if you like, particularly the fact that we wear a uniform, we wear a rank, it absolutely applies in many other sectors.

Terry Pattar: Yeah, no doubt. And is there a danger though, if say other organizations look at the mission command principle and try and apply it in their organizations that... You touched upon responsibility there, and is there a danger that if it's done badly, that it's a way for people at the top of the chain of command to abrogate responsibility and say," Well, hang on. I left you guys to figure it out. You know what you're doing. You're all leaders. So you sort that out. I'm going to be on the golf course." I mean, that's the worst- case scenario potentially.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: That is. And you're right to point that out because that's a misunderstanding of mission command because what's important, mission command, the ultimate responsibility still sits with the senior decision- maker if you like, but he or she delegates responsibility to, in our words, the subordinates to deliver the plan. They do so knowing their people, knowing how much they can empower their people. They can do so knowing how much risk to take because they know their people, and they know their limits, their boundaries. But it's also about the followers knowing that they can look back to the leader for support and clarification. So whilst you empower your people and you devolve your responsibility, that doesn't abrogate your responsibility yourself. It still sits with the decision- maker and you're always there in a position of support. So your people can always come back to you and say," I need more clarification. This is going beyond my remit. I need more resources," whatever it may be. So you don't develop that completely.

Terry Pattar: That make perfect sense. And I think it leads us on neatly to the third element we mentioned, which is the service element of leadership. Because I guess for all of that to work, for the mission command to really work properly, you need that ethos of serving to lead.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yeah. So servant leadership is very much tied up into and monopolized by the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, serve to lead. And ultimately, it's about putting your people first, putting the interest of your people before your own, and inverts what people often conceive of leadership to be, with the leader at the top and the followers underneath. And it reverts that triangle if you like. It's the leader serving their people. And ultimately, what that delivers is trust, trust between the leader and follower. And it's an old cliche, but trust is the glue that binds and it's through trust that you are enabled to enact mission command. And that's where the link is between leadership and command. Because of course, mission command is a command philosophy, but it's through leadership and your ability to work with people that enables you to really unleash the power of that mission command.

Terry Pattar: That's really powerful I think. Yeah, that aspect of... This description of leadership and actually what it is and how to make it work successfully. And you touched on before, you mentioned that learning from failure is a key aspect of, or has been a key for the Army in developing the way it does leadership. And given that the changes in the Army have often been in response to the failure, what can the Army do perhaps to anticipate and make changes that might be required in the future to try and avoid those failures in the first place? Is that even feasible or is that something that you're also wrestling with in the day job and have you come up with any ways of doing that? Because I'm sure that would also be something that would be of interest to people.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: I think the first thing to acknowledge is that you can never avoid failure. You can never avoid mistakes and errors. It's inherent in life. You're dealing with people and people make mistakes. And sometimes they fail by which I mean, they deliberately go beyond the boundaries you set out. No organization is perfect. And so, I think what's important is you reduce the space for errors and failures to occur as much as possible, But you can never forecast the future and automate. People are complex beasts and they will let you down. But I think the important thing about failure is first and foremost, acknowledging it, owning it, taking responsibility for it, and holding yourself, your people, the organization to account for it. We haven't always been great at that. But as the book explores, a lot of our evolution or positive evolution has come by leaders driving positive change as a result of owning failures, whether it be in peacetime or at war. So I think that's the first thing, is own it and taking that responsibility. I mean, there's a number of initiatives that the Army are undertaking right now. It recognizes that we need to do better with our culture. For example, the Army headquarters have established and we've been part of this work, an Army culture framework with a maturity model that sits underneath that. And they're looking at objectively measuring our culture across issues such as safety, security, and unacceptable behavior as examples, and be able to quantify where the issues are within the Army and set them against a maturity model. So we could target where we're going wrong more effectively. There's a huge amount of work. As many organizations have been going through the same process in the last 18 months or so. On diversity and inclusion, significant advances there. I think it will take time, and it's a constant evolution to be able to take time for a lot of those elements to come into effect. But the change in the narrative and the conversation over the last 18 months specifically, they've been significant I think, And specifically on the leadership side, and I alluded to this earlier. We just had the Executive Committee of the Army Board sign off a 10- year project called project Pramo, which looks at leader development across the Army. And they've invested some resources into that. And I termed this the next stage of professionalizing British Army leadership. And it's really about focusing on individuals because I think our collective capability will be far stronger, clearly, evidently, if our individual soldiers and officers are more competent and more capable and particularly from our perspective and from a leadership perspective. So it's quite an ambitious project which involves more doctrine, more research, and improvements to training and education. But I think focusing more on the individual, making people more self- aware, and having more bespoke training education development pathways will be really advantageous. So I mentioned three initiatives, they're quite significant initiatives. There are many others that are happening across the organization. As examples of how I say, we're trying to close the gap on where we believe there is space for errors and failures and where we need to get better.

Terry Pattar: It's really interesting. I know you mentioned as well that in terms of diversity, it's not just important to bring in people from different backgrounds. All of that is obviously a big factor, but also focus on cognitive diversity. So getting people to think differently, and I guess can challenge each other so that you're avoiding things like group thinking the way that maybe you might suffer from if you weren't focused on that.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Absolutely. I'm becoming rapidly passionate about the importance of cognitive diversity. I've read quite a few papers and books on it recently, and I think it's critical for any effective organization, particularly in the complex world we operate in. And one thing we often talk about in leadership is... And I guess it goes back to one of your original questions about what makes us unique. Our context is different. Everyone's context is different, any organization. But it's important that you understand what that context is and how it's constantly changing. And I think cognitive diversity in any organization is key to unlocking the real talent that exists and to be able to understand the environment in which you're operating in and to operate effectively. I mean, you're absolutely right to point out that demographic diversity is important. Not only because it's the right thing to do, and society rightly demands it of all organizations, but it's also about enabling cognitive diversity and different trains of thought and different perspective, particularly in our game where we need to avoid that group think, and that homogenous thinking, as you say. But the inclusion part is just as critical because unless people feel included, then you can't unleash the power of that cognitive diversity. And I think this is particularly where we have a challenge with our hierarchal nature of our organization. This way good leadership comes in because good leadership on a day- to- day basis can flatten that hierarchy. And it create the conditions where people feel that they have got a voice, regardless of rank, regardless of experience, regardless of their views, providing their work within certain boundaries, but they need to bring that diversity of thinking to the table. And I passionately believe that it's through good leadership that sets the conditions for people to have a voice and to bring those views and perspectives. And that enables you to think more laterally as an organization, to develop better plans, to deal with this complexity.

Terry Pattar: I guess when it comes to problem- solving on situations of uncertainty, which is often what you're asking people to do. You need people who can maybe think of different solutions and see problems differently.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Absolutely. And ultimately, we're in the business of crisis of risk and uncertainty. That's why we exist. And I guess part of that is in our DNA. The way we train, educate our people is how to deal with uncertainty. I head back to my time as a company commander in Afghanistan in 2013, and a lot of operations, of course, was intelligence- driven and relevant to this audience, of course. And it was a really complex environment. We were dealing with multiple actors, multiple different stakeholders. We had a clear mission. But unless we understood the environment and unless we are able to provide effective intelligence, not only just getting the right information the first place, but providing the best analysis on that, our success or failure really was underpinned largely by the credibility and the quality of our intelligence. I was very fortunate to have an Int Corp intelligence team and they were superb, but for me, it was about setting the conditions. So they felt they had the latitude to not only gather the right information, they had the freedom to analyze it to the best of their ability without me constraining their thinking and that they could bring their own cognitive diversity to the problem because it's really dangerous. There's lots of biases that exist within all of us. And your audience will know this better than I. But it's about setting the conditions so that those inaudible, and they can be as lateral thinking as possible and made what was a very complex problem set.

Terry Pattar: And that really neatly leads me on to a couple of questions I had really, were more around some of the areas that we tend to focus on in this podcast, which is around your use of intelligence. And a big part of that is obviously driven by the consumers of the intelligence. People have to use it on the ground. So people who've been in the roles that you've been in. And perhaps British Army leadership, so how does that overlap perhaps with training around intelligence? How do you equip officers and indeed all ranks to deal with uncertainty? And often, intelligence is a big part of hopefully making the situation less uncertain, or at least, giving you a bit more insight into what's going on, but how do you go about training people perhaps to use those tools around them, whether it's intelligence or other means to find out what's going on?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: It's a broad question. But I think, as I say, it's really about setting the conditions for your people to deliver the best intelligence for you. Of course, they'd have their own intelligence training. They have tools and techniques that they're bringing to analyze the information they have. But if the conditions are not set for them to bring their own intelligence and their own cognitive abilities to that problem, then you're going to have a less capable product as a result. So I think it's about setting the right climate in the first instance about having teams that want to work with you. It's about your people, knowing what you expect, what your intent is. It goes back to that whole mission command piece. So they're clear on what the outputs are, what the intelligence is leading towards. It's about empowering your people to enable them to bring their talent and experience. But it's also about... And this is the critical thing I think is about enabling challenge. And this is a live conversation in the Army at the moment about our challenge culture. And I still think we've got some way to go. But it's about accepting other views, expecting not necessarily critique, but just respectful challenge, whether it be the plan, it might even be to the mission, but certainly to current thinking, whatever that may be. I think it's important, and particularly within the intelligence community that they ask the hard questions and that they're willing to stand up. And for my experience, particularly as an OSI commanding officer and work in the joint force headquarters there as well, and in PJHQ. In all three instances, I've been extremely impressed by the quality of our encore personnel of all ranks, just some really quality last Corporals and Sergeants that are willing to stand up and say," Sir, I disagree," or," Sir, I've got a different point of view." And I think that's really, really important. But it's only the leader that can enable the conditions to let those people know, enable those people to have the confidence to stand up and deliver that challenge. It's critical.

Terry Pattar: That's really interesting. Yeah, it's so, I think valuable to hear you say that, because I think too often within organizations, not just within the military, there is that culture of unwillingness to hear those alternative views or people bringing in different perspectives on a problem to really understand what the potential options are. And you can see so many examples throughout the history of failure when actually people haven't listened to those different viewpoints or perspectives and they've fallen victim to their own biases, et cetera. But within those areas of uncertainty, those situations you're in, how important is it as a leader to then instill confidence in the people you're leading and people you're serving as well, who are obviously going to be aware that there's a lot of uncertainty and the intelligence never gives you a perfect picture of what's going on no matter how good it may be. How do you go about making a decision and having people wanting to help you follow through on a course of action when perhaps there is that level of uncertainty? So, how do you as a leader go about in sharing that confidence or getting people to believe that you're making the best decision that's available to you?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: I guess it goes back to being clear on your intent, what you're there to achieve. So everyone understands what they're working towards. I do think it's about encouraging your team. And again, I mentioned this point about the challenge. I think it's really important that they feel they have the confidence and freedom to challenge. And when they do, it's about accepting that even if you disagree. It's about accepting that and encouraging that. You can ask people to challenge you. You can ask people to raise alternative points of view. If as soon as they do, you slam them down, then you close the door on the whole group and that's why it's important in setting those conditions. But it's also being clear. I guess, that's... And you've alluded to it there. You're never going to have the perfect answer. You're never going to fully understand your environment. But it's about having that learning culture when things didn't work out as planned, the intelligence wasn't as effective or as reliable as you anticipated, is understanding why that was the case, so that you can rectify that for the next time around.

Terry Pattar: That's really interesting. And I think we useful sort of also touched on another aspect of the book that you've written about, where you've included a chapter about the future. And so, maybe to get your thoughts on what the future holds, and you've talked about the evolution of leadership in the Army and what that involves as well in terms of the work that you're doing in the Centre for Army Leadership. But yeah, maybe for our audience, you could talk a little bit about what you think the future challenges are and what are the things that you're trying to work on in terms of improving leadership.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: The first challenge for any leader, and this is alluded to in the book is understanding what needs to change, what needs to evolve, and what needs to endure, and culture being a good example. That is constantly changing or wrong, constantly evolving based on changes in society. But there's plenty of what we draw on the richness of that history that I spoke about right at the beginning that endures and remains just as relevant. I think that one of the biggest challenges for leaders in any field, not just in the Army is the pace of change. And I go back to my point that one of the key roles of any leader is to be able to understand it and interpret the context in which you're operating for your people. And given the pace of change, the complexity of the current environment, whether you're talking political, economic, geopolitical, or social, whatever it may be, or clearly the security environment in our world, it's changing at such pace. I think that's going to be a challenge for any leader to really understand that concept in which they're operating. I think from an Army perspective, we need to continue to mature our culture. And I've already touched on that. I think our relationship with hierarchy is constantly evolving and you look back, let's just say 200 years, the time of Wellington, it was a very clear hierarchal structure. Everyone knew their place, orders went down, and people got on with what they were told to do.

Terry Pattar: And forced by corporal punishment as well, I suppose, which is a thing of the past.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Absolutely. Yeah. Discipline was very much the order of the day and a clear hierarchal and status- driven organization. And you can see through, and Chapter 1 deals with some of this history. You see how that hierarchy still exists, but a relationship with the hierarchy and authority and command has evolved and flattened. And one of the key things about leadership we say now is that absolutely, it's an all ranks business. Everyone has a responsibility. And I think that that relationship with hierarchy will continue to evolve. And it has to, because increasingly in the current and future operating environments, we're going to be relying on our junior commanders more and more. We talked about dispersed forces, complex battle spaces and the decision- makers are going to be increasingly junior in rank and experience and the further forward in complex environments. So I think that's how we lead in those environments, or those conditions is going to consistently evolve. And I think the other aspects and you could probably have an hour- long podcast on the future itself. One of the other aspects is the changes in society and how the Army continues to evolve at pace in line with that. And one example, which again is briefly explored in the book is cross- generational leadership. I'm always hesitant and slightly nervous about going into too much detail about generational trends because ultimately we're all individuals. And I think we can rely on such trends too much at times. But there is an inevitable differences between the Gen Z coming into the workforce, have been been in our workforce now at the age of 25. So all privates and our junior NCOs and junior officer are very much in that category and vice the five other generations that exist in the Army in any other organization at the moment. I think that intergenerational leadership is going to be a challenge, but also an opportunity going forward in any organization.

Terry Pattar: I thought that was a really interesting aspect of the book as I was reading through it. This is sort of the thread that runs throughout there. This is your thoughts on the relationship between the Army and society and how that is evolving and how that's, something that the Army really does clearly focused on quite a lot of things about a lot. So, yeah, it's interesting to hear you talk about that and also to read about your thinking in the book about where that might go in future.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Absolutely. I mean, the Army doesn't sit in isolation of society. There are certain aspects of the Army that are unique and are different by the very nature of our profession, but we serve the society that we are from. We respond to our political masters who are put there by wider society. If society does not trust us, ultimately we lose our license to operate. So it's absolutely critical, not only because it's the right thing to do, but in terms of operational capability, we need to remain in dock step with society. But it's also about recruiting and retaining the right talent, our people, which ultimately sit at the heart of our organization.

Terry Pattar: Is that something that the... Do you think in terms of challenges the Army has got to deal with, that there needs to be more focused on in terms of... You've talked about the culture of leaders needing to serve their people. That the Army needs to do better in terms of looking after people, generally, in terms of welfare, in terms of things like accommodation, even in things like pay because it's difficult in this environment we're in now, where you're having to compete for recruits and you're having to maybe offer things that weren't there before that are going to appeal to people a bit more. Otherwise, you're going to potentially start to struggle to recruit. Is that part of the thinking as well in terms of evolving leadership?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yeah, absolutely. It is. And it goes beyond broader than leadership because somebody actually even spoke about that. Absolutely, it needed to be addressed. And it's easy to criticize our organization and soldiers and officers too. You say," Well, these people are critical capability. Why is the accommodation not with the purpose and that's why probably they want more pay please, and more stability." I absolutely get that. So it's a constant challenge. And dare I say, it's inevitable as a public service. There are certain limitations on our ability to provide everything that is required. I'm not making excuses. I think that's just the reality. But the Army, I look at our senior leaders and they genuinely have people's interests at heart. They are trying to do the very best for individuals and the Army as a whole, in what is inevitably a challenging environment. But there is more we can do. And I would say this, but it takes leadership to drive that forward.

Terry Pattar: This has been a really fascinating discussion. And I've really enjoyed reading the book as well. And I'd fully recommend it to anyone who's interested in the topic of leadership. There's so much takeaway from it. But from your perspective, and for those people who are not in the military, who might read this book, what would you hope would be the main points they might take away from it?

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Interesting question, but I actually think that different people would take different things away from the book. Because what we try to avoid, and I'll try to skirt your question there. What we try to avoid was having... taking the approach of, five steps to success or 10 ways to be a better leader and to try and simplify it. It was deliberately more discursive and more contextual and a slightly deeper and richer understanding of the breadth of leadership and the challenges and the tensions. And by doing so, I'm hoping that different readers will come at this book from different perspectives and therefore take different lessons away. That said, getting back to what I think you really want me to say is, what are the core takeaways? And I think you've already highlighted some of those and you wrapped up into some of the universal lessons instead of the core of what leadership means to us as an organization. I think anyone that leads by their values, by what they believe is the right thing to do. If people lead by their values and what is important to them, and what's sits at the core of their beliefs, you lead with purpose, you care for your people, you put your people's interests first, and you empower your people through good leadership. I think we will all be in a better place.

Terry Pattar: That's a brilliant note to end on. And I think that the challenge, I guess, for most organizations is making that happen, actually enacting it. And we talked a little bit about that earlier when we talked about people, believers as being examples for those around them. And so, those kinds of words. You see a lot of companies and organizations where they've got values, and they've got a mission, and they'll pass straight on the wall and everyone can see it, but actually enacting it, actually making it happen. It's down to individual leaders to do. It's not on a day- to- day basis.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: It's day- to- day. It's in and out of work. It's at all times. It's on and off the field of players, we say. It's got to be part of who you are. It's got to be the character... It's a part of your character and who you are. You can't just turn it on when you come to work and live by these wonderful values. It's got to be part of who you are inside, absolutely. And it's constant. And you're learning every day, and you get things right, you get things wrong, but it's paying attention to what you know is the right thing to do every day and building those habits so that when it matters most, leadership is endemic.

Terry Pattar: That's brilliant. Langley, it's been great talking to you. I've really enjoyed this, and I've loved the book. I think you mentioned it, it's a very discursive book. I found it to be incredibly thoughtful and thought- provoking as well. I mean, almost on every page, I was stopping and taking away an important point from the book. I'm somebody who's a big fan of books about leadership and management and something of heritage from my dad. But yeah, it really is a good read. I wholeheartedly recommend it to people. And it is out now, isn't it? It's published already. It's available for people to buy.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Yeah, it's ready for sale audio and hard pack, so yeah.

Terry Pattar: Perfect.

Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp MBE: Thank you very much for your support. I really appreciate it.

Terry Pattar: Thanks for joining us this week on The World of Intelligence, make sure to visit our website, janes. com/ podcast, where you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. So you'll never miss an episode.


In this episode of the Janes podcast, Lt Col Langley Sharp shares lessons learned in leadership from his career in the Parachute Regiment which has seen him deployed to Northern Ireland, Macedonia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Among his many varied roles, he has led a counter-insurgency Task Force operation, commanded a Parachute Regiment Battalion, and delivered the Ministry of Defence’s training programme for the London 2012 Olympics, for which he was awarded an MBE.

Lt Col Langley Sharp is the author of The Habit of Excellence; the official British Army book on what makes its leadership so successful, and how to become a better leader yourself - whatever your field.

Today's Host

Guest Thumbnail

Harry Kemsley

|President of Government & National Security, Janes

Today's Guests

Guest Thumbnail

Lt. Colonel Langley Sharp

|Head of the Centre for Army Leadership