Front Line Leadership: 3 Rules For Leading In The Trenches

“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.” – General Colin Powell

This quote is the basis of which front line leadership works. Men will follow any man into battle if they will but confidently and selflessly lead the way.

In my leaving speech to the squadron, I mentioned one man I would go to war with in a heart beat. Do not get me wrong I would go to war with all of my brothers but there was one stand out operator who I would follow into battle with confidence in my head, enthusiasm in my heart and a steadiness in my hands.

Why him? Because he leads by example, I do not know a man who works harder, but also because he leads with his head and his heart, not with his ego.

So what is front line leadership?

It is the leadership talked about the least in main stream thinking but it is the most important. It is the leadership found in the trenches, where the battles are fought. It is the leadership that inspires and drives young men and women to do daring things in the face of adversity. It is the leadership that turns a civilian into a soldier, from a solider into a warrior.

Why do I think it is the most important form of leadership?

It is the officer who (with the support if his NCO's) creates the training plan, the mission, the courses of action, the actions on, but it is the NCO's who leads the on the ground execution of it.

To give a civilian context to it, it is the CEO or COO who has the vision, but it is the middle management who must lead the execution and delivery of it, it is here where either success or failure is achieved.

This is why the training investment as this level must never be over looked.

Here are my top 3 rules for front line leadership:

1. Lead Thy Self

If you cannot lead yourself then how can you expect to lead others? If you cannot motivate yourself to train for a fitness test, to be prepared for an up and coming exercise, operation or engagement, if you do not know your shit, how can you expect any man or women to respect your leadership?

You must be the living example of what your subordinates aspire to be, you must lead by example.

2. Be The Shield

Front line leadership is no easy task. You must lead those below you, whilst being lead and taking orders from those above you. For those of you who serve, we know the orders from above are not always in the best interest of the men and women we lead. Be the shield.

As a front line leader you must understand when to go into bat for your team, to defend them from the demands that come from above when they are unreasonable or not in the best interest of the people you have the privilege to lead. There is no faster way to lose respect as a front line leader than to only look up and never down, I have seen men make this mistake and it has not served them well.

Conversely you must also understand the bigger picture that command is working towards and when it comes time, make the decision to take the hard right instead of the easy left. When you follow rule number 1, those who you lead will follow you willingly and enthusiastically.

3. Lead With Your Head & Heart

There is no greater human bond than love, when you have suffered with another human, bleed with another human, sweat with a another human, cried with a another human, a bond is created that is more powerful than bloodlines.

There are men who do not share my name but I would die for them and they would do the same for me. Our bond is forged through adversity and it cannot be broken. When you have this bond with your subordinates, you will be able to lead them to great victories.

When you lead with your head and your heart, instead of with ego you will have an army of men and women who will go to the ends of the earth for you. This does not mean we need to be soft, sometimes tough love is required, especially with hard head alphas.

Do not lead through fear and ego, power based leadership is superficial, when the right opportunity presents itself your subordinates will turn mutinous, casting aside your requests and your leadership over them.

In closing, lead as you wish to be lead.

Front Line Leadership, is the most important form of leadership of them all.

If you are in a front line leadership position, hold yourself to these rules and you will create and lead high performing teams that everyone wants to be on.

If you are in a command position, do not over look the value and training of your front line leaders, for it is them who will take your vision and turn it into a reality.

Stand by for the next installment of Front Line Leadership: Peace time Vs War time leadership

If you want to develop as a warrior, as a leader and you want to unleash your full potential then click here


1 comment


  • MSgt. A. Selph II

    Your article is spot on!
    I served for 34 years and multiple combat tour’s. I always led by the same example you are defining because that is the type of leadership that other’s will follow. The NCO and SNCO are the tip of the spear!


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