Leadership lessons from the British Army’s "serve to lead" motto

Team cohesion can’t be turned on during a crisis. It must be ingrained through a culture of service and sacrifice.

by Lieutenant Colonel Langley Sharp

In July 1944, Sydney Jary entered World War II as the platoon commander of 18 Platoon, 4th Battalion The Somerset Light Infantry, in Northern France. Survival rates for a young officer at the time were a matter of weeks.

Defying the odds, Jary led his platoon through months of bitter fighting, from the fields of Normandy through to the end of the war in Germany almost a year later. His memoirs, 18 Platoon, an insightful read for anyone seeking to understand the essence of leadership, has long been a standard text of the officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS), training to be the next generation of British Army officers. 

Drawing on his extensive experience of leading in the crucible of combat, Jary reflected: “Sound leadership - like true love, to which I suspect it is closely related - is all-powerful. It can overcome the seemingly impossible and its effect on both leader and led is profound and lasting.”

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