Madness to method: Giving leadership a KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

Ed Chacksfield breaks down the leadership code.

Reading time: 4 mins 30s.

Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.

Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?

Willard: I don’t see any method at all …

This quote is taken from the 1979 war film Apocalypse Now. It follows a special forces Captain Willard sent on a dangerous mission to assassinate a renegade Green Beret Colonel Kurtz who has set himself up as head of a band of brutal guerrillas in the jungles of Cambodia.

In this exchange, Willard queries Kurtz’s leadership of the guerrillas as “unsound” and that he appears to have no real rational, methodical avenue to achieving his goals through his team.

Anyone looking to be ratified as a leader by their team would do well to reflect on Kurtz’s haphazard approach, and perhaps consider a method of developing leaders through a “leadership code” that breaks down the notion of leadership into: what leaders are, what leaders do and what leaders know.

This article seeks to cut through the confusion of literature and thinking that surrounds the term leadership.

This issue of defining and therefore developing a solid method of approach is something that the British military has held as vital, definable and, to a certain degree, measurable.

Recognising that its leaders, at every level, are now required to operate in the most complex and challenging of operating environments, the Army launched its Leadership Code in 2016.

At the core of the army doctrine are the values and standards. Values are key to good leadership as they are deeply help beliefs about what is and is not important.

A “leadership code” breaks down the notion of leadership into: what leaders are, what leaders do and what leaders know

A clear understanding of these helps drive consistent decision making and can help form the basis of trust between the leader and the follower when they are declared and consistently observed.

The British Army’s values are:

Courage – Not just physical courage but also moral courage, the strength and confidence to do what is right, even when it may be unpopular.

Selfless commitment – Soldiers must be prepared to serve where and when required and always give their best.

Discipline – Used to instil self-confidence and self-control means soldiers will do the right thing even under the most difficult of circumstances.

Respect for others – Teams that embrace diversity, and value each individual for their contribution and viewpoint are always stronger for it.

Integrity – Integrity means being truthful and honest, which develops trust among individuals.

Loyalty – Loyalty binds all ranks of the Army together, creating cohesive teams that can achieve far more than the sum of their parts.

Set alongside these are clear standards of behaviour to be adhered to around appropriate, lawful conduct that is founded on absolute professionalism.

The work of L.E.A.D.E.R.S

The code then describes seven vital leadership behaviours that are rigorously developed and assessed through the mnemonic LEADERS.

All leaders are role models seeking to actively demonstrate espoused values in everything they do

These behaviours have been drawn together from what is known to work over centuries, conflated with sound academic theory and research:

Lead by example – All leaders are role models seeking to actively demonstrate espoused values in everything they do.

Encourage thinking – Leaders must encourage those they lead to think by giving them problems that stretch them.

‘Thinking outside the box’, finding an innovative solution to problems is a fine quality in a team member and must be encouraged.

Apply reward and discipline – Leaders must apply a full range of rewards, from formal recognition to timely and regular verbal praise. Likewise using discipline is crucial to correct and provide useful development opportunities.

Demand high performance – Leaders must set a high-performance expectation while leading the team to this level.

Encourage confidence in the team – Leaders achieve this through demonstrating confidence in their own abilities, celebrating team success and constantly reinforcing the importance of teamwork.

Recognise individual strengths and weaknesses – Leaders must identify their own strengths and development areas and address them accordingly through coaching and other techniques.

Strive for team goals – Challenging the team to accept and strive for shared goals will create shared purpose, bind them together and foster esprit de corps.

Conclusion: a method for leaders

With all the above in mind, we can divide the approach to leadership into three logical chunks:

What leaders are – They are the champions of values and standards for the organisation. They set an example, are responsible and influential.

What leaders know – They are professionally competent, they know how to communicate and make decisions effectively.

What leaders do – They develop themselves and others. They build effective teams to achieve goals through direction by developing cohesion, raising standards and empowering others.

Anyone looking to lead would do well to consider these three groupings as central basis to their ongoing development.



It must always begin with establishing a foundation around individual values and standards in order to engender the trust vital to team cohesion.

What are the beliefs and values they hold true? How do these sit alongside the organisational values?

Clearly these military standards have a strong obligation to the law and the nation but there remains an important relevance here to one’s own leadership standards especially if one reflects on this quote from Chief of the General Staff in 2015:

“Remember that the standard you walk past – without taking any action – is the standard that you accept.”


About the author

Ed Chacksfield is a senior consultant at Inspirational Development Group.


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