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Leadership lessons from the British Army


Nicky Moffat, formerly the most senior woman in the British Army, shares her leadership lessons

Nicky Moffat, director and founder of What Good Leadership Looks Like, was formerly the most senior woman in the British Army.

Speaking at the Balanced Business Forum, Moffat revealed her top leadership lessons from her time in the armed forces.

1. Be clear with people

“People like to know what you are asking them to do – that’s purpose,” said Moffat. She added that it’s crucial to give others a clear idea of the environment and context in which you want them to be working.

“Give explicit direction on things that matter,” she said. “If you are clear it’s harder for people to claim they don’t know what you asked of them.”

2. Set standards and lead by example

“Keep your standards constant,” advised Moffat. “It helps to settle the ships in times of uncertainty.”

3. Communicate effectively; be honest and open

“Communication is the most important thing for me as a leader,” she said. “It’s about connecting.” She reminded leaders to think carefully about the medium of communication they use, and to make sure the language is appropriate for the demographic or individual they are addressing.

She also advocated being “open, honest and transparent” to build trust internally.

4. Empower teams and individuals

“A leader can’t be everywhere. Give people context and understanding, then enable them to go away and feel empowered,” Moffat said. When giving instructions she said she always talked about the “what” rather than the “how”: “Tell people what to do, but not how to do it.”

“Empowerment is not abdication of responsibility; it’s delegation,” she added.

5. Value all roles

Not everyone in a team can be a “rainmaker”, according to Moffat. As a leader it’s critical to celebrate all employees' successes, no matter how small they may seem. Saying ‘thank you’ and valuing everybody’s role is vital.

6. Take responsibility for team failure

“This is the clearest evidence of being a leader,” she said. In times of failure “the first question should be: ‘what did I not do right?’ Not: ‘What did you not do right?’”

7. Appraise honestly

Leaders “shouldn’t be afraid of the hard call”. Always appraise team members honestly; people are often grateful for truthful conversations.

8. Level the field

Make sure everyone is on a level playing field by examining processes and scrutinising bias. That can mean being tough. “If I felt someone was incapable of acting fairly I would remove them from the promotion board,” Moffat revealed.