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Scott Snook
Military leader/Scholar

Scott Snook

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, Scott Snook is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Tukman Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School.

'Greater love hath no man'

I suspect there are many explanations for the current high levels of trust and confidence in our military leaders. But for me, it ultimately boils down to one word: Love. This might surprise many who've haven't served in uniform. But behind those steely eyes, beneath all that body armor and chest-thumping machismo that defines our culture's Rambo image of the modern warrior lies the essence of what makes a soldier fight in combat, love. Oh, she may join up or reenlist for love of country or mom's apple pie, but when it comes to the fundamental motivating value behind military leadership, it's a deep abiding love and respect for one's comrades that matters most.

In 1948, sociologists Edward Shils and Morris Janowitz published a classic study titled, "Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II." In an attempt to understand why the German army fought so stubbornly to the bitter end, Shils and Janowitz uncovered one of the fundamental truths of military leadership: A soldier continued to fight well beyond the point when the battle or war was lost "as long as the group possessed leadership with which he could identify himself, and as long as he gave affection to and received affection from the other members of his squad or platoon."

The giving and receiving of affection, not only philia or brotherly love, but also the deeper and more profound agape or selfless love lies at the heart of military leadership. It also helps explain our current love affair with military leaders.

Long before Shils and Janowitz, the Apostle John said it best: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Whatever your political affiliation or personal opinion of war, how can one not respect a profession whose leadership draws its ultimate sustenance and authority from such a love? If love can be the touchstone of leadership in a profession as violent as the military, then why not elsewhere?

A personal postcript from the author: My wife Kathi and I served for over twenty years in uniform. and our oldest son Sean is currently serving in southern Afghanistan (Infantry officer in the 82d Airborne Division). This YouTube video, "Afghanistan: First 30 Days," is Sean's impression of life on a Forward Operating Base. Our second son, Kyle, is currently serving as an Infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division, our daughter Megan is currently a junior at West Point, and our fourth child Robby plans to attend West Point in June.

By Scott Snook

 |  November 3, 2009; 9:19 AM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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In reading Scott's thoughts about the basic concepts of "Leadership" aligning around the verb Love, is right at the point of where the compass of true leadership begins. I believe “Love” is at the very core of a Leadership discipline, which we all know is a learned process. I might want to add that the "Love" I am talking about here begins with a self love, a love that grows and builds, and allows for a flow of sensitivity and caring that goes beyond ourselves, a transference of love to other environments that becomes what we might say, all inclusive, addressing our followership responsibility. Love of self is the beginning of self worth, building a personal vision through a confidence, aligned around personal character, commitment and responsibility.
This "Love" begins with the "I" I am, The "I" I wish I were, The "I" I can be, with a constant focus on the "I" I will be… all addressing that pyramid of Leadership on a foundation of "Love."
Thank you for allowing me to respond to such an important message.
Bill Boynton retired "Leadership" guru.

Posted by: aboyntonhsd | November 5, 2009 2:27 AM
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To arancia12:

I suggest you do some research before posting a comment that suggests the author is misguiding his readers. Scott and his wife, Kathi did in fact BOTH serve in uniform for over 20 years each.

In fact, they were both in the West Point Class of 1980, which was the first class of women graduates and Kathi was the highest ranking female cadet to graduate. Scott's rank was very notable as well. They both retired from the Army as full Colonels. I should know, she's my sister.

While I think it is very impressive that you and your husband both served in uniform, I also take offense to your statement regarding dependant spouses.

My five children and I have supported my husband and his career for over 12 years and I have NEVER considered myself or referred to myself as "serving in uniform!" And I have never heard another spouse do so either. I am simply an "Army Wife" and am proud enough of that title alone.

Posted by: 5kidznadog | November 4, 2009 7:10 PM
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While I may not have used the word "love", I agree with the writer's direction. Some years ago I tried, unsuccessfully I believe, to explain to a relative how (in SE Asia in this case) we fought for each other. A successful leader creates and sustains the essential cohesion within a unit that allows the unit to get the job done -- and beyond that. I, and I am sure many of my contemporaries, view those who shout about "patriotism" and "victory" as self-serving frauds who would never get near real combat. "Fighting for your country" is background noise. You fight for your unit, whatever that might be.

Posted by: jfowler120 | November 4, 2009 4:25 PM
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The author's wife and he served over 20 years in uniform. In other words she was a dependent wife.

My husband and I both served a combined 52 years in uniform. We were both in the service, both in uniform.

I believe there some degradation of the concept of the service of military personnel when a dependent spouse, male or female, is considered to have served in uniform. This takes nothing away from the challenge of being a military spouse, but serving actually IN the uniform, especially where both are active duty, is something entirely different and deserves to be noted.

Posted by: arancia12 | November 4, 2009 3:22 PM
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In an ideal world, I believe love is a defining attribute that separates mediocre military leaders from great ones. Ideally, a commander should love his/her troops -- they are responsible for their lives. Ideally, one should love his/her comrades and put their well being above theirs.

But I believe that this article paints a romantic view of what actually drives service members to perform their duties in combat. Although heroic acts are born of war, many troops just want to come home alive to see their families. Of course there is Duty, Honor, Country -- love. But let's be real here. Staying alive and seeing family trumps all other motivators.

DIRKLEE, the nobility of the profession of arms is derived from unwavering loyalty -- to the Constitution and the American way of life. Sometimes, preserving this comes at a regrettable cost. We put faith in POTUS, that he is employing us for a noble purpose -- but we are also aware that this isn't always the case. Human beings/countries are self interested. This is reality. But hey, someone has to watch out for our interests. Who's it going to be? You?

Posted by: darkascent | November 3, 2009 6:25 PM
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Perfect summary of what makes military leadership different. And great courage on your part for calling it what it is -- LOVE. I was at an event honoring General (Ret.) Shinseki last night and I was thinking about this very thing...what makes him so different? Why are so many military leaders so attractive to followers? You captured it in one word.


Posted by: dougcrandall | November 3, 2009 2:46 PM
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You are absolutely right. It is the love of one's comrades that drives the military to perform difficult and dangerous and distasteful tasks. To get individuals to develop that love, a carefully planned regime of intensive training honed over the centuries results in people who will kill whomever their leaders point out as the "enemy." Any government needs a steady supply of such people, and abets the training effort by maintaining that the products of their training are indviduals who are carrying out a noble and admirable "job." And so goes militarism, an efficient system for supplying bodies to carry out the government's desires. The occasional objector is asked to leave in disgrace or is jailed. And that is why I wrote "Battlebabble: Selling War in America."

Posted by: dirklee45hotmailcom | November 3, 2009 2:43 PM
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I could not agree more. Everywhere I turn these days, thoughtful writers are connecting selfless service - in the military and in the social sector - with happiness and love. Our mutual friend, Donovan Campbell, in his book, "Joker One," in writing about his Marine Corps unit, makes this statement:

"And I hope and I pray that whoever reads this story will know my men as do I, and that knowing them, they too might come to love them.”

Bill Murphy, Jr., author of the acclaimed “In a Time of War,” an account of West Point’s Golden Class the Class fo 2002 makes a similar point:

“This, for Todd [Bryant], was the essence of West Point. ‘Duty, honor, country’ was the academy’s motto, and everyone talked constantly about honor and commitment, loyalty and patriotism. All that was true and good, but stripped of its pomp and circumstance, the place was really about love. Love of your country, love of your classmates and friends, and love of the future officers you’d someday serve with. Most of all, West Point was about learning to love the soldiers you would someday lead, the privates and sergeants, knuckleheads and heroes alike, who might, just once, in a life-justifying moment, look to you for leadership in some great battle on a distant shore.”

Thank you for shining another light into the shadowy corners of our lives.

Posted by: achase47 | November 3, 2009 10:51 AM
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