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This book covers various aspects of leadership in critical situations and under extreme conditions. Today’s leaders often face challenging situations or unexpected difficulties, and mastering these requires a wide spectrum of competencies such as creativity, courage and empathy. Therefore, this book provides an interdisciplinary approach including both theoretical concepts and practical findings relevant to optimizing leadership in extreme situations. Issues such as why people act as they do in stressful and extreme situations, or what constitutes the nexus between leadership/followership, organizations, and culture etc., are addressed. Leadership under extreme conditions is a very complex topic and one that has been approached from a variety of perspectives. The contributions to this volume thus originate from various academic disciplines including political science, social sciences, psychology, and philosophy. Insights from the study of in extremis leadership can help researchers and practitioners understand the individual, team and contextual factors that influence leadership and, ultimately, organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Leadership in Extreme Situations is a collection of contributions by selected scholars and field experts. It addresses key issues of leadership, morale and cohesion, as well as ethical questions; provides an ideal entry into the complex world of advanced leadership; and serves as a practical guide for the successful implementation of modern leadership.



General Part



It seems that more and more people are affected by or working in volatile and dynamic extreme situations. These different forms of extreme situations require appropriate forms of leadership. Therefore, effective leaders must be able to adapt their leadership depending on the situation they are confronted with. The performance of leaders and teams in extreme situations is a matter of life and death and thus, the encouragement of research on leadership in extreme situations has a deeprooted impact on all leadership processes in the most dangerous and extreme situations. This article tries to facilitate a better understanding of leadership aspects in extreme situations and further research is required to understand the skills, abilities, and capacities leaders need in order to be effective in extreme situations. The studies in this book extend the knowledge on civil and military leadership processes and their conditions in extreme situations. Furthermore, they deepen our understanding of the skills, abilities and capacities which are required for leading well in extreme situations.
Michael Holenweger

Facing Death: The Dynamics of Leadership and Group Behavior in Extreme Situations When Death Strikes Without Warning

Death plays an important role in defining extreme situations. This chapter focuses on the impact of sudden death on group behavior and leadership dynamics. It presents and discusses observations made among a military unit in a peacekeeping operation when death occurred without warning. It also examines sociological research related to this topic, particularly studying the disruptive potential of death, practices and strategies to socially absorb shock, mortality salience and mortality rituals. Then it studies responses to death and representations of death through the lenses of social phenomenology and Levinas’ social theory. It argues that this perspective provides us with deeper insights into the human relationship with death and group and leadership dynamics when death strikes. This approach also allows us to acknowledge the importance of the ethical dimension in such situations. Finally, the chapter provides some recommendations for leadership training in order to meet the specific challenges of leading and acting in perilous environments.
Franz Kernic

Crisis, Leadership, and Extreme Contexts

Hannah et al. (Leaders Quart 20(6):897–919, 2009) survey and integrate a substantial multi-disciplinary and multi-discourse body of literature—one strand of which is literature on crisis and crisis management—to address the challenge of understanding (and potentially improving) leadership in extreme contexts. This article attempts to build on the foundations set out by Hannah et al. (Leaders Quart 20(6):897–919, 2009) by doing two things. First of all, it seeks to take a somewhat broader and deeper look at the evolving literature on crisis, crisis leadership, and crisis management in order to explore other aspects of possible relevance to the challenges identified by Hannah and his co-authors. Thus, the first objective is to examine the following question: To what extent is the literature on crisis, crisis leadership and crisis management (CM) relevant to improving understanding of the challenges of leadership in extreme conditions (LEC)? The second objective of the paper is to present some observations and reflections that might be helpful in further developing the LEC framework and research program. Core tasks of crisis leadership identified in the crisis literature (Boin et al. in The politics of crisis management: public leadership under pressure. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, 2017) such as preparing, sense-making, decision-making, meaning-making, and learning coincide to a considerable extent with, and draw on common or similar literature to, key themes in LEC. Furthermore, a number of other significant conceptual and empirical developments in the field of crisis studies are noted, suggesting additional potential avenues for enriching understanding—and broadening the applicability—of LEC.
Eric K. Stern

Team Leadership in Extremis: Enschede, Uruzgan, Kathmandu and Beyond

In this contribution we provide an overview of the existing knowledge on (multinational) teams operating in situations where extreme dangers create, or have created, havoc and disaster. After deciphering the characteristics of extreme conditions, we describe the traditional leadership requirements that are needed to ensure that teams in multiteam-systems operate adequately. Even though the set of leadership traits that are needed in such situations is clear-cut, straightforward and familiar, there is more to say to this. Contemporary insights demonstrate that such leadership characteristics work out positively only within a certain bracket, not in all conditions. The relations between leadership traits and effective team performance are U-shaped rather than linear. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that framing, heedful interrelating and improvising are important characteristics for teams and their members to perform adequately. In this connection, the importance of the development of situational awareness, proper communication and distributed leadership can hardly be exaggerated. The latter may even imply that the actual leader steps back for another team member who has the competencies needed to lead in that particular situation. To make all this happen, training and proper preparation cannot be practiced enough. Overconfidence should be avoided at all costs.
Joseph Soeters, Tom Bijlsma

Leadership, Morale and Cohesion: What Should Be Changed?

Just how essential cohesion is for operational efficiency is widely known, as is the role of leadership in furthering this cohesion as well as in sustaining the morale and maintaining the team spirit of a military unit. However, over the last decades, significant changes have affected the armed forces of the Western countries, both organizationally and culturally, most notably the transition from the institutional model to the employment model. These changes give rise to the following questions that shall be answered in the present article: In the new context arising from such changes, has the function of leadership in maintaining cohesion remained the same or has it changed? And, if it has changed, how and to what extent has this been happening? What should the responsibilities and skills of a good commander who is called to play his/her role in the changed modern military organizations be today? Using in-depth interviews, the command experience of 43 Italian officers engaged in missions in asymmetric conflict environments in recent years is analyzed. The results show a clear evolution towards leadership styles that are, on the one hand, guided by models more focused on relationships and, on the other hand, seem to be closer, now more than in the past, to those of civil organizations, despite the military’s individual characteristics. These styles, with regard to certain skills, seem to be reminiscent of Goleman’s theory of transformational leadership.
Eraldo Olivetta

Leadership in Extreme Conditions and Under Severe Stress: Case Study Analysis

Leadership under dangerous conditions occurs in extremely unpredictable situations, with a lack of information, and requires an instant overall evaluation of what is happening, which will affect decisions made and the physical and psychological wellbeing of troops and civilians. In this chapter, we present an individual typology required for military leaders in dangerous contexts, with special focus on critical tasks and individual capabilities. Further, we review and apply leadership in extreme situations (Hannah et al. 2009) to a real case which required a reaction to an act of armed terrorism. The application of theoretic models to the analysis of real cases enables us to provide the knowledge military leaders need when dealing with dangerous circumstances and situations where lives are at risk and to draw conclusions about lessons learned and future behaviors. Our main purpose is to characterize the field of application of military leadership and explore the challenges faced by commanders in extreme situations. On final reflection, it is clear that the human factors associated with leadership are key elements of fighting power.
António Palma Rosinha, Luís José Sameiro Matias, Marcos Aguiar de Souza

Leadership in Extreme Situations and Military Settings


The Role of Short Term Volunteers in Responding to Humanitarian Crises: Lessons from the 2010 Haiti Earthquake

Political, social and economic shifts in humanitarian responses to disasters have increased the prominence of short-term volunteers, often working through small, informal and non-governmental channels. Such volunteers offer the potential for a “surge” capacity in crises but are also often under-regulated, poorly trained and know little about the people they claim to help. In this chapter, we first draw on social theorists like Zygmunt Bauman and Michel Agier to argue that this represents a form of neo-liberal—“liquid”—governance that offers only fleeting, fragmented and privatized solutions to collective problems. However, we temper this critique with a review of the literature on short-term “voluntourism” that shows it can have an important pedagogical role, priming volunteers to engage in more long-term solidarity with people in distress. To illustrate our argument, we use ethnographic and participant observation research conducted in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. We show the flaws of many short-term volunteer programs but also highlight efforts to manage them responsibly, as an attempt to cultivate an ethic of solidarity with marginalized communities. We conclude with a list of good practices for leaders of short-term volunteer programs in humanitarian crises.
Emily Welty, Matthew Bolton

Leadership Norms as a Form of Internal (Self-)Control of the Armed Forces

This chapter discusses the role of leadership norms as a specific form of internal control of the armed forces. To this end, the compatibility between (military) leadership norms and general civilian and societal norms shall be scrutinized and the question raised whether and how military leadership norms are of relevance for civilian control of the armed forces. A special focus will be laid on the multi-ethnic Russian armed forces since the problem of abuse and brutality due to leadership deficiencies, and hence the lack of control, are especially pronounced there. Delineating the traditions of leadership standards and education norms in the Russian military history, a tension between progressive and traditionalist tendencies towards norms of behavior, determined by moral-psychological norms, will be identified. The contemporary phenomenon of ethnic collectives and racial discrimination in the Russian armed forces serves as an example for the importance of civilian control in this sphere. The chapter argues that civilian actors, such as state institutions or societal organizations, regardless of the nature of the political system, should have influence on leadership standards and norms in order to foster internal control of the armed forces. The chapter concludes by drawing implications of leadership norms and control standards for the integration of armed forces with society and society-military relations in general.
Nadja Douglas

Cultural Dimensions of Violence in the Military

The experience of military violence in the ISAF operation is not only something essentially new to the society and the armed forces in Germany but also and particularly to the deployed soldiers. It is the soldiers who have theoretically practiced the use of violence as part of their profession and their service in the Bundeswehr for decades during the Cold War. For the first time since the end of World War II, they have now been forced to actively use violence in extreme situations in Afghanistan. Due to the seriously deteriorating security situation even in northern Afghanistan, ever since 2009 soldiers are no longer mere passive victims of violence during ambushes but are also confronted with having to kill, if necessary. Military leaders have had to lead in combat and take on responsibility for their subordinates and actions in extreme and complex situations. Based on anthropological research on military leaders with combat experience, this paper looks at the special challenges that Bundeswehr superiors have to face surrounding combat situations. It further analyses how operational and combat experiences are interpreted by these commanders and how they have an impact on Bundeswehr culture in theatre as well as at home. It is the military leaders who have served in extreme situations who are now striving for an official recognition of the sociocultural paradigm shift that has taken place during deployment. They do not want their Afghanistan experience to become a ‘blueprint’ for all further missions, but they do not want to accept unchanged cultural traditions of German armed forces still adhering to values, norms and behavioral patterns developed in Cold War times either.
Maren Tomforde

Fighting for Strangers? Military Duty in Contemporary War

This chapter explores the concept of military duty in the context of contemporary war. It focuses on the recent developments in the normative and strategic frameworks of Western military operations, which emphasize that mission effectiveness is largely dependent on the security and wellbeing of the local population. This has seemingly stretched the traditional notion of military duty, which is to master and apply organized military force to achieve political objectives and defeat the enemy on the battlefield. Based on empirical insights from the U.S. military and its recent missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the chapter argues that this development has created tensions between political and military understandings of duty, as well as between organizational and individual notions of duty within the U.S. military. Conflicting notions of military duty hold important policy implications to both domestic civil-military relations and U.S. military power abroad because they challenge the integrity of political objectives and threaten military cohesion and unity of effort with regard to the management of local populations during war.
Lisa Ekman

Social Navigation and the Emergence of Leadership: Tactical Command in the IDF Ground Forces in the Second Lebanon War

Based on a conceptual framework for analyzing social navigation, this article suggests looking at military leadership in processual terms: at how leadership is something that emerges in situations marked by continuous trial and error not only between commanders and subordinates but between them and a host of other significant others all within the changing social environment of the immediate circumstances of battle and the wider organizational backdrop. We show how leadership involves the socially situated rationales involved in leading people in the context of war. There are two reasons for using the case of this war. First, times of crisis are fruitful points within which to examine organizations. A sudden move between modes of military action means that many of the taken-for-granted characteristics of the military are suddenly much more visible. Second, the social and cultural contexts of war-making have changed with new emphases on force protection and casualty aversion and the transparency of military to external monitoring so that this case is a good example through which to examine how developments impinge on leadership. The study is based on interviews with thirty-six Israeli commanders—between the levels of platoon and battalions—that participated in combat in the Second Lebanon War.
Ophir Weinshall Shachar, Henrietta Cons Ponte, Eyal Ben-Ari

Leadership in Extreme Situations: Case Study of an Indonesian Special Forces Soldier During the Boxing Day Tsunami

The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 devastated the conflict-torn province of Aceh on the most western tip of the Indonesian archipelago. At that time, the Indonesian government deployed thousands of soldiers to neutralize an armed separatist movement. Through qualitative research, this article discusses the story of an Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Komando Pasukan Khusus or Kopassus) Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) who was able to emerge as a leader in an extreme situation in which the formal military and civilian leaders became non-existent. He was also able to show effective leadership by leading coastal tsunami survivors, among them the families of enemy combatants, to relative safety in the mountain and organized a functioning system during the critical period when help was still out of reach. Important findings related to the topic of leadership in extreme situations show that appropriate traits and values which are further enhanced with the right trainings and field experiences are important predictors of successful leadership in extreme situations. Further research should focus on the necessary traits related to leadership in extreme situations. In addition, a competency framework that incorporates effective leadership behaviors in extreme situations should also be explored further. Finally, future formulation of military leadership doctrine should also consider a more comprehensive approach that covers extreme situations where the military personnel might have to take over certain civilian roles.
Eri Radityawara Hidayat, Rachmad Puji Susetyo

Constructing ‘Crisis Events’ in Military Contexts—An Israeli Perspective

The present research is based on three case studies among infantry units in the IDF. It uses sensemaking processes in order to examine the way military leaders construct ‘crisis events’. The research findings indicate that ‘crisis events’ in the military context are a subjective matter. It shows that commanders use three criteria for defining a ‘crisis event’: function, control and organizational order. The definition of the constructed ‘event’ differs between commanders depending on their position and role: whereas platoon commanders and company commanders define the ‘events’ examined in the research as ‘crisis events’, battalion commanders and brigade commanders define the different ‘events’ as ‘skirmishes’. These findings suggest that the way commanders construct their definitions of a ‘crisis event’ is a manifestation of the intensity of their organizational embeddedness in the organization implying that different intensities of organizational embeddedness shape the definition that commanders construct in relation to a given ‘event’. These findings strengthen the argument that the contested nature of organizational meanings exists not only in ‘civilian’ organizations but also in military ones.
Carmit Padan

Leadership in Extreme Situations and Lessons Learned/Education


Leading in Extremis Situations: How Can Leaders Improve?

In extremis leadership is a situation in which the leader’s life and those of his/her team are, or are perceived to be, in danger. Because dangerous situations are difficult to study, and most of the literature is theoretical, little is known about how leaders communicate with their teams and make sense of these contexts. We proposed research to address this gap and understand how leaders sensemake in in extremis situations and sensegive to their teams and how this affects in extremist situation outcomes. Our study was a qualitative study of thirty US Army leaders from West Point who recently have returned from combat tours in the Middle East. Our data demonstrate that sensemaking and sensegiving in that context differ from those processes in more commonly studied benign situations. We found that leaders who have mental flexibility, sense of duty, and self-confidence were the best prepared for these dangerous situations. Our study has implications for both theory and practice.
Deirdre P. Dixon, Michael R. Weeks

How Leaders Learn from Experience in Extreme Situations: The Case of the U.S. Military in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan

The 2002 Battle of Takur Ghar, also known as the Battle on Roberts Ridge, illustrates the challenges of learning from experience in extreme situations. The analysis follows the first hour of the battle and the events leading up to the battle. We propose a four-phase model of how leaders learn to operate effectively in extreme situations and identify the importance of judgment-based learning in extreme situations. Drawing on research from crisis and disaster, organizational resilience, and performance under stress, the events reveal the challenges faced by leaders operating in extreme situations. These challenges include unreliable information, situational novelty, unclear and shifting goals, and ill-structured situations. Three concepts—thrownness, depaysement, and collateral learning—are introduced into the lexicon of leadership in extreme situations to describe how leaders might overcome these challenges. The chapter suggests that the often-quoted statement, “trust your training,” may not be enough to help leaders working in extreme situations and might be augmented with the command “trust your judgment.”
Christopher Kayes, Nate Allen, Nate Self

What Difference Does a Difference Make? Considerations About Lessons Learned from Difficult Operational Situations

In the wake of extreme operational situations—especially those with a tragic outcome—the concept of Lessons Learned is often taken into hindsight revision: What did we learn from previous events? What learning potential did we miss out on? Based on theoretical and empirical knowledge from the Danish Defense and NATO Lessons Identified/Lessons Learned guidelines, the article centers around reflections pertaining to this concern and its inherent assumptions related to the idea of learning from experience. We note that while we try to learn from past events, what happens is always a new event. The article discusses potentials and pitfalls related to the delimitation of ‘incidents’ in relation to time and context. Furthermore, the article considers the practice of categorization that is central to military Lessons Identified and Lessons Learned guidelines. It is suggested that the practice of categorization is exerted through three main activities: narrative selection of punctuations; fragmentation of experiences; and translation of personal (physical and emotional) experience into (written) knowledge management artifacts. All three categorization activities rely on specific taken-for-granted assumptions which the paper questions, encouraging the research field to further explore and develop ways of translating subjective, lived experience and its individual meaning into organizational learning.
Therese Heltberg, Thomas Jellesmark

Officer Socialization as Prelude to in Extremis Leadership

Military socialization and character building at officer academies often also involves leadership development. To assess the effects of organizational introduction activities on leadership behavior, transformational, transactional, ethical and situational leadership was measured at three times during the first six weeks of the officer education at the Royal Netherlands Military Academy. Newly arrived cadets participated in a self-report questionnaire, at organizational entry, after military introduction and after Cadet Corps’ introduction. Results indicate that military introduction stimulates participative leadership whereas the Cadet Corps’ introduction improves the effectiveness of directive leadership behavior but decreases the effectiveness of participant leadership behavior. Integrity as sub factor of ethical leadership seems to be under pressure by the military and Cadet Corps’ introduction. Both periods stimulate a hands on attitude in contrast to laissez-faire which has virtually been eliminated as a leadership style. Overall the officer socialization period seems to be beneficial for the development of (parts of) transformational leadership. Furthermore, this chapter discusses the relation between how new recruits think about leadership styles and leadership in extreme situations. Various factors of transformational, situational and ethical leadership are suggested to be useful in situations of in extremis and from the edge leadership.
Sander Dalenberg

Combat Leadership on Guadalcanal: In Extremis Leadership of the Japanese and American Soldiers in World War II

How did the Japanese and American soldiers lead their men in combat? Drawing on the individual experiences of combat during the Guadalcanal campaign, characteristics of combat leadership exercised by the non-commissioned officers and junior officers of the Japanese Army and the American Army and Marine Corps are examined. The combat leadership styles of the American and Japanese soldiers are compared to see if there are any cultural differences or similarities. In particular, combat leadership principles espoused by the battle-seasoned soldiers on both sides are illustrated according to testimonies of the individual soldiers whom the author interviewed more than 20 years ago. Oral histories of primary and secondary sources are also used for describing combat leadership experiences. In conclusion, I argue that the hard-learned combat leadership principles in extreme situations like those on Guadalcanal are almost identical among the Japanese and American tactical leaders, although there are slight cultural differences.
Hitoshi Kawano

Magnanimous Valor in Arturo Prat (1848–1879): A Necessary Quality for Leadership in Extreme Situations

This chapter intends to introduce the quality of magnanimous valor that Frigate Captain Arturo Prat (1848–1879) developed in the course of his life, which later allowed him to display his nobleness, greatness and glory when he died in the Battle of Iquique on May 21st, 1879 during the war between Chile, Peru and Bolivia (1879–1883). This chapter will offer a brief account of his life, and proposes the current need to know, highlight and follow authentic service leaders such as Prat. It delves into the conceptualization of magnanimous valor as a significant quality for extreme situations and emphasizes how this quality served Prat’s life as a leader. Practical suggestions for military leaders are provided based on the model of Arturo Prat. Finally, a description of the Battle of Iquique where the hero’s final moments can be observed is presented.
Alfredo Gorrochotegui
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