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by | Jul 10, 2018 | Advice

Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC’s) are part of a multibillion-dollar industry supplying both security and logistical needs for governments, commercial groups and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s). Humanitarian NGO’s have increasing contact with the PMSC industry given their work on the ground although, often in the same operational situation, their tasks are different, as can be the leadership required to carry out these missions – or is it?

The Capacity to lead has four characteristics common to all leadership styles:

1 – Leadership is a process;

2 – Leadership involves influence;

3 – Leadership occurs in a group context;

4 – Leadership consists of the attainment of goals.

Leadership is the process of an individual’s influence on a group to achieve a common goal. However, there are different forms of leadership and what leaders do.

The more common style of PMSC leadership is focused on a traditional military hierarchical style where command can be one dimensional from the top down. Leadership found in PMSC’s is borne out of experience in the service of national Armed Forces by their personnel. However, military leadership is not the authoritarian style it is often thought to be. Typically, military leaders utilise a mix of transactional, transformational and servant leadership styles.

  • Transactional Leadership: This type of leader seeks mutually satisfying outcomes by providing clear directions and holding subordinates accountable for their actions.
  • Transformational Leadership: These leaders are charismatic. They motivate and inspire with intellect, quick thinking, and decisive actions which are vital to survival in hostile environments. The essence of this leader is the dedication to others before themselves. It is effective because leaders embody the characteristics of empathy and acceptance, a sense of community, and a calling to serve others.
  • All In One: Effective military leaders possess characteristics of each leadership style. In the PMSC sector, a situational leadership style is developed.
There are qualities that NGO leaders possess that motivate their team:
  • Effective communicators
    NGO leaders are excellent communicators. They are required to deal with a wide range of stakeholders with different agendas, such as the beneficiaries, donors, and external agencies. They tune their communication to suit the audience. Socialisation of meetings is essential, networks are created, and people are engaged to further the cause of the organisation.
  • Focussed on the goal
    There is a process of constant questioning of their staff, donors, and other stakeholders. The ultimate objective of the organisation is central to the effort. Social change and development are well understood as parts of a lengthy process, mapped towards organisational goals, with a vigilant eye on the question, ‘Are we there yet?’
  • Inspire and empower
    Effective NGO leadership ideologies combine passion, compassion and working styles, to inspire team members, donors and stakeholders.  However, they are professionals but still compassionate towards people. There is an acceptance of diversity, be it within the team or outside the organisation, and strong recognition of being ethically responsible and accountable to their teams and even their beneficiaries, motivating ethical behaviour, that reflects their organisation’s policies.
  • Take the initiative
    NGO Leaders are confident, pro-active, and they take the initiative. In the field they anticipate problems and act in time to correct the situation. This also applies to self-improvement which they actively seek. They are always looking for opportunities for the betterment of their own self and their teams. This makes them excellent team workers, and they can do so because they are focused on the larger goal. Their pro-active instinct also makes them identify opportunities and ways to make the best use of them. Such people can genuinely be assets to the organisation.
  • Believe in transformation
    A dominant belief in the possibility of transformation is core. They have complete 
    faith in their own work, the organisational objectives and goals and the means they take to achieve them. They are passionate towards the community, are sensitive and resilient humans, believe in the cause and work consistently towards it.

That is not to say that leaders in PMSC’s do not have these qualities. PMSC businesses operate in a market economy and the drivers to mission success can be different.

Being a good leader is never easy. A leader’s actions are carefully scrutinized when operations become difficult; leadership qualities are most visible when the going gets tough. Be they in NGO’s or PMSC’s the best leaders display common attributes:

  • Clearness: Leaders are mission focused and demonstrate clarity of purpose.
  • Decisive: Leaders are consistent in decision making, rarely backing out or changing their minds unless it is absolutely necessary.
  • Courage: A natural boldness or at least a projection of fearlessness is a strong leadership trait.
  • Passion: Leaders that inspire show seemingly unlimited energy and enthusiasm for what they do.
  • Humility: Confidence is an attractive characteristic of leaders. However, leaders admit when they are wrong and take criticism as an opportunity for growth.

The use of PMSC contractors by NGO’s in dangerous regions is a sensitive subject. While rare, many NGO’s have sought the services of PMSC’s in hazardous areas of operation.

The combination of leadership styles can lead to mission success. The NGO team and PMSC contractors are responsible for their own efficiency, utilising their own unique leadership style. Cohesive management of a joint team requires the merger of leadership styles. Differing leadership styles and communication can lead to strained cooperation, and it becomes a challenge to achieve mission success. Therefore, it is essential that NGO’s and PMSC’s jointly deployed bring differing leadership styles together to form a more cohesive team.

Defining clear boundaries is essential. Setting ground rules are critical to sharing the management of the same group.

The different leadership styles of NGO’s and PMSC’s can be challenging if they are working together. If these challenges are overcome, it is possible to create a more productive group with both the NGO and PMSC teams successfully achieving the mission for which they deployed together. By learning to work across diverse leadership styles, it also becomes possible to sustain successful and motivating relationships.

Barry ET Harris MBE is a consultant for Proelium Law LLP, he is a British Army veteran, he combines operational experience with extensive commercial consulting, executive, and management expertise gained in complex environments and high-risk jurisdictions worldwide.


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