Leadership Perspectives 22 – Stuart Tootal

Posted: 18th December 2017

Stuart Tootal – Former commander of British Army’s 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (3 PARA), in Afghanistan. Now a leadership consultant who contributes to Møller Executive Education programmes and a corporate Managing Director.

An inspiration

Claus von Stauffenburg Even in the face of defeat in 1944, few Germans were willing to risk all and challenge the Nazis. Although a relatively junior officer and severely wounded, von Stauffenburg inspired, led and personally drove a group of faltering senior generals in an attempted coup that very nearly changed the course of the Second World War. The personal courage and risks von Stauffenburg took were immense and he paid with his life; a consequence of his actions which was never in doubt. When his seniors faltered, he met the real definition of leadership by setting an example and demonstrating high moral and physical courage, which inspired others to set something in motion that would never have been attempted without his personal influence and vision.

What in your view is the greatest challenge facing leaders in the next 25 years?

The power and speed of social media requires today’s leaders to act faster and more decisively than previously with less time to consider a position. Therefore, the risks of winning the media battle are exacerbated and every aspect of the shadow a leader casts (good or bad) is now under far greater public scrutiny than ever before.

What in your own life has taught you the most about leadership?

Leading the first UK combat unit into Southern Afghanistan was the crucible of all my leadership testing. Resourced to conduct a peace mission, 3 PARA ended up participating in a level of combat not seen by the British Army since the Korea War. Within eighteen months, 24,000 troops had been sent to hold an area 3 PARA held with only 1,200 paratroopers. A mission command style of leadership was essential. Junior leaders needed to feel empowered to take their own high risk decisions in order to seize fleeting windows of opportunity, while remaining within overall organisational intent. It required: absolute clarity of intent, an understood decision making methodology, accountability, learning from mistakes, integrity, example, knowing and being known by your people and compassion. Get these right and regardless of the nature of the challenge or environment (combat or commercial), your people will always deliver for you, however difficult things get. “Wenn die generäle versagen die colonels muss einschreiten.’ (When the generals fail the colonels must step in.)” Colonel Claus von Stauffenburg

This is one of 25 Leadership Perspectives in a book published by the Møller Centre to mark its 25th anniversary year entitled Leadership Perspectives. The book, which you can download here, features 25 leaders talking candidly about what they believe to be the greatest challenges facing leaders over the next 25 years.