A Decisive Leader
The Leadership Book

A Decisive Leader

Leadership instructor Neil Jurd offers leadership training derived from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst method, with its emphasis on responsibility, clarity and decisive action.

Nel Jurd, a British army veteran and former leadership instructor at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, is the national director of initial officer training for the British Army’s Cadet Force. He served in the British Army in Iraq, Yemen, Bosnia and Sierra Leone, and taught leadership at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Jurd was injured by enemy mortar fire leading his Gurkha Squadron in Iraq and earned commendations for his leadership as a junior officer.

In this practical overview of a leader’s responsibilities, he distills the lessons he learned serving on the front lines and later taught at Sandhurst.

Leadership, Not Management

Leaders multiply their own positive impact and actions by inspiring and motivating the members of their teams.


Leaders achieve things far beyond what they could do alone, by engaging others intellectually and emotionally in pursuit of a clear and compelling purpose.Neil Jurd


Effective leaders connect with the people they lead professionally and emotionally. The emotional connection is essential — positive emotion energizes team members and helps them commit to working toward the organization’s goals.

For army officers, personality should be a more effective leadership tool than rank. Official status in the hierarchy can hinder leaders who want to create strong emotional and intellectual connections with their teams. 

Honest leaders are effective, respected and inspiring. Communicate your –and their – goals to your team members to keep them enthusiastic, energized and engaged. However, never try to lead through intimidation, manipulation or dominance. Trust your people and avoid micromanaging. Keep your plans simple, easy to understand and to follow.

Management tells people what to do; leadership motivates them to do more. Leadership engages people to accomplish shared goals; management calls for astutely leveraging your organization’s resources. Management provides comfort, security and structure.  Leadership is about inspiring people, not making them comfortable.

Quality leadership Communication

The best and most compelling communications take place in face-to-face conversations. Unreceived messages are worse than useless; they give communicators a false sense of security that they have gotten their idea across. To guarantee your team members receive your messages, speak to them directly. Understandable messages depend on clear, concise language; don’t over-communicate. Your messaging has value only if people believe it, so your people must regard you as honest and trustworthy. A message that requires action falls flat if people don’t act on it. Great leadership messages inspire people to act.


Back-briefing is a long-established British Army communication technique.


The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it.William H. Whyte


When a British officer communicates a message, the subordinate who receives it analyzes it carefully to ensure it makes sense and is actionable. Once the person fully understands the message, he or she confirms that understanding with the leader. 

Purpose, Leadership and Culture (PLC)

Directing a team requires purpose, leadership and culture: The PLC model. Each element promotes the other two. 


Having a culture of trust and mutual understanding characterized by open and honest communications within the team makes it okay to express doubts and offer constructive criticism. Neil Jurd

An organization’s purpose is its driving force. Team members must understand and support the organization’s purpose. The best teams seldom have one leader. Besides the official leader, individual team members — depending on their abilities and charisma — may also act as leaders. They engage with other team members and encourage them. On the best teams, the culture supports all individual members. It places a significant premium on creativity, receptivity to new ideas and innovation. The best culture recognizes the value of each team member’s autonomy. Team members in a positive, sustaining culture engage with their work professionally and emotionally.

Team Members Needs

Officers in training at Sandhurst learn to focus on the people they lead, not on themselves. When Neil Jurd was a Sandhurst cadet, his trainers stressed that he and the other cadets had to constantly monitor their soldiers’ feet to check for blisters and other problems after long marches.


If we cannot engage others, we will not be able to lead them.Neil Jurd

One of the least glamorous activities a British officer can undertake is inspecting  “smelly feet.” What objectionable tasks must you take care of as a leader? Whatever they are, handle them directly and with grace. That’s what leaders do.

“Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action” (OODA)

Leaders must make intelligent, timely decisions based on the facts. To fulfill that requirement, United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd developed the OODA Loop (observation, orientation, decision, action) to train fighter pilots. In a dynamic combat situation, pilots must make the right decisions almost instantaneously.


Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.Napoleon Bonapar

To use this thought process, first carefully observe what is happening and note any significant changes or circumstances. During Orientation, interpret the meaning and significance of the information you gather. Many organizations place too high a premium on a speedy response and needlessly rush their decisions. Reflect carefully before making a decision. Then, take action.

Mission Command

In the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte’s army defeated the mighty Prussian army. Military strategist and scholar Carl Von Clausewitz analyzed the actions of both armies. He determined that the Prussian army was bureaucratic and tightly controlled. Junior officers could make no independent decisions and waited for superiors to tell them what to do. 


As a leader, being honest and straightforward is important, because if people trust you, your messages will be more likely to get through successfully.Neil Jurd

Napoleon, conversely, made sure his officers could see the big picture and felt comfortable making quick decisions. This style of command is now known as Mission Command, and can apply to any organization or situation. Mission Command means every person on the team treats other members with respect and trust. No one tries to micromanage. Team members share the same goals and work to achieve them. Everyone understands the What and the Why of their situation. People closest to the action determine the How and make smart, efficient, timely decisions.

Not New, But Charming

The military acronyms and references are the main innovations here, since Neil Jurd’s counsel fits the approach of many contemporary leadership books. However, his hard-nosed, charming affability makes his advice distinctive. Jurd is the wise, funny soldier of lore, and he works that persona for all its worth. Businesspeople who incline to military advice and frameworks will gravitate to his work. And even if you have little interest in either, you will still find that he offers direct, workable advice you might either implement immediately or reflect upon as a tool for character-building.

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