1 Mercian Leadership Development

1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment have been taking the lead in developing its next generation of leaders by introducing innovative approaches to leadership development for 10 NCOs from across the battalion. Officers & soldiers were encouraged to suggest ideas for the use of The Innovation Fund – leadership development was selected as one area for investment.

Thinking outside the box and in a radical move, the battalion chose to use a civilian leadership development organisation (VA Consultants) to introduce a novel perspective to leadership to complement the army’s excellent in-house leadership development offering.

Part of the Commanding Officer’s vision is to create a high-performing, inclusive leadership culture in which all members of the battalion feel that they belong & have a voice. His ambition was that the workshop helped the selected NCO to realise their leadership potential & increase their capacity to operate as role-model leaders – all of which is intended to improve engagement & retention & so underpin the battalion’s effectiveness.

A 2-day interactive, experiential leadership development programme was commissioned that used Vertical & Horizontal Development to underpin a design that was focussed on creating a common language and approach around leadership with a focus on:

  • Developing mind-sets & enabling beliefs as the foundation for transformational, inspirational leadership capability
  • Raising self-awareness, increasing confidence & improving communication
  • Developing the capacity for action-orientated leadership
  • Using Leadership Dialogue as a key enabler of development
  • Developing core skills relating to Leadership, Dialogue, Giving Feedback & Coaching.

That needs an explanation….

Experiential Learning, Vertical & Horizontal Development

Experiential Learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing”. It differs from traditional, rote or didactic learning approaches where information is transferred from an instructor to a student (often using tools such as presentations) which may not necessarily involve students reflecting on their learning and in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role.

Experiential Learning puts the onus & ownership for the learning onto the student & creates an environment where learners take ownership for their own learning. Balanced experiential learning interventions include direct encounter (projects, activities, life experience), discussion & dialogue, relevant theory inputs, feedback & reflection.

Vertical Leadership Development focuses on developing an individual’s ability to think and more skilfully make sense of the world around them. It also aims to provide them a few, high value tools, models and framework to assist them in doing their leadership more effectively (Horizontal Development).

Vertical & Horizontal Development was incorporated into the workshop design to enable the transformational change in leadership behaviour required by the battalion. Can stuff like that work in the British Army? Well, as one corporal remarked…

“I really enjoyed the workshop, it was very interactive, hands on & not just about sitting through loads of PowerPoint slides. That made it more enjoyable & interactive – it encouraged me to be actively involved and & gave me the opportunity for free thinking”

The Result

All agreed they’d enjoyed the experience (despite initial scepticism), learnt lots & committed to new leadership behaviours. “I loved the commitment, energy & pragmatism of the soldiers & I felt privileged to see personal transformation taking place as the workshop progressed” (Andy Harmer, www.andyharmerconsulting.com, workshop facilitator)

  • I enjoyed the programme experience… 100% Agree, 80% Strongly Agree
  • I found the combination of experiences, theory input and discussion was appropriate and helped me to learn more… 100% Agree, 50% Strongly Agree
  • The consultant added value to my learning experience… 100% Agree, 60% Strongly Agree


  • The workshop has really taught me how to be a good, effective leader
  • Very good workshop, strongly recommend it for the battalion
  • Hands on & not just PowerPoint slides made it more enjoyable & interactive
  • Showed me different ways to be a leader & how to talk to individuals on different levels
  • The programme introduced me to lots of thoughts about myself, different leadership styles & how my personality traits can shape my leadership
  • The experience was second to none
  • I would recommend the programme to any command or leadership establishment
  • Very interactive – encouraged active & free thinking
  • I learnt some interesting & effective techniques
  • I liked the interactive tests to get you thinking rather than it being all PowerPoint or theory
  • I feel that I have learnt a lot about myself as a person & as a leader
  • I have thoroughly enjoyed it & will take what I’ve learnt forward in my career
  • Having someone from a non-military environment has put a new perspective on things
  • An eye-opener – I would recommend to all future leaders
  • I learnt a lot – a change from sitting behind a PowerPoint
  • I liked the discussions – they forced you to think & contemplate the topic

What will you do differently when you go back to your job as a result of this programme?

  • Listen, actively ask open questions
  • This course has helped massively towards my self-analysis. It has made me realise my potential & what I need to improve on to become a reliable leader
  • I will have a vision for myself & the platoon to be better soldiers
  • Listen to the blokes more
  • Assert myself
  • I will use different leadership styles to cater for everyone’s needs
  • Adapt my leadership to suit my audience
  • Invest more in individuals
  • Use questioning techniques to identify underlying G1 issues & encourage people to trouble-shoot their own problems
  • I will invest & use my time to focus on my section/soldiers to help them with problems & difficult scenarios
  • Be more open to lads confiding in me
  • Help them to reach their own decisions rather than just tell them the answer
  • Alter my leadership style to best suit the people that work under me
  • Take time to listen more

So What?

This experience begs the question how Transformational Leadership Development can be introduced into the wider army curriculum to complement the excellent, Horizontal Development approach that is widely employed around leadership development.