The Sandhurst Trust

Major General John Holmes DSO OBE MC - Leadership Contrasts: A Military Heart in a Civilian World

22/3/2005 : Major General John Holmes DSO OBE MC - Leadership Contrasts: A Military Heart in a Civilian World

Major General John Holmes DSO OBE MC

'Leadership Contrasts: A Military Heart in a Civilian World'

Major General John Holmes gave an excellent talk about the contrasting types of leadership he had experienced during his working life. As a young platoon commander in the Foot Guards he felt rather dependent on his Company Sergeant Major in barracks but it was clear that the buck stopped with him as a young officer on operations. He noted that he had often used intuition in exercising leadership, and was awarded a Military Cross in Northern Ireland for an impulsive, but extremely brave act, which he said just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

After Platoon Command he observed that leadership was not taught as a formal subject again in his military career - an interesting thought perhaps - and certainly when he joined the SAS he had to learn how to be accepted as the leader of a small team almost by stealth. In serving in Arabia he noted that to lead the local tribesmen successfully it was important to have integrity, understand and respect the culture, share dangers and use a "carrot and stick" approach, often by the judicious use of money. However, ultimately, leadership was not a committee activity.

As a civilian he had worked in the security field. He commented that they had no problems with employees in Iraq as working for a Private Company meant being paid on time. He said the key to effective leadership was good communication and reiterated that, above all, intuition was needed to remain safe in hostile environments. From his perspective he thought that money was the main driver for those he had been working with as a civilian.

Above all he felt one phrase linked all his leadership thoughts - knowing right from wrong. It is simple but, in its simplicity, perhaps an enlightening thought.


Major General John Holmes DSO OBE MC

John Holmes was commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1970. He joined 22 SAS in 1974 ending up as Commanding Officer. He then jumped a rank from Lt Colonel to Brigadier to command the Parachute Brigade. He later worked for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) before returning to become Director Special Forces.

Promoted to Major General he commanded of 4 Div in Aldershot. He took early retirement in 2001 and has since worked on a number of special projects including a study for the Metropolitan Police into what the Commercial Sector in London could do to help the Counter-Terrorist effort. He is a Director of Erinys Iraq, a UK security firm, Titon International and a founder Director SOE Academy Ltd, which is establishing a Security and Counter-Terrorist Academy for the UK.

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