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Transformační vojenský leadership - požadavky, charakteristika a vývoj

Aktuální bezpečnostní prostředí je rozmanitější, dynamičtější, vzájemně propojené a mnohem méně předvídatelné než kdykoli předtím. Stejně jako organizace v podnikatelské sféře se i vojenské organizace musí přizpůsobovat rostoucí složitosti strategického prostředí. Vzhledem k neustálým organizačním změnám v ozbrojených silách západních států vyplývajících z nových úkolů se zvyšují i nároky na bojové schopnosti vojenských velitelů. Transformační leadership realizovaný veliteli, kteří ve svém vývoji dosáhli post-konvenční morální úrovně, je pravděpodobně jediným relevantním elementem, který je schopen transformovat a adaptovat vojenskou organizaci na řešení současných a budoucích bezpečnostních problémů. Tento článek analyzuje možnost použitelnosti transformačního leadershipu ve vojenské organizaci s využitím vývojových teorií v rámci koncepce rozvoje řízení ve vertikální struktuře.

Další informace

  • ročník: 2016
  • číslo: Mimořádné číslo
  • stav: Recenzované / Reviewed
  • typ článku: Přehledový / Peer-reviewed



The ability of a national defence to play its role becomes more and more challenging with increasing complexity of the contemporaneous security environment that may be described as a complex adaptive system. One of the key features of complex adaptive systems is that we cannot precisely predict their future states but only take action to minimise undesirable ones. The logical consequence for a military organisation is that it cannot develop all necessary capabilities and prepare for all possible contingencies. However, it may and should increase its agility[1] - strategic and operational. Increasing strategic agility requires improving a number of processes and military capabilities as well as changing intra-entity and inter-entity behaviours.[2] It actually requires capacity for an organisational, enterprise level, change.

Making and sustaining the military organisation effective, able to protect and advance national security objectives, is arguably the first and foremost role of the defence planning. For a national defence, it is also important to be efficient, which is a matter of not only choosing the right military end products and components (capabilities), and developing them at the least cost but also of the speed with which decisions are made and implemented (Knorr, 1968). This, consequently, emphasises the need for developing leaders’ competences and their abilities in the area not traditionally seen as the military core business. Traditional command and control modalities, although historically appropriate, will not suffice in the circumstances in which the military organisation needs the capacity to adapt timely and appropriately through change.

Military leaders, seen traditionally as a part of the moral component of the military fighting power, are, along with the conceptual component and physical component, one of the pillars of an effective and efficient military organisation. However, as the expectations put on leadership have been traditionally connected with the warfighting abilities, today, and it is especially the case with the highest level of military decision-makers, the military leaders need to possess the capacity to lead against mutating and morphing threats, along with allies and partners, plan and engage collaboratively with governmental agencies, private sector and NGOs, and continuously identify capabilities needed to address and respond to new threats. For the military organisation it may require changes in certain or the majority of capabilities in the whole DOTMLPFI[3] spectrum, with particular emphasis on interoperability and readiness to support shared resources[4]. Besides that, it may include changes in people’s behaviour and the culture of an organisation. Satisfying these demands, different from the historical military leadership practices, and performing with excellence will require advanced and sustained development of military leaders (Anderson and Ackerman Anderson, 2013).

Official military standards for evaluation and selection for promotion usually do not necessarily recognize specific cognitive officers’ abilities,[5] particularly conceptual ones, needed for strategic military leaders. Military education systems, equally, do not have educational programs that teach the art of leadership which would be similar to the vertical leadership development[6] concept. Traditional education, both civilian and military, allows gaining the knowledge and developing the skills, which serve as tools, required for what people are doing professionally. Vertical development programs, on the other hand, are built on the science of human development[7] and therefore suit better assessing and developing leaders able to lead more profound changes in an organisation. Since that kind of development has not yet been officially introduced in military education curricula, it usually happens spontaneously.

The purpose of this article is to present concepts, methods and theories that the military organisation may use, as a possible approach, to respond to challenges from complex security environment that have an impact on defence. Through the introduction of the concepts of organisational transformation (transformational change), transformational leadership, vertical leadership development and developmental theory - leadership dimension is given an additional and crucial role of ensuring the military power to be effective and efficient through its ability to adapt.


The main focus of the article is on the strategic military leadership.[8] The author argues that their competencies and abilities are crucial to ensuring that military organisation is able to cope with and respond adequately to challenges coming from the security environment. The author introduces several theses related to the ability of the military organisation to fulfil its missions and tasks in the complex security environment:

  • The military organisation has to be agile enough to undergo necessary changes and adaptations that are a consequence of uncertain and unpredictable security environment. While highly capable platforms may be crucial for winning in the conventional warfare, they are neither always the most effective nor the most appropriate security policy tool in the contemporaneous security environment.
  • Leaders have to possess an adequate level of abilities to initiate, plan and conduct changes that will ensure adequate adaptation of the military organisation. These abilities cannot be acquired exclusively through the horizontal leadership development (skills and knowledge oriented) but through the vertical leadership development (capacity development oriented) as well.
  • Military leadership cannot be generically defined as a universal construct but rather be considered a multi-layered, adaptive process. It is particularly demanding for the military to develop flag visionary leaders, capable of embracing forward thinking and holding the strategic perspective,[9] as the fusion of a theorist and practitioner is rare[10]. The competencies and qualities of strategic military leaders have to be defined and developed differently than traditional ones which required almost exclusively warfighting abilities
  • Assessment, evaluation and development of military leaders capable of conducting transformational changes require a new approach. The developmental theory provides the broad context and methods for identification of the corresponding level of an individual’s stage of development.

The author puts in a relation transformational leadership concept, the organisational transformation, with its requirements and characteristics, and vertical leadership development with the developmental theory. The proposed approach is organised in the following order:

  • Description of drivers of change - describes why the paradigm change is needed in coping with challenges of the security environment, and what the consequent requirements for military organisation and leadership are.
  • Military leadership - provides the official (traditional) categorization and definition as well as description of specific differences between operational and transformational leadership.
  • Military organisation and change - describes the culture of military organisation and limits for change. The chapter describes the general types of organisational changes highlighting the transformational change as the major and the most complex type of change, relevant for a nation’s or alliance’s defence posture.
  • Leadership development - introduces the vertical development and developmental theory aiming to present its validity for assessment and development of leaders.


This chapter describes drivers that incite organisational changes and describe the requirements set against contemporaneous military organisations and leadership. Drivers of change for the military organisation are not limited exclusively to external (threats and challenges) and internal (civil-military) factors. They may be of other nature as well and be shaped by different, not only political or economic trends. NATO, for example, in its Security Foresight Analysis Report (NATO HQ SACT, 2013; NATO HQ SACT, 2015), identifies trends in five broad themes: Political, Human, Technology, Economics/Resources, and Environment.


The system of international relations (IR) may be described as a complex adaptive system.[11] Like most others, such as the nervous system, immune system, rain forest or the atmosphere, the system of international relations may also be explained as a complex system, i.e. a complex society (Kawaguchi, 2003, p.7). What matters for any complex system matters for a complex society as well, i.e. the change in such a system does not occur in the form of simple cause and effect. In a complex system, local events and interactions among the “agents” can cascade and reshape the entire system which describes a property called emergence. Thus, the system continually evolves in hardly predictable ways through a cycle of local interactions, emergence, and feedback. In practice, change in one part of the system, whether political, economic, societal or environmental, can be both a cause and/or effect of changes in one or more other systems. Change of the whole can give rise to changes in one or more of its parts, and change in one or more parts can provoke further changes of the whole. The most symptomatic characteristic of complexity in IR is the “spill over effect”.[12] This effect describes the potential impact of conflicts in neighbouring countries, particularly those along the NATO borders, which may spread over the national borders and represent challenges for NATO members.

The most important feature of complex systems, in terms of national security, is that we cannot precisely predict their future states. National security becomes more and more complex itself and closely related to the concept of sustainability that encompasses economic, social and ecological dimension. Military organisation as an instrument of the national power is more and more seen as a means that has to be integrated with other instruments of power in order to respond to new challenges adequately.[13]

The contemporaneous security environment in which armed forces have to operate is very often described as “VUCA” - volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (Stiehm, 2002, p. 6). Whilst volatility and uncertainty are not that new, complexity and ambiguity may be considered as a development of the post-Cold War period.

General Denis Mercier (2015), Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, describes the characteristics of adversaries NATO may face as “versatile and innovative, triggering an increasing number of simultaneous crises, developing new types of threats, which at the end, will try to impose higher costs on our Nations’ ability to constantly adapt and react.” SACT follows with description of the future security environment describing it as the one that “will require forces which are very resilient, networked and have a level of integration that generates military advantage.”

Obviously, the challenges that characterise the contemporaneous security environment require constant adaptation from national defence. The UK RAF’s strategy (2006) emphasized this point precisely: “[t]he greatest risk to the security of the UK is perhaps that the strategic environment will change faster than the UK can adapt to the change.” Armed forces are consequently forced to transform in response to a political and technological change. However, the transformation should not be just a journey from one set of capabilities to another without assessing what else has to be transformed in the organisation.

There are also many other possible challenges that may emerge from a complex security environment. These challenges, especially noticeable during the planning of operations in a military headquarters, are described as “wicked problems”. The concept of wicked problems was introduced by Rittel and Webber (1973), arising from social and urban planning. Han de Nijs (2010) describes it with the following definition:

“Wicked problems are problems that are un-bounded and ill-defined, are novel but difficult to conceive, and have multiple and conflicting goals and customers. A wicked problem is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in a traditional linear engineering fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. Most projects in organizations – and virtually all technology-related projects these days - are about wicked problems.”

Considering the abovementioned features of the security environment we may suggest that the characteristic to be primarily sought and developed in a military organisation is agility. The agility should assume the ability and capacity of a military organisation to undergo change and adapt timely, structurally and doctrinally, when necessary. Jeffrey Becker (2014) suggests that “we must understand how - in a world most agree is (as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is fond of saying) ‘complex, uncertain, and increasingly dangerous’, we cultivate the mental agility to prepare where we can, and adjust to unanticipated conditions when we must.” Either adequate preparation, regarding capabilities or adjusting/adapting will require change in certain extent. The need for a change will, therefore, certainly affect capabilities but may also require a change in strategy, doctrines or the organisational culture. The change may also affect the role of the military as it may become just one of the instruments of the national power engaged in operation.[14] In that case the military will have to operate with other national and/or allied instruments of power, governmental agencies, nongovernmental organisations and the private sector.


After the First Gulf War, it seemed that quick military victories could be achieved by small numbers of technologically sophisticated forces capable of launching precision strikes against enemy targets from safe distances. NATO campaign in Kosovo, in 1999, proved that approach applicable. However, this approach turned out to be false on and after the 9/11 which also created another paradigm - the one that the conventional war belongs to history.

There are many examples that show how the use of existing concepts, no matter how successful for certain purposes, may turn to be ineffective for another purpose. One example is the US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. LTG H. R. McMaster (2015), who led the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Iraq as a colonel, in 2005 and 2006, observed:

“These defense theories, associated with the belief that new technology had ushered in a whole new era of war, were then applied to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; in both, they clouded our understanding of the conflicts and delayed the development of effective strategies.”

Another example, described by a retired U.S. Army general Stanley McChrystal (2015), particularly relevant to the U.S. intervention in Iraq, reveals that:

“In Iraq, we were using complicated solutions to attack a complex problem. For decades we had been able to execute our linear approach faster than the external environment could change, and as a result, we believed we were doing something different from other organisations. In fact, we were as bureaucratic as anyone else; we were just more efficient in our execution.”

Simple recognition of problems in the past is, of course, not enough, as the past does not repeat itself literally. It is very important, therefore, to detect inner challenges that may lead to a failure. General David Perkins (2015, p. 114), Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, when asked in an interview about his opinion on the biggest challenges, i.e., the possible impediments, to achieving the vision for “U.S. Force 2025 and Beyond”, said:

“Number one, I think, is sort of lack of imagination. Number two is a lack of willingness to take risk, to change the way we do business, everything from the way our leaders think about war to the processes, and then, therefore, a lack of risk in coming up with new and innovative concepts, and a lack of taking risk with regard to forming the process where we take a concept and form it into a capability.”

The simple conclusion that may be derived from the examples above is that the strategic and operational challenges emerging in the security environment alter very often in their character. Consequently, the strategic and operational concepts and approaches to solutions have to be continuously adapted or/and changed. The examples shown above emphasise the need to approach every new major mission independently, with the great amount of creativity and imagination. They also highlight the need for leaders to make proper decisions when they encounter situations that are unforeseen. It is therefore very important for an officer in charge of leading to understanding the context within which he or she operates, and also understand the consequences that will result from the action. Bartone et al. (2007) argue that:

“The modern professional military officer must be able to take a broader view than past military leaders, a more comprehensive perspective on the surrounding operational, organizational, social and political domains of experience. There would also seem to be an increasing need for military leaders at all levels to possess what traditionally have been viewed as essential attributes for senior or strategic leaders, attributes such as broad conceptual capacity, divergent thinking, and creative problem solving skills.”

The Norwegian Military Academy’s concept of leadership development (Boe, 2015) emphasises the character and intellect as essential factors in military leadership and pivotal characteristics of officer competency. Although the exact knowledge of what the character is and how the character can be developed is an undergoing project in Norway and some other countries – the very existence of an idea that recognises the need to develop officers’ personal traits along with the intellect already represents a significant mindset shift. As we will see later in this article, the idea of the character development might be seen in already existing developmental theory and the concept of vertical development.


The dynamics that may be observed in the strategic security environment since the beginning of the 21st century have brought out many new challenges for the national security and global security in general. Organisations, socio-economic and military, are increasingly faced with highly ambiguous, complex and dynamic conditions and are required to respond in less time, with fewer resources and across a larger spectrum.

Western militaries have undergone continuous changes of its organisation since its emergence two centuries ago, and are currently, according to Charles Moskos (1998), in its postmodern phase. One of the characteristics of the postmodern military is the increasing interpenetrability of civilian and military spheres, which is not only an internal (in-society) development but arguably the only relevant way, a demand, needed to adequately respond to emerging security challenges.[15] Many countries already apply whole-of-government approach including interactions between government and non-governmental actors.[16] Participation in such an endeavour represents the challenge for a military organisation as the tasks and/or the way of planning and working with other organisations and entities objectively not necessarily fit with the military “core business”.

Information has become a game changer and very often made irrelevant many of the traditional constituents of the fighting power, particularly superiority in numbers (material, soldiers, etc.). Today’s information environment which makes reality instantaneous and information omnipresent is difficult, if not impossible, to control. These facts represent a very high demand on a modern military organisation to improve the way their command and control model (systems and procedures) work. Even more, challenges coming from the information environment have had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on how institutions manage themselves and how they can work with coalition partners (Alberts et al., 2010).[17]

The military organisation has to be agile enough to undergo necessary adaptations that are a consequence of impact of uncertain and unpredictable contemporaneous security environment. Strategic agility[18], arguably, has to be a key principle of any modern military and defence strategy and the overarching capability of the armed forces.


The nature of challenges emerging from strategic environment obviously requires leaders’ and organisational agility, which comprises flexibility and adaptability. While it is important for leaders to possess an expanded conceptual capacity it is of equal importance for a military organisation to possess resilience that will allow adaptation across a wide range of unforeseen challenges.


In regular circumstances, the culture is the result of a complex group learning process that is only partially influenced by the leader’s behaviour. However, if the organisation’s survival is threatened because elements of its culture have become maladapted, it is ultimately the function of leadership at all levels of the organisation to recognise and initiate changes. In this sense, the leadership and culture are conceptually intertwined.

Military organisations are specific. They have been built for centuries around a disciplined and hierarchical structure including strictly defined pattern of interaction. The core military business, characterised by the frequent need to execute missions and tasks without the luxury of gaining consensus, reinforced high levels of power distance within the military. Despite a move away from large formations of the 20th century warfare, this cultural assumption is largely unchanged (Gerras et al, 2009). The change is not quality immanent to military organisations. Actually, when it comes to the organisational change, the literature suggests (Thornton, 2015) that “major change” only comes about through a defeat in war or through a significant civilian intervention.

Not so many organisations and institutions devote as many resources to the assimilation of their members as does the military. Elizabeth Kier (1996) argues that “what the military perceives to be in its interest is a function of its culture”. Consequently, although the military’s culture may reflect some aspects of the civilian society’s culture - the military’s powerful assimilation processes can diminish the influence of the civilian society. Probably the main internal challenge of the western militaries is a disconnect between the desired goal to have an adaptive, learning and innovative environment to deal with the complexities of today’s challenges and the creation of the corresponding culture, on one side, and an old fashioned climate, on the other side.

Brigadier General David A. Fastabend and Robert H. Simpson (2004) summarise the paradoxical nature of power distance in military by observing that, “the Army’s culture has an enduring, legitimate pull between essential centralized control and necessary, decentralized innovation.”


Formalization of organizational structures and processes, necessary during the conduct of operational planning and execution of missions, on one side, and the requirement for agility on the other side, may create tensions. However, the achievement of certain level of agility should not be a linear, irreversible process. Kalloniatis and MacLeod (2010) argue that “adaptation to contingencies can, however, be achieved by manipulating the degrees of formalization, decision centralization, and distribution of skill specializations such that innovation is not suppressed.” In short, “process centricity” or the balance between military commander’s explicit and implicit intent in bounding the subordinate’s solution space may shift according to circumstances. Adaptability, therefore, may be described in terms of the structural change to maintain fitness-for-purpose against changing contingencies. Two main dimensions of it are the distribution of decision-making authority, from centralised to decentralised, and organisational departmentation, from divisional[19] to functional.

As it is hard to expect that a military system will undergo radical changes while its basic mission is to keep its readiness and robustness, it is important to develop as much as possible the quality of ambidexterity[20] - the ability to simultaneously run and reinvent the organisation.

The ability to change and adapt to the circumstances, even during the course of a crisis or campaign, was recognised as a superior quality by Sun Tzu as well: “What enables the masses of the Three Armies invariably to withstand the enemy without being defeated are the unorthodox (ch’i) and orthodox (cheng). In general, in battle one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox” (Sawyer, 1994, p. 187).


Understanding the change in the operating environment is essential or success and even survival. Vice Admiral Kevin D. Scott, in the foreword of the U.S. Joint Operating Environment 2035 (JCS, 2016), points out that “to think about the future usefully, we must describe change in a rigorous and credible way.” However, ability to cope with changes in the environment requires changes in our own organisation.

According to Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson (2010) there are three essential types of change occurring in organisation in relation to critical focus areas of content, people and process. They are: developmental, transitional and transformational - where each of them has some implications for change leadership[21] and for change strategy.[22]

Successful organisational transformation requires simultaneous attention to all three areas. The content is a synonym for what and it refers to the strategy, structure, systems, processes and technology. When compared to the elements of fighting power (Figure 4) this area encompasses the conceptual and physical component. The second area is people, which refers to the human dynamics and includes mind-set, commitment, engagement, communication, politics, resistance, emotions. This area, obviously, corresponds to the moral component of the fighting power. The third area, process, is a synonym for how, and relates to the way in which change is planned, designed, implemented and governed and course corrected.

While the concept described above is designed initially for civilian organisations, basically companies (businesses), it may be applied to the military organisation as well, taking into consideration its specifics.


Developmental change is the least profound and “dramatic” among the three types of changes. It represents the improvements, generally incremental, of existing skills, methods, performance standards, or condition that for some reason does not satisfy current or future needs. These changes may be described as improvements “within the box”, as shown in Figure 1, of what is already known or practised. They represent adjustments and corrections that improve performance aiming at attaining new performance levels.


Figure 1: Developmental change
Source: Anderson and Ackerman-Anderson, 2010

There are two primary assumptions in developmental change: (1) people are capable of improving, and (2) they will improve if provided the appropriate reasons, resources, motivation, and training. When it comes to leadership requirements for this type of changes, they may use the existing goal - setting and reward systems to improve motivation and behaviour. In the military environment this type of changes is probably most visible on the tactical level (training, procedures etc.) or the staff work (business processes).

One of the findings listed in the RAND Corporation’s report (Crowley et al., 2013) “Adapting the Army's Training and Leader Development (ATLD) Programs for Future Challenges” describes the current management processes in the U.S. Army as not conductive to major changes. Namely, the report concludes that the processes “were developed to sustain and make incremental improvements to successful, well-understood, and generally stable ATLD strategies.” An important conclusion of the report was that “there are no systemic processes in place to integrate training and leader development strategies and programs for overall readiness benefit.”

Using Andersons’ typology, it can be said that the report points out that developmental (incremental) change, no matter how important, is not comprehensive enough to satisfy all the needs of an organisation coping with the complexity of security environment.


Transitional change is more complex than developmental as it requires more significant shifts in order to succeed. This type of change begins when leaders recognise that something in the existing way of work needs to be changed or be created in such a way as to better serve current or future demands. This type of change encompasses a design of a more desirable future state that an organisation aims to achieve. It also assumes that the old way of operating will be dismantled and emotionally let go while the new state is being put in place.


Figure 2: Transitional change
Source: Anderson and Ackerman Anderson, 2010

Some examples of this kind of change are the reorganisation, restructuration (e.g. the Peace Establishment change), or installation or integration of new systems, processes, policies, doctrines, etc. These types of changes are similar to projects - they have a specific start date and end date, and a known outcome. People dynamics is more complex than in the developmental change and often requires from them to acquire new knowledge and change or develop new behaviour. However, there is no need to change their mind-set.


“Transformation is a radical shift of strategy, structure, systems, processes or technology, so significant that it requires a shift of culture, behaviour, and mind-set to implement successfully and sustain over time” (Anderson and Ackerman Anderson, 2010, p. 60). In this type of change, the end state is not as certain as it is in the transitional change. The outcome of a change and the process to get there often emerge along the way, which makes the change process very non-linear, with numerous needs for course corrections and adjustments. Management of such an unpredictable and emergent process cannot be done in a traditional sense of the word - it can be, at best, facilitated.

The reason why the transformational change is so “fluid” is that, when the change begins, it is impossible to predict all aspects of local interactions and feedbacks, within the organisation and between the organisation and the environment. It does not mean, however, that the change process itself is chaotic and out of control, rather that it requires a clear roadmap[23] and constant adaptations.

The good example of an institutionalised military transformation process nowadays is NATO military transformation that encompasses transformation of national military capabilities[24]. The concept of NATO transformation has some similarity to the transformational change but is more focused on the capability development than mind-set and culture change. What is particularly similar between the two concepts is that both concepts deal with the continuous adaptation to a complex environment in order to avoid irrelevance and ineffectiveness, which symbolically means the death of the organisation.


Figure 3: Transformational change
Source: Anderson and Ackerman Anderson, 2010

Brigadier General David A. Fastabend and Robert H. Simpson (2004) are very clear when they define “competitiveness” in a strategic and operational environment:

“For the military, this notion of relentless competition has a special significance. Our ‘competitors’ are living, thinking, and adaptive adversaries who mean to destroy us and the society we defend. Our choice is quite clear: ‘Adapt or Die.’ Failure does not mean Chapter 11 and an updated resume. Failure means death and destruction for ourselves, our comrades, and all that we cherish.”

NATO transformation represents essentially a continuous and proactive process, without a defined end state, by which forces adapt to the rapidly changing security environment to ensure that they are fully capable of meeting upcoming challenges with the equipment and training that is needed, at a price that can be collectively afforded. The most important link between the two is a notion of the extent of change. According to Roger Forder (2010), “a defence transformation is a major change in a nation’s or alliance’s defence posture that substantially affects all or most defence lines of development.”

For a military organisation it is of utmost importance to be able to hear “the wake-up call” (see Figure 3.) and undergo appropriate changes. In coping with the complex security environment national defence, in general, and military organisations, in particular, have to be prepared to expect surprise and to reduce uncertainty. They should “collect signals, detect patterns of change, and imagine plausible outcomes - and take actions to minimize undesirable ones” (Reeves at al., 2016). The better military organisation is in this process, the less profound change will be necessary to eventually re-emerge in relevance and capability.

One example that illustrates the inability to hear the wake-up call is the French defeat in 1940. Elizabeth Kier (1996) scrutinises the French defeat through the cultural impact on the French military doctrine which, in the 1930s, was defensive, reduced spontaneity to a minimum, tightly centralised control over operations and did not allow initiative and flexibility. At the same time, the French army had the (functional) need for a different type of doctrine, the money, the ideas and freedom from civilian ideas.

Radical change in content requires a change in human awareness, mind-set and culture[25]. The transformation effort is therefore immensely challenging, requiring constant attention, a shared commitment to embrace change and a willingness to accept risk. Transformational change, obviously, would not be so desirable for the military since it seems hard to control and manage.

Since the military transformation includes radical changes, it consequently requires a balanced approach to short, medium and long-term planning, which is not always easy to achieve when there are often more immediate and visible challenges, creating a natural inclination to commit resources to the present rather than the future.


The main role of military leadership has traditionally been perceived as inextricably linked with the military core business, which is warfighting. Along with the evolution of human societies,[26] science and technology as well as the appearance of new trends that shape security environment - the role of military leadership has expanded. Strategic military leadership is more and more responsible not only for engagement of armed forces in the most effective way but also to ensure armed forces are fully capable of executing their missions and tasks. This kind of organisational capability includes preparations for unknown and unforeseen and, therefore, requires from military organisation increasing its resilience, adaptive ability and innovativeness.

The type of military leadership that is capable of perceiving challenges and opportunities in the strategic and operational environment, understands the need for change in the military organisation and is able to lead the process of transformational change may be called the transformational military leader. To be more illustrative, whilst accepting the high level of simplification, it may be said that, comparing to the traditional role of military leadership, which is basically designed to “manage the violence”, i.e. to destroy the enemy - transformational leadership, basically, develops and builds, i.e. transforms its own organisation.


Since the warfighting is the core business of any military, the possession of warfighting abilities is critically important for tactical and operational leaders. Generally, the notion of military leadership is associated with organizing and leading people in a battle (harm’s way) and is crucial to the moral component of fighting power (Figure 4).

The traditional approach to the definition of military leadership is a very tactical and operational level-focused. Liddell Hart (1998) claims that “a commander should have a profound understanding of human nature, the knack of smoothing out troubles, the power of winning affection while communicating energy, and the capacity for ruthless determination when required by circumstances. He needs to generate an electrifying current, and keep a cool head in applying it.”


Figure 4: Components of fighting power
Source: DCDC, 2014, p. 25

Milan Vego (2015) claims that the quality of one’s leadership cannot be quantified in any meaningful way as it is essentially intangible.[27] Nevertheless, military leadership is usually defined as the art of influencing others and environments directly and indirectly and as the skill of creating conditions for sustained organisational success to achieve desired results.

This article, however, analyses requirements for leadership that encompass all three components and influences, affects and decides on all of them.

Samuel Huntington (1998, p. 11) describes the social role of leadership, which remains separate from the political system and focuses on developing expertise in the profession of arms, the body of knowledge embodying the “management of violence”. Military leaders are viewed as invested only with the authority to exercise the state’s monopoly on violence and, in doing so, strictly controlled by politics, whereas other aspects of military leadership are given less attention.

Nevertheless, the human factor remains to be the key element in analysing the situation at any level of war, especially at the strategic and operational levels, that are, as Vego (2009) argues, “those levels at which a war is won or lost.” The fact is that the higher the level of war, the more complex the interactions are among various intangible elements.

The challenges relevant to the strategic levels of military leadership, being it a war, crises or more or less imminent threats, certainly require different, more comprehensive set of responses and actions than those at tactical and operational levels of leadership. Whilst the lower levels of military leadership have to be able, primarily, to embody warfighting abilities and ensure a moral cohesion of their units, according to existing strategy, those at the strategic level have to be able to create the strategy and lead the whole organisation towards achieving strategic ends.


While operational leadership is essential for the military to be able to achieve national political objectives effectively, another type of leadership is required to maximise its fighting power and efficiency. This type of leadership is the transformational leadership, and it should be the one that can lead the whole organisation through the change, particularly transformational change. Referencing Figure 4, transformational military leadership should be able to lead the change in all three components that constitutes military/fighting power simultaneously. Simply said, the operational leadership is designed to fight the enemy or to engage the military in executing tasks in the whole spectrum of missions.[28] On the other hand, the transformational leadership should be able to prepare the organisation, which arguably includes the organisational change, to be able to maximise its power, i.e. its capabilities. Transformational military leadership should be able to do the best with available and given resources and transform them into effective warfighting and/or support capability. Thus, the military effectiveness becomes the outcome of the resources provided to the military (Tellis et al., 2000).

The term “transformational leadership”, was first coined by James Victor Downton (1973), and, as a concept, was further developed by James MacGregor Burns. Burns introduced the concept of transforming leadership in 1978, in his descriptive research on political leaders. According to Burns (1978), transforming leadership is a process in which “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation”. Another researcher, Bernard M. Bass (1985), extended the work of Burns by explaining the psychological mechanisms that underlie transforming and transactional leadership. Bass (1990) used the term “transformational” instead of "transforming" and added to the Burns' initial concepts by helping to explain how transformational leadership could be measured, as well as how it impacts follower motivation and performance. According to Bass, transformational leadership contains four components: charisma or idealised influence (attributed or behavioural), inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualised consideration. Bass puts a strong emphasis on charisma and high moral standards of transformational leadership and therefore leadership behaviour.

Theoretical and empirical developments in the leadership literature related to transformational leadership concept appeared more extensively in the 1990s. The concept was later used in different contexts and served as a source of inspiration for other concepts. It also evolved into the concept of authentic leadership development. Namely, Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) as well as Avolio and Gardner (2005) distinguished authentic transformational leaders, who persuade others on the merits of the issues, from pseudo-transformational leaders, who set and control agenda to manipulate the values of importance to followers often at the expense of others or even cause harm to them. Bass and Steidlmeier (1999) describe transformational leadership as “predicated upon the inner dynamics of a freely embraced change of heart in the realm of core values and motivation, upon open-ended intellectual stimulation and a commitment to treating people as ends, not mere means.”

According to Avolio et al. (2009, p. 423) transformational leadership involves “leader behaviours that transform and inspire followers to perform beyond expectations while transcending self-interest for the good of the organization”. The central premise of Avolio and Gardner (2005) is that through increased self-awareness, self-regulation, and positive modelling, authentic leaders foster the development of authenticity in followers. In turn, followers’ authenticity contributes to their well-being and the attainment of sustainable and veritable performance.

Obviously, there are some similarities between the traditional notion of military leadership and transformational leadership - they both articulate leadership as a means of influencing others. The fundamental difference is that the transformational leadership comprises a capacity of influencing people to change, in terms of core values and motivation. These two types of leadership are also useful in different circumstances. Traditional military leadership functions in the realm of survivability (individual or national) or ethno-centric domain of protecting national interests. Transformational leadership aims to mobilise inner human forces for the good of the organisation in a more creative way. Another difference is that, in terms of military leadership, people (troops) are means to achieve ends (tactical, operational, strategic or political, which by the way may include people, i.e. population). Transformational leadership is committed to treating people as ends and is consequently more suitable for application in an internal organisational change that will improve inner capacity (communication, distribution of information and knowledge, etc.) of an organisation.[29] This type of leadership is, therefore, specific in the way it tends to build the capacity for change in subordinates and does not rely exclusively on the authority of the ranks. In that way transformational leadership is very close to the idea of leading through maximization of human potential.

Transformational leadership capacity, as explained above, is primarily understood in terms of a relation between the leaders and those who are led. An essential factor in defining the leadership is, therefore, the relation of power i.e. how the power is executed and eventually distributed. William Torbert (2010) introduced the meaning of power[30] into the concept of Transforming Leadership. According to him, leaders must be able to exercise four different types of power: “unilateral power”, “diplomatic power”, “logistical power”, and “transforming power”. Most importantly, Torbert argued that these must be blended differently at different times, with different people, if leaders are to succeed in cultivating growth and transformation among individual organisational members and in overall organisational strategies, structures and systems. This is particularly important for a military organisation where the relation of power is, traditionally, unilateral - directed from superior towards subordinated. Torbert’s approach, therefore, does not require a total change in the military leaders’ behaviour and organisational culture but a proper application of power.

The power executed by leaders in a transformation process has to be different. David Rooke and William Torbert (1998) claim that: “The key paradox of transformational praxis - that developmental theory highlights and that the action inquiry approach to practice enacts - is that no kind of power (coercive, referent, legitimate, or expert) can generate personal or organizational transformation when it is exercised unilaterally. Only power exercised in a mutuality-enhancing, awareness-enhancing, empowering manner can generate wholehearted transformation.”

Obviously, the transformational change process requires leaders who are, first of all, able to see the need for change (i.e. hear “the wake-up call”) capable and willing to undertake it. A successful transformation must be a conscious, well-planned effort, prepared as a roadmap. Linda Ackerman Anderson and Dean Anderson (2010, p. 34) created comprehensive and generic change leaders roadmap model that may be used as a basis for any organisational transformation. It basically represents a life cycle model of a change process consisted of following phases: preparing the ground to lead the change, envisioning the organisational objectives and creating commitment and capability, planning and organising implementation, implementing the change and course correcting, if necessary.


Spain et al. (2015) proposed that U.S. Army should raise the profile of its human capital[31] and the culture that empowers it. The authors recommended that “the Army critically examine and potentially change the manner in which it accesses, develops, selects, and sets the culture for future leaders. Doing so is especially important in order to foster officers’ conceptual abilities.” Both the need to foster officers’ conceptual abilities, seen as an ambition in the U.S. military education system, and the character, as seen in some European countries (e.g. Norway Military Academy), suggest that the traditional model of military education does not adequately develop military leaders for the challenges of the current and future strategic and operational environment.

Leaders who can prepare and lead organisations to adequately responding to challenges of the complex environment are those who can deal with constant ambiguity, notice the key patterns, and look at the world through multiple stakeholder perspectives. The question is: how to develop military leaders able to respond to complex challenges? The author adopts the approach that argues that there are really only two types of leadership development: horizontal and vertical.


Figure 5: Horizontal and Vertical Development
Source: Anderson and Ackerman-Anderson, 2010

Horizontal development is oriented toward learning and refers to acquiring new knowledge or learning new behaviours, skills and methods. Most of learning, training and development is oriented towards expanding, deepening, and enriching a person’s current way of meaning-making. It’s like filling a bowl to its maximal capacity. In horizontal development, however, one’s worldview and mental models remain the same.

Vertical development describes a sequence of how worldviews and mental models advance over time. Vertical development is the essence of personal growth, and is always driven by a fundamental expansion of mind-set and worldview. The main difference between the horizontal and vertical development is that the former is skills-based leadership development whilst the latter is capacity-based development. The vast majority of leadership development work today focuses on horizontal development.


To properly understand the concept of vertical development it is necessary to enlighten the model upon which the concept has been built. Namely, while the concept of horizontal development is well known and institutionalised through different levels and degrees of formal education - the ways and means of assessment of the current and measurement of the achieved level of vertical development are less known. There are several prominent scholars who articulated and described stages of vertical development in the framework of developmental theory, among others: Robert Kegan, Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Erik H. Erikson, Jane Loevinger, William Torbert, Susanne Cook-Greuter.

Developmental theories provide a way of understanding how people tend to interpret events, and therefore how they are likely to act in a certain situation. However, the level from which a person operates is not fixed. People may use several perspectives throughout the day but they tend to respond spontaneously with the most complex meaning-making system, perspective, or mental model they have mastered. This preferred perspective is called a person’s “centre of gravity” or their “central tendency” in meaning-making (Cook-Greuter, 2004), or “action logic” (Rooke and Torbert, 2005).

Most developmental theorists agree that what differentiates leaders is not so much their philosophy of leadership, their personality or their style of management but their internal “action logic”. The action logic is the way people interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged.

The action-logic levels are presented in Table 1, from the least (at the bottom) to the most complex (at the top) meaning-making system levels.[32] However, there is nothing inherently “better” about being at a higher level of development as every level mastered embraces levels below. This theory does not promote any kind of prestige.

Table 1: Action-logic of the Leadership Maturity Framework - LMF

Action-Logic Qualities & Capacities Strengths
Post - Conventional Alchemist Generates social transformations; simultaneous focus on short and long term; global perspective; aware of paradox Creates learning organizations; leaders of society-wide transformations

Fosters organizational and personal transformations

Understands interdependencies among systems and can perceive systemic patterns; adaptive in multiple & overlapping social systems; leaders with “fierce resolve & humility”; knows his/her strengths yet acknowledges vulnerabilities; deep appreciation for human differences in capacity and development

Effective as transformational leader; brings strategic orientation to complex initiatives
Pluralist / Individualist

Explores assumptions & cultural conditioning of his/her socialization process

Recognizes multiplicity of possible meanings & interpretations of events

Strives to integrate personal & organizational values & goals

Effective in consulting & entrepreneurial ventures
Conventional Achiever Achieves strategic goals through teams; interested in self-improvement through feedback & introspection; future-oriented; comfortable in logical world of linear causality Action & goal-oriented; well suited to managerial role
Expert Values expertise & logic; seeks rational efficiency Productive as individual contributor

Loyal; respects existing norms; avoids overt


Helps create harmony in working groups
Opportunist Focus on winning at any price; manipulative; focus on self-survival Good in sales opportunities and emergencies; performs well in the short-term

Source: Adapted from Cook-Greuter, 2004; Rooke and Torbert, 2005

Regarding the military organisation, the tactical and operational imperatives that drive military leaders early in their careers and, to some extent, senior leaders in theatre combat operations and campaigns, do not require from them to possess or master post-conventional perspective. The very nature of “mastering the violence” is, at best, the level of an expert or an achiever.

When it comes to the leadership at the strategic level things are different. The research findings clearly demonstrate that the later stage vertical development leads to greater success in leading transformation which is the common denominator of the ten percent of successful change leaders. Conscious change leaders understand that their next stage of development will provide greater perspective and enable them to perceive, understand, and respond to the dynamic challenges of transformation more effectively (Anderson and Ackerman Anderson, 2010, p. 60).

William Torbert’s published[33] the results of an empirical study which examined the proposition, derived from the developmental theory, that only persons who transform to the Strategist action-logic or beyond, reach the capacity to reliably support organisational transformation.

“This is so because only at these late action-logics do people regularly (and more and more intensively) inquire about and transform their own action for greater efficacy, and also because only at late action-logics do people seek to exercise shared commitment-enhancing, mutually-transforming powers, not just unilaterally-forcing types of power that gradually erode others’ trust and commitment.” (Torbert, 2013)

An interesting fact related to this study is that not only the action logics of CEOs were examined but also the action logic of the lead consultants’. The study confirms that the higher the combined CEO/Lead-Consultant action-logic score, the more successful was the transformation.

William Torbert (2004) offers a method that leaders in organisations of all types can use to increase the timeliness and effectiveness of their actions - the action inquiry. Action inquiry is a lifelong process of transformational learning that individuals, teams, and whole organisations can undertake, if they wish to become, among other goals, increasingly capable of performing in effective, transformational, and sustainable ways.[34]

Torbert and Taylor (2008) suggested “that action inquiry is a practice and as such is as much a voluntary, subjective, aesthetic choice and a mutual, inter-subjective, ethical commitment as it is an intergenerationally-sustainable, objective, epistemological science.” This fact suggests that the action inquiry is more an art than a science.


Vertical development is often referred to as “ego development” and describes how a person’s internal “meaning-making system” develops across levels or stages. Each new level contains the previous one, but in the next stage, awareness both expands and deepens to take in greater perspectives of wholeness and integration. In vertical development, the adult’s perspective on things like their purpose of life, values, needs and goals, changes and evolves.

Vertical development, in general, refers to supporting people to transform their current way of making sense toward broader perspectives. In terms of leadership, the stage from which a person thinks and acts matters a lot. Nick Petrie (2014, p. 8) observes that “to be effective, the leader’s thinking must be equal or superior to the complexity of the environment.”

Susanne Cook-Greuter (2004) explains the vertical development as the approach that allows us to learn to see the world from an objective perspective, change our interpretations of experience and transform our views of reality. “It describes increases in what we are aware of, or what we can pay attention to, and therefore what we can influence and integrate.” The most importantly, the vertical development, through “transformations of human consciousness or changes in our view of reality, is more powerful than any amount of horizontal growth and learning.” The vertical development is, therefore, tightly related with what developmental theorists call the “ego development”.

Manners and Durkin (2001) provided a critical review of the validity of the theory of ego[35] development, integrating different researches, presented the growth and validity in several domains: cognitive functioning, personal & interpersonal awareness, understanding of emotions, accurate empathy, character development, intelligence and few others.

An example of the vertical leadership training and development courses may be found at the Being First Inc., a U.S. company with long term experience in educating, mostly civilian, change leaders[36]. Some of the outcomes of the vertical leadership development, in their program, include abilities: to detect inter-dependencies and connections across boundaries to identify distant inputs and impacts; to differentiate progressively larger contexts of influence, further into the future, perceiving delayed impacts and the inter-dependencies of past and future events; and to predict emerging trends more effectively. Besides that, their program deepens insight into human dynamics (a deeper interior dynamics of emotions, mindsets, beliefs, assumptions and values), not only of people a leader works with but also his own.

When compared to the standard military education, the concept of vertical development is rarely, if at all, seen in curricula. NATO, for instance, describes education as “the systematic instruction of individuals in subjects that will enhance their knowledge and skills, and develop competencies, and support lifelong personal development.”[37] Being a national responsibility in NATO, education is more or less defined in a similar way in most of the NATO members. This definition, however, highlights its “horizontal” or “lateral” direction of development. The “vertical” dimension is usually considered as a side effect or a natural, expected, outcome. Vertical development, however, refers to supporting people to transform their current way of making sense towards broader perspectives. It, therefore, has to be carefully designed and attractive to people. Finally, horizontal and vertical development should be seen as two sides of the same coin, each of them serving a specific purpose.


Most military officers receive their post-commissioned education through the system of professional military education. The most important levels of the professional military education for the strategic military leaders are joint command and staff level, and, particularly, war college level of education, including national defence university level.

In USA, for example, definition of outcomes of war colleges is of such importance that they are concern of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) and the U.S. Congress. General Martin Dempsey, former U.S. CJCS, prescribed “intellectual agility”, in terms of expected outcomes of War Colleges. According to the U.S. Department of the Army’s (2013) “Army Leader Development Strategy 2013”, Army officers must have the intellectual agility not only to survive, but to thrive in an increasingly complex, uncertain, competitive, rapidly changing, and transparent operating environment, characterised by security challenges that cross borders. The document puts a focus on intellect and moral character of leaders to improve judgment and reasoning and hone the habits of the mind: agility, adaptability, empathy, intellectual curiosity, and creativity.

In reality, though new concepts of military leaders development are promising, whether they are focused on “the intellectual ability and moral character” (U.S. Department of the Army, 2013), “the conceptual ability” (Spain et al., 2015), “the cognitive ability” (Pearce, 2009) or “the character and intellect” (Boe et al., 2015; Boe, 2015), they all still struggle with questions on how to define, assess and measure the main elements of concepts. Don Snider (2011), argues that the USMA West Point's mission to educate “commissioned leaders of character”, articulated in a doctrine, “is almost silent on how such an element of character is ‘embodied’-developed and sustained.” The Norwegian concept (Boe, 2015) also emphasises the need of undertaking an independent project, “intended to provide valuable knowledge on what character means, how it is developed, and which personalities are amenable.”

Arguably, attributes on which the new leaders’ development concepts are focused are an integral part of the vertical leadership development. Manners and Durkin (2001) in their study quoted Jane Loevinger’s description of ego development, which encompasses four domains, as representative and inextricably interwoven aspects of the ego: character development, cognitive style, interpersonal style, and conscious preoccupations.

While these attributes may be possessed by some people, others have to develop them. Conventional education, based on the horizontal development, can hardly do that, especially if it is additionally constrained by the bureaucracy and cultural rigidity.

Implementation of the vertical leadership development in formal curricula would be a great leap in enriching the military leader‘s capabilities. This kind of development is particularly important for the joint staff and war college levels of military education.

It may be overly ambitious to expect advancements at higher levels of action logic (i.e. post-conventional) as a result of the inclusion of the vertical leadership development into the curricula of the bachelor degree level of the study. On the other hand, it is certainly a good period to work with young people in directing them to advance in conventional stages. One study performed by Bartone et al. (2007) in the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, launched in 1994, showed that the college students were generally functioning at an earlier developmental level than previously assumed. It was nevertheless clear from these findings that significant psychosocial growth did occur during the college years for many of them. “Of these West Point cadets followed over time, 47% evidenced a significant increase in developmental level across two time points. For this college age group, psychosocial growth (in Kegan's terms) mainly involves the transition from a stage 2 ‘Imperial-individualistic’ to a stage 3 ‘Interpersonal-social’ mode of constructing and making sense of experience. Few students in the present sample showed any evidence of stage 4 ‘autonomous’ thinking.” A comparison of stages according to Robert Kegan and stages according to William Torbert (Table 1) may be seen in the Table 2.

Table 2: Summary of Kegan's developmental stages, and comparison to Torbert's stages in developmental theory


Stage 0

Incorporative (birth2)

Stage 1

Impulsive (26)

Stage 2

Imperial (615)

Stage 3

Interpersonal (1524)

Stage 4

Institutional (2440)

Stage 5

Interindividual (40 +)

Torbert   Impulsive Opportunist Diplomat Achiever Strategist and alchemist

Source: own, adapted from Bartone et al., 2007

The results of the study show advancements of the USMA’s students but the fact is that those advancements happen as a side-effect of the traditional curricula aligned with individual maturity process. This is to say that the results might have been even better if the vertical development was more consciously and systemically implemented.

Since military leadership development begins with the formal education, schools, colleges and universities are currently the most important environment in which the necessary theoretical knowledge may be transferred and leadership made qualified for coping with the challenges of the “real life”. As long as the vertical development programs are not implemented in curricula, this kind of development may be practised as a specialised course with the competent organisations and institutions in the private sector or academia.

Professional military education should ensure that leadership should not be considered as a universal construct but rather be approached as a multi-layered, adaptive process. Introduction of vertical development in curricula may ensure adequate support for leader development according to achieved stages of ego development.


This article describes a broad context in which the contemporary and the near future military leadership will work and cope with the strategic and operational challenges. The author, however, has neither tried to predict threats nor to provide identified or emerging challenges for which military leaders will have to prepare their organisations. Rather, instead of describing symptoms, the author emphasises the most fundamental characteristic of the contemporaneous security environment, which is its complexity.

The complexity, being described as a generic challenge, requires from any organisation, any system willing to survive in it, ability to adapt, which implies undergoing the change. The author adopted the approach that describes the three fundamental types of change, requiring less or more radical change of some formal elements of the organisation. Even more, as the environment constantly changes, the organisation should do the same, in order to adapt. This continuous process of adaptation of capabilities is already known in Western militaries as transformation. Transformation in the military, however, should be understood as a much broader process, sometimes incorporating a more radical aspect of change, including the organisational culture.

This imperative of continuous change through adaptation sets new requirements for military leadership and military organisation. However, the traditional military culture does not provide the appropriate ground for profound changes. The culture, therefore, has to be considered along with the existing military transformation, which is currently mainly focused on long-term capability development.

The type of leadership able to embrace all these requirements and lead the people and military organisation through the change, particularly transformational, is called a transformational military leader.

This article is primarily focused on the highest (strategic) military leadership levels but refers indirectly to lower levels as well, since the bottom of the chain of the command’s hierarchy pyramid represents the pool of the future highest military leaders.

The author argues that military leadership should not be generically defined as a universal construct but rather be considered a multi-layered, adaptive process. It encompasses different levels of execution (tactical, operational and strategic) as well as different areas of leading (military missions and tasks, and defence management). Most importantly, in the domain of development of military leaders, vertical leadership development has to be involved in the programs of professional military education.

The vertical leadership development provides a model, a tool, to an organisation, to develop leaders capable of strategizing and conceptualising, leading people and supervise the change process, leaders with desired character, capable of leading organisational transformation, in other words, transformational military leaders.





Drazen Smiljanic, MSc., born in 1966. He is a graduate from the Technical Military Academy, Zagreb (1989) and holds the master’s degree from the University Panthéon-Assas (Paris 2), France (2007). He has served in leadership and staff positions in the Croatian Armed Forces and NATO. Currently he works in the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies, as the Strategic Plans and Analysis Branch Head and as a lecturer in Defence Economics at the Croatian Defence Academy, in Zagreb, Croatia. The area of interest of his research is strategy and concept development, sustainability, resource management and capability development, and transformational leadership development. Mr. Smiljanic is currently a PhD student at the Faculty of Military Leadership at the University of Defence in Brno, Czech Republic.


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