By Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry Kahlon, Lahore (1926-2019)

I wrote an article caption” Some aspects of Leadership” in which I emphasized the need for independent thinking at all levels, free and frank expression of views in appropriate form and manner and extension of courtesy and accommodation to one’s colleagues particularly junior.

Leadership is a complex quality made up of several human traits and attributes. The essence of leadership lies in not only acquiring these attributes but also in striking the right balance  between them. In other words, the leader should develop a wholesome personality – one which will almost instinctively react appropriately to different and varying situations. In this article, I will discuss two character attributes.


In military service, instructions and orders must be given in a clear and direct manner, and of course nothing short of immediate and total obedience is acceptable. This is only right, as strict discipline is vital for the efficient working of a military organization and a lack of it will only result in disaster. This does not mean that the atmosphere we create around us during our daily work should necessarily be cold, formal and devoid of any warmth of friendliness and human feelings.

A little thought will show that giving and receiving of orders occupies only a small portion of one’s working time. Most of our time, regardless of rank and appointment, is spent in discussion, study of problems, persuasion of colleagues and in the actual performance of our primary duty: flying, maintenance, administration or other tasks supporting these activities. So, even if we accept the orders must be given in a cold and impersonal manner (and this is open to doubt), we still find that most of our time is taken up activities in which the type of personal relationship we establish with our colleagues has a profound bearing on the outcome of our effort. Politeness and courtesy will always ensure a better response from “the other fellow” and secure his willing cooperation. This will establish a cheerful healthy atmosphere, resulting in greater efficiency.

Some people are inclined to imagine that courteous behavior towards one’s subordinates is a demonstration of weakness or lack of confidence. Surely, nothing can be more wrong; in fact, courtesy is born of confidence in oneself and the knowledge that one can communicate successfully with one’s subordinates, without employing the prop of a curt manner. Lack of courtesy and overbearing conduct indicate either a lack of confidence or downright bad manners – both highly undesirable attributes and, therefore, incompatible with good leadership.

We sometimes come across people who are almost servile towards their superiors but tyrants for their subordinates. It has been well said that the greater the variance between a person’s attitude towards his superiors and subordinates, the poorer is his character. True courtesy, like honesty, is a part of one’s moral make-up; one cannot switch it ON and OFF at will- and those who do, only reveal the shallowness of their character and demonstrate a perverted sense of values.

However, it is obvious that, human nature being what it is, there will be many occasions when a tick off or dressing down will not only be desirable but absolute necessary. But this does not mean that one should cultivate a rude or rough manner, which only detracts from one’s gentlemanly qualities and in the long run, can only be a hindrance in the performance of one’s duties.

On the other hand, when a courteous person employs a firm or harsh tone, his admonition registers immediately and the desired effect is obtained instantly. This is something which a haughty person can never achieve; his admonition is taken as part of his normal manner and all it produces is a shrug of the shoulders by those around him. Politeness established goodwill and ensures a prompt and sympathetic response; rudeness only antagonizes others and weakens the spirit of cooperation, this impairing efficiency. Courtesy therefore is not only an intrinsic virtue but also a sound investment.

Independent Thinking

Good leadership is impossible unless the leader possesses both the capacity and inclination to think independently and has confidence in his judgment. Mere collection of facts and figures cannot, by itself, guarantee that such knowledge will necessarily be put to the best possible use. This can be assured only if one has an analytical mind, a sense of proportion and the capacity to think for oneself. If this were not so, research work, dictionaries and computers – and not men – would have been the most successful leaders of the world.

Unfortunately, a great deal of misunderstanding exists regarding the apparent contradiction between the dictates of discipline and independent thinking. A bit of reflection will show that these two qualities are not at all incompatible; in fact, they are almost complementary. Discipline, an all-important requirement, should not be understood to mean regimented thinking and servile behavior towards one’s superiors.

The habit of independent thought and reflection is a part of one’s mental make-up and, unless cultivated in the early stages, it will never develop sufficiently. Bridling the thinking of young officers today can only result in rendering ineffective leadership of tomorrow.

Not infrequently, one observes around a conference table that subordinates are reluctant to express their views till they have an inkling of the way the chairman is inclined and should they be so unfortunate to have calculated wrongly, they lose no time in aligning themselves with the views of chairman.

Independent thinking and free expression of one’s views at an appropriate juncture are indispensable qualities for one who wears an officer’s uniform, no matter how junior. Let us be polite and correct, but not servile and submissive, for this will inevitably lead to stifling of initiative and independent thinking – qualities no good leader can without.

This article has attempted to highlight the importance of only two aspects of leadership qualities. Leadership is many other things as well.

(Excerpt from the An Airman Remembers by Zafar Chaudhry, PAF Book Club 1993, pp. 92-96- Ferozsons Lahore)

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