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The Way of the Warrior Leader

November 29, 2015

Harjit 1Reflect for a moment on the word “Warrior.”

What comes to mind?

Ruthlessness, violence, cunning?

Or bravery, integrity, fearlessness?

Our mental models, formed over the years as we’ve matured into adults, begin to cement how we perceive the world, and more specifically how we interpret certain words and expressions.

In her 1993 book, The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary, the late Angeles Arrien developed an excellent framework that integrates the essential elements of leadership drawing on the teachings of indigenous peoples.

One of the four elements is the Way of the Warrior, whose guiding principle is showing up and choosing to be present. Arrien explains that the developed Warrior “…shows honor and respect for all things, employs judicious communication, sets limits and boundaries, is responsible and disciplined, demonstrates right use of power, and understands the three universal powers [power of presence, communication and position].”

GreitensIn  a different context, but one putting into practice the Way of the Warrior, former Navy Seal Eric Greitens (pictured) shares his experiences in his excellent book The Heart and the Fist. Greitens provides a real-life portrayal of what it means to be a warrior leader but yet to possess the empathy and responsible use of power in war zones.

Examples abound of Canadian and American soldiers who have demonstrated the skills of warrior leaders in battle and peacekeeping missions, whether in Bosnia or Afghanistan or peacekeeping in Rwanda, yet who have touched the hearts of the vulnerable: civilians–notably women, children and the ageing–who only want to be safe and to carry on their lives without the prospect of violence, whether it is the Taliban, ISIS or rebel groups in Sudan.

Retired Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, and former Canadian Senator, recounted a leadership story from his peacekeeping work in Rwanda in the nineties. A Canadian corporal leading a small group of peacekeepers encountered a horrific scene involving civilians along a rural road. Despite the acute risk to the soldiers of being exposed to rebel fire, and not wasting time to call for permission to help the civilians, the soldiers dove into the adjacent field to render assistance.

This example of leadership is what Eric Greitens and Angeles Arrien are talking about through their respective viewpoints.

Harjit 3More recently, and close to home, a warrior leader has assumed Canada’s prominent role as Minister of National Defence. However, this leader has a very unique ethnic heritage and military and law enforcement background.

Meet Harjit Singh Sajjan (pictured above).

Born in Bombeli in India’s Punjab district, the 45 year-old emigrated to Canada at age five. When he was in his teens he decided to be baptized as a Sikh, and later as an adult married Kuljit Kaur Sajjan, a family physician. They have a son and a daughter.

Sajjan first expressed an interest in the military when he was 15, mentioning to one of his teachers his desire to become a pilot but not thinking that he was smart enough. He changed schools to escape bad influences, and at age 19 joined the Canadian Forces reserves. Years later as a Vancouver South police detective working in an anti-gang unit, he tackled the same problems he was exposed to as a youth, all the while being an Army reservist.

He served as a Canadian Forces Army reservist for 26 years up to his election in the October 19, 2015, federal election. During that period, he did three combat tours in Afghanistan at the rank of Lt. Colonel. His work involved military intelligence and anti-terrorism, interacting with some of Afghanistan’s most ruthless politicians and local warlords.

Sajjan’s efforts resulted in a letter of commendation in 2006 from the commander of Canada’s Coalition Task Force in Afghanistan. The letter, shared with Vancouver’s police chief, stated that Sajjan was seen as “…the best single Canadian intelligence asset in [a combat] theater, whose hard work, personal bravery and dogged determination undoubtedly saved a multitude of Coalition lives. ” He was further credited with providing the intelligence for a military operation that yielded the “kill or capture” of 1,500 Taliban fighters. (source: National Observer).

Harjit 2 In addition to serving as the new Minister of National Defence (photo of him being sworn in), Sajjan is also a member of some of the most powerful Cabinet committees, including Public Safety and Intelligence. His work as a police detective who took on gangs complements his frontline combat experience.

As usual, the media has found a label for a new celebrity. Sajjan has been dubbed Canada’s “Bad-Ass Defence Minister.” Although cute to some, the label is both unfortunate and inappropriate. Harjit Sajjan is a highly intelligent man who has acquired deep and specialized experience through hard, dedicated work in serving his community and country. The label “Bad Ass” is not just juvenile but grossly undervalues his 26 years of contributing to Canada.

Yes, Harjit Sajjan is a first class warrior leader, as discussed in the earlier sections of this leadership post. He should be paid that respect by the media and citizens, noting the highly complex and rapidly evolving global security and defence environment.

Greitens 2I‘ve learned that courage and compassion are two sides of the same coin, and that every warrior, every humanitarian, every citizen is built to live with both. In fact, to win a war, to create peace, to save a life, or just to live a good life requires of us – of every one of us – that we be both good and strong.
– Eric Greitens


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2016 12:26 am

    I wish we had such competent people in the U.S. Presidential Cabinet.

  2. January 3, 2016 1:46 am

    I missed this post of yours earlier. These are the kind of leaders we need to read about, heroes who inspire us, rather than the media drivel about the Kardashians, or celebrity culture.

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