Chilcot Report: Decision Making Lessons for Leaders

There are decision making lessons for leaders in the Chilcot Report into the 2003 Iraq war which has been published this week. I map these lessons back to key leadership competencies and look at Judgement, Execution & Influence.

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament.

This is the week that the long awaited Chiclot Report was published. Sir John Chilcot has presented his findings on the UK’s involvement in the 2003 Iraq War. The report covers UK government policy decisions made between 2001 and 2009. There are hard lessons to be learned from this report for politicians, their advisers and civil servants. I have taken a look at key findings and asked what leaders can learn from them.

I turned to the BBC’s ‘Chilcot report: Findings at-a-glance’ webpage and selected the following three statements. You will find summaries of the Leadership Competencies I refer to in the Subscribers Resources Pages section on the top menu.


Judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – or WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

Policy on the Iraq invasion was made on the basis of flawed intelligence assessments. It was not challenged, and should have been.

A leader needs to demonstrate sound judgement and rigour in gathering information, considering alternatives and making sound decisions. Alternatives should be considered in collaboration with others and be challenged by them as the basis for reaching decisions. These points are covered in my leadership competency Operational Decision Making:

  • Gathers and Assesses Information. The leader identifies the need for additional information and obtains it by clearly describing what needs to be known and how it could be obtained He/she makes relevant, clear and specific inquiries to verify facts and obtain additional relevant information.
  • Considers Alternatives. The leader generates and encourages others to generate options for action to address an issue or problem. He/she develops decision criteria based on factors that affect customers, employees and the company. He/she compares options to criteria by considering the opportunities and risks and selects the best course of action.
  • Makes Sound Decisions. The leader arrives at sound decisions based on reasonable assumptions, factual information and situational realities. He/she drives for implementation when presented with incomplete or ambiguous information and shows a readiness to take decisions, make judgements, take action and commit.

My friend and guest author Charlie Walker-Wise covers leadership collaboration in his article ‘The Collaborative Leader: Learning from the World of Theatre’.


There was “little time” to properly prepare three military brigades for deployment in Iraq. The risks were neither “properly identified nor fully exposed” to ministers, resulting in “equipment shortfalls”

A leader needs to know how to prepare for action, mobilise resources and execute to plan. These points are covered in my leadership competencies Mobilising Available Resources, Driving for Results and Driving Execution:

  • Co-ordinates Resources. The leader prioritises and deploys resources to achieve organisational goals. He/she organises resources efficiently and effectively and negotiate for additional resources when necessary for critical tasks.
  • Evaluates Opportunities. The leader systematically evaluates opportunities and establishes how and where to extract value. He/she selects from competing priorities those with the greatest potential for driving business value.
  • Ensures Capacity, Skills and Readiness. The leader identifies and develops team capacity and people capability to drive specific strategies and objectives. He/she ensures forward capacity and coaches people in areas where skills are not strong.

My friend and guest author Domingos Silva covers this subject in his 03 July 2016 Post ‘Battle Readiness’.


The report found Mr Blair overestimated his ability to influence US decisions on Iraq; and the UK’s relationship with the US does not require unconditional support.

The leader needs to use interpersonal style, executive presence and influencing techniques to persuade others to accept a point of view, adopt a specific agenda or take a course of action in pursuit of business goals. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. The approach should be adjusted to the people involved. These points are covered in my leadership competency Leadership Influencing.

  • Makes a Strong Case. The leader states an outcome-oriented purpose, presents logical arguments, clearly explains relevant facts and presents a well-structured and convincing case.
  • Adjusts Approach. The leader adapts their influencing strategies based on the people involved and the business purpose. He/she negotiates with others using business rationale to influence decisions and handle concerns and objections.
  • Advocates to Business or Organisational Needs. The leader presents ideas, suggestions, and recommendations in a manner that links to organisational needs and priorities.

I also cover this subject in my 03 June 2016 Post ‘The Influencing Leader’.

To comment about this article please use the ‘Leave a Reply’ box below.

Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

One thought on “Chilcot Report: Decision Making Lessons for Leaders”

  1. Hello Trevor: This is an excellent example of what not to do when making hard decision with great risk in stake. Your pragmatic and structured approach actually is a good way to cover all bases and avoid gaps before going forward. The emotional factor needs to be addressed because in the world we live, emotions are being cleverly manipulated to ensure competition rush into making decisions without assessing correctly. The Iraq war was a very good example on how terrorists create an emotional dense fog that prevent government from doing their homework and approaching decision making with a cold head. In shipping business lately there have been a lot of noise of adquisitions and alliance and I do believe Maersk Line has done a good job on not changing the initial plan based on market fear.

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