Leaders are made everywhere, created to excel within their organizations, enhancing others within their life, and allowing others to grow. Within the military aspect of life, this is no different. Leaders should be prepared to make the hard calls, to take trouble as it arises and make those hard decisions, while also mentoring and challenging those around them to grow and excel themselves. There is no great organization, without a group of great leaders making it that way. However, there are important aspects one must consider to become a great leader within the military setting.
A challenge in the military is the moving aspect. Every thirty six months, military members are picked up from their teams, from the groups they have been working with for three years, and forced to go somewhere else. Ideally, each time a member moves, they will also be moving up in leadership responsibility, not only growing with their pay grade, but also with the size of their organizations and how many others they lead. Not only can this be challenging for an individual, but take into consideration combat deployments, subordinates moving as well creating an ever changing team, and regulations that continue to change and update frequently.
This leadership model reflects that of a situational theory model, massively depending on subordinates behaviors and characteristics. An extremely similar aspect to consider is members of the new team varying in readiness, and how they perform. With a military model, one must take into consideration where the organization lies in regards to mission readiness, and if they are involved with a current deployment workup. A leader may believe they are a great within their job when they are in charge of a well prepared, extremely experienced platoon of military members. However, they can quickly realize they need some practice when moving to a younger platoon, just starting their work up cycle. This in turn needs the adaption of a slightly different leadership style, one that requires less mentoring and coaching, and a more directive approach. This is why it is extremely important for the leader to conduct a readiness analysis upon arrival to their new unit, ensuring they are prepared and know what is needed from the very beginning.
An important factor to consider when the military leader arrives at their new unit, is where they should fall within the spectrum of leadership involvement. Certain units have well prepared and mature mid level managers, where others do not. This dictates where the leader should involve themselves, without degrading small unit leadership. Some of the aspects to consider are the following:
Does the leader need to make all of the decisions for the small unit leader?
Should the leader ask for suggestions from key players, then make a decision?
Does the leader ask the unit as a whole, coaching them to the correct answer?
Should the leader let the small unit leaders lead the discussion, while correcting behind closed doors?
Does the leader give direction to the small unit leaders and ask for feedback, allowing them to lead the entire process?
Judgement: A military leader must be able to make good decisions, while also following regulations and ensuring the well being of their units. Especially in combat situations, leaders must be able to exercise good judgement at all times under an array of pressure.
Initiative: Having initiative within this leadership model can enable good will and discipline, but also shows subordinate members that their leader isn’t afraid to get in the dirt with them. By continuing to have initiative, this hopefully will drive others to have the same and increase overall readiness.
Unselfishness: The military leader must put others before themselves. They must give credit to their team, and ensure they know that they as the leader have their best interest in mind. Additionally, the leader must be ready to lead from the front, even towards danger, to properly lead their small units.
Knowledge: The military leader must be knowledgeable, especially in the current technological time. Making tactical decisions must not be guesswork, but ultimately achieving the greatest benefit while reducing the most risk.
Although this leadership model is straightforward, there are certain types of leaders that will excel within this model. They should be experienced, been through their own units and have experienced first hand how units can change, as well as being confident in their abilities to lead others. If not, they can begin to crumble slowly in front of their subordinates. The issues with this leadership model, is if a leader is proven wrong in front of their troops just once, they may never recover.
Within the military leadership model, the obvious influence tactic would be the social learning theory. A military leader must absolutely influence small unit leaders and unit military members by serving as a role model. One must consider, military members cannot work for bonuses, or get additional vacation time, or get an increase in their pay scale without a promotion. So leaders have to find innovative ways to increase hard work, without the constant threatening of members with judicial punishment.
By serving as a role model, showing units how to get the work done, engaging troops with the leaders work ethic, and producing an image of a hard working individual can often lead to an increase of initiative and training. “social learning theory will predict and explain how leaders’ use of exemplification tactics impact followers’ in-role behavior which we measure as work effort” (Kacmar, K. M., Carlson, D., & Harris, K., 2013).
An additional way a leader can influence subordinates within the military leadership style, is an incentive program. Although the units cannot give bonuses or additional vacation time, schools and billets can suffice in this area. in regards to promotion based schools, this should be a first for young members, allowing them to advance and grow without their leader standing in the way. However, especially in the current aspect of society, military members want to feel as though once they decide they have served their time, they will be able to contribute to society afterwords.
One of my greatest fears early on in my career, was that at some point in my life, no company in the world would want to hire a five tome combat machine gunner. Having heroic awards and purple hearts doesn’t necessarily make you a great business employee. So on my own time, starting while being a Combat Instructor, I pursued my degrees and certifications. I say, make this easier, allows the military members, who perform well, gain incentives to attend LSS, PMP, trades, skill enhancements, and more for not only the military, but for them. This in the long run will not only benefit them, but the organization as well.
Furthermore, given specific billets to those that perform well can increase proficiency. There can only be three squad leaders within a platoon, with a possibility of six to eight that can have the job. This in turn creates a challenge for the leader to choose which three get this assigned billet. This becomes a challenge for the military leader, one that they must use or they miss out on unique opportunities to discover certain traits and work ethic about their mid level managers. Test them, challenge them, and once you have an unbiased determination, reward.
Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers that may affect the overall usage of this leadership model. For instance, if the leader cannot read and understand situational theories among the new unit, they will not succeed using this model. One cannot simply move from unit to unit, leaving off from their current leadership style from the old command and continuing with the new command as if no change occurred. This will set the leader up for failure, and cause unit moral and readiness to degrade. The leader must be able to step back, analyze, and form a critical plan on how to accomplish the tasks ahead. Start small, and grow into the role.
Additionally, with this type of leadership style, the military leader may get too comfortable with allowing subordinates to take control, with too much facilitation and delegation. What is often found, is that towards the ten year mark, the military leaders are great at following this type of theory. However, towards the end of their career, they become more separated from the unit and allow mid level managers to lead more aggressively. This can set a precedence to younger leaders, molding them in the wrong direction early on in their career. What is often occurring with younger members in the military, is they have no leadership model. Instead, there is more of a repetitive type of leadership. They watch their leaders, and repeat what they do and call it leadership. Step away from the laptop, and continue to get dirty with the troops and mold those mid level leaders into modern day warriors.
Overall, the military leadership style is a fast paced, situational theory based model. One where the leader must be able to read unit actions, respond to new challenges and teams often, and be invested with molding the future leaders of the military. Without this type of style, the military organizations may never enhance their performance and be stuck in the always circling method of repetitive leadership learning from old mistakes that should have been avoided from the start.