Don’t Be Tied to a Single Dimension Leadership StyleBy Darren Murch OAM August 5, 2020
Australian Army doctrine currently provides a broad definition of leadership as “the art of influencing and directing people to achieve willingly the team or organisational goal.” Rightfully, it is broad to allow for the tangible and intangible influences that confront a leader who ultimately needs to make decisions. Again, doctrine prescribes a list of attributes that leaders should aspire to incorporate into a style that motivates and inspires those they lead. This short article will caution leaders to not tie themselves to a single dimension leadership style but show how other approaches can capitalise on opportunities. The art and science of leadership expects leaders to be reflective, experimental, considered, balanced, collaborative, flexible, bold and decisive. This situational concoction of aspirational applications illuminates how the doctrinal leadership traits exist in more than a conservative framework and can enrich a leader’s relationship with their team.
Single Dimension Leadership
A military is a large machine that imposes the grave reality for leaders to lead and serve during combat. To make the situation complex, the leaders who have the highest pressure to motivate others are junior officers and noncommissioned officers; all of whom are developing leaders with various levels of experience. The majority of them have only a few years of military service and limited education about the intricacies of leadership; nor have they been exposed to a large range of events from which to build experiential models to assist with extreme challenges. This is the nature of military service and as a leader develops, they are promoted to a higher position, just to start again; but usually the adjustment to the higher responsibilities occurs in a shorter time. Whilst leadership is not a simple endeavor, an Army teaches leadership through traits, principles and setting expectations that establish the tone for how a leader should behave and act. This is an organisational standard that an Army sets to allow the force to mobilise for a common purpose and allows leaders to practically get on with the task. However, this can create a single dimension leadership style as little awareness about the science of leadership is developed. It is acknowledged and accepted that leadership is learnt through experience and development but if this learning is not structured and guided, opportunities to explore situational alternative styles may be missed.
What Else is Available
Individual leaders should always look to better their approach and organisations should seek the same outcome. The Australian Army is currently reviewing its leadership doctrine to assess and validate how it should apply leadership. This is healthy to ensure it is alert to the needs of people while remaining focused on leadership that must survive the uncertainty of battle. Without entering a discussion about generational shift, change is beneficial when looking for a competitive advantage. This advantage exists in the quality of the workforce while leadership is the central element that motivates change. Regardless of who is led, leaders are responsible for considering and planning for a unit’s success while incorporating people’s desires. This can be achieved with more than the authoritative, participative or free reign styles as currently offered by doctrine. This article will briefly introduce four contemporary leadership styles that have emerged to provide leaders with alternative approaches.
Transformational Leadership. Brown and Trevino (2006) capture the nature of this style. Transformational leadership is where leaders inspire the team to commit to more than self-interest and work together for a collective purpose. Yes, this sounds like teamwork but the transformational leader inspires others towards the greater cause and uses it as a source of power to achieve goals. This requires influence, charisma and energetic communications skills. The leader does not revert to coercion or manipulation to motivate the group; rather, their social and emotional intelligence are attuned to stimulating others to achieve the organisational purpose. A transformational leader displays the array of leadership traits, but it is the power of conviction and communication that transforms the views, actions and words of the team and convinces them to put the goal above self. This style is not suited to all leaders because of personality anchors, individual beliefs or varying commitment to organisational values. This is not a bad thing but awareness of these issues focuses a leader’s perspective of how their should lead.
Authentic Leadership. Most leaders would like to think they are authentic and this is a reasonable expectation. However, Bill George (2010) teaches that to be authentic, leaders must have a reflective, conscious understanding of who they are. A person’s life experience shapes thier sense of self. By thinking about those experiences, and formulating how they define a 'leader’s perspective', an authentic style evolves. This should be an open, values-based, confident and consistent approach that others recognise. An authentic leader should be able to accept feedback from the team without feeling threatened and adjust to better the situation. Herminia Ibarra (2015) recognises that an authentic leader should try new leadership approaches as experience and knowledge grows. Adjusting a leadership style does not mean a leader has become untrue to their core values. Rather, it shows they are listening to feedback and reading the environment to improve the leadership outcome. Like transformational leadership this is not for everyone, and while people will want to be authentic, this may not be the core belief that inspires an individual’s leadership style. Other obstacles may present themselves that limit a leader adopting an authentic style, such as not being comfortable opening up to others or a lack of adequate experience to reflect upon.
Ethical Leadership. This style is not simply a narrow view of a leader just doing the right thing. Brown and Trevino (2006) explain an ethical leader as a principles-based decision-maker who others respect for their personal commitment and acceptance of organisational ethics and values. What constitutes ethical standards is a complex topic beyond the scope of this article, but needless to say a practitioner of ethical leadership consistently and proactively communicates ethical expectations. This leader is an ethical role model and is content to use reward and punishment to reinforce ethical standards. They can be charismatic but not usually to the point of being transformational. They are more transactional as they hold people to account through the adherence of standards. Certainly, being ethical may be a “true self” value, which would make that person authentic, but a key element of authentic leadership is missing. That is, an ethical leader will not reflect on a situation because the organisation has determined the standard, compared to an authentic leader who will, so they can judge unclear ethical issues and use their own moral values to determine the right outcome (Brown and Trevino, 2006).
Emergent Leadership. An emergent leader is the opposite of an assigned leader, which is the normal method the military uses to identify leaders. As the name suggests, an emergent leader emerges/rises from within the group to take on a leadership role. This may be the result of particular expertise or a personality trait that uncovers an individual who can willingly influence the team towards the goal. Yoo and Alavi (2003) identify that emergence may occur spontaneously or by empowerment from the group through earned status of success over a period of time. As a result, these leaders gain power that is supported by the team through the process of “natural selection”. In this case, the team accepts an individual from within the group to take on a leadership role, which has positive effects on morale. A military often supports emergent leaders through a reliance on individual initiative. Situations such as action in the absence of the assigned leader may be an emergent catalyst, or specialist knowledge may allow a person to take on a leadership role. On completion of a task, the emergent leader may fold back into the team but after a number of successes respect for that person will grow to a point where the organisation may select them as an assigned leader. A transformational leader could display an emergent mindset and actively encourage individuals to emerge and lead. This would demonstrates they are a confident leader that is not threatened by potential successors but sees organisational advantages in developing people.
An Army relies on a leader and follower relationship to achieve a common purpose. Doctrine provides the bones for leaders, especially lesser experienced ones, to motivate and mobilise the team. However, as a leader’s experience and knowledge grows, they must be confident to evolve and develop other styles that contribute to the team’s outputs. The science and art of leadership are not simple to categorise and much reflection is required to understand the type of personality and motivations a leader has. Initially, leaning on one’s strengths influences the leadership style of new leaders, but eventually an exploratory door should open to sample the positive and negative outcomes of other styles. This should motivate a leader, so their repertoire becomes rich with options and allows a seamless transition across a range of styles to suit the circumstances.