By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Leadership is an extremely important part of military service. Effective leadership is important because military leaders often make crucial decisions during difficult, stressful situations that impact lives. Effective military leaders, however, apply their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to make smart, strategic decisions.
Effective military leaders raise morale, motivate their subordinates, take responsibility when mistakes are made and set a good leadership example. Each military branch fosters leadership in servicemembers during a relatively early part of their career. Leadership skills are provided during training, and servicemembers are given multiple opportunities to develop those leadership skills.
For example, the Army emphasizes leadership in its training, tactics, procedures and daily conversations with servicemembers. According to the Army, leadership skills are taught during basic training, basic officer leader courses and the Army War College, as well as in other leadership programs. Furthermore, the Army focuses on developing leadership qualities in servicemembers that include strong character, mental resilience, competence and adaptability.
Whether they are officers or enlisted personnel, servicemembers are typically assigned leadership responsibilities throughout their career and it is essential to identify the leadership styles that are most effective in the military. Over time, the military has evolved from the authoritarian, top-down approach to more effective leadership styles such as transformational, servant and participative leadership.
Transformational leadership in the military focuses on supporting the individual growth of subordinates and organizational enhancement; it also concerns inspiring others and fostering necessary change. In addition, transformational leadership creates charismatic and inspirational leaders, invests in the development of future leaders, and builds vision and purpose in subordinates.
Instead of ordering a subordinate to do a task without explaining the purpose behind the task, for instance, transformational leaders motivate subordinates by helping them see why the task is important and how it contributes to an overall mission. Transformational leaders seek feedback from their subordinates and giving subordinates the tools to do a job and a sense of responsibility and trust.
Furthermore, transformational leaders don’t micromanage subordinates or attempt to take credit for the successes of the team. Instead, they ensure that the team receives recognition for their hard work.
According to the Army, another important leadership style is servant leadership, during which non-commissioned officers foster development in their subordinates through meeting the needs of their team. The Army explains that servant leadership is based on trust between the leader and subordinates, which develops relationships and rapport among the team.
Servant leadership does not apply in every scenario in the military, but it can be combined with other leadership styles. Utilizing servant leadership at appropriate times helps a leader build a team who wants to come to work and is motivated because they feel that their supervisor has their best interests in mind.
This style of leadership also increases motivation in subordinates because they feel that their leader has their back. Servant leaders collaborate with their subordinates in making decisions, mentoring others, and helping subordinates to perform at their best.
Another important leadership style that effective military leaders use is participative leadership. Participative leadership brings the entire team into some of the decision-making process.
Participative leadership enables even junior servicemembers to share their ideas of how organizational processes can be improved. Often, junior servicemembers are likely to be doing the jobs no one else wants to do and may have useful ideas for how tasks could be completed more efficiently.
Participative leaders can motivate subordinates to do their best because they create buy-in from individual servicemembers and convey that everyone in the group is an important part of the team, regardless of rank. Participative leaders still make the final decisions and are not obligated to follow the input provided by subordinates, but subordinates can help develop plans. That feeling creates a major incentive for subordinates to complete tasks to the best of their ability because they view those tasks as a part of “their” plan.
Effective Leaders Have Different Benefits for the Military
Effective military leaders create different benefits for their branch of military service. Effective leaders can not only reduce attrition, but they can also increase morale and develop future leaders in the service.