Armys Approach To Situational Leadership Management Essay

The Army’s approach to situational leadership is based on the fact that leaders must lead in all situations and ajust to environments that are always changing. In order to prepare leaders for these challenges, the Army uses the concept of situational leadership as a platform. It teaches leaders the impotance of situational leadership, team dynamics and peer leadership (Applied Team Leadership, 2009). The Army stresses that leadership is not about setting rigid, unbending expectations and dictating orders. Good leaders match a style of leadership that matches the current situation, and those that they lead. This paper examines the Army’s appoaches situational leadership. It reviews the basic concept of situational leadership, looks at how the Army defines leadership and examines the different perspectives and theories the Army believes to be critical to success. The paper discusses leadership traits and behaviors, and how they are the building blocks for the Army’s Leadership Requirement Model. It examines how the Army applies its leadership model using the elements of leadership, both transactional and transformational. And finally, it discusses adaptive leadership, its characteristics, and how the Army builds adaptive leaders. .

Table of Contents


The Basic Concept of Situational Leadership ………………….2

The Army and Leadership………………………………………3

The Army Relationship Requirement Model……………………4

Transactional Leadership………………………………………..5

Transformational Leadership……………………………………6

Which Style is Best?……………………………………………6

Applied Adaptive Leadership…………………………………..7


Leadership remains the most baffling of the arts…as long as we do not know exactly what makes men get up out of a hole in the ground and go forward in the face of death at a word from another man, then leadership will remain one of the highest and most elusive of qualities. It will remain an art.

–James L Stokesbury

The art of leadership the Stokesbury alludes to is a subject studied more seriously in military schools than in civilian institutions. Given the life-and-death nature of our business and the importance of the military to a nation’s survival, this should surprise no one. What is surprising, however, is that most professional military education schools rely almost exclusively on the civilian-orientated Hersey and Blanchard Situational Leadership model to help teach military leadership and management. (Waddell, 1994)

The Army believes that leadership is a complex human behavior, and there is no one single way to view it. In order to be an effective leader, one must study more than one model or theory of leadership. This is why the military leader must make use of the studies and histories of military units and figures, and not repeat the mistakes of the past. (Yukl, 1986) While many scholars, sociologist, and historians have analyzed the methods of leadership, there remains no single way to create a great leader. Young Army leaders attending professional development programs need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different styles and theories.

Military leaders are different than leaders in other types of organizations because they are appointed and not emergent. (Yeakey, 2002,) To become truly effective leaders, the Army officer must be more than a “one trick” pony who can apply only one leadership model. Army leaders lead more intensively than most of their counterparts in civilian life do, in situations where the lack of effective leadership will have catastrophic results (Foundations of Leadership, 2008)

The Army Leadership Requirement Model centers on what a leader is and what a leader must do. Because of the stress of combat, the military leader must build trust and confidence with subordinates. To do this, the Army has developed a standard set of attributes and core leader competencies designed to aid in development of leaders who can succeed in a wide variety of difficult situations.

US Army Field Manual (FM) 22-100, Army Leadership, also added transactional and transformational leadership styles in the 1980’s. Today, the manual has been updated and these two proven styles continue to assist Army leaders in shaping behavior, emotions, and the organizational climate. (Yeakey, 2002) Transformational leadership is at the core of what constitutes adaptive leadership, according to U.S. Army doctrine Field Manual (Bass, Jung, Avolio, & Berson, 2003). This leadership approach allows the modern Army leader the ability to adapt to an ever changing environment.

Adaptive leadership is an approach by the Army, designed to give the leader an edge in the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE). However being adaptive is more than reacting to a situation. Army leaders anticipate and employ their style of leadership based on that situation. They are able to assume risk, make well informed decisions, and adjust accordingly.

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The Basic Concept of Situation Leadership

According to modern theories of situational leadership developed by P. Hersey, K.H. Blanchard, and D.E. Johnson in their siminal work, Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources, there is no one best way to influence people. In Army terms, their theory holds that the leadership style you select and use will depend in the environment and the readiness or ability of the individual soldier (Applied Team Leadership, 2009).

Situational leadership is based on an interplay among (1) the amount of guidance and direction (task behavior) a leader gives, (2) the amount of sociomotional support (relationship behavior) a leader provides, and (3) the performance readiness level that the followers exibit in performing a specific task, function or objective (Hersey et al., 2008)

Task Behavior

Is defined as the extent to which the leader engages in spelling out the duties and responsibilites of an individual or group (Hersey et al., 2008). Examples of task behavior may include developing a list of things to accomplish, establishment of priorities. It might even include following up and assessing the progress made by individuals or teams.

Relationship Behavior

Is defined as the extent to which the leader engages in two-way or multiway communication (Hersey et al., 2008). Relaionship behavior includes listening, teaching, or counseling. The more you adapt your behavior to the situation, the more effective your attempts to influence will be.

No one style is effective in all situations. Each style is appropriate and effective depending on the situation (Hersey et al., 2008).

People’s level of readiness tends to be different, depending on their task. Readiness has nothing to do with values, life experience, or traits; it has everything to do about ones willingness and ability. Willingness is the combination of confidence, commitment, and motivation. Ability is the knowledge, experience, and demonstrated skill that the follower brings to the task and is based on an actual display of abilities. Leaders should not select a leadership style by assuming that the follower should know (Yeakey, 2002).

The Army and Leadership

An Army leader is anyone who by virtue of assumed role or assigned responsibility inspires and

influences people to accomplish organizational goals. Army leaders motivate people both inside andoutside the chain of command to pursue actions, focus thinking, and shape decisions for the greater good of the organization. (FM 6-22, Army Leadership, 2006)

For decades, scholars, business leaders, and organizational researchers have continually refined the definition of leadership-based on their findings and expereince, and the latest real-world models and situations. The variety of their theories about leadership stems from leadership’s multidimesional nature (Foundations of Leadership, 2008).

The Army is always looking for ways to improve itself. Weather developing new tactics for fighting the war on terrorism, or improving its ability to provide care for wounded warriors, improving the force is always at the forfront of the Army. This goal to improve can also be seen in Army leadership. Greater efficiency and effectivness in its leaders led the Army to reevaluate its application of leadership principles.

The Army drew on several leadership theories from business and academia to develop its own leadership frame work and definition of of what leadership entails (Foundations of Leadership, 2008). By examining different perspectives and theories, Army leaders are better equiped to deal with the complex nature of leadership in the contemporary operating environment.

The Army Leadership Requirement Model

The Army devotes significant resources to studying and promoting in-depth discussionof many leadership theories. Its aim is to help develop leaders who can succeed in a wide variety of challenging situations (Foundations of Leadership, 2008). The requirement models basic componets center on what a leader is (attributes – BE and KNOW) and what a leader does (competencies – DO). An Army leader’s character, presence, and intellect enable them to master the core competencies through didicated lifelong learning. The balanced application of the critical leadership requirement model empowers the leader to build high performing and cohesive organizations. It also creates positive organizational climates, allowing for individuals and team learning, and empathy for all.

Three major factors determine character: values, empathy, and Warrior Ethos. Some charactoristics are present at the beginning of a leader’s career, while others are developed over time.

Physical presence determines how others others perceive you. The factors of physcial presence are bearing, phyical fitness, and resilience.

Intellectual capacity helps to conceptualize solutions and aquire knowledge to do the job. A leader’s conceptual abilities apply agility, judgment, innovation, interpersonal tact, and domain knowledge. Domain knowledge encompasses tactical and technical knowledge as well as cultural awareness.

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Leader competencies develop from baleanced combination on institutional schooling, self development, realistic training, and professional experience. Building competence follows a systematic and gradual approach, from mastering individual competencies, to applying them in concert and tailoring them to the situation at hand. Leading people by giving them a complex task helps develop the confidence and will take on progressively more difficult challenges.

Competencies provide a clear and concise way of conveying expectations for Army leaders. Current and future leaders want to know what to do to succeed in their leadership responsibilities. The core leader competencies apply across all levels of the organization, across leader positions, and throughout careers. Competencies are demonstrated through behaviors that can be readily observed and assessed by a spectrum of leaders and followers: superiors, subordinates, peers and mentors. This makes for a good basis for leader development and focused multi-source assessment and feedback.

Transactual Leadership

Transactual leadership is based on a transaction or exchange of something of value the leader possess or controls that the follower wants in return for his/her services (Homrig, 2001). The transactual relationship between leader and follower follows an approach where there is either a reward or incentive for achievement; the leader uses punishment or corrective action as a response to unacceptable performance; or the leader actively monitors the progress of work, and uses corrective action to ensure the desired standard is met.

While the transactual style of leadership may not be the most popular, or prefered method, it cannot be denied that it produces results. Young recruits who entry the Army live under the transactual style of leadership. These young men and women are placed in a environment designed to break undesirable habits, and build new ones. In order to motivate, and build cohesive teams out of individuals, Drill sergeants who have very limited time, follow the transactual style of leadership using rewards, or punishment to meet acceptable standards.

Army leaders often times, because of their situation use the tranactional style of leadership. This is usually only for short periods of time where there is no time to react to other than a direct approach. Examples of these types of situations may include safety situations, or when a unit comes under direct fire from the enemy. Choosing to use transactual leadership involves more than the readiness level of subordinates. The style will change as the situation changes. The goal of the Army leadership today is to create bonds between soldiers with stregnth to motivate even when the leader is not present. To build the kind of lasting bonds that enhance unit cohesion, moral, and performance, Army leaders must look to a higher order of leadership: transformational leadership (Foundations of Leadership, 2008)

Transformational Leadership

With the introduction of transformational leadership theory into the literature, greater attention has now been paid to understanding how certain leaders are better equipped to elevate a follower’s motivation and performance to the high levels of accomplishment (Bass, 1985). Tranformational leadership is based on the assumption that people will follow a leader who inspires or motivates them.

This method to motivate and inspire is often used to develop a compelling vision by selling it and focusing on developing relationships with followers as a teacher, mentor, and coach might. The transformatioanl leader thus spends a great deal of time building trust and demonstrates a high level of personal integrety to engage his/her followers. His or her ultimate goal is to transform followers while achieving results.

In military engagements, leadership, moral, cohesion, and commitment have long been identified as critical ingredients to unit performance (Bass, 1998) Military units demonstrating a high level of esprit de corps and moral have frequently produced the best results (Shamir, Zakay, Breinen, & Popper, 1998). Transformational leaders have developed a set of internal values. They have gained a high level of commitment that transends down to their followers. Transformational leaders have the ability to to operate in a manner that best fits the situation. The military professional must weigh the pros an cons of these leader/follower relionships to judge which is best when. This is by no means an easy task and usually results in a great deal of thought, for being a leader is work (Homrig, 2001).

Which Style is Best?

Each style has its advantages and its limitations. The Army teaches that when choosing an appropraite style, one must consider the amount of time available to accomplish the objective, your abilities and those of the subordinates, and the current situation.

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Bernard Bass, co-author of “Adding to contingent-reward behavior: The augmenting effect of charismatic leadership” says “The best leadership is both transformational and transactional. Transformational leadership augments the effectiveness of transactional leadership; it does not replace transactional leadership (Waltman, Bass, & Yammarino, 1990). People in general look to leaders for guidance and direction; however they want to be encouraged to to negotiate challenges. The successful leader will inspire and motivate groups or teams in the organization to create synergy among them to tackle that challenging situation or obstacle. Transformational leaders will ultimatly build long term pride, competence, and commitment within the organization that goes beyond what can be achieved by using transactual leadership. Transformational leadership is at the core of what constitutes adaptive leadership, according to U.S. Army doctrine Field Manual 22-100 (Bass et al., 2003).

Applied Adaptive Leadership

Dr. Leonard Wong, a twenty year Army veteran, and author of Developing Adaptive Leaders: The Crucible Experience of Operation Iraqi Freedom, cites leadership researcher Warren Bennis, who defines adaptive leadership:

The critical quality of a leader that determines how a leader will fare in a crucible experience is adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity allows leaders to respond quickly and intelligently to constant change. It is the ability to identify and sieze opportunities. It allows leaders to act and then evaluate results instead of attempting to collect and analyze all the data before acting (Wong, 2004)

According to Wong, adaptive leaders need to be mentally flexable and agile. They must possess strong conceptual and technical skills. Adaptive leaders are strong under pressure, and can operate will little or no supervision. Flexible, adaptive leadership is important for leaders to adapt to different situations. Hersey & Blanchard point out that more delegation and less monitoring is needed for subordinates who are confident and competent than ones who are not. Change is the only constant. Adaptive leaders know the strengths of self and subordinates, understand the mission, and can quickly diagnose the situation. They manage and adapt while leading and motivating the team.

There are no leader institutions within the Army that guarantee leaders become “adaptive”. The charactoristics of adaptive leadership indicate that training and eduacation are the foundation. The ability to critically think, recognize situations, adapt, and act, requires time and effort.

The Army believes that you can learn to be an adaptive leader. As leaders experience different challenging situations, they develop new skills needed to move on to new levels of achievment. According to Wong, adaptive Army leaders competently deal with three aspects of the contemporary operational environement: ambiguity, complexity, and change (Wong, 2004).


Army leaders are taught the importance to completely understanding the senior officiers ‘intent”. Leaders deal with unpredictabiltiy on a day to day basis, and while the planning is critical to mission accomplisment, do not become consumed with the plan. Leaders need consider the overall intent, and build plan that work for the team.


Adaptive leaders must learn to deal with complexity. Wong interviewed one yooung officer in Iraq,

I can’t tell you what I’m doing tomorrow. I can tell you what I’m suppose to be doing tomorrow. Things change so frequently, and you just expect that. You know that every day you live a day at a time. Things you plan change, based on intel reports, based on different changes in the mission.


This is the only constant. The adaptive leader must anticipate and master transitions. Changing conditions can change the priorities of the mision, and provide new challenges. Leaders need to find a balance, adapt to the situation, and execute while motivating and inspriring the team.


James Stokes describes leadership as an art. The United States Army agrees, and therfore embrased the widely popular situational leadership as the foundation for its leadership training model. It shows Army leaders that there’s no one best way to influence people, and that only through the study of different theories, styles and behaviors, will you master that art. The Army, through its leadership requirement model, has developed a framework that I believe is useful in assisting young leaders with their leadership. Adaptive leadership is critical for Army leaders as they operate on today’s modern technically advanced battlefield. Because of the complexity of and ambiguity of the environement that they face, flexible leadership is required more than ever.

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