Styles of Leadership and the US Military


Styles of Leadership and the US Military

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The military is fundamentally an institution with its own set of objectives, purpose, norms, values, rules and behavior codes, and resources (human and finance). It falls under the various social institutions that have connections to the general society in terms of the security service they provide to the nation. The progressive security challenges that characterize the international community have led to the rise of military professionalism, reforms, feminization, outsourcing of expertise and services just like other institutions. However, unlike regular organizations, the military is led by strict regulations, laws, orders, and instructions owing to the great danger that the military personnel face in their line of duty. Thus, the missions, leadership system, and specific administrations structures individualize the military from other organizations. The focus of this paper is to expound on the styles of leadership in the military today. Given the nature of the military profession use lethal weapons and force, the profession needs high discipline to accomplish its mission. Military leaders are therefore required to have the power of influence and authority. They must lead by example and help their juniors to be effective in the force. The current literature on the military leadership profession focuses on the need for transformational, with more studies conducted on transactional and servant leadership.

The US military which encompasses the Air force, Navy, and Army are established with the sole purpose of protecting its citizens from external aggression and war. Having effective professional leaders is a necessity with increased threats of terrorism and aggression, amid the developed international diplomacy. However, managing public perception a small part for the military leaders to manage with the full support of the state for their operations. According to Hamad, (2015), the effectiveness of military leadership is attributed to the impact on the military institution. The military leadership profession is dependent on experience as one develops starting from education, training, and experience alongside veterans. While the leadership provides for directions, orders, and information on war operations, it also provides for motivation and inspiration. An effective army leader is one to strive to improve the impact of the juniors by providing a purpose, direction, and vision. A purpose is a reason to accomplish the set mission which is achieved through giving critical information, directives, or orders. The subordinates must understand the reason for conducting the mission and whether it makes sense to serve the larger purpose of the institution to protect the citizens from war and external aggression. Motivation and inspiration are key to having an effective team for the military operation. Given the stressful nature of the profession through their encounters in war fields, the teams need to be well motivated to overcome difficult situations that may be demoralizing.

The above dynamics take the focus of this paper to three leadership styles transformational leadership, servant leadership, and transactional leadership. The objective is to understand whether these leadership styles identify with the commitment of military leaders to utilize their time to serve the subordinates in the service. It is expected the effective leadership today is one that has transformed from the traditional autocratic organization to one that seeks commitment and satisfaction of the forces to serve better. The need to have transparency in military leadership without affecting the efficiency of the force has been publicly discussed. More calls have been to have transformational leaders to better address the changing international and national security dynamics. Progressive and sophisticated training is needed to establish professional and effective military leadership.

Transformational Leadership Style

The transformational leadership theory is perhaps one that attracted many organizations as well as its critics. According to Moreno, et al (2017), the theory is based upon empowerment and motivation of the subordinates to improve their performances beyond expectations. Hamad, H. (2015), argues that transformational leaders have shown to have engaging and charismatic attributes as they strive to inspire and encourage their followers. Such leaders have a strong sense of purpose that they effectively convey to their subordinates. Transformational leadership in the military entails leaders who can inspire and motivate with intellect. In return, the leader can influence the soldiers who would have built extraordinary trust due to the commanders experience in the line of duty. The environment leads to voluntary compliance to instructions and orders understanding that the commander knows better. A leader who can achieve this builds an army that is willing to put aside their interests and sacrificing their lives in extreme cases to protect national security interests.

The spirit of the transformational leadership style is being able to reshape the institutional structures and its capacity to effectively adapt to the changing moral inspirations. It is about achieving a wide range of human resource needs and making them perform better. More significantly, transformational leaders are able to instill a sense of pride in the military profession. This is the reason why the commander is held as an icon to be emulated in all areas of his or her professional life. A transformational military leader further inspires faith and respect for the command line which is a crucial aspect of military operations. As stated early, transformational leaders are also charismatic with the only difference being transformational leadership is can be learned while later is an inborn skill. Considering that military leadership is attained through experience, the transformational leadership style seems to be the most appropriate for servicemen and women. However, the style has received criticism despite its popularity. Some critics argue that transformational leadership is more charismatic and thus cannot be easily learned. Overall, the tenets of transformational leadership are intellectual stimulation, idealized influence, individualized consideration, inspiration, and motivation (Hamad, 2015).

Transactional Leadership

The transactional leadership style has been the alternative transformational military leadership. The leaders who practice this leadership style seek mutual satisfactory outcomes by giving clear orders, instructions, and holding the subordinates to account. Such is a commander who values order and command structure and is most likely to be assigned to serious missions that demand strict compliance with rules and regulations to achieve its objectives. A transactional leader removes any form of uncertainty in their soldiers to achieve highly efficient teams by utilizing the influence of the chain of command. According to Martnez-Crcoles, M., & Stephanou, (2017), such leadership is dependent on the creation of clear institutional structures whereby the subordinates clear understand what is expected of them despite any circumstance. The subordinates also understand that they will be rewarded for following the clear structures in achieving successful missions. In turn, the success or failure of a mission is upheld by the commander who will need to reshape the dynamic relations with the subordinates. By understanding the challenges faced by the subordinates, the leader can address their needs and reward them appropriately.

Transactional leadership ensures conformity to the existing structures while focusing on the outcome. The rewards and penalties are also based on the institutional system. This form of leadership is identifiable with individuals who assume formal authority and responsibility of any institution. It is a form of leadership instigated by the position rather than the power of influence as seen in transformational leadership. Motivation is a key factor in performance and improvement in any organization. A transactional leader relies upon the rewards to have a motivating force rather than taking the initiative to personally engage and motivate the subordinates. As such, transactional leadership differs to a greater extent from transformational and charismatic leadership. While transformational leadership has a selling style, transactional is an instructional and order style. Further, transactional leadership is more prone to issues of self-interest instead of prioritizing group progress. As stated before, transactional leadership can be good for serious missions with relatively new commanders. A short-term mission can also qualify for this leadership style. The characteristics of the transactional leadership style include a focus on short-term goals, improvement based on structured policies and procedures, opposed to change, and success based on doing things procedurally (Gaddy, et al., 2017).

Servant Leadership

Servant leaders are those with the desire to help the subordinates progress in their careers and perform beyond expectations. They spend a good portion of their service time helping the subordinates overcome challenges, motivate, and guide them. This is a leader who will work with you from day one in your career job. Military servant leaders areas such dedicated to serving the subordinates before their interests. The style embodies empathy and acceptance with a deep calling to serve others and walking the talk. In a quote by Dwight D. Eisenhower, he states that you do not lead by hitting the subordinates on the head, that is not leadership but acts of assault Martnez-Crcoles, M., & Stephanou, (2017). Thus, there has to be a sense of empathy and consideration to qualify for the servant leadership style. According to Gaddy, et al., (2017) a “superior leader demonstrates but relies on order and structure while the great teacher explains and inspires.” From surveys on practical experiences of prominent leaders show that most of them define themselves as servant leaders. The reason behind this perception is that the style is highly desirable, however, with illusory superiority. Military servant leaders commit to lead by values, ethics, oath, rules, and regulations. However, they are more interested in hiring your thoughts and become selfless in ensuring the development of their subordinates. The tenets of a servant leader include self-sacrifice, selflessness, empathy, and humility.


Military leadership styles have received increased attention owing to their impact on the institution. Successful military leaders and commandos are those who have mastered effective leadership styles that suit the institutional needs of improvement and goes beyond instructions and orders. From the discussions above, military leadership requires a mixture of transformational, charismatic, and transactional leadership as witnessed in most military leaders today. The leader must effectively respond to international institutional demands: motivation, reward, and inspiration, and external demands upholding law directives, orders, and directives. Thus, the military institution oath to invest extensively in training and experience to build a succession of effective leaders to ensure that the core objective of securing the US is achieved through the various missions.



Hamad, H. (2015). Transformational leadership theory: Why military leaders are more charismatic and transformational?.International Journal on Leadership,3.

Gaddy, J. W., Gonzalez, S. P., Lathan, C. A., & Graham, P. K. (2017). The perception of authentic leadership on subordinate resilience.Military Behavioral Health,5(1), 64-72.

Martnez-Crcoles, M., & Stephanou, K. (2017). Linking active transactional leadership and safety performance in military operations.Safety science,96, 93-101.

Moreno, A. R., Bravo, M. I. R., Garca-Guiu, C., Lozano, L. M., Pacheco, N. E., Navarro- Carrillo, G., & Valor-Segura, I. (2021). Effects of emerging leadership styles on engagementa mediation analysis in a military context.Leadership & Organization Development Journal.


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