Sunday, July 4, 2010

Leadership Styles: Learning from Military and Business Leadership

What can we learn from comparing military and business leadership models that will help us become better leaders ourselves? In their article on leadership styles and leader performance, in the Royal Navy, Young and Dulewicz (2006) highlight that “a review of the leadership literature establishes that effective leadership behaviour will vary with circumstances. Within this paradigm, recent authors have moved on from focusing on the leader/follower variables to examining the efficacy of different leadership behaviours in different contexts of change, (p.384).”

In their analysis Young and Dulewicz categorise leadership behaviour into three macro leadership ‘styles’;

1) Goal-orientated: Where the leader sets the direction and plays a significant role in directing others (though this does not imply an authoritarian approach, but a leader-centric approach).

2) Involving: Where the leader provides a strong sense of direction, but with more focus on involving others. Not only in setting the direction, but also in deciding how the goals and objectives will be achieved.

3) Engaging: Where the leader is focused on facilitating others in, firstly, deciding the future goals and direction, and secondly, the approach to be used for achieving these desired goals.

From a military perspective the goal-orientated style, in the majority of situations, has proven to be the most effective, assuming that the leader is ‘accepted’ by the group; yet in business, research has shown the contrary, where the leader centric behaviours of this goal-orientated style often impairs the successful implementation of organisational change, (Young and Dulewicz, 2006). What is particularly interesting in their research is that they found “the significant preference for goal-orientated leadership among officers, is very much in line with the findings that the military reporting system rewards task achievement over leadership,” (p.394). Yet how many organisations reward leadership? Although there might be more recognition and ‘movement’ towards transformational or situational styles of leadership – ‘business leaders’ are still rewarded for goal achievement over leadership style.

In the context of the ‘variable’ approach to leadership, van Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer (2008), while discussing the ‘full range model of leadership’ (that embraces both the transactional and transformational styles of leadership), mention that “the transactional-transformational distinction views leadership as either a matter of contingent reinforcement of followers by a transactional leader or the moving of followers beyond their self-interests for the good of the group, organisation, or society by a transformational leader,” (p.253-254).

In analysing the appropriate leadership style, leaders must look beyond the specific business activity and focus on all the key influencing factors to find the optimum style, and the best fit solution. Hence the leader will not only look at the task at hand, but will consider their team (the ‘followers’ and their behavioural traits), as well as both the organisational and national culture (since most organisations today are multicultural - and most leadership models and theories are based on a Western business model and culture).

To conclude, van Eeden, Cilliers and Deventer remind us that “resilience in terms of self-confidence, self-determination, a lack of internal conflicts, and the ability to handle pressure underlie the idealised influence practiced by the transformational leader. The effective leader (who primarily relies on transformational behaviour and only uses the other styles when appropriate) is furthermore focused on achievement and dedication, inner direction, and a high activity and energy level that contribute to the leader’s function as a role model. Enthusiasm and optimism are also required to create a vision of the future and effective problem solving requires self-confidence,” (p.261).


van Eeden, R., Cilliers, F. and van Deventer, V. (2008). Leadership styles and associated behavioural traits: Support for the conceptualisation of transactional and transformational leadership. South African Journal of Psychology, Vol. 38, Issue 2, p.253-267.

Young, M. and Dulewicz, V. (2006). Leadership styles, change context and leader performance in the Royal Navy. Journal of Change Management, Vol. 6, No. 4, p.383-396.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Leadership styles differ a lot. Every leader has his own style. anyways this was my first visit and very interesting articles..keep up the good work

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