As leaders in today’s Air Force, we are presented early on with the rewarding challenge of leadership. But what is your leadership style?
When you first joined the military, you were greeted by a military training instructor. After your ears stopped ringing, you unknowingly came to the conclusion that your MTI was using an authoritarian or autocratic style of leadership. He or she kept close and direct supervision, engaged primarily in one-way communication and controlled the discussion.
When you graduated and left for technical school, you were assigned to a military training leader. He or she was likely using a transactional leadership style, which focused on motivating Airmen through a system of rewards and punishments (i.e. phase program, a type of contingent reward). This leader intervened when subordinates did not meet expectations, corrected you and got you back on the straight and narrow. This is also known as leadership by exception.
After technical school, you arrived at your first duty location. Your flight chief sometimes seemed like a father figure, taking care of his subordinates as a parent would. He displayed genuine concern for his subordinates, and they would often go to him with their problems because that flight chief would truly work hard to resolve issues. This is an example of paternalistic leadership.
When you attended Airman Leadership School, you were tasked to work as a group and a democratic leadership style appeared. The instructor or class leader shared the decision-making abilities with the group and an air of social equality was present. Everyone had a say in how to proceed and individual skills were utilized. The leader then guided the group toward a final decision and they accomplished the task at hand.
Over time, your knowledge, ability and leadership talents became well polished. You may have noticed your boss began using a laissez faire or hands-off leadership style. He or she has delegated tasks to you while providing little or no direction. You have complete freedom to make decisions on how to proceed, and the leader generally does not directly participate in decision making unless you ask for assistance. To be clear, the difference between hands-off and fire-and-forget leadership is that hands-off still involves guidance, support and following up. A fire-and-forget style does not.
As you have come up through the ranks, you have seen many types of leadership styles. Some leaders stick to one style that works best for them. You may have seen a good leader use a combination of styles, depending on each situation.
So, what’s your leadership style?