I just read an article on msnbc.com titled, Admirals, generals: Let gays serve openly, that discussed the possibility of repealing a military policy concerning sexual orientation, simply put “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This article gives a glimpse of the cultural structure contained in the military, an occupation that many people, including my parents, choose to become a part of. Because I am the product of the military lifestyle, it seemed only right to discuss the potential theories of leadership within this federal organization, where I had the opportunity to watch my mother advance to levels that were unheard of for the majority of females at the time. The military has to have leaders that execute leadership, but how are leaders chosen in order to assume the position?
The process begins in recruitment where each candidate is required to pass an aptitude test in order to know what occupation within the military he or she would be best qualified to be trained in. The aptitude test may highlight some of the natural abilities and strengths the person will bring to the military. Boot camp consists of requiring everyone to look the same, stripping away individuality, in hopes of instilling the value of being a part of a team. More importantly, boot camp seeks to get recruits to become adept to following orders, no matter how illogical some may seem in the training. As Robert E. Kelley stated, “We are convinced that corporations succeed or fail, compete or crumble, on the basis of how well they are led” (Kelley, 1988). Because the military can find themselves in very dangerous and high stress level situations, such as war for example, it is imperative that the soldiers under command are able to follow and execute orders that are, in some instances, a matter of life or death.
The military has an “up or out” policy that requires members to actively seek to improve themselves while in the service or face the possibility of being fired. There are certain benchmarks in place or certain ranks that men and women are supposed to achieve by a specified amount of time. In order to obtain promotions, training is provided to the candidates. For some ranks, candidates must have completed a certain level of training before consideration. However, because the military is like a pyramid, where advancement becomes more competitive and fewer are promoted at each level, it is not solely training that get candidates promoted, it is also there ability to implement the skills learned into practice within their respective field that shows they are able to take the training and utilize it when necessary efficiently. Opportunities are provided for candidates to execute their knowledge through application and because of the structure of the military, there is some supervision, and because of that, there are also opportunities for personal conferences for feedback purposes (Tead, 1935).
As stated before, very few members of the military make it to the top, so what is it about them that sets them apart from the rest? There are some traits that are highly important in this line of work and others that vary and can be utilized when needed. From observation, leaders in this organization display a high level of loyalty and trust, which is important in a field where one knowingly acknowledges the possibility of giving up one’s life for the safety of his or her country. Ralph Stogdill classified some leadership traits into broader general headings, ones in which are essential to the military: capacity, achievement, responsibility, participation, and status (Stogdill, 1948). Of course, Stogdill also mentions that the leader’s ability varies depending on the “characteristics, activities, and goals of the followers” and is situational (Stogdill, 1948). The military members assigned to leadership positions should be a role model to their followers. Leading by example assists with establishing respect and trust with the followers. Building on the relationship between leader and follower creates referent power, where both exert influence over one another (Hughes, 1993).
There are many theories that assist with describing what a leader is and what leadership consists of. Unfortunately, I only had a chance to discuss a few theories that describe leadership through the context of the military. While many may join the military initially, only a select few make it to the top. It is through the experiences that they have and the innate personal skills and talents they bring to any given situation that propels them to positions of leadership.