Commentary: Commentary: The less talked about side of successful leadership

By Staff Sgt. Jaime Riggs
729 ACS/CSS
December 6, 2012

It is 1942 and the control/dominance of Allied aircraft throughout the Pacific is uncertain until a specific general named George C. Kenney is made Southwest Pacific Allied Air Commander. In 1944 a critical supply chain over the Himalayan Mountains, known as "the Hump," is falling short until Gen. William H. Turner takes command. What is so symbolic about these two examples? These are two extreme circumstances where leaders took control of failing organizations and completely turned them around.

What made Gen. Kenney and Gen. Turner so successful? Well, it had less to do with specific traits and more to do with adaptability. Kenney was very flexible while Turner was more rigid but what each did was adjust his leadership style to lead in the manner needed to best suit, and influence their respective troubled organizations.

Leadership challenges are encountered every day from a small office, to a flight, squadron, group or wing. As a leader one must be able to flex to fit the ever changing situation. Being a successful leader is more than just possessing certain traits. A leader's success in large part depends on how well they understand the organizational culture they are trying to lead and influence. In order for leaders to be successful they must ensure everyone within the organization is working toward a shared organizational goal or vision. However, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Fully understanding an organization is tricky because organizations are built around specific structures with traditions, uniforms, rituals and stories. If leaders are unaware of these specifics then they will fail. In addition, if leaders lack vision and do not have an achievable endstate they will also be unsuccessful. These organizational specific structures and future goals are why it is important for leaders to be able to adapt their leadership style to fit the organization they are trying to influence.

The reason many leaders are unsuccessful is due to their failure to accurately identify and synthesize an organizational culture. All too often a new leader will take over an organization and try to institute broad sweeping changes through new vision statements or strategies and will fail because the strategies are inconsistent with the service culture. Send a leader who is able to adapt, improvise and induce unity of a shared vision to a failing unit and in a short period that unit will be built up. If you put a leader who lacks vision, without the ability to unite and adapt into a highly successful unit in a short time that unit will begin to erode.

Leadership is critical for providing guidance, creating and maintaining a good working environment, and ensuring everyone is focused on accomplishing the organizational objective. When leaders are able to adapt their leadership traits to best fit the organization, they can have a big impact on organizational change and impact on warfighting capabilities. The leadership traits required for leading a platoon of Soldiers during Normandy, leading Airmen over Germany, or conducting counter-insurgency do not differ; what is different is the delivery method to best fit the organization and the necessary changes.

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