My experience with leaders and leadership has been an interesting one. In the military, as an intelligence analyst, there were a lot of different leaders I interacted with on a daily basis. Commanders and chiefs held rank that is to be respected, in Northouse’s terms they held a “positional power” or a “legitimate power” while they may or may not have been the expert, or have been well-liked by the troops, their status, and assigned leadership role gave them the authority and power to make important decisions and influence change (2016). At the same time, those high-ranking members were not always there on a day to day basis, working on the Ops floor beside us.
It then fell to a different person, maybe still someone who outranks you, but potentially not. The next leader would be a subject matter expert, someone who knows the ins and outs of whatever your question might be. These people held expert power. What I think is very interesting, especially in the intel world specifically, is that the experts would often have more knowledge or experience than the Commander, so it was our job to keep them up to speed on anything and everything. This lack of expertise was not by fault of the Commander, they just didn’t always come from an intelligence background. So it was very interesting to see and be in a position where someone could hold a very high authority as a leader, who would also defer to an expert to guide his own decisions. In this way, the concept of leadership being a process is made very clear to me.
In instances where I had to explain complicated intel which was to be used in a much greater decision, it took teams to gather the data, interpret it, brief the commander, and have the commander implement change. No one part of the operation could work effectively on its own, but together amazing things could be accomplished. For that reason, early in my military career, I learned not to discount anyone due to their rank. Some of the smartest people I encountered had less rank than I did, but they were experts. Maybe they will go on to be great leaders someday, but from the newbies straight out of boot camp to the commander with twenty-five years in service, there are different leadership traits or styles found in them all, both individually, and collectively.
My final thoughts on this topic, specifically pertaining to military and leadership is the ideas from early researchers said that leaders were born, and not made (Penn State University, 2018). When we promoted to Sergeant in the Air Force, we go to a special training called ” Airmen Leadership School”. People do not necessarily come out of the program inspiring every person they come in contact with, but it does make a difference, especially for those who leadership does not come as naturally to. I think rather than being a natural born leader, there are people who naturally pick up or learn the skills or traits quickly, and those who need more time and practice to get to the same level. I think everyone has the potential to be a great leader in some capacity.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Penn State University. (2018). Psych 485: Leadership in work settings. Lesson 2: Trait Approach. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1925331/modules/items/23786480