When you imagine a role model, a leader, who do you see? What describes them? The first thoughts that come to most minds would be of some physical appearance: tall, well-defined, good posture perhaps. But looking past the physical, what personal traits make them a good leader? Is it their intelligence, honesty, compassion, motivation, or is it a combination of all that form their character. Chances are it is more than one thing, and chances are it depends on the situation in which that person is expected to lead. Certainly, no two leaders are exactly alike, and no two situations are exactly alike.
There are a multitude of extenuating circumstances that influence the type of leader that finds themselves effective in specific environments. Take master sergeant Eric Huston, for example. Master sergeant Huston is not what most people would define as a physical specimen. He is average height, average build; some might even describe him as wiry. But Eric Huston was one of, if not the best, operations sergeants in 3rd Special Forces Group. Eric was the senior enlisted advisor to a detachment of special operations soldiers. He was responsible for their training in peace, and their employment in battle. His was an occupational specialty that few would, or could, attain in the US Army. Like all special operations soldiers, he had been specially selected, physically and mentally tested, and proven himself to belong among the elite. In that group he had risen through the ranks to take one of the most prized positions in special operations.
Part Spartan warrior, part diplomat, the skills required to succeed in such a position cannot all be taught. Much of what defined Eric are inherent personality traits: creativity, patience, empathy, intuition, assertiveness, drive, loyalty, among others. Those physical and technical skills and traits that could be acquired, Eric possessed in bulk. He was an expert in his craft and had the physical stamina and endurance of thoroughbred. Eric had a passion for special operations and he excelled in the environment.
To Eric it was just leadership, but those familiar with leadership psychology might recognize the blending of two theories; situational leadership and leader-member exchange. Situational leadership describes leaders who can adapt their style to meet the needs of the follower and the circumstances surrounding them. This theory accounts for individuality and the fact that some followers require a different type of leadership based on their given situation. As that follower becomes more and more competent, or as the circumstances surrounding them change, the leader adapts his style to match the needs of the follower. Naturally, a new member of Eric’s detachment will need more direction than emotional support. As they progress, their needs will shift, requiring less oversight and more encouragement. This balance of direction and emotion is exactly where Eric was naturally talented.
But what happens when a team member demonstrates no motivation to progress? Leader-member exchange theory recognizes that leadership is a two-way relationship between a leader and a follower and that building an effective team requires participation from both. Leaders must know how to lead, but followers must know how to follow. When both are effective at each, teams succeed exponentially. This theory further postulates that followers are divided between in-group and out-group members. Put simply, in-group members are those that take the personal initiative to strive for the betterment of the team. Out-group members are those who are satisfied with simply doing their job. Those leaders who understand the phrase ‘90% of your time will be consumed by 10% of your people’ can recognize that 10% as the out-group.
Though MSG Huston built the detachment into a cohesive unit, he mentored each detachment member individually because he understood their needs. The majority of the detachment was hard working and committed. They identified with the team more than themselves. Eric’s relationship with these in-group members was nurtured through the application of situational leadership. That said, Eric’s relationship with the out-group members were also conducive to situational-leadership, but the out-group members failed in their two-way relationship, never showing progress or motivation to accept more responsibility.
Detachment life, that is the life of a team member, is the ultimate goal for any special forces operator. The sense of brotherhood and belonging are something that can’t be replicated anywhere else. When a members time to leave finally comes it is often an emotional event. Nothing else is as important as being a member of that team.