Twenty years in the military have taught me a myriad of things. Of note, I’ve witnessed the different sides of the leadership spectrum and learned that you will get the good leaders with the bad ones. I’ve also seen that effective leadership often begins with great followership, and I now realize that great followers learn from all of their leaders – again, from the good and the bad. In the past two decades, the environments in which our military forces operate have become more and more complex. Increasing demands are one of the many challenges while funding, personnel and resources continue to decrease. These rapidly changing environments forced us to adapt and fortunately, our leaders and our teams have proudly stepped up to the challenge.
We recently covered team leadership in our class, and it felt that every line in the textbook reminded me of someone I had met or something I had seen. In the profession of arms, we simply cannot function without effective teams. We operate with deliberate approaches in planning for centralized decision-making and decentralized execution. Discipline is not what makes these operations work; rather, it is our adaptive teams and their creative members who always succeed against the complex environments we face today.
As I read the lesson contents, I could not help but to think of the time when I was deployed to the Horn of Africa as part of an international military task force. Two weeks ago, we learned that task forces are formed to solve problems and need structures emphasizing trust; this applies both in and out of the military (PSU WC, 2019, L. 9). Deliberate structure design helps with accomplishing goals. Just as task forces need trust, creative teams need autonomy so that their members can take ownership and accept risks at the appropriate levels. Similarly, tactical teams must have clarity so that everyone knows exactly what to do and when to do it (PSU, WC, 2019, L. 9). Certainly, our team in Africa had every one of these things, but most importantly, we had trust.
Trust is a critical component of a collaborative climate in team leadership and ensures that team members can effectively work with and trust in one another. Within this collaborate climate, shared and participative leadership are what make teams more adaptive and capable of succeeding in rapidly changing environments. In participative leadership, the leader involves other members in the decision-making process and consults with them before final decisions are made (PSU WC, 2019, L. 6). This certainly builds trust, but it also makes all members feel valued, lets them see how decisions are made and, most importantly, it interlaces the team into the leadership process.
Similarly, shared leadership is a process in which all members of the team participate and contribute to leadership. This process occurs when “members of the team take on leadership behaviors to influence the team and to maximize team effectiveness (Bergman, Rentsch, Small, Davenport, & Bergman, 2012 as cited in Northouse, 2016, pp. 365)”. According to Pearce and Sims (2000), teams with shared leadership were more effective than others without (as cited in PSW WC, 2019, L. 9). Shared leadership builds trust, develops individual leadership abilities and increases team adaptability.
Our team in Africa and other military task forces are not the only examples of trust and shared leadership, there are many other organizations and groups at national and international levels. In fact, virtual teams such as the ones we have in online classes are the perfect examples; nowadays and in today’s rapidly changing environments, it is virtually impossible to operate without trust and without the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities. Research indicates that such shared leadership “has become more and more important in today’s organizations to allow faster responses to more complex issues (Morgeson, DeRue, & Karam, 2010; Pearce, Manz, & Sims, 2009; Solansky, 2008 as sited in Northouse, 2016)”.
Looking back on my deployment, I now realize that our successes were not attributed to one member or one leader. We all came home safely and were successful in our mission because we built trust, we built teams and we built leaders. Like us, there are many others in military and civilian organizations that must constantly adapt to ever-changing environments. Trust and team leadership is what will help us all in maximizing the flexibility and collaboration we need to achieve success.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 6: Contingency & Path-Goal Theories. Retrieved October 2, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 9: Team Leadership. Retrieved October 23, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485 Lesson 11: Servant Leadership. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008237/modules