Study finds specific leadership styles help success in military engagements

Two styles of leadership – rewarding performance and building identification for the mission – used in combination are good predictors of simulated Army platoon unit performances during times of high stress and uncertainty, according to a study on leadership styles and performance. Transactional contingent reward leadership uses recognition and rewards for goals as motivating forces for its members. Transformational leadership builds personal and social identification among its members with the mission and goals of the leader and organization.From the American Psychological Association:LEADERSHIP STYLES THAT USE REWARDS AND SHARED VALUES HELP PLATOONS PERFORM WELL IN SIMULATED COMBAT SITUATIONS

Implications for Leadership Training in the Military

WASHINGTON – Two styles of leadership – rewarding performance and building identification for the mission — used in combination are good predictors of simulated Army platoon unit performances during times of high stress and uncertainty, according to a study on leadership styles and performance. Transactional contingent reward leadership uses recognition and rewards for goals as motivating forces for its members. Transformational leadership builds personal and social identification among its members with the mission and goals of the leader and organization.

In this month’s Journal of Applied Psychology, co-leading researchers Bruce J. Avolio, Ph.D., of University of Nebraska at Lincoln and Bernard M. Bass, Ph.D., of the Center for Leadership Studies and School of Management at Binghamton University and colleagues examined how transactional and transformational leadership by 72 light infantry rifle platoon leaders and sergeants predicted their units’ potency, cohesion and performance. These ratings were done four to six weeks before each platoon participated in a two-week combat simulation. The simulation included 11 missions that simulated defense, movement to contact and attack.

A total of 1,594 “soldiers” participated and rated their platoon leaders and sergeants. One-hundred twenty-six expert observers who were experienced tactical instructors with the ranks of captain, master sergeant or sergeant first class rated the platoon’s mission performance in the training exercises

Examples of transactional leadership statements and beliefs are, “Reward us when we do what we are supposed to do”; “Directs attention toward failure to meet standards”. Examples of transformational leadership include “Talks about the importance of the Army ethics and values”; “Emphasizes the importance of having a collective sense of mission;” and “Helps platoon members develop their strengths”. Potency of the platoon leaders and sergeants were assessed by the platoon members’ ratings of how they felt taking on difficult and unexpected problems and how successful they were solving those problems. Cohesion of the platoon was determined by three measures that assessed how well the platoon pulled together to get the job done.

Both forms of leadership conducted by platoon leaders and sergeants brought potency, cohesion in the platoons and success in the simulated training exercises, said the authors, and they both appear to be necessary for good performance. According to the authors, transactional contingent reward leadership “establishes clear standards and expectations of performance, which builds the basis for trust in a leader. Transformational leadership can then build on these initial levels of trust by establishing a deeper sense of identification among followers with respect to the unit’s values, mission and vision. Maintaining high standards of performance against opposition forces that are better trained and more experienced appear to require both transformational and transactional leadership,” Dr. Avolio added.

Article: “Predicting Unit Performance by Assessing Transformational and Transactional Leadership,” Bernard M. Bass, Ph.D., Binghamton University; Bruce J. Avolio, Ph.D., University of Nebraska -Lincoln; Dong I. Jung, Ph.D., San Diego State University; Yair Berson, Ph.D., Polytechnic University Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 88, No. 2.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/apl/press_releases/april_2003/apl882207.pdf

Reporters: Bruce J. Avolio can be reached by phone at 402-472-2331 or by Email

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