The Other Side of Organizational Leadership

A guest post by Robert G. Olinger

“Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization” (ADRP 6-22, 1 August 2012, p. 1-1). As Army leaders, we are well versed in leading to accomplish the mission. We begin our careers at the direct leadership level, having daily face-to-face contact with those in our charge, and getting the job done. As organizational leaders, we must place more focus on the second aim of leadership – to improve the organization. However, we still have direct leadership responsibility in our staff sections.

Sentinel Spc. Preston Millison, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), conducts his last walk at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 6, 2016. Millison is badge holder number 633 and has served at the Tomb since June 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)

As direct leaders, we focused on the short-range targets, the immediate tasks, and the problems staring us in the face. As organizational leaders, we must practice heads-up leadership. An internet search did not produce a specific originator of the concept, but Lieutenant Colonel Chad E. Stone, a former Battalion Commander, taught it to me. The concept is simple. Direct leaders have their heads down, focused on the task-at-hand, or more appropriately, the multiple tasks-at-hand. Good organizational leaders lift their heads, seeing beyond the close fight to the future of the organization, often beyond their own tenure. The planning horizon and focus for an organizational leader generally ranges from two to ten years (ADRP 6-22, p. 2-5).

Balancing newfound responsibilities of organizational leadership, with the ever-present responsibilities of direct leadership, can feel overwhelming. One key to success is to use one to support the other.

In our early years of direct leadership we may have provided the direction (do this task), the purpose (because I said so), and the motivation (UCMJ), using compliance to influence people more than inspiring commitment. This likely changed over time as we developed our skills. As organizational leaders, the purpose, direction, and motivation we provide must be bigger picture, longer range, and more enduring. It must inspire commitment to the organization rather than compliance with orders and directives.

At the organizational level, we must understand that purpose and direction are applicable to the whole organization, but motivation is still an individual aspect of leadership. Providing purpose to an organization is a matter of understanding and over-communicating the reason the organization exists. In order to identify your organization’s purpose, start large and work your way to be more specific.

For example, you could say the Army’s purpose is to provide unified landpower with combined arms maneuver and wide area security through offense, defense, stability, and defense support of civil authorities. That is not the most emotionally moving purpose statement, but I can narrow it down to a particular brigade with this: X Brigade stands ready to conduct decisive actions against global threats and stabilize areas to support continued protection of the American people. I am confident if you spend some time with your creativity flowing, you can create a meaningful purpose statement for your organization (rather than just relying on the TOE mission statement). The key is to keep it short and for it to generate images in the minds of your Soldiers.

The leader’s vision of the organization’s future creates the direction for the organization. The vision is the desired end state of those two to ten years. In the commercial sector, many vision statements include numbers such as the number of clients served or the dollar amount donated to charity. In the military, it is more realistic to be a measurable level of readiness, or achievement of a significant award such as Top Sapper Squad, Combat Repair Team of the Year, or the Superior Unit Award, to name a few.

Motivation is a commonly misunderstood concept, and the subject of exploration still today. Many psychologists have conducted research to learn what motivates people. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one of the most well-known motivation theories. Psychology textbooks depict Maslow’s theory as a pyramid with physiological needs (water, food, shelter) at the bottom, then safety and security, belonging and love, esteem, and finally self-actualization at the top.

Fredrick Herzberg’s research suggests that job satisfaction (motivation) and job dissatisfaction are not opposites of each other. More likely, the opposite of job satisfaction is no job satisfaction, and the same for job dissatisfaction. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory (also known as Motivator-Hygiene Theory) postulates that physiological, safety and security, and most relationships (belonging and love) are not motivators but hygiene factors. The absence of hygiene factors results in job dissatisfaction, but their presence does not mean job satisfaction.

Herzberg’s article in the January-February 1968 volume of the Harvard Business Review, titled “One more time: How do you motivate employees?” provides the results of a study showing job enrichment supports the motivators of esteem and self-actualization. The research shows achievement, recognition of achievement, the meaningfulness of the work itself, responsibility, and advancement or growth are critical to motivating people. The article also provides a ten-step program to implement job enrichment.

Competent leaders know the best way to create a solid organization is to empower subordinates (ADRP 6-22, p. 1-4). Empowerment supports Herzberg’s job enrichment program. As organizational leaders, we need to seek opportunities to empower subordinates (enrich their jobs) to help us improve the organization. Needed improvements may be obvious from an assessment of the vision compared to the current state of the organization, or may become apparent as organizations execute and assess operations.

Giving ownership (freedom of action, and accountability) to subordinates for improving a part of the organization can enrich the job of the subordinate, and improve organizational systems and processes at the same time. Making the transition from direct leader to organizational leader is not easy, but it is possible to excel by tapping into the talents of the people you lead.

SFC Robert Olinger is a Logistics NCO with experience in EAB units, and Infantry BCT units.  His previous assignment was in the BSB Support Operations section of 2/34th Infantry Division and he is currently assigned as the S-4 NCOIC of the 185th CSSB, Iowa Army National Guard.  He is a graduate of the Master Leader Course and pursing a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership.

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