Our ongoing discussion of leadership continued on Friday with a look at sources of power and mechanisms of influence. These are interesting (if academic) topics, but the real of our work is on the application of leadership theory. The bottom line is, if we're not doing right by our subordinates and working toward mission success, we're just not doing our jobs. And as we transition away from "direct" leadership roles into those requiring "organizational" leadership, we need to understand what we're talking about and what will be expected of us.
At the JAG Graduate Course last year we talked about organizational leadership. It seemed, then, to make some amount of sense to me, but Friday's discussion has changed my view of what it really means. Here's my bottom line: I don't think there's any real difference in leadership skills necessary to be used at the organizational level vs. direct leadership level; the only difference is in the mix of influencing techniques to be employed and the perspective necessary to translate the mission.
Our ILE leadership instructor suggested that a higher-level commander (a brigade or division commander for instance) only has routine, direct contact with 6-8 subordinates -- the same number that a battalion commander, company commander, or platoon leader might. His argument was that because the higher-level commander has such limited interaction with the vast majority of his unit, organizational leadership skills are required. But I think that's all wrong. If the platoon leader, or company commander, is exercising direct leadership over his small unit by interacting with just a handful of people, then so is the brigade/division commander. The only difference is that the higher-level commander must understand that his/her role is more typically to set the conditions for subordinate success than it will be to direct subordinate success. His/her 'toolkit' of leadership techniques remains the same - i.e. those traditionally associated with 'direct' leadership. As long as s/he realizes that the same mix of techniques that were successful at the company level are doomed to lead to failure at the brigade/division level, success can be found. But this success relies on understanding a different mission scope and not on a new set of tools.
While leading an organization might require a greater facility in establishing and using systems to propagate information and assess outcomes, we can't forget the difference between systems and people: we manage systems, but we lead people.
All of this is to say that I'm a bit frustrated and confused by the 'party line' on leadership development. But I'll keep driving forward. And I'll keep you in the loop on my progress.
But feel free to help me out! What's the difference (if any) between direct and organizational leadership?