To be a good leader, we
must have a knowledge of what level of leadership in which we work. The levels
of leadership are Direct, Organizational, and Strategic. Each one carries
similarities, but the style in which we must lead is different. Understanding
those levels can determine one’s success or failure. This paper initially
started as an analysis of what an organizational leader is. However, through
research, it became apparent that as an organizational leader I must understand
all three levels of leadership. Direct, Organizational, and Strategic
Leadership each have their roles and jobs. The questions I had to answer was what
is Direct, Organizational, and Strategic Leadership? What roles do each play in
the Army? What causes success at these three levels of leadership, and what
causes failure? In the end, “we are all leading lives that are different, yet
the same.” (Frank, n.d.) We all lead with the Army Values and Warrior Ethos;
the only difference is how we apply them.
COMPARISON OF LEADERSHIP LEVELS
Soldiers face many challenges
during their career. Some challenges are physical, such as passing the Army
Physical Fitness Exam (APFT). Other challenges are emotional, such as multiple
deployments away from the family. Lastly, there are mental challenges that
every Soldier must face. One of the most significant challenges is adapting to
different levels of leadership. There
are three levels of leadership every Soldier must master to be successful.
Those three levels of leadership are direct, organizational, and strategic leadership.
“Direct Level leadership is
face-to-face or first-line leadership” (US Army, ADRP 6-22, para. 2-29). Every Soldier and Officer has experienced
this type of leadership at one point in his or her career. It is the building
blocks of leadership.
We begin to learn about Army
Values, Empathy, and Warrior ethos are at Initial Military Training (IMT). The
utilization of those principles come into play at every level of leadership.
The best example of direct level leadership is at IMT. The utilization of
Direct Leadership begins the process of becoming a Soldier through the Drill
Sergeant to Private relationship.
Direct level leaders do not
directly influence the Army. Direct level leaders affect the Army indirectly
through the actions of their subordinates (US Army, ADRP 6-22, para. 2-29). The
difficult task in direct level leadership is balancing mission accomplishment
while ensuring the welfare of Soldiers. This is where a direct level leader can
leave there biggest impact on the Army.
The most valuable resource in
today’s Army is the Soldier. “Leaders do not create followers they create
leaders” (Peter, 2013). Direct Leaders take care of Soldiers by making leaders.
The time spent as a direct level leader is the most delicate and influential
point for both the leader and subordinate. The actions or lack thereof by the
leader at this level can make or break a subordinate’s future. If leaders fail
to create leaders at the direct leadership level, the Army will fail as an
“Organizational Leaders influence
several hundred to several thousand Soldiers” (US Army, ADRP 6-22, para. 2-31).
Organizational leadership starts at the Battalion and continues to the Brigade
level. One of the most critical skills learned at this level is indirect
leadership. Because of the immense amount of people managed at this level,
Organizational leaders must master the skill of indirect leadership. As an organizational leader, one cannot attempt
to execute the mission in the manner that they would have as a Direct Leader.
Instead, you must indirectly guide your subordinates to success, through
mentorship and accountability.
The direct level leader’s primary
concern is the here and now. Organizational level leaders must think of both
the here and now and the near-term future. Organizational Leaders provide the
basis for mission accomplishment. At the organizational level, Leaders no
longer directly accomplish the mission. Instead, they train and mentor
subordinates to perform the task. They do this by providing guidance derived
from years of experience.
Another critical element to success
for an organizational leader is figuring out how to deal with both subordinates
and superiors diplomatically. You must know how to handle those at a strategic
level assigning the mission and those at the direct level executing the task. Due to this fact, Organizational leadership
is the most mentally challenging times in a Soldiers career.
Those that have been to a mega city
such as New York or Los Angeles can attest that without the usage of stoplights
controlling traffic, things would go haywire. Metaphorically, organizational
leaders are the Stoplights of the Army. Organizational leaders control the ebb
and flow of the unit. Without stable organizational leadership, even the best
Direct Leaders will fail.
Strategic leadership is, “the
integrated application of both strategy and leadership” (Sing and Useem, 2016,
p. 5). It is at this level that a leader gets the opportunity to shape and mold
the Army directly. The most prominent challenge faced by Strategic level
leaders is operating in a here and now environment while maintaining long-term
goals that are in line with their vision.
Being a strategic leader is a
unique level of leadership that requires an entirely different skill set that
an organizational or direct leader does not possess. A strategic level leader
must be able to think outside the box while understanding what is in the box.
Although strategic leaders often
carry the most rank and power, they can be more vulnerable than a Private.
While leading organizations that can number in the hundreds of thousands it is
impossible to know every situation that is going on. Strategic level leaders are vulnerable
because they rely on subject matter experts to provide timely and accurate
information. The information provided
can lead to life and death decisions, with consequences that can span decades
and possibly a lifetime. It is for this
reason that those sitting on the staff at the strategic level must be the
nation’s best minds and information sources.
Strategic Leadership is one of the
hardest levels of leadership to evaluate. Strategic level leaders operate in a
matter unlike the other forms of leadership. Direct and Organizational
leadership are about producing results now, or in the near future. Strategic
Leaders results are not immediately evident.
The Law of legacy states, “A Leader’s lasting value is measured by
succession” (Maxwell, 1998, p. 129). The law of legacy applies to strategic
Leadership since a strategic leader’s results may go unseen until years after
“Leadership is the art of
getting someone else to do something you need to be done because they want to
do it” (Eisenhower, 1954, p. 477). At this level of leadership, leaders
must be able to influence those they have authority over and those they do not.
Strategic leaders must do this to pursue their vision utilizing tact and
candor. If a strategic leader fails to get those around them to buy into their
vision, they will inevitably fail.
Over the course of a career, a
Soldier will serve in many different challenging assignments at various levels
of leadership. Each of those assignments will present their own set of
challenges. Soldiers must learn how to lead at the direct, organizational, and
strategic levels to have a successful career. Living the Army Values and
Warrior Ethos apply at each level. Successful leadership can be made simple by
following Polonius parting words to Laertes in Hamlet “to thine own self-be
true” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1603, 1.3.78-80). Because we as Soldiers live by
the Army Values and Warrior Ethos, leadership can apply Polonius advice to
Laertes at every level of leadership and be successful.