Note: This is part of a series. Read part one here.

The Australian Army and Special Forces’ unique organisational objectives make it quite difficult to slide the expectations of leaders neatly into just one of the academic theories presented during my studies. The Australian Army and SOCOMD are not businesses in the traditional sense, however there are three theoretical approaches to leadership in particular that reflect my exposure and professional experience within the command—servant, authentic, and transformational styles of leadership.

Servant leadership was founded by Robert Greenleaf as an alternative view of leadership, the most critical aspect of which is its explicit focus on and concern for followers’ needs. Greenleaf defined servant leadership as a practical philosophy which supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions. Servant-leaders value the people within an organization above almost everything else; they give them the freedom to excel, “awakening, engaging, and developing” them by creating an organizational culture whereby opportunities to learn as well as make mistakes is nurtured.

Authentic leadership relies on the notion that the leader in question is trusted, viz. authentic in nature. They are a “what you see is what you get” type of person. Being an authentic leader means first and foremost that your style reflects who you are, not what the literature on leadership says you must be. Rather than trying to emulate characteristic traits and developing the image or persona of the “ideal” leader, authentic leaders use their natural abilities by playing to their strengths and working on their recognised weaknesses. Just like servant leadership, authentic leaders also have a strong desire to serve and empower others, and they do this by developing a leadership style that is transparent and entirely consistent with their personality and character. Essentially, knowing one’s true self and acting in accordance with that true self is the harbinger of authentic leadership.

Transformational leadership has been defined as,

“…a process of inspiring change and empowering followers to achieve greater heights, to improve themselves and to improve organization processes. It is an enabling process causing followers to accept responsibility and accountability for themselves and the processes to which they are assigned.”—”Continual Improvement in Government Tools and Methods,” Koehler and Pankowski

Transformational leadership theory suggests that its proponents stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. In a government environment, transformational leadership requires a leader to influence others to accept responsibility for making decisions that improve organizational processes. A leader who practices this style of leadership is thus motivated by helping followers identify what they must do in order to achieve a desired end state. Gill, Levine, and Pitt list the four “I’s” of transformational leadership as: individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, and idealized influence. A transformational leader empowers followers by not only being a moralistic role model, but by supporting and encouraging them with interesting work and a shared vision.

All three of these theories reflect a number of similarities to my military experience. For instance, servant leadership reflects certain philosophies pertaining to military leadership, such as never delegating a task that you were not willing to do yourself. Authentic leadership is also inextricably linked to the qualities nurtured in effective military leaders, such as integrity, honour, and authenticity. It is, however, transformational leadership which most suitably reflects my professional experience.