Academic journal article Military Review

Empirically Based Leadership: Integrating the Science of Psychology in Building a Better Leadership Model

Academic journal article Military Review

Empirically Based Leadership: Integrating the Science of Psychology in Building a Better Leadership Model

Article excerpt

THERE ARE VERY few tasks in the Army more important than developing effective, competent leaders. As a significant part of this effort, the Army provides Field Manual (FM) 6-22, which establishes leadership doctrine and fundamental principles to guide leaders at all levels. In support of this important objective, the manual offers a comprehensive framework for leadership that explicitly outlines the highly valued characteristics and competencies all leaders are expected to aspire to and emulate. However, as valuable as this framework may be, much of its content is based upon intuition and experience. As expressed in FM 6-22, the manual "combines the lessons of the past with important insights" in establishing a model for competent leadership. (1)

While this approach has value, it has a significant limitation that potentially overlooks other highly influential factors. Similar to flaws in relying exclusively on anecdotal evidence, empirical literature is absent or lacking emphasis in FM 6-22. Further, certain characteristics or competencies are more important than others depending on the context. These limitations in the FM suggest a review of relevant research is necessary to enhance the Army's current model of leadership.

I will identify those empirically based factors most important to a model of influential, competent leadership in this article. Three areas require further exploration. First, I will compare relevant research on key individual characteristics or traits of effective leadership to those characteristics established within FM 6-22. Second, I will examine the contemporary research on leadership psychology, which has placed greater emphasis on social context over individual traits in effective leadership. Finally, in light of this analysis, I look at possible improvements to the Army's current model of leadership as part of the broader effort to cultivate a better understanding. While experience and intuition are valuable sources of information, integrating relevant empiricism into the process is necessary for a more complete model of leadership.

Individual Characteristics of Effective Leadership

The possession of certain individual characteristics is a critical element of the Army's leadership model as expressed in the simple phrase, "what leaders DO emerges from who they are (BE) and what they KNOW." (2) According to this conceptual framework, particular attributes along with appropriate knowledge serve as the foundation from which desired competencies emerge. In other words, certain characteristics are an essential aspect to being an effective leader, and in their absence, desirable competencies will not fully develop. While the identification of necessary attributes is valuable in structuring and communicating the expectations for leadership, what remains unclear is the validity of the inclusion or exclusion of particular characteristics beyond the basis of intuition and experience.

Field Manual 6-22 identifies 12 individual characteristics necessary to competent leadership, organized into three categories: character, presence, and intellectual capacity. Analyzing all 12 characteristics is beyond the scope of this paper, so the discussion in this section will primarily focus on the key areas of interest within the empirical literature on leadership characteristics or traits. The first major area involves ethical reasoning, which most closely aligns with the category of character defined by FM 6-22: "A person's moral and ethical qualities help determine what is right and gives a leader motivation to do what is appropriate." (3)

Based on this definition, there is little doubt that ethical reasoning is a critically important area within the Army's model of leadership. The consequences, both good and bad, of moral reasoning carry far greater weight in leaders than in followers. In the context of life and death situations, this is especially so. (4) However, what is less known or understood is the effect of ethical reasoning on leadership performance, which is generally assessed by the attainment of goals or objectives within a leadership context. …

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