By Cpl Matthew D. Progen
>Cpl Progen submitted this article as his Hogaboom Leadership Writing Contest entry.
There are many schools of thought on leadership, and proponents of each one proclaim their “style” as the most effective—authoritarian, dictatorial, autocratic, democratic. The list goes on. However, none of them are right. In order for leadership to be effective it needs to be dynamic. Dynamic leadership is a dual-focused form of adaptive leadership that allows a leader to react to changes by being proactive. A leader must employ a fluid style of leadership that he adjusts based on the Marines he is leading and on the circumstances in which he finds himself.
The first half of dynamic leadership is leadership that adapts to its audience. The demand for dynamic leadership is most poignantly illustrated when looking at our youngest Marines. The newest generation of Marines is different from any other in that it is the most diverse generation of Marines. Today’s recruits were raised by the “Me Generation” and have a strong sense of entitlement and individuality. They have been told, “You can do and be anything you want when you grow up.” Some of them were raised by just one parent or helped to raise their siblings. The 18 year olds who step on the yellow footprints today have a greater sense of preexisting self-reliance than our “Old Breed” forbearers ever had. Furthermore, because going to college is easier than it ever has been and because of the patriotic influx following the attacks on 11 September 2001, the Marine Corps has more junior enlisted college graduates than it has ever had before. This diversity is not being completely erased in recruit training. I watched a third phase recruit tell our senior drill instructor, “You can’t do this to me.”
Now, more than ever, dynamic leadership is a vital tool to overcome the challenges of reaching every Marine in a leader’s charge. Dynamic leadership does not coddle individuality; it accepts diversity and enables leaders to be effective leaders to all of their Marines. It does not encourage eccentricity; it acknowledges the innate independence and adapts.
Just as all Marines can easily recognize the different personalities of their superiors, leaders must be able to recognize those same distinctions in the Marines they lead. In a squad of 12 Marines, a squad leader may need to interact with each one in a different way. Dynamic leadership is addressing different Marines in different ways to illicit the same behaviors. For instance, some Marines would be fully prepared to conduct a convoy after a verbal brief. However, some Marines may need accompanying visual aids in order to fully grasp what is going to take place on the convoy. Understanding that, and adjusting one’s presentation style, is how a dynamic leader ensures that all of his Marines are ready prior to undertaking a mission.
The same applies in garrison. I once overheard a private first class in a field day formation tell his roommate, “The only time I know we really have to listen up and pay attention is when he starts to cuss us out; I wish he would just skip to the swearing instead of repeating himself three times before that because then I could do it right the first time.” At some point in this young man’s life, he internalized a correlation between the gravity of a situation and the vulgarity of the instructions being given. Using this tactic would obviously not work with all of the Marines in one’s charge, and if a leader were to take this approach with each of his Marines, he would soon find morale at an all-time low. However, knowing the way your Marines best receive directions and applying that information will improve your unit’s efficiency and productivity.
The second half of dynamic leadership is leadership that adapts to the situation in which a Marine finds himself. A leader gives an order and sees it through to its completion. That is the bedrock of Marine Corps leadership. We call it the six troop-leading steps, or BAMCIS (begin planning, arrange reconnaissance, make reconnaissance, complete the plan, issue the order, supervise). What is missing from that equation is the next step. This is when the leader reexamines the situation to ensure that the outcome is actually what he intended and that the actions being taken by his Marines have successfully completed the mission. If not, then he adjusts his instructions and repeats the process.
There are a lot of trendy catch phrases that attempt to describe this progression. “Thinking outside the box” and “thinking quick on your feet” are popular. We even have our own versions—“adapt and overcome; it’s what Marines do” and the creative “Semper Gumby.” However, dynamic leadership involves calculated decisionmaking that adequately evaluates the outcome of a unit’s actions and refines the instructions given in order to produce the desired results. The fear of seeming indecisive can prevent a leader from reversing a decision. This form of rigid command does not reap the benefits of dynamic leadership. Numerous examples are found in the stories of the bold leaders of our past who made tactical decisions when a course of action was not helping them to win a battle. Dynamic leadership in combat is something intrinsic to our success. However, our best leaders apply it at all times.
For example, prior to a 96-hour holiday weekend, the company commanding officer (CO) informs his staff that all Marines who have privately owned vehicles will complete a vehicle safety inspection before liberty is sounded, and these inspections will be performed by the SNCOs only. As the Marines line their cars up in the headquarters parking lot, the CO notices the procession stretching out for almost a half mile. Upon seeing this, he decides that sergeants can also perform the vehicle safety inspections, thereby expediting the process. The company CO determined that the initial conditions he set were insufficient to allow the mission to be completed in a reasonable amount of time while ensuring proper inspections were conducted. Having the willingness to acknowledge that a situation can be improved by changing one’s mind, and then doing so, is being prepared to use dynamic leadership and profiting from it.
The single umbrella under which both halves of dynamic leadership fall is the leader’s crucial role of mentor. It is here that he has the opportunity to use it to interact with Marines and teach them critical thinking as applied to decisionmaking. Reaching beyond “knowing your Marines” and “keeping your Marines well informed,” dynamic leadership in mentoring allows a leader to tailor even an informal mentoring session to leave the junior Marine with a valuable lesson. Sometimes this will include explaining oneself. Finding a unique way to relate to each Marine in your unit, and imparting upon him your knowledge and experience in order to foster self-improvement, is the central focus of mentorship. A leader will also find that he benefits from the program by being forthright with explanations of his actions and his decisions. Disassembling the dynamic decisionmaking process into terms that a particular Marine understands enables him to anticipate what will be demanded of him before it is ever expressed. This is how Marines grow.
While specific instances will call for a leader to employ particular tools from just one of the traditional leadership styles, it will be the dynamic leader who is able to take the best aspects from each style and make them his own. This allows him to compensate for the inherent weaknesses of each of the conventional leadership systems. A dynamic leader will find that his Marines will be among the most informed, the best performing, and the most ardently dedicated Marines because they will understand what is expected of them and why it is expected.