Royal Air Force

This quote from Bennis (cited in Hooper & Potter 2000) goes to the heart of the current debate about Leadership and explains, in part, why so many people are discovering that it is difficult to be an effective leader. There are numerous leadership models espoused by various individuals and organisations, from politicians to academics, multi-national conglomerates to military organisations. They have various threads that inter-weave and draw from each other, quite often overlapping, all have there limitations and criticisms. The ‘Transformational Leadership Model’ is just one of them, which developed over a period, within a cohesive environment, not in isolation.

Therefore, as will be identified throughout this essay there are strands of transformational leadership in numerous leadership models. Initially, transformational leadership will be defined and then compared against Bass’ ‘Full Range Leadership Model’, this will then be followed by an introduction into military leadership before analysing the Royal Air Force’s current leadership attributes against the tenets of transformational leadership. Indeed, whilst the RAF’s leadership attributes are fairly recent in their publication, 2007, we will ask ourselves whether previous generations of leaders have displayed the qualities of a transformational leader. For this purpose, an example of an excellent strategic RAF Leader, Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris will be evaluated against the ‘Transformational Leadership Model’. The first question to answer then is, ‘what is transformational leadership?’

Burns (1978) proposed that transformational leadership is a relationship of shared stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents. Burns’ concepts were further developed by Bass and Avolio (1994) who suggested that the transactional leader recognises and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower (Bass 1998), however, beyond that, the transformational leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs and engages the full person of the follower. According to Saddler (1997) Transformational Leadership is ‘the process of engaging the commitment of employees in the context of shared values and shared vision’ that is linked to trust and, according to Bass and Avolio (1990) and Bass (1998), the four tenets of Transformational Leadership are:

a. Idealised Influence. The power of a person to have intense effects on a group of followers and is characterised by self-confidence, even when things are going awry, self-determination and an ability to inspire loyalty or as stated by Northouse (1997) ‘provide followers with a vision and a sense of mission’. This might otherwise be termed charisma, which brings it close to the traits concept of leadership1.

b. Inspirational Motivation. The ability through the leader’s actions to lift people beyond their own expectations. It rouses followers to deliver extra effort and inspires a belief in the cause. It creates and communicates a compelling vision of what is required and builds commitment.

c. Individualised Consideration. This is the consideration for others that transformational leaders show, in particular, towards their development. This factor is also marked by a willingness to listen, the readiness to delegate and the ability to appreciate a job well done.

d. Intellectual Stimulation. Followers are stimulated to think about their own situation and to assess their values and beliefs. They become aware of problems and involved in their own solutions.

The paradigm stresses empowerment, with the dominant interest of the leader being to establish the correct climate and support structures so that individuals can achieve organisational goals.

In the mid-1980s, Bass expanded and refined the work of Burns (1978) and House (1971) by focussing on the emotional components and origins of charisma, suggesting that charisma is a necessary, but not sufficient requirement for transformational leadership. Bass expanded on his own work in 1990, joining with Avolio in 1994 to combine the transactional, transformational, and non-leadership factors to provide the Full Range Leadership Model (Northouse 1997). This model is the cornerstone of the post-industrial school of leadership (Rost 1993). The non-leadership factor in the model is the laissez-faire (LF) approach, and represents the lack of leadership.

The transactional leadership component entails three factors: contingent reward (CR), management-by-exception passive (MBE-P), and management-by-exception active (MBE-A). The CR style is where the leader gains accord regarding accepted performance standards and then provides suitable rewards when the standards are achieved. This provides a strong incentive to followers and is reasonably effective. MBE refers to leadership concerning corrective criticism, negative feedback, and negative reinforcement. MBE-P involves the leader waiting until errors, shortfalls and failures become obvious, then reacting to them. MBE-A involves actively seeking indications of poor performance and taking corrective measures (Bass & Avolio 1994).

This model is not without its critics. Bolden et al (2004) argued that the concepts of Transactional Leadership (fostered on reciprocity) and Transformational Leadership (concerned with hearts and minds) are ‘ambiguous and ill constructed’. Ciulla (1998) pointed out that Burns would find it difficult to accept Hitler as a leader because his theory of transformational leadership is ‘clearly a prescriptive one about the nature of morally good leadership’ supports his view. In contrast, if one considers Bass (1985) definition of transformational leadership, Hitler clearly qualifies.

Therefore, given the discord between the theorists it is hardly surprising that those who are exercised with the practicalities of transformational leadership are finding it difficult. An underlying premise of this leadership theory is that different styles of leadership exist simultaneously within the same individual (Bass, 1985). However, numerous studies (Lowe and Gardner, 2000) demonstrating the impact of these styles of leadership on the attitudes and behaviours of employees have dismissed this proposition and focused solely on the separate effect of each of these styles (Lowe, Kroeck & Sivasubramaniam, 1996). Having discussed and critiqued transformational leadership, the next stage is to identify Military Leadership and how it is applied in the RAF.

The Defence Leadership Centre (2003) identifies Military Leadership as the projection of personality and character to inspire soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen to carry out what is required of them and more. Proficiency in the techniques of leadership is the foremost quality in the skill of command and contributes significantly to operational accomplishment. There is no prescription of leadership and no prearranged style of leader.

Military Leadership is a combination of example, influence and compulsion dependent upon the situation. It is transformational in approach and underpinned by the ethos of Mission Command2 and a balance of military attributes, which will be discussed further later. Successful military leaders are individuals who understand themselves, the organisation, the environment in which they operate and the people that they are privileged to lead, considerable similarities with transformational leadership. Furthermore, Mission Command is split into three levels, Strategic, Operational and Tactical (or Team). This is best explained by viewing the below model.

In this model, Strategic Leadership refers to leading a whole organisation with overall accountability for the other 2 levels. At this level, leadership is primarily concerned with vision, purpose or mission, alignment, values and communication. Operational Leadership defined as leading a number of teams, leadership is concerned with the implementation of strategy and issues such as enabling success through the determination of appropriate structures and creation of a climate for success. Tactical (or Team) Leadership refers to leading a single unit and requires the leader to balance the needs of the task, the team and the individual as described by the Functional Leadership model (Adair 1983), which has been the basis of the RAF’s leadership training for the last thirty years.

These attributes are not exclusive to each the level of leadership to which they are appointed in the model, rather that the relative importance of those attributes changes in relation to the leadership context. Adair’s (1983) model is not the only model currently being studied by the RAF Leadership Training Centre, others include, the Tannenbaum & Schmitt (1958) model of autocratic and democratic styles; the Mouton-Blake Grid (1964); the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership model (1988); the Ashridge Management/Leadership model (Wynn & Guditus 1984) and the Bass and Avolio Full Range Leadership model (Bass & Avolio 1994). The later of which is gaining significant interest as the RAF goes through a period of change and transformation.

The Functional Approach to Leadership is utilised by the lower echelons of the RAF. This practical model shows what it is that a leader should be doing. Few, if any, other models do this. The three circles of the Functional Approach vary in size (or importance) depending on circumstance, for example, the task can become overwhelmingly big on operations at times but at others if the team and Individual are not attended to and take precedence over the task, the people will be lost to the leader. Within the circles many other leadership models can be accommodated, such as transformational leadership, when a leader considers how to deal with task, team or individual.