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The concept of leadership is paramount to any supervisor, especially one that is employed in an organization with a strong hierarchical structure like the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). This importance is confirmed by the abundance of research on various leadership theories and their underlying mechanisms. However, this paper will concentrate on one principle that forms the crux of my personal leadership philosophy. This core principle is based on the considerate treatment of subordinates with a focus on the individual differences that affect the supervisor-subordinate relationship. To me, considerate behaviour is defined as actions that enhance subordinates’ well-being, which in turn generate trust and respect for the supervisor. The second part of my principle expands on this notion of considerateness by incorporating the accommodation of personal preferences while maintaining organizational effectiveness. My personal leadership strengths and weaknesses will also be explored in relation to this core principle to illustrate how these traits contribute to or detract from being an effective leader.
The importance of considerate treatment was apparent during my summer training in Trenton this summer through my interactions with members of varying rank. While speaking with a Warrant Officer (WO) about the duties of officers in my occupation as an Aerospace Engineering Officer (AERE), he recalled the officer he most admired. This officer’s defining trait was his willingness to speak with his troops personally and showed genuine concern for their well-being both in and out of uniform. The WO stated that he was more inclined to work for this officer because he knew that he would be supported in his tasks and was willing to put in extra effort if needed. This demonstrated that his perceived organizational support (POS) and motivation were both increased due to his superior’s considerateness, which led to increased effort towards the organization’s goals (Johns & Saks, 2014). I was able to witness this type of behaviour exemplified by a Captain who held the position of an Aircraft Repair Officer in charge of two crew rotations of technicians. Although he was not my supervisor, he was aware that I was on the first part of my phase training and made an effort to include me in tasks that would be relevant to my development. Additionally, he had a thorough understanding of his crew’s workload leading up to the Trenton International Airshow and minimized nonessential jobs accordingly. He also ensured that low priority flights were cancelled to prevent any unforeseen damages that would create extra work for the crews, as he knew that these cancellations would not impact the organization significantly. Although providing a respectful environment for subordinates at the workplace is conducive to good performance, it is equally important to recognize that people have different preferences in terms of leadership styles. For example, certain people will prefer an authoritarian style of leadership where they unilaterally receive instructions on how to complete a task while others will prefer a democratic leadership style where they are able to participate in the decision-making process (Vecchio & Sussmann, 1989). By satisfying these preferences, a supervisor can effectively show that each subordinate is an important part of the team, which leads to a more motivated workforce.
The benefits of considerate treatment within a leadership context are demonstrated by multiple studies based on the leader-member exchange (LMX) theory. The LMX theory states that supervisors who are able to positively interact with their subordinates to establish a high-quality social relationship will be most effective at maximizing employee outcomes (Kim, Liu, & Diefendorff, 2015). A couple aspects that contribute to a healthy supervisor-subordinate relationship are mutual trust and respect, which can be increased by a supervisor who is supportive of employees. Since this is characteristic of considerate treatment, a high LMX can be considered a good reflection of a supervisor’s considerateness. In a study conducted by Eisenberger et al. (2014), 209 newly-employed American college graduates filled out two successive surveys where they responded to statements relating to POS and LMX based on a seven-point Likert scale. It was demonstrated that a high-quality LMX positively affected POS over time, meaning that a favourable relationship with a subordinate had a lasting effect in terms of POS. High POS is beneficial to an organization because employees are more motivated and will exhibit more organizational commitment behaviour; thus an effective leader is one that is able to increase POS in his/her subordinates. A separate study done by Kim et al. (2015) examined the connection between LMX and job performance in 212 supervisor-subordinate dyads in eight Chinese companies. Similar to Eisenberger’s study, respondents were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements using a five or seven-point Likert scale. Subordinates received a set of statements relating to the quality of their LMX, their psychological empowerment and their levels of initiative within the organization. Supervisors were asked to assess each subordinate in another set of statements. Through an analysis of the responses, the researchers were able to show that LMX and psychological empowerment were positively related. Likewise, empowerment was also positively related to initiative, and high initiative was shown to correlate with job performance as determined by supervisors. Therefore, it was proven that there was an indirect link between LMX and job performance which was facilitated by connections between LMX, psychological empowerment, initiative and job performance. The relationship between considerateness and personalized treatment was explored in a study conducted by Vecchio and Sussmann (1989). In this study, 81 supervisors from manufacturing firms and 155 graduate students in government administrative positions took a survey consisting of the JDI (Job Descriptive Index), a version of the LMX scale and a scale measuring individualized treatment. The discrepancy between each respondent’s preferred and reported occurrence of influence was calculated, and these scores were found to be inversely correlated to perceived levels of considerateness. The results of this research established that supervisors who adjusted their method of interaction to match each subordinate’s preferences were perceived as more considerate (Vecchio & Sussmann, 1989). The first two studies demonstrated the utility of considerate behaviour through the benefits of a high-quality LMX. Furthermore, it was shown in the third study that considerateness was supported by personalized treatment when such treatment was congruent with each subordinate’s preference for leadership. Thus, empirical evidence underscores the effectiveness of considerate treatment in a leadership setting.
Although I have not held a formal bar position at the university, I have been exposed to junior leadership tasks at university and in my high school extracurricular activities. Through these experiences, I can identify one of my personal leadership strengths as adaptability. When I was in Air Cadets, I had the opportunity to teach aviation-related lessons to the other levels. After a few classes, I realized that the cadets in lower levels were rowdier so I changed my lesson plans to incorporate more hands-on activities and interactive sessions like team challenges. Contrarily, the higher levels were more interested in content that was applicable to their summer camps, so I included personal anecdotes from those camps to keep their attention and satisfy this preference. In both cases, I had to adapt my teaching style to match the preferences of each class in order to successfully teach the required material, albeit in a varying fashion. Adaptability is integral to my leadership principle because a supervisor will not be capable of adjusting his/her leadership style to match each subordinate’s ideal form of influence without a degree of flexibility. Thus, an adaptable leader will be able to respond to a variety of scenarios in a manner that best fits each situation and does not adhere to a fixed set of responses. Bowden’s (1925) research on personalities of college student leaders supports the claim that adaptability is a desirable leadership trait. Presidents of 40 student councils in higher-level American educational institutions were rated by their peers based on a list of personality traits identified in a previous study, and graphs of the collective responses for each leader were created. The researcher found that there were certain traits that were more prominent in leaders, one of which was the “ability to adjust themselves to situations sufficiently to get the following of a group” (Bowden, 1925). Furthermore, it was noted that a leader with a flexible personality will generally be more responsive to situational factors that demand varying responses. Consequently, it was shown through personal experience and academic research that adaptability to the demands of each circumstance is a beneficial trait for a leader to possess.
A second leadership strength I observed in myself while fulfilling the role of a band section leader at the university was persistence. One of the responsibilities of this position was to ensure section members had all the required music, which posed a challenge when resources were difficult to obtain. For example, music was misplaced in the storage room and a degree of persistence was required to search through the miscellaneous piles of music to find the relevant pieces. In a more specific case, the lamination machine for parade music had run out of plastic, and I had the option to either learn how to reload it or simply hand out paper copies. The latter option meant the music would be more susceptible to wear and tear, so I decided to spend extra time to get machine in operation again. In these scenarios, my persistence allowed me to overcome obstacles that prevented me from providing my section with the necessary tools to succeed. This is congruent with my leadership principle of considerateness because in certain situations, a leader will need to expend extra effort or time to support his/her subordinates. Graves (1985) explored how a leader’s perceived effectiveness is correlated with his/her persistence in a study of 141 undergraduate students enrolled in a business course. Participants were given a written scenario that depicted either low or high persistence and then asked to evaluate the leader’s behaviour. Analysis of the data revealed that a persistent leader is more respected, perceived to be more responsible and more likely to be recognized as a leader compared to someone who does not possess this trait. Therefore, Graves’ (1985) study in conjunction with my experiences as a section leader proves that high persistence positively contributes to a leader’s effectiveness.
In some of the leadership roles I have fulfilled, I noticed that one of my personal leadership weaknesses is possessing low assertiveness. As my squadron’s third year representative, I am responsible for the squadron attendance for the weekly Professional Military Training (PMT) sessions. Often times, there will be a few people who do not sign the attendance sheet on time, and I have repeatedly ask them for their signatures. However, I do not escalate the matter any further, which seems to have encouraged some people to continue the trend of signing the attendance late. This causes more unnecessary work for me every week, and shows that performance can be decreased due to excessive accommodation. Nonetheless, this conforms to my core leadership principle since I am responsive to the individual exceptions that may prevent someone from signing the attendance. In this particular situation, organizational goals are not significantly impacted as I am still able to hand it in before the deadline, but I need to acknowledge that this may become a substantial problem later in my career. The importance of a leader’s assertiveness was investigated by Ames and Flynn (2007) in a set of three studies on master of business administration (MBA) students. In the first two studies, a markedly low or high assertiveness was frequently cited as a weakness by participants. An important implication of these results was that a good leader should have a balanced approach between deference and dominance. In their third study, the researchers attempted to determine the mechanism that caused these perceptions of assertiveness. High assertiveness led to negative social outcomes of seeming imperious while low assertiveness led to perceptions of being instrumentally incompetent. As such, one area of improvement for my future career will be to increase my assertiveness in order to obtain a balance between social and instrumental outcomes. This will ensure that I can meet the demands of the organization while appearing agreeable and approachable by subordinates.
The slowness of my decision-making process constitutes my second leadership weakness, especially in situations that lack a well-defined approach. An example of my indecisiveness can be observed from a training mission during my Basic Military Officer Qualification course where I was the section second-in-command. The mission objective was to locate a lost box of rations, and upon reaching this objective, the section commander decided to check the box’s contents by opening it. I personally felt that it would be dangerous to open something that had been captured by enemy forces without further guidance from headquarters, but I was uncertain if I should vocalize my opinion as I did not want to undermine the commander’s authority. Ultimately, I was unable to make a timely decision and half the section became casualties when the box “exploded.” In this scenario, I knew that the commander did not like being told they were wrong and this meant I had to choose between personal preference and group performance, which led to my indecisiveness. Academic research conducted by Dubno (1965) has also shown that there is a relationship between leadership and speed of decision. 290 university students in a management course were divided into 42 groups for the purposes of this course, which allowed the researcher to acquire peer rankings on leadership within each group. Furthermore, each student was scored on the psychasthenia (Pt) scale, which had been previously proven in a separate study to be a good indicator of decision-making speed. Analysis of the data revealed that students who were rated as leaders by their classmates had lower scores on the Pt scale, which represented a fast decision time. Improving my own decision-making speed will thus improve subordinates’ perception of my leadership ability, which will enhance the supervisor-subordinate relationship. In terms of performance, being able to make quick decisions will allow me to initiate action rather than constantly responding to other’s decisiveness.
In summary, the effectiveness of personalized considerate treatment can be explained using the leader-member exchange theory and my personal experiences from my occupational training in Trenton. Through a self-reflection of past leadership roles, I identified adaptability and persistence as two traits that strengthen my core leadership principle, as well as low assertiveness and indecisiveness as two areas for improvement. It is recognized that making prompt decisions and displaying an optimal level of assertiveness will increase my leadership effectiveness, which will be valuable in my future CAF career. In effect, this introspective paper has deepened my understanding of my own leadership style and the personal traits that influence it.
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