The military has been regarded as a man’s world. However there has emerged a new generation of women who have taken on the challenge of serving in combat. Not only do women serve in the military as subordinates, but there are many military women leaders.
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It may seem impossible for women leaders in the military to have cooperation from their subordinates in this egocentric world of combat, but the power of influence has worked for them. This is by applying the tool of transformational leadership. The purpose of this paper is to discuss transformational leadership in relation to women of armed forces.
Military Women as Leaders
Women have in the past been discriminated against during appointment of leadership positions in most organizations. The study of leadership in regard to women has been a topic full of contention but it has, in the recent past, undergone a major transition (Harper, 2004).
Policies that protect women leaders from discrimination have increased numerously hence widening the scope of leadership opportunities for women. As a result, women are holding leadership positions in all domains of influence or interest in a way that has never been experienced before (Taylor, 2008).
Leadership in combat is a topic that was in the past being tackled mostly using male admirals, leaving out women, who have a great potential of making good leaders in the military. Though there still remains some resentment and prejudice regarding women in the military, there has recently been an increase of women serving in this field and opportunities for military training for women are on the rise (Taylor, 2008). There is a continuous evolution on the attitudes and assumptions about women’s roles in military (Booher, 2007).
Roles and Responsibilities
Women play a great role in military. In the past, women were not allowed to handle machinery or to work in the infantry (Simon, 2001). Today, their role in military have changed from merely cooking, cleaning and nursing male soldiers to serving as military police, commanders, drivers, pilots of jet fighters, guards of prisoners and medics in battles (Carreiras, 2008). Women also serve very effectively as spies because they are not easily suspected, owing to the common assumption that women’s role is mainly domestic, not military.
From time immemorial, fighting in battles has been believed to be an area suitable for men only. This is because women have been believed to be both physically and emotionally fragile, and they cannot therefore cope with the physical strain or trauma that accompanies military wars (Carreiras, 2008).
Therefore, women’s participation in military has been considered to be ‘indirect’ in that they have served as nurses and care givers to their male companions during war. Women used to participate during times of war by helping the men who were fighting or to nurse those that got hurt, but they were not allowed to involve themselves in the battle (Lindm, 2008). However, the number of women serving ‘directly’ in the military has continuously been on the rise (Clemmitt, 2009).
Since the American Revolution, women have served in the military (Goldstein, 2003). This field was mainly directed to males, and the women who served in this field in their initial service were required to change their appearance to that of men, such that one could not recognize them as women at a glance (Harper, 2004).
In 1948, women were granted a permanent legal position in the United States military, but were still banned from working in ‘vessels that are engaged in combat positions’ (Meszaros, 2003). In the 1950’s and 60’s, women were allowed to hold the position of a General Officer as long as they qualified. The training needed for that position was also made open for eligible women (Meszaros, 2003).
In the 1970’s, women were allowed to serve in specific types of ships that were not in combat positions (Harper, 2004). Also, the Women Army Corps was added to the list of recognized branches of the Army (Harper, 2004).
During the years 1992 and 1993, the National Defense Act invalidated the law that banned women from serving in combat vessels, but this was rejected by the Presidential Commission (Clemmitt, 2009). This and other exclusions that were made concerning the level of service women could give in the army closed out many potential women from serving in the military (Clemmitt, 2009).
Theories of Leadership
During the initial part of the twentieth century, the interest that people had in leadership grew (Horn, 2008). Interest grew from only focusing on distinct qualities of leaders and those being led to emphasis on the level of skill and other variables (Horn, 2008). This was mainly caused by the major challenges that faced organizational structures. Several theories of leadership emerged as a result of the pursuit to understand and improve on leadership (Murray, 2001). These theories are based on an assumption (DuBrin, 2009).
Great Man Theory
The Great Man Theory is based on the assumption that the ability to lead is intrinsic and that leaders are not made but born, and that appropriate leaders will develop when there is a crisis or need (Murray, 2001). This theory was biased, because most of those who did a research were men, and they believed that women could be great in other areas but leadership (DuBrin, 2009). The leaders in this theory portray acts of heroism, and such leaders often appear in legends and myths (Murray, 2001).
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Early studies focused on leaders like Churchill, Mohamed, Gandhi and Jesus who had already made it in positive influential leadership (Bass, 2006). Studying the life of these leaders made the early researchers to hypothesize that leadership and breeding had a very close correlation (Bass, 2006).
It was stated by the Scottish historian by the name Carlyle Thomas (1841) that “The world’s history is but a biography of great men” (DuBrin, 2009). His argument was that the history of the world was shaped by their expertise in leadership, their intellect, the splendor of their art and, above all, their divine source of inspiration.
Regardless of whether leaders are born or made, it is indisputably apparent that leaders are not similar to other people (Murray, 2001). For leaders to succeed they do not have to be ‘great’ in a heroic way but they need to have what it really takes to lead. Leadership is a challenging, inexorable work filled with weighty responsibilities and mammoth demands (Murray, 2001). It is severely wrong to imply that leaders are commonplace people whose time and chance happened to coincide.
The trait theory was derived from the Great Man theory, as it sought to narrow the items of study down to the specific personal traits of successful leaders (Murray, 2001). This was based on the assumption that every person has a combination inborn traits, some of which are appropriate for leadership, and therefore this theory relates certain traits with leaders (DuBrin, 2009). The challenge this theory faces is the failure to explain the reason why we have people who are not leaders yet they possess those leadership traits (DuBrin, 2009).
The assumption here is that provided one can identify the good qualities associated with leadership, then spotting a leader is easy (DuBrin, 2009). It is important to know these qualities that many people look for in leaders, but one cannot rely on this method all the time.
As much as the in-born traits greatly influence who we are and what we do, it is possible for one to change the once positive trait to a negative one and vice versa (DuBrin, 2009). For instance, a truthful person can learn how to lie, and an honest person can learn how to cheat with time. On the other hand, a shy person can learn how to portray confidence and a selfish person, with time, can learn how to be selfless.
Up to the 1940’s, the Trait theory listed various characteristics believed to be found in leaders (Murray, 2001). These included courage, charisma, intelligence and physical traits like height and strength (Murray, 2001). However, upon more research on the validity of this theory, some of these traits were struck off because they failed to show the difference of a leader and a follower (Murray, 2001).
For instance not every tall or strong person would have the necessary skills of leadership like good communication skills. The conclusion that was reached upon after this research was that though possessing certain traits would make the chances of one making a good leader rise up; there was no certainty of successful leadership (Murray, 2001).
The assumption here is that there is no precise way of leading an organization, but the effectiveness of any style of leadership is contingent upon several variables (Murray, 2001). This implies that a leader who is making it in one area may fail to perform when put in a different area or in a different situation (DuBrin, 2009).
The hypothesis upon which this theory is based is that if an organization has features that combine best with the expectations of their surrounding will achieve the best results (Murray, 2001). An organization should therefore be familiar with the combination of variables under which it is most effective.
Some of these contingencies include: the attitude of followers, the level or type of technology being used, the available resources, and the size of the organization and other features of the present situation (Murray, 2001). The leadership approach a leader uses and his orientations also determine the final outcome of an organization. Some leaders are bent towards relationship while others towards task (DuBrin, 2009).
The former deal with those they lead as co-workers and they believe that close relationships from person to person have to be established if the set goal has to be achieved (DuBrin, 2009). The latter give the first priority to achieving the set goal and the second priority to developing a good relationship with those they lead (Murray, 2001). These types of leaders will be very harsh on people working for them when they show any form of reluctance and resistance.
Different leaders implement different approaches in their organizations. Some are supportive while others are directive (Murray, 2001). A directive way of leading is that in which the leader gives directives to his followers. He gives a job description, states his expectations and supervises the work (Murray, 2001).
On the contrary, a supportive leader will go a step further and allow those he leads to give their opinion about a problem. He will also allow them to exercise their creativity and even do various reconfigurations after which he will give the final approval (DuBrin, 2009).
The basis of this theory is the assumption that the nature of a present situation is what influences the direction a leader will take (Bass, 2006). Though a leader may have many styles of leadership, he should know when to use each style as the situation leads. There are several styles that are used in situational leadership.
Authoritative leadership involves identification of the set goals and the involvement of the followers in suggesting the most efficient ways of achieving the goals (Murray, 2001). This style is only suitable for mature followers who are willing to set reasonable goals and to sacrifice so as to achieve them (Kunin, 2008).
Democratic leadership allows the followers to influence decisions made in the organization by ballot (DuBrin, 2009). This style of leadership consumes a lot of time and money, especially for big groups (DuBrin, 2009). Most of the time, this method is used when a new system is being introduced so as to replace or modify an old one. Therefore there is need for the followers to be both well informed about the structure of the organization and the change being put into operation (Kunin, 2008).
Coercive leadership is the leadership style in which the leader commands instant acquiescence to his instructions (Kunin, 2008). The goals set by this leader are achieved by bullying and sometimes humbling his followers (Kunin, 2008). The style of coercive leadership is best applied in circumstances where the organization and/or the followers need a total turnaround endeavor. For instance, it is valuable during calamity or when dealing with followers whose performance is below par; it is usually applied as a last option (Murray, 2001).
Affiliative leadership is that in which the leader encourages accord amid his followers and facilitates the resolution of conflict (DuBrin, 2009). This style of leadership majors on team-building by ensuring mutual connection between the employees (Murray, 2001).
One major drawback with this style is that underperformance may go unimpeded and that some followers can easily take advantage of the leader’s lack of severity at that point in time (DuBrin, 2009). Affiliative leadership is most effectual when there is need for teambuilding and drive (Murray, 2001).
Leadership styles of women in the Armed Forces
For leadership to be effective, it must consist of several skills. A leader who is effective must have exceptional mastery of communication, sober and unbiased decision making ability, good skills in human relations, managerial skills and planning skills (Kunin, 2008).
An effective leader is one who positively influences those he or she leads to do things that they would otherwise not have done without his leadership (Kunin, 2008). Various leadership styles apply in different situations, and a good leader in the armed forces should be in a position to know when to apply which leadership style.
The authoritarian leader solely does decision making and issues directives to her followers, whose duty is to obey without questioning. This is done basically because the leader knows what is most excellent for the organization (Bass, 2006). This style of leadership makes the followers to have arrogance, ignorance, laziness, dependability and lack of initiative (Kunin, 2008). This method of leadership is valuable in places where the people are accustomed to following orders given for example in schools, prisons and military (Kunin, 2008).
This is the most widely used style in the military. Though this style is in many ways defective, it is effective most of the times because of the military customs (Horn, 2008). When you give people in the military liberty and flexibility it often goes to waste or it is directed in wrong places (Horn, 2008). They are more comfortable being given specific directives on what to do instead of having the burden of being counted on to be creative and innovative (Murray, 2001).
At times, application of the authoritarian leadership style is necessary in the military. It is more efficient and effective in circumstances where time is limited and where there is need for urgent action (Murray, 2001).
However, in circumstances where there is plenty of time and no need for urgency, this style of leadership can lead to making of rush decisions that are faulty. It also leaves no room for creativity in circumstances where planning is being done (Murray, 2001). Therefore, a good military leader should know when to be in charge of the situation and when to sit back and allow collective participation.
This style entails supervision that is minimal and is suitable for places where professionalism is portrayed in that people are ready to bear the responsibility for their actions (Murray, 2001). The followers are encouraged to give their various suggestions even though those suggestions may not necessarily be used directly in administration. The last word though lies with the leader (DuBrin, 2009). The followers under this leadership style are approachable, warm and portray confidence (Bass, 2006).
Democratic leadership may not always apply in the military, but it is effective when those under command are dependable and they have a high level of expertise and proficiency in what they do (Horn, 2008). The followers in this style of leadership give a higher output because they are involved in decision making.
This style has its own shortcomings, though. Many leaders feel that they lose control and command when they apply this method (DuBrin, 2009). Those under command may also take advantage of the situation and be sluggish in their duty (Murray, 2001).
A transformational leader is one who inspires his followers by developing an idea after which he sells the idea to his followers (Bass, 2006). He convinces those that have not bought his idea until they buy it.
He does this by packaging his idea in the best way possible and by proving himself to be trustworthy (DuBrin, 2009). After the idea has been accepted, he takes the forefront in finding the way forward. His unwavering confidence and loyalty to his vision even when a cloud of doubt has covered his followers is what keeps them going (Bass, 2006).
Research shows that there is a very high occurrence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military (Murray, 2001). When trying to deal with trauma, action taken should be speedy, practical, and effectual (Murray, 2001).
A transformational military leader helps victims of trauma by inspiring them to go beyond their present limitation and to focus on the main thing (Bass, 2006). Such a style gives added attention to them and hence makes them feel unique. It also helps them to look at their present problem in a different way (Bass, 2006). It gives them a sense of belonging and it causes the followers to have admiration, confidence and faith in the leader (Murray, 2001)
Leadership Positions within the Military Organizations
The army has instituted a way to mirror one’s practice and responsibilities by having a ranking system. Military rank is a system representing a chain of command in military organizations (Horn, 2008). Typically, uniforms are used to indicate its holder’s level by affixing particular badges, symbols of crests to the uniforms (Taylor, 2008).
General arms of the army are the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Within these arms are the broad ranks of commissioned grade namely: the General, the Command and the Officer ranks (Taylor, 2008). Basic ranks in the military include: General of the Army, General, Lieutenant General, Major General, Brigadier General, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, Major, Captain, First Lieutenant and Second Lieutenant (Horn, 2008).
Top positions are historically held by men
Some top historians in the military include Hans Delbrück, B. H. Liddell Hart, Charles Oman, Martin van Creveld, William Ledyard Rodgers, Lynn Montross, John Keegan, Cornelius Ryan, R. Ernest, Trevor N. Dupuy, John Terraine, Victor Davis Hanson, George F.G. Stanley and Jeremy Black (Higate, 2003).
All of the above mentioned people are male, and this is proof that the top positions in the military are held by men both in history and presently. This is despite the fact that women are willing and they have the ability to perform in combat if adequately trained (Goldstein, 2003).
One of the reasons why the military is mainly a man’s world is because men are said to be more aggressive than women because of their sexuality.
Women are victimized in the military and most are raped or killed in battle as a device of war (Higate, 2003). It is because of these dangers that the criterion of enrolling women in the military was made more complex than that of enrolling men. However, many have in the past argued that the women who decide to join the military are adult and are therefore well alert of the consequences therein (Lindm, 2008).
Benefits of women who are in command utilizing transformational leadership
Women make better transformational leaders than men because this way of leadership involves fostering of talents and capabilities, and women are naturally nurturers by instinct (Kunin, 2008). They therefore find this method of leadership easy to implement without strain. Women are vulnerable in many ways, and some women leaders seek to defend themselves by using the authoritarian leadership style. Such women are met with opposition and distrust from their followers (Kunin, 2008).
Another benefit of this style is that transformational leadership reinforces organizations because the followers’ efforts and creativity is inspired. This makes such organizations to perform and to achieve their goals within the stipulated time (Bass, 2006). It is also easier for her to capture her followers’ attention and trust in situations where there is conflict of principles or standards of conduct (Kunin, 2008). A transformational leader is also able to discover her potential as well as that of her followers (Bass, 2006).
Transformational leadership also provides a stage to level the social ranks in the military (Bass, 2006). This makes it easier for the leader to relate with followers of all the ranks without experiencing the resistance experienced in authoritarian leadership (Kunin, 2008).
She also gains the respect of those under her command because their participation allows them to appreciate the challenges of responsibility and decision making (Bass, 2006). They also become aware of the significance and the importance of the task they are given to the organization (Bass, 2006).
With transformational style of leadership, the followers are motivated and stirred by the vision their leader carries; they work tirelessly towards that vision even when other determining factors like the pay they get are not motivating (Bass, 2006). As a result of inspiration and loyalty, it is easier to build up leadership qualities from those people (Bass, 2006).
It therefore becomes easier for the leader to recognize those who have exceptional qualities of leadership. Since this method of leadership also instills valuable skills and knowledge into the followers, training them for leadership positions is made much easier (Horn, 2008).
In this leadership method some of the suggestions that some of the followers give may actually be accepted and implemented in the organization (Murray, 2001). This gives them a sense of security and assurance that there is unity of purpose. They therefore feel more secure with their leader, and this makes it easier for them to obey other orders given to them which they consider impossible to accomplish (Bass, 2006). The followers also become committed to the ideas they give and hence a sense of responsibility.
Some of the ideas given by the followers may carry potential disadvantages to the members of the organization. This paralyzes the blame game that followers often play on their leaders when thing go wrong or don’t turn out as was expected. It is also easier for the leader to tackle problems that are beyond her scope of imagination. This is because she is able to make use of a variety of skills, knowledge and creativity that lie unutilized within the participating team members (Kunin, 2008).
Obstacles women may face within the military organization
Although an increasing number of women serve in the military, vast obstacles to equal chance, equal handling, and enhanced quality of life still prevail (Higate, 2003). Despite adequate training, women still undergo trauma after military experiences. For others, this is made worse by instances of being captured by the enemies and being raped (Clemmitt, 2009). There exist very few organizations that make gender-specific systems of support available to attend to the challenges that women endure in the military (Kunin, 2008).
Females are not intended to do exactly the same kind of physical work as men and in the manner in which men do. This is owing to the female body’s distribution of weight (Lindm, 2008). Men carry more weight in the upper body while women have more weight in their lower body (Lindm, 2008). Being in the military it entails a lot of exercise that involves the lower body. This means that for the females, they strain their muscles harder to do the same exercise as a male (Lindm, 2008).
Men have dominated the military dome from time immemorial. As a result, it is men who mainly participate in designation of the standards of assessment (Kunin, 2008). These standards are rather high for women due to physiological, psychological and social factors (Haley, 2004).
Such women feel overworked because of the other maternal roles they play outside the military organization (Kunin, 2008). The women who make it into the military have a hard time keeping up with these standards. Women are generally not as aggressive as their male counterparts, and therefore they find it hard to cope with the violence, arrogance and brutality that are normally found in the world of men (Lindm, 2008).
Trauma related to the experiences of war is a major challenge that women face. The experience of seeing a person being killed or actually seeing a corpse is traumatic enough for women (Carreiras, 2008). This may hinder their performance in military work, hence putting their job at risk (Carreiras, 2008).
Many are laid off due to underperformance. Research indicates that the major reason for underperformance is war-related trauma (Clemmitt, 2009). Rarely is their underperformance interpreted to be as a result of traumatic stress. Many misinterpret such underperformance to be as a result of women’s inability to do aggressive or physically demanding jobs (Clemmitt, 2009). This fuels the already present victimization that women face in the military organization.
Though the number of women serving in the military is increasing by the day, the obstacles that they face while serving therein need to be addressed urgently. There is need for establishment of many organizations that are gender based so that they can tackle the problems that women in combat face. As many women wish to join the military, they should be given adequate training so as to perform in that field as their male counterparts. The biasness and prejudice that women experience in armed forces need to be addressed.
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