A few years back, a fellow lieutenant and I were tasked with planning a massive code change operation for our squadron. Code change is an annual event where hundreds of ops, cops, maintainers, and support personnel spend a week in the field to change out coded components at 55 different sites within the missile squadron. This event is often described as the most challenging peacetime operation within the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force. This particular scenario stood out to me as a great example of how elements of the Full Range Leadership Model (FRLM) were applied and how the outcomes might have changed if applied differently.
Our squadron commander tasked us with the planning of this event at one of our weekly staff meetings. He provided us with open and basic direction: take ownership of the planning and execution of the event utilizing the continuity of information and individuals from previous years and make improvements where available. In the months leading up to the event, we continued to hold weekly staff meetings where we provided updates on the planning process. These updates were always conversational, never in a briefing format, and our squadron commander’s biggest concerns were focused on if we were running into any problems and what other resources we might need.
Throughout this process, our squadron commander exhibited various elements of the transformational leadership approach. The strongest of these behaviors was his use of intellectual stimulation (IS). The reading on IS states: “Leaders that foster creativity and innovation for their followers while supporting new approaches to organizational challenges exemplify the IS behavior” (. He did this by his encouragement of ownership and process improvements, such as efficiency of the schedule or the checklists, binders, and other resources we generated and provided for the crews. Not once were we discouraged from taking risks to try out new ideas.
The secondary effects of his IS approach fall into the other three behaviors or components of the transformational leadership model. My squadron commander was a leader whom I respected and looked up to falling into the component of idealized influence. He inspired us to challenge to status quo and improve the process through his use of inspirational motivation. During our weekly meetings he provided individual consideration as an active listener and offered assistance when needed and provided coaching when necessary.
Thanks to his leadership, we instituted numerous changes that continued to be implemented in subsequent years. Without his encouragement to look for process improvements and to take risks, we would have never been able to make the changes that we did for the better. Achievement medals were awarded to our team for the efforts we put in and the successful execution of the event.
With years of continuity in place, a transactional leadership approach could have easily been chosen and the code change would likely have been successful as it had been in years past. The amount of work that is required to plan this event makes it an undesirable task to manage. To alleviate this, the squadron commander could “enter into an agreement” with us to accomplish the task. The use of a contingent reward, such as a promotion to flight commander or to the instructor shop, could have been utilized to attract volunteers. Possibly this reward could even be as simple as removing the individuals from all other work or additional duties to solely focus on this one task. Many of us might have seen that as an opportunity to take a break from the demands and stressors of our day-to-day ops tempo plus additional duties.
A follow-on effect of the use of a contingent reward could be a lower level of stress in taking on the task. As stated in the reading on contingent reward: “In a constructive transaction, the leader sets performance goals, guidance for meeting these expectations, and rewards or supports followers for meeting desired outcomes”. I tend to find more stress when expectations are not clearly defined, and the task involves more work than originally expected.
As mentioned before, following this approach would have likely led to a successful completion of the task; however, innovation and efficiency improvements would have been stifled. If the expectations had been clearly set, without the encouragement of making changes to the process, I would have followed it like a checklist. Overall, I believe the transformational leadership approach employed by my squadron commander was the correct approach for the task.