Am I a manager or a leader? As a Senior Non Commissioned Officer (SNCO) in the Royal Air Force (RAF), I am expected to be both. Depending on the working environment and role I am expected to perform, there might be a greater emphasis needed in one or other activity. In most organisations, it is a management process that makes decisions, yet it is leadership that provides the drive and inspiration without which that management is ineffective.
I am in the military which has leaders and managers appointed to positions of authority, within a chain of command. This therefore introduces an associated military term, ‘Command’, that fully embraces both activities. Command is the authority vested in an individual of the military for the direction, co-ordination and control of activities. To achieve this a commander has to effectively use all available resources both manpower and material. A commander therefore needs to be a manager.
Management is the art of making and implementing decisions to achieve a satisfactory solution to a problem utilising the four main management functions of planning, providing, directing and control of resources. Whilst this element of decision making is important, it is also dependent on the element of leadership in order to be effective. Any decision made is merely an intention until the skill of leadership is applied. Clearly it is possible to have commanders that are strong leaders but poor decision-makers.
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These commanders will be very effective in leading people albeit in the wrong direction. Equally, it is possible to have commanders that are very good at making decisions but incapable of getting people to carry out those decisions. In a military organisation, a good commander needs to display strong qualities from both elements. All ranks are therefore carefully assessed on a yearly basis and only those displaying the right qualities are promoted.
In my position as a SNCO, I will have been assessed as being a competent leader and manager and hence having the attributes required to command effectively. The move into a command role is a part of natural progression within the RAF and tends to happen at a relatively young age compared to our civilian counterparts. Since promotion to my first position of authority I have had to practice varying methods of leadership to achieve goals. As a young Corporal, I was expected to lead by example, accomplishing tasks by motivating my subordinates.
An example would be as an aircraft movements supervisor, where I was responsible for ensuring that all aircraft were ready for flight. This would entail checking that the aircraft had been serviced to the correct standard; that it had the correct fuel loaded for the expected sortie length; that the correct munitions had been loaded for the sortie and all necessary safety devices fitted; that the aircraft’s groundcrew were in place and had the various aircraft’s systems running and in a condition ready for the aircrew to make an immediate departure on arrival.
Like most kinds of leadership, I needed to be self-motivated enthusiastic about what I was doing. I also needed to be knowledgeable and able to practice what I preached, guiding and instructing in the practicalities of what was required. Having been in their position, I was able to empathise with them and assess their understanding of the situation. This understanding helped me to influence these people. Having been exposed to the 3 main leadership/management styles of Autocratic, Laissez-faire and Democratic, you have a pre-defined idea of how you will behave.
However, as time runs on and you become more experienced in dealing with people and situations, you find that you use varying or a combination of styles to achieve your objective. As a trade manager, I was responsible for everything related to the engineers assigned to me, from their trade ability, training, attitude, to their welfare, deportment and discipline. Additionally, I was expected to ensure the squadron was able to perform its duties without hindrance or handicap. In this role, it was important to promote discussion and communication.
The benefits of open discussion gives you enhanced knowledge for making decisions such as how to split people into matched shifts of equal experience whilst avoiding potential conflict within. In some situations it might be reasonable to leave a group to work through a situation on their own without exercising any control over them. This usually happened if the team was highly motivated towards the task. There were always times when a more autocratic line was required with continual pressure and direction to get things done.
All three styles of leadership/management were therefore being used on very nearly a daily basis. I found that an important aspect of managing a group of people in this was to empower others by delegating responsibility whilst remaining on top of the situation by co-ordinating the results. The granting of responsibility usually gave the recipient the motivation and enthusiasm to ensure a job was done well. Enthusiasm is contagious and controlled properly can move mountains.
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