5 Leadership Styles for Army Leaders

I know some leaders that can walk into a room and within a few minutes have people thinking, “How did we do anything before this guy joined?”

On the other hand, I have met other leaders who simply shy away from any uncomfortable situation.

Effective leaders are flexible enough to adjust their leadership style and techniques to the people they lead and the demands they face.

Regardless of your particular style or level of comfort, we need to develop different types of leadership because, after all, our Soldiers need different styles of leadership.

For example, some Soldiers respond best to coaxing, suggestions or gentle prodding whereas others require a swift kick in the rear!

Competent leaders mix elements of all leadership styles to match the place, task and people involved.

Here is my list of the 5 Leadership Styles most effective in the Army today.

#1. Directing Style:

The directing style centers on you, the leader.

Typically in this instance, you do not solicit input from subordinates but rather give detailed instructions on how, when and where you want something performed.

Then, you supervise very closely.

This style is particularly appropriate when you don’t have the chance to explain things (i.e. combat situations, or with inexperienced subordinates).

I strongly caution, that while this style is particularly useful in certain situations, you must use it sparingly.

The most effective way to utilize this style is after you have developed a climate of trust and teamwork within your unit.

This way, when you switch gears your Soldiers will know that it is the circumstances that have prompted your change in style.

It is also important that your subordinates understand the directions you have provided so they can assist in supervision.

5 leadership styles of army leaders
5 leadership styles of army leaders

#2. Participating Style:

This technique centers on both you, the leader and your subordinates.

You actively ask for input, information, and recommendations.

However, you still make the final decision on what to do.

This style is particularly effective when there is the appropriate amount of time to have that exchange.

I would say that the biggest benefit of this approach is that when your subordinates help develop the plan, it becomes their plan which creates a huge incentive to complete the mission.

Again, caution must be used here.

Just because you ask for advice, doesn’t mean that you are obligated to follow it.

At the end of the day, you alone are responsible for your decisions and plans.

It is probably best that you make the fact clear that you will make the final decision from the start.

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#3. Delegating Style:

This style gives your subordinates the ability to solve issues and make decisions on their own.

This typically is the case when you have experienced, seasoned subordinates.

While this style may seem to be best when dealing with senior NCOs, you still must provide the necessary resources and a clear understanding of your intent and the mission.

Again, always remember that you are responsible for what happens and when delegating, you must hold your subordinates accountable for their actions.

Ask them questions to ensure they completely understand the tasks they hold.

#4. Transformational Style:

Transformational leadership focuses on inspiration and change. 

This style of leadership emphasizes individual growth (i.e. professional and personal) and organizational enhancement.

For this to work, you must empower and motivate your Soldiers, first as Soldiers and then as a group.

Additionally, an important aspect of this style requires you as a leader to communicate reasons behind your decisions and/or actions.

This allows your Soldiers to have a broad understanding and exercise their own initiative when the opportunity arises.

This leadership style has a huge payoff when you have Soldiers with great skills, knowledge and who may have better ideas on how to accomplish the mission.

And, you are training your soldiers to become leaders.

#5. Transactional Style:

To me, transactional leadership is like a “parent-child” relationship.

With this approach, you motivate your Soldiers to work by offering rewards or threatening punishment.

This approach has its pros and cons depending on the situation.

For example, safety is an area where leaders would typically offer incentives for conformance, but coming down very hard when a safety policy is ignored also creates conformance.

But, regardless, if you only utilize this approach you will never see any commitment outside of the short-term or specific area of intent.

And, you need to instill that there may not always be a reward.


As Napoleon once said, “A man does not have himself killed for a few halfpence a day or for a petty distinction.  You must speak to the soul in order to electrify the man.” 

Basically, as leaders, in order to get the best performance out of their Soldiers must figure out what they need and what they’re able to do even when they don’t know themselves.

Once you have a grasp on this, using these different leadership styles will help you accomplish great things.

Do you have anything you would like to add?

Any questions?

What is your most used leadership style?

What leadership style do you dislike the most?

Just post them in the comments area below.

Thank you.

11 thoughts on “5 Leadership Styles for Army Leaders”

  1. I am in full agreement that a good leader uses every one of these styles depending on the circumstances. With that said, I believe the style that should be most used if possible should be participation. This makes everyone feel as they are part of a team and they have some say in what is going on.

    The best leaders do know how to utilize all these styles at the proper times and places.

    This was a very good article. Good job Justin Long.

  2. Using situational leadership is very important. You can’t use the same leadership style with all Soldiers or in all situations. You must know how to adjust your leadership style when needed.

  3. I’m glad there’s an article that explains the different variations in leadership styles. Do you think one style is better suited to you than another? Or do you think there’s a time and a place for each of these different styles? I think transformational style is one of the most important kinds.

    1. Personally, I believe in situational leadership. That means you adjust your leadership style to the people you are leading, or the situation you are in. No style works 100% of the time with 100% of the people. You have to adapt your style to your situation. If you can do that you will be a better leader.

  4. One of the best tools I found that helped me as a Leader was to understand what made my Soldiers tick! Three simply questions gave me insight into how to lead my Soldiers:
    1. What motivates them?
    2. What are their strengths?
    3. What are their weak areas?
    When I had the answers to these questions I found it easy to not only motivate my Soldiers but also to lead them in circumstances that were less than desirable.
    With an understanding of your Soldiers you can accurately determine the appropriate leadership style based on the Soldier and the situation.

    1. Those are three great leadership questions, Mark. Knowing what motivates your follower is one of the easiest and best ways to motivate people. Everyone is wired differently. There is no cookie cutter approach to leadership.

      Thanks for the comment.


    2. A huge amen to that Mark.

      I also believe you should get to know your soldiers personally and not just as a work related substance. You should try to know their spouse’s name and how many children they have. You should know where they are from.

      By showing them you remember these things, they will bend over backwards to do anything you ask.

      It isn’t about being buddy-buddy, but just showing you care.

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