Army Leadership Styles: Tips & Ideas

In today’s post, I’d like to share the top 5 most common Army leadership styles. Near the end of the article, I’ll also provide examples of types of leaders I’ve served with in the military.

No leader is perfect. We are all human. Every leader has strengths and weaknesses. Every military leader has good and bad qualities. HOWEVER, some leaders rise to the occasion and provide exceptional leadership, while others can barely lead themselves.

Your leadership approach must be flexible. Each situation is different. Each subordinate is different. Each mission is different. Learning to adapt your leadership style to each person and situation can double or triple your effectiveness. This is known as SITUATIONAL leadership.

army leadership styles

The 5 Army Leadership Styles

Here is my list of the 5 Leadership Styles for Army leaders that are proven to work.

# 1: Directing Style

The directing style centers on you, the leader. With this approach, 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). It also works well when your followers are unmotivated or new and inexperienced. While this style does work, you should use it sparingly.

Yes, your subordinates will follow your orders. Yes, it is the military. However, people want to be inspired, not just bossed around. They don’t want to work for a 24/7 dictator. Do you?

A directing leadership style incorporates a high degree of focus on tasks and a low degree of focus on the employee/manager relationship. In this leadership style, managers dictate to employees what they must do and expect them to accomplish their tasks, leaving little room for autonomy. ~

# 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 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 you are obligated to follow it.

At the end of the day, you alone are responsible for your decisions and plans. It is best that you make the fact clear that you will make the final decision from the start.

A participating leadership style is a low task behavior, high relationship behavior approach to leadership that helps followers solve problems. … The style is anchored by the leader’s ability to actively listen and collaboratively engage. ~

# 3: Delegating Style

This leadership style gives your subordinates the ability to solve issues and make decisions on their own. This works well when you have experienced, seasoned subordinates.

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

Remember, 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 are responsible for.

As a leader, delegating is important because you can’t—and shouldn’t—do everything yourself. Delegating empowers your team, builds trust, and assists with professional development. And for leaders, it helps you learn how to identify who is best suited to tackle tasks or projects. ~ Meister Task

# 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.

Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization. ~ Very Well Mind

# 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.

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.

Transactional leadership, also known as managerial leadership, is a leadership style where the executive relies on rewards and punishments to achieve optimal job performance from his or her subordinates. ~ Search CIO

john maxwell leadership quote

Army Leadership Styles I’ve Experienced

To keep this article interesting, I figured I would take a moment to share some of the Army leadership styles I’ve experienced during my 15+ years in the Army. This could include styles from raters, senior raters, peers, friends, and even subordinates.

The Bully

This is a common leadership style in the Army, especially with insecure people or new leaders. They are on an ego trip and have let their rank or position go to their head. They think they make themselves look good by making other people look bad. They try to make other people feel inferior or insecure, normally because of their own poor self-esteem or incompetence.

The Absent Leader

This is one of the worst styles of leadership. This is the leader who is never around. Everything gets delegated to their subordinates and they are only present periodically. Their position and responsibility are not a priority to them. This style is common with people who are about to ETS, PCS, or retire.

The “It’s All About Me”

This is my least favorite Army leadership style. This is the leader who thinks everyone in the Army exists to serve them. They are on a power trip and can come across as a narcissist or sociopath. They worship themselves and want everyone else to worship them, too.

The Micromanager

This is a leader who does not know how to delegate or empower people. They think no one can do it as well as they can, so they micromanage everyone who works for them. Or worse, the try to do everything themselves and rob their subordinates of their personal development and work load.

The Go-Getter

This is a great leader, but they can be hard to work for. They set the bar high and are naturally high achievers. Their organizations achieve HUGE things. The only problem is most of the people who work for them cannot keep up with their pace or expectations.


These are the leaders who go on to become CSMs and General Officers. They are naturally good at what they do, but what makes them special is they can bring people together and unify them. They bring out the best in others. They unite people. They give people purpose and make them part of something greater than themselves. I was blessed to work with several people like this during my military career. They all went on to become 2, 3, or 4 Star Generals.

What Worked for Me

To close out this article, I figured I would share a few Army leadership styles that worked well for me during my Army career.

First off, I loved to ask questions. I figured I would learn more by listening than talking. I love asking questions such as:

  • What would you do if you were in charge of this situation?
  • What are your thoughts?
  • What do you think is the best way to do this?

What I quickly discovered is I had some talented, creative people under my leadership who thought of things I never would have considered myself.

Another leadership style that worked well for me was to encourage people to make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Your Soldiers want to please you, but they will mess up from time to time. They are human, just like you. Let your people know it’s okay to make mistakes. Just don’t make the same mistake twice. Learn from it and improve.

Another leadership style that worked well for me was to empower people. I quickly learned that I couldn’t do everything myself, nor should I. I encouraged people to try new things, take on tasks they wouldn’t normally do, and give it their best shot. Remember, the Army pays you to get things done through other people.

Finally, LEARN FROM EVERYONE. This is one of my best leadership tips. Study and watch both good and bad leaders. Determine what you can learn from each of them. What do they do well? What do they do poorly? How can you model what they do or improve it?

What makes me the most proud is that I was a horrible leader as a young officer. Worse than horrible. I had NOTHING going for me. I was simply blessed to have a few great NCOs and officers around me who saw potential in me, molded me, mentored me, and helped me become a better version of myself. As time passed, I matured and developed into a great officer. Since then, I’ve tried to do to others what they did to me.

what the army pays you for

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, these are my thoughts on the common Army leadership styles. 

If you get nothing else out of this article, remember these key points.

  1. Soldiers deserve great leaders.
  2. No one is born a leader.
  3. Anyone can become a great leader if they choose to.
  4. When leading others, you must use different leadership approaches with different people and in different situations. This is known as situational leadership.

What are your thoughts about these Army leadership styles? What style do you most frequently use? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.

small unit leadership book

If you want to level up your leadership, I highly suggest you check out Leadership & The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell, and Small Unit Leadership by COL (ret) Dan Malone.

Other Must Read Articles:

  1. The Top 15 George C. Marshall Quotes & Leadership Lessons
  2. 12 Common Army Leadership Mistakes
  3. Being Calm, Cool and Collected: Leadership Tip for Army Leaders
  4. Saving Private Ryan Review: Top 10 Leadership Lessons from the Movie
  5. How to Develop Your Military Leadership Skills: 13 Ways to Do It
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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11 thoughts on “Army Leadership Styles: Tips & Ideas”

  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.

    1. Yes, participation based leadership styles work great, typically. Whenever you can get everyone on board to work together, share ideas, and work toward a common goal, it’s much easier than trying to convince or drag people along.

  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.

    1. Absolutely. This is one of the secrets of successful leaders in every endeavor. They are flexible, adaptable, and frequently change their approach to match the situation at hand.

  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.

      1. Yes, it’s good to know the basics about your soldiers and direct reports, as long as you don’t take it too far and try to become their friend in the process. The last thing you want to do is eliminate the professional relationship/work relationship by being buddy-buddy.

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