Two military leaders in camouflage standing next to each other.

6 Reasons Why Military Leaders Should Refocus on Authentic Leadership

Leadership vs. Likership, The Importance of Authentic Leadership in the Military


Authentic leadership is a crucial aspect of the Armed Forces, as it directly impacts the success of missions, the well-being of personnel, and the organization’s overall effectiveness. In recent years, there has been a shift towards prioritizing popularity and likability over authentic leadership in the military. This trend can hinder effective decision-making, compromise teamwork, and ultimately undermine the mission. This article will explore six reasons military leaders should focus on leadership, not popularity, and the importance of authentic leadership. We will also address the increasing problem of a lack of commitment to professional service due to the lack of Army mentorship.

Introduction: Just Taking Care of the Troops – The Mission? Not So Much

Picture it: somewhere in the Army, Captain Goodheart (entirely fictional), the S1 OIC, faced a dilemma. Instead of prioritizing verifying PCS awards and pay actions before the weekend, he prioritized his team liking him. CPT Goodheart let his section go home early on Friday, thinking it would boost morale and earn him favor among his subordinates. Good for him, right? In doing so, he failed to employ the foundations of Army leadership outlined in ADP 6-22 (Army Leadership), neglecting principles such as setting the example, putting the team’s professional welfare first, and ensuring tasks are accomplished before personal considerations.

Let’s be clear: similar to a ‘zonk’ or a ‘PTOYO,’ no one will bat an eye if their chain of command tells them to go home. A PFC is not going to look at their NCOIC and ask , “Are you sure sergeant?” Somewhere someone is looking for a comments section to type, “well, the Army’s People First Strategy says we need to take more time off, the Army is stressful.” Kudos to those that know about the document exists. That said, the issue is not providing time off, but in the lack of thought. Many leaders do not set conditions to ensure an early release has minimal impact on an organization’s operations. We should also add that we are not here to ruin the good name of Gen Z. Army leaders need to meet them halfway; providing guidance and showing competence.

By prioritizing friendliness over leadership responsibilities, CPT Goodheart undermined the core Army Values, inadvertently degraded the discipline and expectations of his shop, eroded trust within the organization, and set a dangerous precedent. His actions disregarded the roles and relationships expected of an Army leader, leading to a breakdown in discipline and organizational effectiveness. His failure to lead reverberated through the unit, causing confusion and inefficiency and potentially compromising the integrity of personnel administration processes. Additionally, young soldiers have higher expectations of their leadership. It is the Army’s responsibility. Correction, it is your responsibility to train and mentor leaders. Build good habits with good reps (we borrowed that line from one of our readers). You are not doing your soldiers or your unit any favors when you fail to meet the standard, do not set clear goals, and provide opportunities for leadership by challenging them. It’s a balance you must identify and leverage with down time. When a leader neglects their duties in favor of popularity or laziness, the entire organization suffers, highlighting the critical importance of upholding the Army leadership principles in the military context.

We are pretending some of you are silently nodding your head in agreement when we know this never happens. The admin clerks always process awards on time and spend the time to learn IPPS-A. Maintenance clerks have your parts on order and scheduled for installation. Companies are always updating their training calendars and annotating completed events in DTMS. The world is near-perfect. Let’s not pick on S1; maybe it is the S2 not conducting country clearances or the mechanic’s hand waving their QA/QCs (quality assurance/quality control). While not prophetic or rampant amongst the ranks, there is an increase in military leaders who fail to understand the importance of authentic leadership vs. likership.

Understand that this situation is not unique to the Army; this is a generational problem.

A soldier is shaking hands with another soldier in a display of Authentic leadership.

Why Should Military Leaders Prioritize Authentic Leadership Over Popularity?

The answer to this question lies in the fundamental role of leadership in the military and a soldier’s ability to understand it. Let’s start with the definition.

Leadership is the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization (Headquarters, Department of the Army 2019).

ADP 6-22 (Army Leadership)

Four Elements of Army Leadership: Influence, Providing Purpose, Direction, and Motivation

  1. Influence: Leadership is fundamentally about influence – the ability to inspire, guide, and empower others to achieve common goals and objectives. Effective leaders leverage their influence to shape perspectives, foster collaboration, and drive positive change within their teams and organizations. By building trust, credibility, and rapport with their followers, leaders can influence attitudes, behaviors, and decisions that contribute to collective success.
  2. Providing Purpose: A key element of leadership is providing a clear sense of purpose that aligns individuals with the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Leaders articulate a compelling purpose that inspires commitment, fosters engagement, and instills a sense of meaning and direction in the work being done. By establishing a shared purpose that connects individual efforts to the broader organizational goals, leaders create a sense of unity, cohesion, and motivation that drives performance and excellence.
  3. Direction: Leadership involves providing clear direction and guidance to navigate challenges, make decisions, and achieve desired outcomes. Leaders set strategic objectives, define priorities, and chart a course of action that guides the team towards success. By communicating expectations, outlining responsibilities, and clarifying roles within the organization, leaders ensure alignment, focus, and accountability in pursuing common goals and fulfilling the organization’s mission.
  4. Motivation: Effective leaders motivate and inspire their teams to perform at their best, overcome obstacles, and strive for excellence. By recognizing individual contributions, providing feedback, and creating a supportive environment for growth and development, leaders foster a culture of motivation, resilience, and continuous improvement. Motivated teams are more engaged, productive, and innovative, driving organizational success and achieving sustainable results under the guidance of inspiring leadership.

Leadership encompasses these four essential elements – influence, providing purpose, direction, and motivation – that together shape a leader’s ability to guide individuals and teams towards shared goals, inspire collective action, and cultivate a culture of achievement and success.

Authentic leadership is essential for fostering a cohesive and effective military unit. Prioritizing popularity can lead to decisions based on personal gain rather than the best interests of the mission and the team. Military leaders should prioritize leadership over popularity because effective leadership is essential for achieving the mission and caring for soldiers. Popularity may not always align with the organization’s best interests or the troops’ well-being. By focusing on leadership qualities such as integrity, competence, and selflessness, military leaders can build trust, inspire confidence, and make decisions that are in the best interest of the team and the mission. Leadership is about setting the right example, making tough choices, and guiding others toward success, even when it may not be the most popular decision.

How Does Authentic Leadership Contribute to Effective Decision-Making?

Authentic leadership is crucial in enhancing effective decision-making by fostering trust, transparency, and integrity in your interactions with others. When you lead authentically, you demonstrate a genuine commitment to your values and beliefs, which inspires confidence and respect among your team members. By staying true to yourself and your principles, you create a culture of open communication and mutual understanding, enabling you to make decisions based on honesty and fairness.

Furthermore, authentic leadership encourages you to consider diverse perspectives and seek input from those around you, leading to more well-rounded and thoughtful decision-making processes. Your ability to engage with empathy and empathy allows you to connect with your team on a deeper level, leading to stronger relationships and a collaborative approach to problem-solving. Ultimately, by embodying authentic leadership traits such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and ethical behavior, you set a positive example for others and create an environment where effective decision-making thrives.

How Can Prioritizing Popularity Hinder Authentic Leadership and Teamwork in The Military?

Prioritizing popularity over effective leadership can have detrimental effects on teamwork within the military. Focusing more on your team liking you rather than making tough decisions and providing clear guidance can lead to a lack of respect for authority and a breakdown in the chain of command. Soldiers may devalue positional power and prioritize personal relationships over the mission, resulting in a disorganized and less efficient team dynamic.

Moreover, prioritizing popularity can create divisions within the team, as favoritism and perceived biases can arise when leaders show preferential treatment to certain individuals to maintain their likability. This course of action can breed resentment, jealousy, and a sense of unfairness among team members, ultimately hindering collaboration and cohesion essential for successful military operations. Teamwork thrives on trust, respect, and a shared commitment to the mission, qualities that can be compromised when popularity becomes a leader’s focus.

Additionally, when popularity takes precedence over leadership responsibilities, critical decisions may be delayed or avoided altogether to avoid conflict or displeasure among team members. This can lead to missed opportunities, increased risks, and decreased overall effectiveness in achieving operational objectives. Effective teamwork in the military requires leaders to prioritize the mission above personal relationships and popularity, ensuring that decisions are made with the team’s best interests and the mission’s success in mind.

What Is the Difference Between Authentic Leadership And “Likership”?

The distinction between leadership and “likership” in the military is fundamental to understanding effective command and influence within the ranks. Leadership embodies qualities such as vision, integrity, decisiveness, and a commitment to the mission and the team’s well-being. A true leader inspires trust, respect, and loyalty by prioritizing the organization’s goals over personal popularity. In contrast, “likership” focuses on seeking approval, popularity, and maintaining a positive image at the expense of making tough decisions, enforcing standards, and upholding the values of the military profession.

While leadership involves making difficult choices, providing guidance, and setting a clear direction for the team, “likership” centers around avoiding conflict, seeking validation, and prioritizing individual relationships over organizational objectives. Leaders are willing to make unpopular decisions for the greater good of the mission and the team, even if it means facing criticism or resistance. In contrast, those prioritizing “likership” may struggle to assert authority, hold individuals accountable, and navigate challenging situations requiring disciplined initiative. Understanding the difference between leadership and “likership” is crucial for cultivating a culture of accountability, professionalism, and excellence in military environments.

  • When you see a soldier walking with AirPods in uniform and no one corrects them; it’s likership.
  • When a soldier consistently does not conduct PRT (the infinity profile); that is likership.
  • When a soldier does not complete their work, but still goes on pass: likership.

Defaulting the to the mass hysteria that someone else will square away the issue; that it’s not that big of a deal; that you don’t want to speak to someone; or you want to avoid ‘making waves’ is likership. Yes, we are using this term fast and loose, but it’s a shotgun blast and most readers only make it around 50% of the way through any article we write.

Leadership "Likership"
Vision, integrity, decisiveness Seeking approval and popularity
Prioritizes mission and team's well-being Prioritizes personal popularity
Inspires trust, respect, and loyalty Focuses on maintaining a positive image
Makes tough decisions for the organization It avoids conflict and tough decisions
Sets clear direction and provides guidance Seeks validation and approval
Willing to make unpopular decisions Struggles to assert authority
Holds individuals accountable Avoids accountability
Emphasizes organizational goals Prioritizes individual relationships
Values professionalism and excellence May lack assertiveness and leadership qualities

How Can Authentic Leadership Clarify the Expectations of a Military Leader at All Ranks?

Authentic leadership serves as a beacon of clarity in defining the expectations of a military leader at all ranks. When you embody authentic leadership traits such as integrity, transparency, and accountability, you set a standard for behavior and conduct that resonates throughout the ranks. By consistently demonstrating honesty and authenticity in your actions and decisions, you establish a culture of trust and credibility that clarifies what it means to be a leader in the military.

Furthermore, authentic leadership emphasizes open communication and genuine relationships, enabling you to connect with those you lead on a deeper level. By fostering an environment where individuals feel valued, heard, and respected, you can clarify the expectations of a military leader by emphasizing the importance of mutual trust, teamwork, and shared commitment to the mission. Authentic leaders lead by example, inspiring others to uphold the values and principles defining effective military Army leadership.

Authentic leadership provides a clear roadmap for what the Army expects of a military leader at all ranks by emphasizing the importance of authenticity, integrity, and ethical behavior. By staying true to your values and principles, you not only clarify the expectations of leadership but also inspire those around you to strive for excellence and uphold the core values of the military profession. Authentic leadership fosters a culture of respect, accountability, and unity that transcends rank and hierarchy, ensuring that every team member understands and embodies the qualities of a true military leader.

What Is the Increasing Problem of a Lack of Commitment to Professional Service in The Army?

In recent years, there has been a concerning trend of individuals prioritizing personal gain over a commitment to professional service in the Army. This lack of commitment can erode the Army’s core values and undermine the armed forces’ effectiveness. We admit, this is not the best title, but many Soldiers are looking at the Army as a 9 to 5 job; comparing it to civilian employment.

Spoiler alert: the Army is not a 9 to 5. Yes, there might be a few who have the unicorn MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) that allows you to work almost completely autonomously, but that is not the case for most of the force.

Generational Differences in the Army that Can Lead to a Lack of Commitment and Ineffective Leaders

  1. Communication Styles: Varied communication preferences across generations can lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and ineffective leadership. Younger generations may prefer digital communication, while older generations value face-to-face interactions. These differences can hinder effective team communication and collaboration, impacting commitment and leadership effectiveness.
  2. Work-Life Balance Expectations: Generational disparities in work-life balance expectations can create tension and challenges in the Army. Younger generations often prioritize flexibility and personal time, while older generations may adhere to more traditional work ethics. Conflicting views on work-life balance can result in dissatisfaction, lack of commitment, and difficulties in leadership approaches.
  3. Approaches to Authority: Different generational attitudes towards authority and hierarchy can impact leadership effectiveness. Younger generations may prefer a more participative and inclusive leadership style, while older generations may value a more directive approach. These contrasting viewpoints on authority can lead to conflicts, resistance to leadership, and hindered commitment within the ranks.
  4. Lack of Discipline Initiative: A lack of disciplined initiative among certain generations can reduce adherence to military standards, protocols, and routines. This deficiency leads to decreased efficiency, compromised operational readiness, and challenges in maintaining unit cohesion and effectiveness.
  5. Lack of Officer Mentorship: Generational differences may contribute to a lack of officer mentorship opportunities, impacting the development of future leaders. Inadequate guidance and Army mentorship from experienced officers can hinder junior officers’ growth, skills development, and leadership capabilities, impacting their effectiveness in leading troops.
  6. Inexperienced NCOs: Generational shifts may result in a cohort of less experienced Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) who may face challenges in effectively leading and mentoring subordinates. Inexperienced NCOs may struggle with decision-making, communication, and problem-solving skills, affecting unit morale, discipline, and overall mission success.
  7. Technological Proficiency: Varying levels of technological proficiency among different generations can affect operational efficiency and leadership capabilities. Younger generations often demonstrate higher proficiency with technology, while older generations may face challenges adapting to new digital tools and platforms. This technological generation gap can impede communication, decision-making processes, and overall effectiveness in leadership roles.
  8. Higher Rates of Anxiety and Depression: Certain generations may exhibit higher rates of anxiety and depression due to societal factors, which can impact mental health and resilience within the Army. Increased levels of anxiety and depression among service members may lead to decreased commitment, motivation, and performance, posing challenges for effective leadership.
  9. Lack of Resilience in the Face of a Challenge: Generational differences can influence resilience levels among service members facing challenges or adversity. Some generations may exhibit lower resilience traits, making it difficult to bounce back from setbacks, adapt to changing circumstances, and maintain a positive mindset in demanding situations. This lack of resilience can impact commitment, decision-making, and leadership effectiveness in the Army.
  10. Resistance to Authentic Leadership: Your first response might be, “Say what?!” Here us out, and pardon the example. Gen Z are not a full-time face-to-face generation. That approach potentially activates an aggressive response if their leader’s feedback is not to their liking; or, they may shut down. Resistance to authentic leadership principles across generations can hinder trust, communication, and cohesion within military units. Some service members may resist leaders who strive for transparency, integrity, and genuine relationships, leading to barriers in effective leadership practices and team dynamics. Addressing resistance to authentic leadership is crucial for fostering a culture of trust, respect, and shared commitment among all ranks in the Army. Get to know your soldiers and build your team.

The Importance of an Army Mentorship Program

Army Mentorship is crucial for the development of strong leaders within the military. As a mentor in the Army, your primary responsibility is to guide and support your mentee, offering advice and counsel over a period of time. Let’s start with the basics and define mentorship.

Per AR 600-100 (Army Profession and Leadership Policy), Army mentorship is a “voluntary and developmental relationship that exists between a person with greater experience and a person with less experience, characterized by mutual trust and respect (Headquarters, Department of the Army 2017).”

It is essential to establish a voluntary developmental relationship characterized by mutual trust and respect, focusing on the personal and professional growth of the mentee. Your role as a mentor goes beyond just being a leader; it involves investing time and effort in nurturing the next generation of leaders who will shape the future of the Army (Renken 2015).

A mentee’s responsibilities include being open to learning and seeking guidance from your mentor. Engaging in the mentorship process and showing commitment and respect towards your mentor are essential. By actively participating in the mentorship relationship, you can benefit from the wisdom and experience of your mentor, enhancing your leadership skills and professional development. Remember that mentorship is a two-way street, requiring both mentor and mentee to contribute positively to the growth and success of the relationship (Renken 2015).

Below are the stages of mentoring (Headquarters, Department of the Army 2017):

  • Prescriptive Stage: In this stage, the mentor provides specific instructions and guidance to the mentee.
  • Persuasive Stage: The mentor uses persuasion and influence to help the mentee understand certain concepts or ideas.
  • Collaborative Stage: Both the mentor and the mentee work together in a collaborative manner, sharing responsibilities and ideas.
  • Confirmative Stage: In this final stage, the mentor confirms the skills and knowledge that the mentee has acquired throughout the mentoring process.

Authentic Leadership, Army Mentorship, and Trust: Ingredients to Success

Becoming a genuine leader is essential for the success of the military, as it fosters effective decision-making, teamwork, and a commitment to professional service. Prioritizing popularity over leadership can have detrimental effects on the mission and the well-being of military personnel.

  1. Ensure mission success and operational effectiveness: Ultimately, the primary goal of any military unit is to accomplish its mission with precision and efficiency. When prioritizing popularity over leadership, you may struggle to make tough decisions or enforce necessary protocols crucial for mission success. By focusing on effective leadership, you can steer your team toward achieving their objectives and fulfilling their duties with excellence.
  2. Foster a culture of accountability and responsibility: In the current OPTEMPO, accountability, and commitment are essential values you must instill within your team. By prioritizing leadership over popularity, you can set clear expectations, hold individuals accountable for their actions, and foster a culture of responsibility within the unit. Your actions, in turn, contribute to a more cohesive and effective team dynamic.
  3. Earn the trust and respect of subordinates: You earn trust and respect through consistent actions, integrity, and a commitment to the team’s well-being. Leaders who focus on being liked at the expense of effective leadership may struggle to earn the trust and respect of their subordinates. You can establish a strong rapport with your team by demonstrating true leadership qualities, increasing morale, loyalty, and overall effectiveness.
  4. Uphold the values and standards of the military organization: The Army builds units on a set of core values and norms that govern the behavior and actions of all members. You play a pivotal role in upholding these values and setting an example for your subordinates. By prioritizing leadership over popularity, military leaders can ensure that the values and standards of the organization are upheld, contributing to a strong and cohesive unit culture.
  5. Set an example for future leaders to emulate: As leaders, you serve as role models and mentors for the next generation of leaders within the organization. You can set a positive example for your subordinates by focusing on effective leadership rather than seeking popularity and inspiring future leaders to prioritize leadership qualities. Your initiative strengthens the organization and ensures a robust and effective leadership legacy for years.

Military leaders at all levels must prioritize authenticity, integrity, and the greater mission objectives to ensure the continued success and effectiveness of the armed forces.

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