Growing leaders: Four styles to achieve this goal

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Dale Grey
  • 341st Medical Operations Squadron commander
I recently attended a conference on leadership. The attendees were all new commanders and chief nurses. During the conference, the book "The Toyota Way" was referenced numerous times and recommended we take the time to read it. So I bought the book. I admit that I have picked up the book, skimmed a few pages and then put it down many times over the past several weeks.

Really, who wants to read about leadership? Isn't leadership what professional military education is all about? However, over the past couple of weeks, I needed information to guide me in the daily juggle of meeting access to care for our beneficiaries while ensuring nuclear surety for all certified members in the Personnel Reliability Program. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, it is not. I wanted the easy answers, so I started reading this highly recommended book.

As I read, I was looking for the "right way," "the solution," and great words of wisdom from a company that has had an outstanding record for many years. What I discovered is the 14 principles that have led the Toyota Corporation from day one and continues to this day. For this article, I will focus on principal nine: "Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others." Toyota's leaders are found from within the company. Isn't that what the military does? After all, we did not join the Air Force one day and find ourselves in a leadership role the next; no, we have worked and studied hard to become leaders.

Toyota has a very distinctive approach to leadership. They have divided leadership into four types. There are two top-down or directive leadership types and two bottom-up or developmental leadership types. Depending on the circumstance at hand, one wants to have a bit of each trait in their leadership tool kit.

The two directive leadership types are the "Bureaucratic Manager" and the "Taskmaster". The Bureaucratic Manager is also known as "the rule follower." This type of leader is the least effective. The Bureaucratic Manager makes rules and sets policies then measures performance by these rules. Under this leadership type, the company can easily lose focus on customer satisfaction and the value in building a learning organization. Performance metrics are key to the Bureaucratic Manager.

As ill flattering as this sounds, there are times when I have to be the bureaucratic manger. Whether in a conference room looking at monthly metrics or sitting in a telephone conference with MAJCOM reviewing the population healthy living metrics, I must put on my Bureaucratic Manager hat and evaluate progress based on metrics.

The second type of directive leader is the "Task Master." This type of leader tells you what they want and how to do it. They have a strong understanding of work and are known as the expert, but they lack people-leading/motivating skills. They tend to be distrustful of others who have less experience. Now, I admit the Taskmaster is the last place I want to spend time. I personally cannot see how this type of approach can be successful.

However, there are times when we are required to be the Taskmaster. When there is a quick-turn tasker for MAJCOM or the wing, I must be the Taskmaster to ensure the job is done quickly and correctly. What is important to remember when you have to assume the role of the Taskmaster, is that there can be many ways to achieve the end product.

As leaders, we must state our end objectives clearly and if a given order of completion is required, this must be known at the start of the project. The Bureaucratic Manager and the Taskmaster are known to give orders and tell the team exactly how they want it done with no deviation or input from others. They are often referred to as micro-managers.

The developmental leadership types are the "Group Facilitator" and the "Builder of Learning Organizations." The Group Facilitator is known to empower employees. The Group Facilitator develops and motivates employees to work together towards a common goal, however; they may not be the subject matter expert. Therefore, the Group Facilitator cannot always guide on work content, but are able to motivate and help others to develop and implement solutions that will lead the project and organization to success. There are times I need to be the group facilitator. I don't have expertise in all areas, and I must rely on my experts to achieve a goal. In those situations, I'm there to keep the process going, the facilitator.

The other developmental leadership type is the "Builder of Learning Organizations." As leaders who develop future leaders and continued success, this is our purpose. Builders have a combination of in-depth understanding along with the ability to develop, mentor and lead people. Builders are usually respected for their job knowledge and are followed for their leadership ability. They will ask questions about the situation and the strategy for action. The Builder does not always give the answers, even when they have the knowledge, but they do not let their people fail. This allows people to formulate their own ideas/plans and to learn from their own mistakes.

As you can there are many traits for a successful leader. Although the Builder leadership trait is the ideal, each leadership situation is unique. The type of leadership trait to use depends on resources available to you, your troop's job knowledge/experience, time constraints, etc. Whatever the case, it is up to each of us to continue to build leaders today for tomorrow's Air Force.