Accession Number:



The Enabling Leader: How Air Force Leaders Can Enable Emergence and Innovation During Complexity

Descriptive Note:

Technical Report,26 Jun 2017,24 May 2018

Corporate Author:

US Army School for Advanced Military Studies Fort Leavenworth United States

Personal Author(s):

Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



Todays increasingly complex threat environment presents many problems that current United States Air Force USAF doctrine cannot completely solve or struggles to address. For this reason, USAF leaders at the operational level must find creative and innovative solutions within their resource- and time-constrained environments. At the same time, the rigid, top-down USAF hierarchy, due to its bureaucratic nature, constrains both approval and implementation of creative or innovative ideas. So, how can operational-level USAF leaders foster creativity and innovation within their sphere of influence to achieve disproportionate effects if the USAF bureaucracy naturally discourages emergence New research on leadership and organizational adaptability called Complexity Leadership Theory CLT attempts to address the tensions between bureaucratic hierarchical leadership structures and innovative adaptation required to address complex problems. CLT suggests that enabling leadership practices can help leaders deal with the tension between bottom-up, emergent innovation and the top-down hierarchical control. Operational Air Force leaders who embody enabling leadership traits and foster personal relationships and networks can create adaptive space between their ground-level tactical planning teams and higher strategic leaders to successfully foster creativity and innovation within their units. To better understand how current and future USAF leaders can apply the concepts found within CLT to their own units, this monograph will analyze two successful and highly innovative historical airpower case studies the Doolittle Raid during World War II and Operation Bolo during the Vietnam War. The case studies feature two different enabling leaders who were able to work beyond the established hierarchy, create adaptive space, and enable novel, emergent operational approaches that had disproportionate effects at the strategic level.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Administration and Management

Distribution Statement: