Accession Number:

ADA517842

Title:

Combat Leadership Styles: Empowerment versus Authoritarianism

Descriptive Note:

Journal article

Corporate Author:

WALTER REED ARMY INST OF RESEARCH SILVER SPRING MD DEPT OF MILITARY PSYCHIATRY

Personal Author(s):

Report Date:

1990-12-01

Pagination or Media Count:

13.0

Abstract:

Recent research suggests that trusting and empowering subordinates is more likely to lead to success in combat than the traditional authoritarian mode of structuring relationships within a military hierarchy. My purpose in this article is to step back from contemporary research and experience into recent history to see if empowerment is just a fresh cliche, or a principle of leadership with a record that can stand up to scrutiny. I have selected three campaigns that are of limited scope and short duration in which to compare the effectiveness of the opposing forces with the relative emphasis in each force on empowerment and authoritarianism. These campaigns are the German invasion of France in 1940, the Japanese seizure of Malaya and Singapore from the British in early 1942, and the Chinese intervention against American forces in Korea in 1950. As long as the combat power of an army derived from closely packed masses of human beings, and the general could see most of the battlefield, unquestioning obedience and submission by subordinates was a prerequisite for coordinated action on the battlefield. Independent thinking by subordinates was not necessary, and it could lead to disarticulation of the generals battle plan. In the 19th century, rifled small arms and explosive artillery shells ended the era of close-order combat. Subsequent developments in weaponry have imposed progressively greater dispersal on the battlefield. The evidence of the three campaigns to be discussed indicates that while coordinated action still requires quick and complete compliance with orders, blind obedience by subordinates who have only limited understanding of the context in which they are acting reduces combat power. On the other hand, autonomous obedience by subordinates who understand their commanders objective, and have discretion to act as they see fit to further the achievement of that objective, can assist numerically inferior forces to win.

Subject Categories:

  • Administration and Management
  • Humanities and History
  • Psychology
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

Distribution Statement:

APPROVED FOR PUBLIC RELEASE