Insights on Leadership Theory and Practice

We all can recognize good leadership. We all also can tell when it is needed and sorely lacking. More than any other community, I think this community of switched-on, predominantly type A, SME-heavy MIL and LEO active duty and veterans is a largely untapped resource for advancing our collective knowledge of leadership. No where else are the stakes higher, the impact of poor leadership more deadly, or the power of effective leadership more impactful than in the spheres of influence that many of you circulate in.

Some of the best books and presentations on the topic of leadership development either come from, or are focused on stories and examples of leadership in the military and law enforcement communities. I'd love to tap into that collective storehouse of wisdom, and see what we can learn from each other.

There are a lot of directions this conversation could go, and I would love to eventually see a subforum or Facebook page develop, but for now, let's start with some of your key takeaways and current philosophies on leadership based on your experiences.
I'm here to learn much more than share, but to get things going, I'll go first.

One definition that currently expresses my thoughts on Leadership is influencing others towards growth. Another might be leveraging trust and influence to assist others in accomplishing their goals and full potential.

I think effective leadership is more of a mindset than position, and that you can "lead up". (check out the book of the same title by Michael Useem, or read this article

I think the current industry infatuation with management and project managers places the focus on projects instead of people, results instead of relationship, subordination instead of trust, and bossing instead of leading.

Some resources on the topic that I'm currently gleaning from are presentations by Simon Sinek, Leadership and Training for the Fight by Howe, and Leadership in the Shadows by Lamb.
I'm a life coach in the leadership development field with about 4 years and 300 clients worth of experience. I have a Bachelor's degree with a focus in American Military History.
Solid stuff. Some takeaways from 3.1:

Loved the conversation on traits of a good leader and how you all built on each other. Bill, your insight on hypocrisy and how often what we think is hypocrisy in leadership is often due more to personal failure or blind areas on their part, or from a breakdown in communication got the conversation off to a really good start. Chappy's emphasis on integrity and always being honest with those you lead, even when it is hard is good. Richard's point on treating those that are led as possessions leads to a toxic environment (due to selfishness), but also that effective leaders aren't your "buddy" was well made. Chappy later made the point that being a "buddy" instead of a leader destroys the opportunity to salvage team members that could be salvageable out of fear of confrontation. It's a hard line to walk between, although both ends seem to lead back to insecurity manifested in different ways on the part of the leader. Roland's point on everyone having their own leadership style and also good leaders recognizing that there can and should be slightly different approaches to leading different people was refreshing - leadership isn't a one size fits all system you can read in a book and then replicate with everyone. It a heart thing, combined with perception, wisdom, empathy, experience, and character. He also talked about playing the long game. Something that really stood out to me was his comment about seeing the corporal in the private, and trying to call that out of him and advance him, as opposed to what Richard talked about with treating those who are led as possessions and using them to advance the leader. Also the conversation of the gift and burden of a leader's more global perspective, the greater good, the culture of the group, and the future and health of the team as a whole - the "responsive vs reactive" concept - was gold. It's nice when we are on the receiving end of it in a positive way. It hurts a lot more when we are on the receiving end of it in a negative way. Yet another topic you brought up, Bill, is what we sometimes call on this side of things "followership" - the need for those who are being led to get with the program, to be "switched on" to have a growth mindset, and to embrace learning and growth (remarkably similar, in a lot of ways, to leadership - only on a personal, internal level). I also appreciated your point on knowing your guys well enough to know those you lead well enough to understand what is happening behind the scenes in their lives. Also appreciated the role of leaders to be proactive and apply that well-honed future focus to coming alongside those they lead and pull them up (running the PT alongside them). Something I have a really hard time with are those lines that you, Matt, Mike, and Rich talked about. I want to believe the best in people, and "call that corporal out of all the privates". When you get someone who maintains mediocrity or who seems bent on scraping the bottom, part of me still wants to believe that that person has the ability to grow and excel. I realize I cannot ultimately make the decision for them of which they will be, but it is hard to know when you stop trying to call out greatness, when you start nudging towards the door, and when you throw out the door. Discerning who are the cream, so to speak.

This is what I'm talking about - there is SOOO much here to discuss, and so many SMEs to glean from - let's discuss it more!

Tore Haugli

Staff member
Some observations from my part of the world - more theoretical, and how it is applied.

In the norwegian mil we look at various theories on motivation, self-awareness and on applied leadership. The main ones are:

-Situational Leadership
-Maslow Hierarchy of needs
-McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y
-Johari's window

Situational Leadership:
Situational Leadership refers to the theory on various styles of leadership to apply based on the individual or group you are leading, and the task that needs to be accomplished. Factors that apply to the individual or group are ability to take responsibility for the task and relevant education and experience - defined as maturity.

We divide it into 4 different styles:


A telling leadership style is characterized by one-way communication, and the leader provides the what, how, why, when and where
A selling leadership style means that the leader is still providing directions, but uses to-way communication to get the individual or group to buy into the process
A participating style means that the leader relies on shared decision-making on how the task should be accomplished
A delegating style means that the leader still makes decisions, but the how has been delegated to the individual or group. The leader still follows up on progress

Maturity levels are defined as:

High - Capable and willing
Moderate - Capable but unwilling
Moderate - Unable but willing
Low - Unable and insecure

Low maturity level means that they lack skills and are unwiling to do or take responsibility for the task
Moderate maturity level (Unable but willing) means that they are novice and enthusiastic, they want to work on the task, but don't know how
Moderate maturity level (Capable but unwilling) means that they know how to perform the task, but have no motivation or confidence to do it
High maturity level means that the group or individual has the necessary training and experience to carry out the task, in addition to having the motivation and willingness to both do and take responsibility for the task

Leadership styles must vary based on the task and the maturity levels of the individual or group. Maturity levels are also task dependant.

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of needs is a theory on motivation, most often presented as a pyramid, where the most fundamental needs are on the bottom, and the various phases of growth on the following levels. The levels of need are (bottom to top:)


Physiological needs are described as the physical needs an individual requires in order to survive; air, water, food, clothes etc
Safety needs are described as covering physical safety, financial safety, health and well-being. The absence of these can have adverse effects on an individuals ability to cope with different situations
Love/belonging covers friendship, intimacy and family. It is based on the theory that humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance
Esteem covers acceptance and being valued by others, and recognition.
Self-actualization covers the realization of identified or desired potential

The theory states that each level needs to be fulfilled prior to progressing to the next one, but that assumption is somewhat flawed. In the military, there will often be situations where aspects of each level are lacking, but people are still able to function normally and motivate themselves in order to perform; lack of sleep, food, exhaustion, reduced personal safety (deployed to war zones) etc.

McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y

Theory X and Theory Y are theories on human management and motivation. They describe two contrasting models on how to motivate groups or individuals.

Theory X is based on a pessimistic assumption of the worker, that they are less competent/smart and lazier than the leadership, and as such, require a more hands on style of leadership.

Theory Y is based on the assumption that workers are highly motivated, enjoy working and seek improvement without requiring rewards. Theory Y results in a more democratic approach to leadership.

Johari's Window

Johari's Window is a tool used to promote self-awareness and self-growth, in relation to one self, and relationships with others. It is presented as a window, with four sections. The sections are:


The Open section refers to attributes - positive and negative - that are known to both one self and others.
The Hidden section refers to attributes - positive and negative - that are known to you, but not others.
The Blind section refers to attributes - positive and negative - that are unknown to you, but known to others
The Unknown section refers to attributes - positive and negative - that are unknown to you and others

The model uses a list of 57 adjectives that are used to describe each attribute.

These are some basic models and theories that can be used to develop leaders, individuals and organizations, and on how to apply leadership properly.


I'm a life coach in the leadership development field with about 4 years and 300 clients worth of experience. I have a Bachelor's degree with a focus in American Military History.

Do you have any other background? I'm wondering how one becomes qualified to be a lifecoach in leadership without being able to cite significant life experience....
I work with predominantly 15-25 year olds, and don't claim by any means to be an expert on anything, especially not leadership development. I really don't want to make this thread about me - I'm here to learn not teach, and I only started it because I saw a need for it and wanted to learn more from the experts here.

I've done a good bit of training, certification, reading, and study, and am working towards my MCC credential with the ICF. I've been impacted by good and bad leadership in a variety of settings my whole life, and have always enjoyed the study and application of it. From student government throughout highschool and into college, and numerous community service and volunteer opportunities nationally and internationally, I've had some opportunities to lead. But this is not the place for me to share my meager resume.

That said, in my limited experience, I've found leadership to be more linked to a heart-set and mindset than an age or position.