Small Wars Journal

Operationalizing the Army People Strategy By Revising Mumford and LRM models and Employing Authentic Leadership Theory

Sun, 01/08/2023 - 8:08pm

Operationalizing the Army People Strategy

By Revising Mumford and LRM models and Employing Authentic Leadership Theory

By Bol Ring

Adapting to the Changing Workforce and Operational Environment


The Problem of Incompatibility Between Millennials Values and Army Leadership Models

             The Army has recognized the need to adapt to environmental changes, prompting senior leaders to develop a comprehensive strategy to implement an Army-wide organizational change focusing on taking care of the Soldiers.  "We win through our people, and people will drive success in our Readiness, Modernization, and Reform priorities.  We must take care of our people" (Gen. McConville, Army People Strategy, 2019. p. 2).  With Army People Strategy directives, the Army senior leaders direct the force to execute a total organizational change focusing on prioritizing taking care of the People.  However, operationalizing the commander's intent will require examining the current work environment.  The most important element in the work environment is the People.

Millennials Leading the Army.  In two to three years, most leadership positions, from battalion to platoon level, will be occupied by millennial leaders, indicating the need to explore leadership models that align with their characteristics.  Millennials are individuals born between 1980 - 2000, and they are discovered to have different work and leadership values compared to older generations (Galdames & Guihen, 2022; Musfiroh, et al., 2022; Olsen et al., 2021).  Most notably, millennials demand changes in how organizations approach Leadership and management, as current Army leadership models are outdated and incompatible with millennials' values and the present operational environment (Fowler, 2018; Galdames & Guihen, 2022; Olsen et al., 2021).  Thus, there is a need to adjust fire on the target, that is, analyzing the Army leadership model and doctrines to account for the time change and millennials' values.  "In the 21st century, the question for leaders is not whether culture should change, but how it should change" (Army People Strategy, 2019. p.11).  Millennials characteristics and the changing work environment are the main variables in driving changes, thus require further scrutiny.

Outdate Leadership Models.  Before adjusting the current leadership models to account for the changing working environment and millennials values, there is a need to examine where improvement can be made.  Aligning with Army People First Initiative, there is a need for "organizational research that employs scientific methods to develop and deploy leading-edge approaches to solving Army people challenges" (p. 9).  In other words, scientific evidence is required to implement programs relating to Soldiers' well-being.  Meaning, as the Army organizational change is directed at the senior leadership level, there is a demand for practical actions from the lower echelons, including applying scientific-based evidence to change the Army culture and doctrines.  Therefore, as a standard operating procedure (SOP), as operational environments change, there is always a need to adapt.

However, some of the military leadership models being used today are over 30 years old, prompting researchers to propose updates (Camp et al., 2022; Gabriel et al., 2022).  In particular, Gabriel et al. (2022) recommends adding factors to the Leadership Requirement Model (LRM) because the model is missing a critical characteristic essential to being a military officer.  Moreover, Camp et al. (2022) pressed for updates to the Mumford Skill Model, as it is incompatible with millennials' characteristics and the current operational environment.  Making incremental changes to the existing leadership model could yield positive results, but there is a need to introduce some new concepts into the Army Doctrines.  For example, while examining Norwegian military officers, Olsen et al. (2022) discovered that "strategic bullying" is counterproductive for millennials and pressed for researchers to analyze the influence of Authentic Leadership Theory (ALT) influence on millennial officers, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom.  As a result, there is room to improve the Army leadership models to enhance millennials' effectiveness as leaders via incremental improvements and innovative approaches to Leadership.


The solution to operationalize the Army People Strategy can be approached from two major avenues: the strategic/Operational level and the tactical/technical level.  Operationalizing the People First initiative would involve updating doctrines and models to reflect the current operational environment and introducing new leadership theory into the Army doctrines.  Meanwhile, operationalizing People Strategy at the tactical/technical level would involve training leaders at the company, platoon, and squad levels on authentic leadership principles.

Operationalizing People First Strategy at Echelons


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Operationalizing People Strategy at the Strategic/Operational Levels

Revise the Existing Army Leadership Models.  Improving on the already existing models provides the Army opportunities to build on the past success of those models while accounting for current changes in the work environment.  Therefore, while the U.S Army successfully relied on LRM and Mumford as the primary leadership development models for decades, there is a need to re-examine them and incorporate values that will align with and enhance millennials' leadership values.  The overwhelming majority of the Army's Soldiers and leaders are millennials, aged 22 to 42 years old.  One may argue that instead of changing the environment to fit the cohorts, the cohort should be adjusting to the environment.  However, millennials are making it clear across multiple sectors (including the Army) that they would leave and not join organizations that are incompatible with their values, highlighting the need for Army to focus on addressing the environmental factors that are welcoming to the millennials.  Given that millennials are 22-42 years old, they occupy the majority of leadership roles compared to other generational cohorts, prompting researchers to propose changes to LRM and Mumford to align with millennials' work and leadership values (Camp et al., 2022; Gabriel et al., 2022). 

Leadership Requirement Model (LRM).  The Army Leadership Requirement Model (LRM) explains key Leadership attributes required to be an effective Army Leader.  While other organizations may struggle with developmental leadership programs, LRM is deemed exceptionally effective in identifying, developing, and maintaining Army leaders (Kirchner, 2019).  According to LRM, the Key pillars of an effective leader involve being a leader of character, a leader who is present, a leader with high intellectual capacity, someone who can lead others, a leader who prioritizes self-development, and a leader who achieves results.  As the Army's primary leadership developmental program for over 30 years, LRM has its share of successes but may need adjustments to account for newly introduced operational variables to include different generational cohorts.

For example, using Army cadets as participants, Gabriel et al. (2022) recommended adding a grit-perseverance component to LRM as grit is discovered to enhance cadets' communication skills.  Grit is defined as having a consistent passion and discipline to achieve long-term goals, consisting of consistent interests and perseverance.  A leader with high grit will be driven and passionate in leading Soldiers while being resilient when facing adversities.  Thus, the new LRM would include 1) grit, 2) character, 3) presence, 4) intellect, 5) leads, 6) develops, and 7) achieves.

Mumford Skill Model Background.  Another widely-accepted and adopted leadership developmental model is the Mumford Skill-based leadership model.  While LRM applies to officers and enlisted Soldiers, the Mumford model focuses on the Officers' professional developmental progression.  For example, utilizing 1,800 officers as participants, Mumford and colleagues conducted one of the comprehensive studies involving Army Officers, which led to the development of one of the influential leadership models for Army leaders, the Mumford Skill Model (Camp et al., 2022).  Mumford et al. (2000) proposed that leaders' effectiveness is defined by how well they can solve "ill-defined problems" that are novel, ambiguous, and lack one solution (p. 14).  Accordingly, leadership skill development should involve developing capacities to solve ill-defined problems because the theory posits that those problems increase in complexity as leaders rise through the ranks.  As a result, to align with Mumford Skill Model, Army officers' career paths follow specific key developmental (KD) milestones designed to stimulate and evaluate officers' skills in handling those ill-defined problems.

While Mumford Skill Model remained effective for the Army Leadership development program, COVID-19 highlighted some gaps that require further examination.  Most notably, Camp et al. (2022) illuminated the need to adjust the Mumford Skill Model as some factors are outdated.  Specifically, the study recommended adding autonomy and participative leadership elements and changing the name to Millennials Managers Skills Models to account for the variations in the new work environment and millennials' work characteristics.  For example, while Mumford Skill Model aligns well with bureaucratic organizational structure, the study explained that the current knowledge-based organizations and workers demand flattening organizational structure to allow for better communication, innovation, and collaboration.  Meanwhile, millennials favor participative leadership styles, desire constant feedback from their leader, and seek a quality relationship with their supervisor, making Mumford Model unsuited to the current operational environment and millennials' values.  Therefore, the study proposed creating a work environment that prioritized innovation, collaboration, and autonomy over efficiency since the current environment is filled with uncertainties and complexities requiring soldier ingenuity, adaptation, and flexibility.  As a result, Millennials Managers Skills Models (MMSM) should replace Mumford Skill Model (Camp et al., 2022).

Incorporating Authentic Leadership Theory.  The Army needs to incorporate ALT principles into Army leadership models and doctrine, as ALT aligns with the Army People Strategy of 2020 - 2028.  A study on Norwegian military officers found that millennials favor authentic leadership ideals compared to older officers, making ALT suitable for the U.S. Army (Olsen et al., 2021).  While transformational Leadership is found to have no effect on millennials' performance and has a negative influence on millennials' job enrichment, authentic Leadership is found to increase their work engagement, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, performance, and citizenship behaviors (Khan et al., 2022; Lindsay & Mathieson, 2022; Musfiroh et al., 2022).  Moreover, a comparative analysis between authentic and transformational Leadership on athletes' performance reveals that authentic Leadership obtains superior results (Gregoire et al., 2021).

Meanwhile, transformational Leadership often produces higher results than other leadership models, including transaction, laissez-faire, and servant Leadership (Brand & Walker, 2022; Pinelli et al., 2018).  The effectiveness of authentic Leadership might be explained by having genuine engagements with followers, which leads to the development of mutual trust.  Meanwhile, trust strongly correlates with individual and organizational performance (Khan et al., 2022; Legood et al., 2020).  Therefore, authentic Leadership aligned with the Army People Strategy, which explained that "authentic leader engagement is critical to developing cohesive teams and maximizing performance" (p. 8).

The factors of authentic Leadership are balanced processing of information, relational transparency, internalized moral perspectives, and self-awareness (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Walumbwa et al., 2008).  George (2003), who popularized the theory in the corporate world, asserted that trust, transparency, and high moral standards are the foundations of Leadership, highlighting leaders' moral compass as the essential factor to being an effective leader.  In agreement with George's assertion, prominent leadership scholars provided empirical evidence and developed the scientifically-backed authentic leadership theory, which has been gaining significant interest among organizational researchers and practitioners due to its impact on organizational outcomes and workers' well-being (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Ilies et al., 2005; Luthans & Avolio, 2003; May et al., 2003; Walumbwa et al., 2008).

Operationalizing People Strategy at the Tactical and Individual Levels

Army Leadership Schools.  Improvement to Mumford and LRM would focus on updating leadership doctrine in operational and strategic realms.  Meanwhile, to translate theory into practice, authentic Leadership can be implemented in multiple ways at the tactical level.  First, the Army leadership training programs such as Cadets' trainings courses, Basic Officers Leadership Course (BOLC), Basic leadership Course (BLS), Advance Leadership Courses (ALC) and other military leadership courses should incorporate authentic leadership training into their curriculums.  A special emphasis should be placed on leaders' self-awareness training as it is the foundation of authentic Leadership (Brewer et al., 2022).  As the primary focus of those courses would remain technical and tactical competencies, adding authentic leadership training would target leaders' emotional intelligence and self-awareness competencies, which are significant predictors of leadership performance.  The two primary antecedents of authentic Leadership are emotional intelligence and high moral standings, which can be nurtured through self-awareness training (Brewer et al., 2022; Zhang et al., 2022).

Battery/Company Level Intervention Teams and LDP programs.  The second way to operationalize authentic Leadership is through organizational intervention teams such as the Command Maintenance Evaluation and Training (COMET), but with a focus on improving sections, platoons, and the company's authentic leadership level.  An Authentic Leadership Developmental Program (ALDP) would specialize in training battalion and company/battery commanders on developing a Leadership Professional Development (LPD) program that focuses on developing junior officers and NCOs under their commands.  Command Climate Surveys would be the assessment tool for measuring the program's effectiveness.

Individual Online Training.  The Third avenue to operationalized authentic Leadership is through individualized online training, where each leader is provided an opportunity to improve their authentic leadership skills through self-paced interactive online training.  While the first and second options may not be available to every Soldier, the online options would introduce authentic leadership principles to junior enlisted Soldiers who are getting ready to take on leadership roles.  An online Authentic leadership training App is discovered to be effective in increasing authentic leadership behaviors, making authentic leadership training available for every leader in the Army (Nubold et al., 2020).


Therefore, combining incremental improvements to the existing Army leadership models with authentic leadership principles to implement Army People First Initiative is a practical avenue to implement the needed and directed Army organizational change.  The People First Army initiative explains what role the Army leaders play in implementing the Army People Strategy:  "Leaders drive change in culture by clearly defining it, communicating it openly and effectively, inspiring others, and modeling it conspicuously and authentically" (p. 12).  Armed with clear commanders' intent from the Army People Strategy guidance, Army leaders at echelons can operationalize the mission by implementing incremental changes to the existing leadership models and incorporating authentic leadership principles in their leadership doctrine toolbox at the respective levels.  This paper provides leaders with starting points for implementing the People First Initiative, emphasizing that Soldiers are the Army's number 1 priority because winning future wars rests in Taking Care of Our Soldiers Now.

The modern labor marketplace allows knowledge workers to change firms repeatedly for greater job satisfaction and personal fulfillment.  Therefore, there is a need for the Army to develop a 21st-century talent management system that recognizes and capitalizes on the unique knowledge, skills, and behaviors each team member possesses and enables us to employ each Soldier to maximum effect.  We win through Our People.

~The Army People Strategy~

Link: the_army_people_strategy_2019_10_11_signed_final.pdf


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About the Author(s)

Bol Ring is Field Artillery Captain currently stationed in Saudi Arabia with United States Military Training Mission (USMTM-Saudi Arabia) as a military advisor to Royal Saudi Land Force (RSLF). He is a third-year Ph. D student at Grand Canyon University studying Industrial and Organization Psychology. His dissertation focuses on millennials' characteristics; millennials preferred leadership style; authentic leadership; self-determination theory, and intrinsic motivation. Specifically, Bol's dissertation will examine whether authentic leadership influences millennials' intrinsic motivation. He can be reached at or through his Army global email system.