Multi-Directional Leadership

LtCol. Wade McGrew, commander of 21st SOPS

LtCol. Wade McGrew, commander of 21st SOPS


As Airmen, we are continuously counseled on the art of leadership and reminded commanders are responsible for the successful performance of their organization. But how is everyone else approaching the challenges of leadership in the meantime? In our business, Commanders are certainly responsible for setting a vision and guiding the mission, but leadership can and should come from every direction in an organization. 


Each of our organizations, no matter how big or small, is under constantly increasing pressure to not only succeed, but to move fast, achieve more and be able to adapt quickly.  These types of challenges aren't effectively managed without leadership flowing from multiple directions. In fact, success is virtually impossible without it.


Overcoming traditional organizational leadership challenges mainly comes down to empowering personnel to lead from all positions. This requires allowing everyone to own their projects and openly present ideas and initiatives. Commanders will look to those individuals who are able to take ownership of initiatives and develop them by connecting with counterparts from inside and outside their organizations and across different levels of competencies. These leaders are able to reach out to all required parties and not only get them to listen to ideas but persuade them to actively participate in processes.


Commanders and senior leaders in organizations can no longer rely on simply issuing directions for others to blindly take and follow. Commanders should expect their best leaders will communicate upwards. That is, they will actively participate in strategic conversations and ensure that clear guidance and direction is being conveyed and decisions are understood.


This type of multi-directional leadership and communication presents clear advantages. This approach:


- Increases the ability for everyone to display leadership

- Leads others to seek to understand the context of decisions and why they matter

- Creates two-way dialogue which is extremely advantageous in organizations

- Allows personnel at all levels to take ownership of their projects and tasks


This approach goes beyond traditional ideas, and as history has proven, non-traditional approaches usually take a while to institutionalize. Every person in an organization isn't going to suddenly embrace an upward leadership mindset and begin engaging with leadership in a way that changes the unit’s mindset. Patience and persistence is required, but the results will be worth the effort.


An easy way to view the progress of a multi-directional leadership strategy is through the perspective of the next conversation you have with either your subordinate or supervisor about any organizational challenge. Once both sides have shown that they fully understand objectives and are committed to them, present a few ideas from your own point of view and allow others to be presented.  Be sure to approach it as a two-way conversation and take note of how well ideas are developed and shared.  Pay attention to how decisions are reached when multi-directional leadership and open dialogue lead to a shared outcome.


So there it is: Multi-Directional Leadership.  Remember ridged, one-way management does not equal leadership and in order to encourage inclusion and foster growth in any organization, engagement is required from all directions.  Now go ahead, see how far this approach takes you and be sure to pronounce my name correctly when you are thanking me in your next promotion, graduation or Nobel Prize recipient speech.