A Culture-Independent Conceptual Model of Organizational Leadership for Advisors
Aaron R. Byrd, Ph.D., PE and Mechille Braden
Advisors supporting our national counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency missions need a conceptual model of organizational leadership that crosses cultures and applies to a wide variety of organizations. We propose an organizational leadership model built on a set of cross-culturally defined intelligences and the Executive Core Qualifications used by the US Office of Personnel Management in evaluating senior leaders. The foundation of the model is the ability to produce valued results in one or more cultures using a suite of skill sets (intelligences): technical, emotional, social, systems, and ethical and moral skills. We define organizational leadership as using emotional, social, and technical intelligence to marshal people to create an ethical system to create products or solve problems consistent with the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. The conceptual model of organizational leadership we propose enables assessment and development efforts in the following six areas: Leads People (emotional and inward social intelligence), Builds Coalitions (outward social intelligence), Results Driven (technical intelligence), Business Acumen (systems intelligence), Moral and Ethical Acumen (moral and ethical intelligence), and Leads Change (the integration of all the intelligences.) This model can serve as a cross-cultural framework for helping advisors understand and train, advise, and assist organizational leadership skills in our counterparts.
Our approach to modern security sector assistance efforts in support of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency missions has at its heart an advising paradigm. This paradigm, commonly referred to as Train, Advise, and Assist, (TAA) focuses on three aspects to fight the battles and manage institutions that counter terrorism and insurgencies.: a) local population, focusing on wining the hearts and minds, b) local leaders to support security operations), and c) ministerial officials guiding a large organization in tumultuous political, economic and security environment.
This advising approach is foundational to the U.S. Army’s Security Forces Assistance Brigades (SFAB) and situationally-created units such as the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A) that oversees advising and security assistance to the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF). The Army Techniques Publication 3-96.1 about SFAB describes the goal of security force assistance:
“1-13. The goal of [Security Force Assistance, SFA] is to develop and institutionalize the foreign security forces’ ability to successfully plan, prepare, and execute their security missions across the executive, generating, and operating functions. U.S. forces must be able to advise and integrate SFA into the [Foreign Security Force] operations process at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. SFA works seamlessly with the partner nation government at all levels from national to local.” (ATP 2018)
Advisors are at the heart of SFA efforts. The DoD’s handbook “Advising at the Senior Level” describes advisors and their purpose:
“An advisor is a subject matter expert who serves with foreign security forces, or their ministerial-level security institutions, to advise, counsel, and assist their partner nation counterparts. An advisor’s primary purpose is to create professional relationships that will inspire and influence their counterparts, and their counterparts’ organization, to become more effective and accomplish their missions, while putting in place sustainable processes that will endure beyond their tour as an advisor.” (Rocke and Gillette 2019)
An inherent challenge emerges from this definition and in practice. SFA advisors are functional experts, with extensive technical knowledge, while their advisees are leaders, managing a large organization, employing functional experts. The organizational leadership skill of our partners to manage functional expertise, rather than their specific functional expertise, is the overwhelmingly strong determinant of how successful TAA efforts will be in the long term.
Organizational leadership skill, then, is a core attribute needed in the organizational leaders we advise. The stronger our partners are in leadership skills, the more successful our SFA effort will be. However, we usually think of leadership in terms of positions or natural ability, rather than a learned skill set. As with all skills, a focus on development of leadership skill will greatly improve the leadership skills of our partners over time. Treating leadership skill as a learned ability, central to the level of success of our TAA efforts, leads to the conclusion that TAA on leadership skills must be a part of the skillset of advisors.
The current state of TAA efforts, though, does not generally include leadership training. The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has reported on the lack of organizational management and governance skill in our partners: “The lag in developing Afghan ministerial and security sector governing capacity hindered planning, oversight, and the long-term sustainability of the ANDSF.” (SIGAR 2019)
The SIGAR report also offers this strong indictment of U.S. Military TAA efforts:
“the U.S. military had limited to no capability to train its own military officers on how to advise at the ministerial level, which resulted in untrained and underprepared U.S. military officers advising the highest echelons of both ministries.” (SIGAR 2019)
While there is certainly a wide body of knowledge on leadership, it is still often perceived by advisors and command leaders as a subjective skillset - “you know it when you see it” type of subject, rather than one that can be more objectively assessed and improved. To approach the training of leadership skills in our counterparts, though, we first need a conceptual model of what is a leader that allows for objective analysis across cultures. The SIGAR report also comments on this lack of a common understanding:
“The U.S. government was ill-prepared to conduct SSA programs of the size and scope required in Afghanistan. The lack of commonly understood terms, concepts, and models undermined interagency communication and coordination, damaged trust, intensified frictions, and contributed to under-resourcing of the U.S. effort to develop the ANDSF.” (SIGAR 2019)
There is a strong need to create a conceptual model of organizational leadership with terms and concepts that define what constitutes an effective leader. The challenge is to define this model in terms that both apply across cultures and result in meaningful outputs for TAA efforts.
Intelligences: A Foundation for Leadership
In this work, we take the view that all people are able to develop and use a variety of intelligences. We take our definition of intelligence from Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences:
“An intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” (Gardner 1983)
This definition packs together a few distinct terms that bear a brief discussion. First, what is valued, the measure of the intelligence, is that problems are solved, or products created. In short, intelligence is work in real life done to make real change that is “valued” – someone else cares about it. “Within one or more cultural settings” makes the valued product or solution a relative term rather than an absolute term. It also creates a metric – how many cultural settings is your product valued in? Cultural settings are inherent to social groups and are a function of the values and practices adopted by the social group. Small teams, collections of teams organized into a functional unit, an organization collectively, and the organization with its customer base all form distinct groups with their own cultures. How well these cultures align is indicative of how well the products or solutions created at the lowest level of the organization are also valued products at the higher levels of the organization and within the customer base of the organization.
Building on the concepts of Gardner’s theory, we define a suite of intelligence that apply to leadership. There are clearly a wide variety of intelligences. We create this list based on our experiences and insight with organizational leadership.
- Technical Intelligence: Using technical skill to create products or solve problems. In an organizational leadership context this is the ability to identify, understand, and use technical knowledge to lead organizational activity. For example, a chief of police should be well versed in the technical skills of being a police officer and understand how they apply to helping his or her police officers function well.
- Emotional Intelligence: Following Goleman’s groundbreaking “Emotional Intelligence” (1995), emotional intelligence is using emotional skill to create products or solve problems that are valued within one or more cultural settings. In an organizational leadership context this is the ability to use emotions to influence and guide organizational activity. For example, the ability to assess, modify, and create “morale” in a work environment in order to create team cohesion and further productivity is an emotional skill. Emotional intelligence is both empathetic and assertive. For example, organizational leaders often need to motivate his or her team to improve and change behavior – and need to do so without being either overbearing or belittling.
- Social Intelligence: Creating and/or using social relationships to create products or solve problems. This has both an outward and an inward component. Outwardly, this is the ability to create partnerships and alliances between organizations. Inwardly, this is the ability to create social hierarchies within organizations to enable functionality of the organization. In a leadership context, this includes not only the ability initiate the social arrangement but also how to grow and develop the relationship over time to improve the organizational function. In a small team leader context this relates to the “forming” and “storming” stages of the “Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing” (Tuckman 1965) process.
- Systems Intelligence: The ability to apply, modify, or compose individual functional efforts into a process, program, or system to create products or solve problems. In an organizational leadership context, this is the ability to compose disparate organizational function groups into a coherent system that solve problem or create products that support key elements organization’s mission. For example, a facility engineering design group leader would need to compose survey, architecture, design, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and water engineering teams into a coherent suite of teams to produce facility design and construction documents.
- Moral and Ethical Intelligence: The ability to use moral principles and ethical rules to prioritize competing values in order to solve problems or create products consistent with the values of the cultures you operate within. For example, in the US, professional engineers abide by the National Society of Professional Engineers Code of Ethics. One of the canons is that engineers will only perform services in their areas of competence. A professional engineer whose specialty is in structural engineering should not be the approving engineer for an electrical engineering project or component of a project, even though it may be more cost advantageous for the consulting firm to not have to employ both types of engineers.
Each of these intelligences focus on the ability to create value in specific cultural settings. Because the cultural context defines the value, this approach is a culture-independent method of assessing skill.
Integrating Intelligences: Towards a Cross-cultural Definition of Organizational Leadership
Using the set of intelligences above, we can combine intelligences in an organization/business setting (cultural context) to create higher-order intelligences. For example, a customer service agent (who would have customer service intelligence) would need to be strong in emotional and technical intelligence. Managerial intelligence, using managerial skills to create products or solve problems for the company and customer, is a combination of all these intelligences, applied in various proportions, and in the cultural context of the organization being managed.
A broad definition of organization leadership, consistent with the intelligences-based definition, is to use emotional, social, and technical intelligence to marshal people to create an ethical system to create products or solve problems consistent with the organization’s vision, mission, and goals.
Building on this definition of organizational leadership and concept of higher-order intelligences being created by combining the fundamental intelligences, we can propose a model of organizational leadership that builds on principles of executive leadership proposed by the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM). As many of our advising partners are senior or executive organizational leaders, albeit from a wide range of organizational sizes and scopes from national executive and senior ministerial leader to local leaders, this is a relevant starting position.
We propose the following six components, built on OPM’s five Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs) as an inter-cultural organizational leadership model:
- Leads People. OPM defines this as “the ability to lead people toward meeting the organization's vision, mission, and goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to provide an inclusive workplace that fosters the development of others, facilitates cooperation and teamwork, and supports constructive resolution of conflicts.” (OPM 2020) This component of the model emphasizes the emotional and inward social intelligence aspects of organizational leadership intelligence.
- Builds Coalitions. Expanding slightly on OPM’s definition, we define this as “the ability to build coalitions internally and with other [National] agencies [or ministries], [Provincial], State and local governments, nonprofit and private sector organizations, foreign governments, or international organizations to achieve common goals.” (OPM 2020) This component of the model emphasizes the outward social intelligence aspect of organizational leadership intelligence.
- Results Driven. OPM defines this as “the ability to meet organizational goals and customer expectations. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to make decisions that produce high-quality results by applying technical knowledge, analyzing problems, and calculating risks.” (OPM 2020) This model component emphasizes the technical intelligence aspect of organizational leadership intelligence.
- Business Acumen. OPM defines this as “the ability to manage human, financial, and information resources strategically.” (OPM 2020) This model component emphasizes the systems integration aspect of organizational leadership intelligence.
- Moral and Ethical Acumen. We define this as the ability to act with, and promote the use of, ethical and moral behavior for the benefit of the organization and its customers, or in the case of governmental organizations, the people of the communities and nation it serves. This model component emphasizes the moral and ethical intelligence aspects of organizational leadership.
- Leads Change. OPM defines this as “the ability to bring about strategic change, both within and outside the organization, to meet organizational goals. Inherent to this ECQ is the ability to establish an organizational vision and to implement it in a continuously changing environment.” (OPM 2020) More than any one intelligence, this model component is a synergy of the individual intelligences operating as a whole to not only make the organization work well but to orchestrate organizational adaptation to better provide products and solutions of value in changing cultural contexts.
These six leadership components not only reflect the role of the five intelligences in organizational leadership, but also the integration of the five intelligences into a coherent intelligence that represents the synergy of the individual intelligences. Each of the model components cannot be evaluated independent of the other. Rather, they focus on individual attributes in the context of the whole set of intelligences.
Figure 1. A visualization of how each leadership model component emphasizes particular intelligence aspects in the context of the whole.
Because each of the organizational leadership model components are grounded in a culture-relative definition of intelligences, the model itself is culture-relative. This enables it to be an appropriate cross-cultural model of organizational leadership. The leadership model components themselves are recognized as key organizational leadership metrics. It is our hope that this model allows for improved leadership assessments of our partners, improved understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, and targeted advising to enable improvement in the leadership skills of our partners. We also hope it can point the way to an international leadership development set of TAA skills for advisors. Organizational leadership skill is a key driver of the success of our counterparts in whatever endeavor we hope they will accomplish through our advising efforts. This model will enable advisors to have a common language about organizational leadership and a conceptual model in order to work together to improve our and our partner’s skills.
ATP (2018) “Security Forces Assistance Brigade.” Army Techniques Publication No 3-96.1. Headquarters, Department of the Army. 2 May 2018. Washington, D.C. https://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/documents/cace/LREC/atp3_96x1.pdf
Gardner, H. (1983) “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” Basic Books, 528 p. New York.
Goleman, D. (1995) “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.” Bantam Books, 354 p. New York.
Office of Personnel Management, (OPM 2020). Senior Executive Service Executive Core qualifications. https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/senior-executive-service/executive-core-qualifications/. Accessed 16 Jun 2020
Rocke, M.D., Gillette, J.M. (2019) “Advising at the Senior Level: Lessons and Best Practices.” Center for Army Lessons Learned Handbook No. 19-06. January 2019. https://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/19-06.pdf
SIGAR (2019). “Divided Responsibility: Lessons from U.S. Security Sector Assistance Efforts in Afghanistan.” https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-19-39-LL.pdf. Accessed 11 August 2020.
Tuckman, B.W. (1965) “Developmental sequence in small groups.” Psychological Bulletin. 63 (6): 384-399. Doi: 10.1037/h0077200. https://content.apa.org/record/1965-12187-001
Ms. Mechille Braden is retired military with multiple deployments. She recently completed a deployment to Afghanistan as an advisor supporting ministerial activities to enable Afghan National Police primacy. She is an Air Force employee, living in Oklahoma City, with her family.
Dr. Aaron Byrd is a research engineer with the US Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center, in Vicksburg, MS. He is on his first deployment to Afghanistan as an advisor to support the Afghan police.
Both Dr. Byrd and Ms. Braden are Ministry of Defense Advisors (MODA). We appreciate and acknowledge the MoDA training we received from John Gillette, Mark Rocke, Chuck Heiden, and the many instructors during our several weeks in training. They influenced and shaped much of our thinking.