Addressing Transactional Development

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CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The purpose of development is to close the gap between demands and abilities. Professional gaps are fluid for Airmen due to frequently changing titles, duty locations, ranks and personal goals. The Air Force attempts to provide baseline skills through training and professional military education, but too often these efforts are completed as transactions: completing requirement X provides benefit Y. 

Under the Full Range Leadership Model, transactional leadership behaviors result in follower compliance and the pursuit of superficial rewards. The leader’s emphasis is typically on performance in the current rating period or short-term career requirements. 

The four transformational leadership styles, conversely, result in growth lasting beyond a promotion requirement or rating period. The focus is on long-term development and staying ahead of the subordinate’s current role in the organization. 

The transition to transformative leadership is deliberate, and it requires increased effort from both the leader and the follower. 

Leader Actions

In order to achieve transformative leadership many leaders must shift from prescribing expectations to collaborating on goals and outcomes. This means considering the unit’s demands, the subordinate’s goals and gaps, and mutually identifying the required growth. In this approach, the subordinate will see benefits rather than tasks when personal growth is tied to professional growth. 

Secondly, one must ensure quality is adequately prioritized over quantity. If a subordinate is attending numerous development courses without appreciable growth, he or she is likely accruing stats on a transactional basis. However, if a subordinate attended just one bullet-writing course, and their writing improved, a gap was reduced.

The transition to the transformational approach will likely require regular formal and informal feedbacks beyond the minimum requirement. Feedbacks should incorporate an evaluation on the growth achieved from completed goals and any setbacks experienced. Additionally, leaders have more opportunities to check progress and provide support. 

Follower Actions

When we can identify our gaps, it becomes easier to capitalize on a variety of development opportunities, even when it’s compulsory. The result is development from sources one would not have independently pursued. This is especially important when we cannot control the requirements imposed on us, such as PME. 

Many skills are perishable and require practice to remain effective. Followers, therefore, should apply new skills in the unit, where the majority of professional interaction occurs. Noticeable improvements in performance in one’s primary or additional duties will reflect a higher value than raw statistics with no impact. Additionally, demands in the unit are easier to cope with, which is the goal of professional development. 

The importance of communicating with mentors cannot be overstated. One should identify mentors who have achieved comparable goals or overcome similar obstacles, and allow him or her to weigh in on the development plan. Additionally, mentors provide a layer of support when setbacks are experienced. This relationship fosters a higher degree of trust and confidence that goals will be achieved. 

Conclusion

Simply checking the required development boxes may provide a temporary benefit or prevent a consequence, but the result is an advertised capability that may not be backed by performance. Subsequently, ability gaps must be closed through alternate means when existing abilities cannot cope with external demands. Successfully transitioning to a transformative approach closes gaps efficiently, with long-term benefits to the follower and the organization.