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Imperatives of Stress on Leadership
By LTJG David M. Kennedy,
U. S. Navy
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Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership ' Essay * * y s 7
The military leader must so organize his men that he is prepared to direct them in combat or, short of war, to have them function in a wide variety of stressful situations. All steps taken in the formative stage must reflect an appreciation of the ultimate requirements.
The military leader speaks with delegated authority as the product of rank and position in a hierarchical ladder. Adherence to orders by those under his command may be enforceable by law; yet depending too much on authority and not enough on powers of persuasion can be dangerous.
If he fails to encourage the individual’s freedom of action, the leader is ignoring the importance of initiative in times of difficulty, especially under conditions of separation and disunity, when his orders may be unheard, ignored, or when he may fall a casualty. While maintaining discipline, the leader must realize that he is dependent upon his men to achieve his assigned goal; he can neither act alone nor account for all individuals at all times. The leader must convince his men that they have a vital concern in achieving the assigned objective by using every available means of persuasion, including his own personal powers of persuasion. Once the bonds between leader, led, and cause are broken, persuasion fails.
We must not assume that an effective organization exists due to the presence of structure and authority. An effective organization or group retains its integrity, and hence its ability to act, even under stress. In times of no stress, the difference between an effective group and a hollow organization may not be easily discernible. In times of stress, however, an organization held together by nothing more than fear of punishment dissolves.
Control of a group under stress, then, is the combination of the leader’s individual self-discipline in continued pursuit of his mission and man-to-man confrontation, leader-to- led, stronger-to-weaker. Less aggressive individuals gain strength when united with more resolute, confident, and experienced individuals. Social
pressures operating to discourage shirking and bolster courage make the whole infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. Group identification so developed leads to “positive disci' pline,” namely "the development of that state of mind in which individuals endeavor to do the right thing, with or without specific instructions. An armed force whose policies discourage initiative, denies the realities of combat and risks failure.
In forming a cohesive and effective organization, the military leader is 3 persuader. To illustrate certain unique features of his positon, it may be useful to compare a military leader to 3 more conventional persuader, a polib- cian speaking to an audience. Bod1 men seek to influence the actions °f their listeners. Both accept the burden of persuasion, in that both can succeed only by persuading their listeners t° adopt their course of action.
By coming to speak, a convention3! orator accepts certain preconditions that rhetorical theorist Carroll Arnold, in Criticism of Oral Rhetoric (Ne'v York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974), describes as "unspoken contracts of speaking- The orator accepts that the audience at that time will determine the effectiveness of his persuasive techniques, that his audience does not promise to judge his propositions favorably simply because they allow him to speak, that he has no special authority to compel h*s audience to act, that his character and personality may be counted in anf evaluation of his message, and that he is essentially a visitor. The conventional speaker must realize that some listeners require more evidence 1(1 support of his contentions than do others.
The military leader is placed m1' tially in a different position from the conventional orator, or advocate. The military leader is appointed, with au thority vested in him by virtue rank. He governs his actions according to the institution empowering him- His leadership is authoritarian, defined as "characterized by unquestioning obedience to authority rather than individual freedom of judgment and
Proceedings / February 19^
Settings / February 1979
If a conventional audience may be described as “natural," a military audience is “forced” or “fixed,” and its Members have less freedom of move- HHent in and out of the leader's “audience.”
Many of the “unspoken contracts” aPply to the military leader. Morale and identification do not happen autornatically in forced groups. They must be developed. Also, forced groups may present problems of resentment and friction.
Like the conventional advocate, the military leader must accept that his character and personality will be regarded by his audience as part of his Persuasive ability. Conventional persuasion n?ay involve a single speech or Senes of speeches, often with the aid °f extensive public relations cam- Pa*gns. The military leader, on the other hand, must employ verbal or non-verbal persuasion at all/ times, in daily dealings in and out of stress. Line of the military leader’s most cru- c*al forms of persuasion is his personal conduct. And while the conventional advocate strives to give an impression of Person-to-person contact in his speak- lng> the bulk of the military leader’s Persuasion will be through actual Person-to-person contact.
In tailoring his appeals to his audi- ^nce> a conventional orator may ad- ress factions, or sub-groups, of his audience most favorable to his mesSage, and may ignore or “write off” all 0t^er sub-groups. He may even pur- P°sely make his message ambiguous or 'Complete in order to appeal to vari- °Us factions. In conventional advoCacy> such adaptations are effective, ar*d in many cases are desirable. The ^'litary leader cannot do this and still J^aintain a unified, cohesive audience.
. he military leader must recognize the lrriportance of all individuals—moti- Vated and unmotivated—on the Soup's overall capability. He has no
0lce but to address the whole, and not the parts.
Whereas appeals to the emotions tTlay not be as acceptable or appropriate as those to the understanding in °nventional advocacy, appeals to the tfotions are neither unusual nor un-
desirable in military situations.
A final important distinction must be made. The setting of both conventional persuasion and military leadership in non-stressful situations may be considered stable. During times of stress, however, military leadership takes place under conditions of great instability. Accordingly, the theory of military leadership must include preparations for this eventuality.
In organizing a group, a military leader must strive to develop those latent talents of men most necessary in maintaining order, stability, and direction in combating the effects of disorder, instability, and confusion. Realistic training which reflects an understanding of the ultimate stressful situation is the next step, because a group must not only maintain itself; it must advance.
Since the military situation is set in an ever changing, unpredictable arena, training should be designed not just to prepare men to withstand it, but to take advantage of it. Often dangerous situations are stifled by, and battles won by, individual acts of valor, by individuals acting with or without specific direction. Therein lies the true test of leadership—whether men continue acting, striving, and exhibiting group identification in the manner the leader would wish when he is no longer present. In sum, training must prepare. It should stimulate, and not strangle men’s minds. A man who is aware of dangers will not be surprised by them. A man who is able to take advantage of opportunity will not fear it. An organization prepared for a setting will react well to it.
In war, the advantage goes to those whose tactics and men can accommodate change readily. It is a state of mind we should jealously guard. Alfred Thayer Mahan warned of the conservative impulse in military thinking that was slow to adapt to new methods of weaponry and tactics. In Mahan’s words, "History shows that it is vain to hope that military men [will do this] but that the one who does will go into battle with a great advantage. ...”
Effective military leaders, 1 would argue, share many of the same characteristics across the spectrum of differing political systems and ideologies. They are marked by imagination, resourcefulness, forehandedness, and dash. They are enterprising and daring. They organize and direct armies and navies with a common goal in mind— victory.
At higher levels of responsibility, all parts of the naval establishment must be led and managed by naval officers concerned with the combat readiness of the organization.
This distinction is made because the naval establishment encompasses many functions that place unique demands upon leadership, and that it would be mistaken to formulate a plan encompassing them all. In doing so, it recognizes the importance of all branches of the naval establishment in achieving combat readiness.
A study of leadership which begins with an examination into the causes and conduct of war carries with it other advantages, besides ensuring that combat readiness is not forgotten. In appreciating the significance of individual acts and small instances of initiative in accomplishing the greatest of objectives, the student also develops a state of mind that appreciates freedom of action in other areas of human activity. In short, he must take a “microcosmic” approach to history, politics, and sociology.
Breaking down any great and complex phenomenon into its components shows us that any given operation is the sum of many small, human parts making up a “pyramid.” The officer is given charge of a part of the entire picture—a part that, his study reveals, can and does make a difference, and as a result he may sense a real ability to influence, to change, and to contribute. A great part of his leadership will involve fostering a similar sense of self-importance and vitality in those he leads. One sailor in an electronics shack on a single ship may feel insignificant until and unless he realizes that if his job is not performed well, men’s lives may be placed in jeopardy by his commissions or omissions, directly or indirectly.