Culture & Cognition in a Complex Megaorganization: Implications for Military Leadership

By Coates, Breena E.; Allen, Charles D. | Southern Business Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Culture & Cognition in a Complex Megaorganization: Implications for Military Leadership


Coates, Breena E., Allen, Charles D., Southern Business Review


Political scientist, Samuel Huntington (1993) posited that future global politics and conflicts would center on clashes between civilizations. Indeed, his prophetic words were realized in 2001 when individuals from a radical Islamic movement were willing to kill themselves and thousands of other innocent people in just such a clash of cultures and ideologies (Van Otten, 2005). The U.S. military commander, General Stanley McChrystal (2009) in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, stated that despite many deployments to the region, there is "much in Afghanistan I do not know." Though well -versed in military arts, the general's comment appeared, at least in part, to refer to the often baffling norms of the multicultural environment in Afghanistan. The recent 30,000 military personnel surge in Afghanistan announced by President Obama on December 1, 2009, and the $10. 6 billion in budget supplemental for 2010 atop the $14 billion spent since 2001, calls for renewed analyses on why conflict and chaos in the region has not subsided with both Soviet and American traditional use of overwhelming military force - hard power.

It is essential that the U.S. military adapt and accommodate interactions with other cultures and societies (Conway, 1995). Cultural understanding does not necessarily occur even after living in a given culture. We suggest that understanding comes in comes in successive stages as illustrated in Figure 1 . When organizational leaders appreciate and seek to progress through the stages, cultural understanding can be accelerated with positive effects. After nine years of military engagement, the U.S. collective understanding of the Afghan culture appears to have progressed beyond naivety to Stage 2, Superficial Understanding. The lack of sustained results and ongoing challenges in the region require U.S. civilian and military leaders to develop a Profound Understanding of the Afghan people and their society. Doing so may generate acceptance and commitment of the varied stakeholders and ultimately support the U.S. strategic vision for Afghanistan to become a secure and stable democratic nation. Profound understanding involves not just understanding the verbal, but also the nonverbal communications. The latter requires greater sophistication in reading communications and actions by key players, which will be addressed later in this paper.

How can America better win the hearts and minds of people from such distant civilizations and traditions as Afghanistan since the use of traditional military force as hard power has not worked? Nye (2008) argued that the crisis in the Middle East points to the sophistication in reading communications and actions by key players, which will be addressed later in this paper.

How can America better win the hearts and minds of people from such distant civilizations and traditions as Afghanistan since the use of traditional military force as hard power has not worked? Nye (2008) argued that the crisis in the Middle East points to the ineffectiveness of hard power and thus, other elements of power should be employed. Nye offered that global situations require a judicious combination of hard power that attempts to coerce and soft power that seeks to persuade. This integration becomes effectively SMART power designed to achieve strategic goals and interests. While the U.S. expends significant time, efforts and resources on the coercive elements of national power to keep its military without peer, the nation has tended to pay less attention to the softer elements of national power, which require awareness of cultural aspects in order to have successful combat operations and for the conduct of subsequent nation-building activities. We contend that cognitive influence on culture as part of soft power is another tool the military can develop to advance national security interests. This paper expands the notion of soft power into the realm of international relations. …

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Culture & Cognition in a Complex Megaorganization: Implications for Military Leadership
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