Measuring Morale, Cohesion and Confidence in Leadership: What Are the Implications for Leaders?

Article excerpt


Although high morale, unit cohesion, and confidence in leadership are considered by military leaders to be essential elements for victory on the battlefield, research indicates that officer assessments of these variables are generally inaccurate. To assist commanding officers in these assessments, the Unit Climate Profile was developed for use with Canadian soldiers in deployed operations. Using data collected from soldiers in Bosnia over a three-year period, the present study was designed to test a model of the relations between morale, cohesion, confidence in leadership, coping strategies, stress, and strain. It was hypothesized that as morale, cohesion, and confidence in leadership are conceptually similar to social support, they would moderate the relation between stress and strain. Structural equation modeling and hierarchical regression were used to test the proposed model and several moderating effects. Results indicate that positive coping, task cohesion, and social cohesion moderate the relation between stress and strain such that those individuals who reported using or seeking higher levels of these resources experienced lower strain. Conversely, negative coping was found to moderate the relation between stress and strain such that those individuals who reported using negative coping strategies tended to report experiencing more strain compared to people who used positive strategies. Finally, positive coping, confidence in one's platoon commander and company commander were found to play underlying or mediating roles in the generation of the interaction between cohesion variables and strain. Implications for leaders in the maintenance of morale and cohesion are discussed.

Throughout the history of warfare, high morale, unit cohesion, and capable command have been considered by military leaders to be essential elements for victory on the battlefield (e.g., Kellett, 1982; Mengelsdorff, 1999; Richardson, 1978). According to Wintle's (1989) collection of historical military writings, Xenophon (circa 394 B.C.E) was sure the army "stronger in soul" would be victorious in battle, and Napoleon felt that "moral considerations" accounted for three quarters of the outcome in war. It is clear little had changed the minds of 20th century leaders when Montgomery (1958) stated that "the morale of the soldier is the greatest single factor in war" (p. 36). But how did these leaders assess the level of morale in their own forces and in those of their opponents? How did they understand the relation between morale and physical and mental health? How did they gauge the importance of leadership? Although we have little historical data to examine these questions, we can examine how present day military leaders monitor these variables, the accuracy of their assessments and how this information is used for decision-making purposes.

American, European, and Canadian research indicates that officer perceptions of soldier morale, cohesion, and confidence in leadership are generally inaccurate. For example, Stouffer and his colleagues (Stouffer, Suchman, DeVinney, Star, & Williams, 1949) found that US Army officers in World War II (WW II) had consistently inflated views of their subordinates' attitudes toward a range of military issues including pride in the outfit, desire to be a soldier, satisfaction with the job and the importance of the infantry. Similarly, Korpi (1965) found that Swedish officers had "very unreliable notions of the opinions in their units" (p. 302) and that officers were generally unaware that their perceptions of subordinate morale might be inaccurate. Interestingly, the greater confidence officers expressed in their assessments the larger the error in their predictions.

More recently, Canadian officers have fared no better. Eyres (1998) found that although all ranks were generally satisfied with leadership at the non-commissioned member (NCM) levels within the unit, this was not the case for leadership at the officer level. …