Academic journal article Military Review

Personality Styles of Effective Soliders

Academic journal article Military Review

Personality Styles of Effective Soliders

Article excerpt

The military is composed of two fundamentally different types of individuals, each with unique advantages and weaknesses.

Both types are always present in the military population to a greater or lesser degree. Times of peace favor one style; conflict favors the other. Unfortunately, US military forces tend to enter conflict with an incorrect balance of these types, thus suffering greater initial losses than necessary.

MANY OF THE MILITARY'S efforts are directed toward developing, refining and procuring hardware. Less effort is being made, however, to profiling personality styles of the successful professional soldier. What makes a good "war asset"? This article asserts that the military is composed of two fundamentally different types of individuals, each with unique advantages and weaknesses. Both types are always present in the military population to a greater or lesser degree. Times of peace favor one style; conflict favors the other. Unfortunately, US military forces tend to enter conflict with an incorrect balance of these types, thus suffering greater initial losses than necessary, due as much to inadequate leadership as to failed hardware. This tragedy is both predictable and preventable.

Psychologists have labeled and developed tests for many different personality characteristics. The American Psychiatric Association lists approximately a dozen types of personality disorder, including proposed and established entities, in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.' A personality disorder is said to exist when the individual has only a limited number of coping strategies, some of which may be dysfunctional, and is diagnosed only when the style causes "significant difficulty in social or occupational functioning."' Individuals with personality disorders have difficulty prospering in the military. Military life, with its frequent changes in job and locale, requires considerable flexibility, which the disordered individual usually lacks.

A consequence of having any sort of personality, however, is having a personality style. These styles mirror the traits that, in extreme forms, are labeled disorders. Some of these traits are becoming popular ters, such as "narcissistic" and "histrionic," while others are less commonly used. The labels capture a certain style of being that colors how people think, act and react -the decisions they make and why they make them.

To provide a nonpejorative label to these groups, I will use an idea coined by the American Psychiatric Association in their diagnostic manual, which groups these different styles into three major groupings, or clusters.' Cluster A comprises people who are described as odd or unusual. Cluster B is a collection of styles of people prone to externalizing, who deal with psychological tension by directing it outward toward the external world. Cluster C contains people prone to anxiety, who tend to internalize (worry, ruminate) about their conflicts. To apply common labels, for example, most introverts are found in cluster C and most extroverts are found in cluster B, although this is only one aspect of their stylistic difference.

On the whole,, the military is composed of healthy and effective individuals. Many of the most dysfunctional styles are weeded out early. This includes nearly all of cluster A population. The styles seen in abundance among the career military, therefore, are mainly representatives from clusters B and C. Psychologists would tend to label cluster Bs as mildly Antisocial or Narcissistic. Those individuals who are in cluster C are mainly variants of the ObsessiveCompulsive or Dependant Personality styles.

There are differences in how effectively individuals employ a given personality style. Most trial lawyers, politicians, police officers and juvenile delinquents, for example, all share the same basic style but differ in how effectively they employ it to meet their needs. One noted psychologist, Harrison Gough, rates individuals not just by style but on how well they have obtained the best qualities of that style. …

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