A prescription for how the Army leaders can demonstrate emotional intelligence and communicate change better during a time of creative destruction, based on the author’s doctoral research and dissertation.
by Dr. Bozena “Bonnie” Berdej
The Army is going through creative destruction now. To respond to future threats, the Army has to change and continue reorganizing. Because of these pressing needs, leaders stand up new organizations to engage creativity and innovation. Policies change frequently to ensure efficiency. Leaders have to work around budget and schedule constraints while keeping their workforce agile and committed.
Creative destruction is necessary. It does not have to be entirely bad, but it comes with risks. Leaders have to clearly communicate their intentions and encourage feedback. Otherwise, creative destruction could potentially cost many millions of dollars in low morale, turnover and low organizational effectiveness, based on my study of the literature surrounding the correlation of creative destruction, leader emotional intelligence, communication and organizational effectiveness.
Let me explain.
Creative destruction is the idea that, to evolve, an organization must shed products and practices that don’t work or have become outdated in favor of newer and more innovative ideas that enable it to become more agile and responsive to the customer. Organizational effectiveness is a combination of five elements: leadership, decision-making, people, culture and commitment. Creative destruction and organizational effectiveness dovetail when leaders and employees learn soft skills—emotional intelligence, and its subset, communication. Emotional intelligence is the ability to master one’s emotions and work with emotions of others to achieve desired outcomes through building effective relationships and clearly communicating.
The Army operates in a multidimensional environment driven by needs, events and calendars. The Army Staff College refers to this as a need, event and calendar-driven multidimensional operational environment. In particular, the three systems driving the Army’s decision-making are the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System; the planning, programming, budgeting and execution cycle; and the Defense Acquisition System. All three combined are responsible for materiel and capability development, and multi-year planning for resources, manpower and programs.
It is common practice to change policies and guidance several times per year while leaving the acquisition workforce to interpret the intent behind the changes. For example, in January 2020, DOD Instruction (DODI) 5000.02T and DODI 5000.02 were issued in efforts to simplify the existing guidance and to establish a distinction between DOD Direction 5000.01 and DODI 5000.02. To effectively implement these and many other changes, leadership needs to operate in a leader-follower collaborative setting because decision-making is no longer a singular process driven by the command-and-control approach to leadership. In this operational environment, leaders need to seek feedback from the functional working levels before they make decisions promoting innovation or other forms of change.
While creative destruction happens within the Army and often affects the workforce negatively, there are also things done well. When the U.S. Army Futures Command was stood up, Lt. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, announced that the future Army will stand on three pillars:
- Futures and concepts.
- Combat development.
- Combat systems.
Ostrowski took the time to travel and meet with the acquisition workforce to communicate his vision. Change is hard, he said in one interview, and “the key is to understand and be able to move forward in a multidomain fight against a peer or near-peer competitor.”
He continued by emphasizing that the Army needs to empower others to make decisions and take risks. During the standup of the Army Futures Command, leaders effectively delegated authorities to program executive offices (PEOs) and program managers (PMs), enabling them to focus on capability development rather than getting to a milestone.
This communication and empowerment initiative worked well. It was clearly communicated and executed. What I believe needs to happen next is PEO and PM leaders need to empower their workforce to make decisions and take risks.
This is important because when leaders do not empower others to make decisions and take risks, they develop unreasonable goals, reduce team effectiveness and eliminate brain power. This is because we think outside of the box and meaningfully contribute our knowledge when we know that someone believes in us. For example, readers may remember the 1968 study that identified the Pygmalion effect, which demonstrated that positive expectations influence performance. Similarly, the 1920s Hawthorne experiment showed that paying attention to others improved productivity.
My review of evidence also indicates that decisions made without employees’ contributions can have devastating effects on organizations. Jerald M. Liss, in his 2013 study “Creative Destruction and Globalization: The Rise of Massive Standardized Education Platforms,” argued that creative destruction managed in this way eliminates specialized knowledge responsible for creativity and innovation while focusing on efficiency, and it erodes employee morale or trust in the leadership. For example, had Army leaders listened to their experts in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle program of the 1960s, they could have avoided the staggering cost of redesigns and modifications. Several dedicated leaders left, removing their specialized knowledge from the program. The Bradley was in production for 17 years, costing billions of dollars.
Even more importantly, as I learned during the two and half years of research for my dissertation, leaders play a critical role in eliminating such devastating effects of creative destruction on organizational effectiveness. For example, leaders who do not seek feedback almost always negatively impact all five elements that comprise organizational effectiveness (leadership, decision-making, people, culture and commitment). Employees look to their leaders for wise and transparent decisions, which demonstrate that leaders are vested in the well-being of their organizations as well as their employees. They expect them to share and listen to what is really happening in their organization. What is more, if leaders and followers practice effective two-way communication, it assists leaders in demonstrating good stewardship of taxpayer money. As Frederick Herzberg stated in his 1974 study, “Motivation-Hygiene Profiles,” organizations are only as healthy as their employees.
COMMUNICATING TO BUILD THE FUTURE ARMY
Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan, in their 2001 book “Creative Destruction,” claim that when communication is lacking, employees change how they perceive their leaders. They don’t view the leaders as worthy of following. Instead, employees see them as task-oriented managers who, by some unexplained chance, became leaders.
As the 2018 Army Strategy states, the Army is responsible for deploying, fighting and winning our nation’s wars. Being responsible for something or someone requires knowledge. Leaders need to understand their employees and their values to appropriately assess how they can make their organizations better. My review of the literature on emotional intelligence and communication can shed some light on this issue. For example, can an organization be effective without communication?
To better understand, let’s talk about the communication systems for a moment. In 1948, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver proposed the mathematical theory of communication. Their mathematical linear communication model included only phones and tested several communication channels, which were responsible for distorting the original message. The findings showed that there are hidden messages with vital information that never get to the recipient unless they are decoded—e.g., a decoder for this study could be a cellphone turning data into readable messages. Although the study model was called the “mother of all communication” models, it did not provide clear answers regarding how to decode hidden messages. It wasn’t until 1954 when Wilbur Schramm, in his book “The Process and Effects of Mass Communications,” demonstrated that in order to decode hidden messages, there must be a human factor involved. He claimed that emotions are key elements required to discover hidden messages in a conversation. Today, Schramm’s theory is the most commonly used communication theory, showing the impossibility of communicating without involving people. Both leaders and followers are responsible for effective communication. Moreover, you can’t effectively communicate without understanding emotions, which leads us to emotional intelligence.
The clarity of the verbal messages is just as important. It is required to understand the purpose and goals of the message, and to keep the workforce motivated. In my experience, when people do not understand why change needs to happen, they resist it. Schramm’s theory also demonstrated that communication is a critical part of emotional intelligence (See Figure 1).
Communication problems don’t apply to leaders only. There are organizations within Army acquisition in which leaders call employees “leaders” regardless of official positions. Inherent in this idea is that everyone is expected to act like a leader.
Army Futures Command headquarters personnel have to embrace cultural change and adopt a more corporate train of thought. As Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby, Army Futures Command principal adviser to the commander and staff, said, “Don’t get in the box, don’t even use a box—get rid of the box.” The Army’s modernization goals push many outside their comfort zone. So the responsibility to communicate falls on both formal and informal leaders. During the development of the Bradley program, leaders broke upward and downward communication, causing confusion and resistance. Is there a similar trend happening now in your organization? If there is, what do you do about it?
ADJUSTING PERSONALITIES TO CHANGE ARMY CULTURE
As noted, the Army is in the business of protecting, defending and winning. We work hard, day in and day out, to successfully complete our mission. The environment we are in is complex. Changes happen almost too fast to keep up. To embrace the culture of the future, we need to ensure that we avoid the Bradley mishaps by communicating what is significant upward and downward. Reviewing the literature on emotional intelligence, I found that emotional intelligence has to co-exist with communication. Emotional intelligence ensures that all leaders, formal and informal, take an active role in the well-being of their organizations through effective relationship-building and based on clear communication. More importantly, if the Army is to effectively modernize, leaders must want to improve their own thinking before they can improve their organizations.
Emotional intelligence points to self-awareness as an important element of the self-improvement process. A leader must first become aware of who he is, then reflect on it, and finally apply this knowledge to make the necessary changes. In a 2019 interview, Crosby mentioned that he does not “go to someone who has been in uniform for 20 or 30 years because they think the same.” The Army Futures Command is the biggest organizational revolution since 1973, and so must our thinking be to catch up.
So, is emotional intelligence a key component of organizational effectiveness? No, but it is the key component of leader effectiveness (see Figure 2). In his book “What Makes a Leader,” Daniel Goleman found that almost every effective leader has some level of emotional intelligence. This explains why emotional intelligence is significant when addressing change, which is often necessary, but never easy.
Change requires communication skills and empathetic behaviors. Think about change in your family. How would you communicate difficult news? Would you just let it out, or would you look for ways to reduce tension or pain? Once, a leader other than my direct supervisor informed me in a quite emotionless way that I was reassigned to a different project. This had a strong impact on trust: it changed my perception of the leaders in my organization, and made me see what my leaders were lacking.
The 2020 Army People Strategy states that people are the Army’s No. 1 priority. If that’s true, why do people often feel like they are the last priority in their organizations? Leaders talk about open communication channels and open-door policies, but what is the open-door policy? Where is the door? Do you trust your leaders enough to communicate a problem? Do you feel like your leaders have already made a decision before you even knocked on their door?
HOW TO MOVE FORWARD
How do we tackle these interrelated problems? For starters, I believe that leaders should talk to their followers and understand what is important to them. Then, rotate their employees internally to where they can grow. This way, they can align their organization’s objectives with their employees’ objectives. Put your table of distribution and allowances aside and think “employees.” As a result, people will feel motivated to go above and beyond for their organizations. This is because instead of being stuck in one position, they get the opportunity to prove their skills in other positions within a different branch or division in their organizations. Also by doing so, leaders show that they rely more on discovering their existing assets because they try to minimize the disruptive component of creative destruction. For example, when the Army Futures Command stood up cross-functional teams, leaders suddenly reorganized priorities. What was a top priority before became secondary now. There was chaos. Urgent efforts were no longer urgent and people started to question trust. The hard work of many seemed no longer important. Organizations had to compete for additional funding to support often unreasonable and unachievable goals.
For these reasons, leaders should evaluate whether change is really necessary. It is possible that someone intentionally promotes the development of a new technology to encroach on a competing company’s mission or to give the appearance of innovation. This approach often falsely necessitates hiring outside sources while eliminating internal assets, thus increasing cost. Emotionally intelligent leaders likely will put their people first when new requirements come in and ensure that they recognize their hard work. In case of the Army Futures Command’s requirements, leaders did not always reassign projects effectively and did not communicate the benefits of such reprioritization. Leaders implemented new requirements, removing the human factor from the equation.
In discussing these issues with people I work with, it seems that while experience is important, it cannot be the decisive factor when selecting new leaders. The notion that experience makes a leader could not be further from the truth. I have seen formal leaders who were great in managing tasks but poor at influencing others, and informal leaders who affected change but did not get a promotion because they did not have the requisite experience. Just as our thinking needs to change, our hiring process also needs to work “outside of the box” if we are to embrace the new culture.
Hiring officials should select leaders on the basis of their ability to work effectively with others, and never based solely on their experience. Choosing leaders based primarily on experience or internal politics can result in the loss of valuable assets as well as organizational stability. If we ought to change the way we think, as Crosby envisioned the innovative Army teams able to meet the requirements of the 2019 Army Modernization Strategy, we need to hire “outside the box” and move away from traditional standards dictating who fits and does not fit leadership roles.
If I wanted to summarize my research in one sentence, it would be, “Be responsible for others.” Whatever we do, there is always someone watching us and learning from us. Whether we are the Army’s leaders, acquisition professionals, or simply someone in a cubicle, we have to take responsibility for others. It is not easy to place someone in front of yourself. However, isn’t that exactly what we do in the Army? Don’t we all work toward the common goal and do the best for the Soldier? Occasionally we may forget how meaningful our jobs are. So, attempting to meet the complex Army modernization requirements, which require fresh and innovative thinking, and keeping the acquisition workforce motivated enough to contribute its ideas, I want to ask you: What kind of a leader are you? Are you making a difference in your organization or are you just managing tasks?
Excessive change will continue to happen as the Army continues to modernize. How effectively leaders address change, and guide their organizations through it, depends on leaders’ emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence allows for feedback and establishes clear communication channels, which improves organizational effectiveness. The five elements of organizational effectiveness require everyone to take responsibility for themselves and others.
I suggest that leaders consider emotional intelligence training to improve the use of creative destruction and optimize its effects on organizational effectiveness. Managers may want to focus more on influencing others to think outside of the box through motivation and inspirations.
Most importantly, to improve organizational effectiveness, leaders should assess the existing leadership positions and make sure that organizational leaders remain properly aligned and focused.
For more information, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This article is based on the author’s approved doctoral research. Her dissertation, “Leader emotional intelligence as a response to creative destruction and its effects on organizational effectiveness,” closely reflects her people-centered leadership values. The author strongly believes that one cannot become an effective leader without having the desire to grow others. Therefore, the concept of emotional intelligence is, in her view, a critical element in effective leadership. Her extensive research delivers evidence that empathy and social skills are two indispensable facets of emotional intelligence required for building effective organizations.
BOZENA “BONNIE” BERDEJ serves as the senior business management specialist supporting the acquisition team at the Joint Program Executive Office for Armaments and Ammunition at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey. She began her government career there in 2009 as a procurement analyst in the Project Manager for Close Combat Systems, advancing to become the senior business management specialist in the Project Manager for Conventional Ammunition Systems before assuming her current responsibilities. She holds a doctoral degree in management from University of Maryland University College. A member of the Army Acquisition Corps since 2012, she is Level III certified in program management and in security cooperation, and is Level I certified in business financial management. She holds a Black Belt Six Sigma certification.
Creative destruction—A process through which something new brings about the demise of whatever existed before it.
Emotional intelligence—The ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
Organizational effectiveness—The concept of how well an organization achieves the outcomes it intends to produce.
This article is published in the Spring 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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