Leadership in Focus – Emotional Intelligence, Leadership and Resilience

Photo courtesy of Australian Army
Photo courtesy of Australian Army

It was a popular belief in the past that to build a soldier, we must first break the individual down and re-build them, removing all signs of the civilian, and constructing a warrior. Although this warrior ethos seemed to work effectively 20-30 years ago, its repressive nature is arguably ineffective in today’s Army. During this post I will suggest that it takes both cognitive and emotional intelligence to be an effective leader in a modern military, further, I will draw a linkage between emotional intelligence and resilience.

Leadership in the Army’s past was exercised within a draconian rigid hierarchy. Though emotional intelligence had its place, it was not a ‘leadership skill’ that was recognised nor promoted. The mere mention of emotional intelligence would more likely have been met with ‘eye rolling’ and claims of adopting a ‘touchy feely’ approach to soldiering. However, the modern Army has proven more proactive in understanding the developing science of emotional intelligence and its possible applications within Army. In fact, the developing science of emotional intelligence has taken a foothold as a valued leadership skill, and is considered a way forward.

The Army has become smarter in the way it leads, educates and develops its leaders; especially as the concept of emotional intelligence evolves, transforming concepts of command and leadership and applying it diligently in order to improve leadership methods and techniques.

Emotional intelligence is the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and our relationships.

Daniel Goleman, Author of Emotional Intelligence 1995

Many experts within the emotional intelligence field have developed leadership requirement models, which are based on the attributes required for a person to be successful in the art of leadership.


Figure 1: Leadership Requirements Model, Daniel Goleman, 2000

As depicted in Goleman’s model (Figure 1), there are four leadership requirements that should be fostered through improved emotional intelligence:

  • Ability to perceive emotions in oneself and in others
  • Ability to use emotions to facilitate thinking
  • Ability to understand emotion, emotional language and signals conveyed by emotion
  • Ability to manage emotion so as to attain specific goals

These same attributes are equally important in the military. Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, motivation and direction whilst working together to accomplish the mission. This postures the organisation to achieve its vision. Most would agree that the Army’s leadership attributes align with Daniel Goleman’s leadership requirement model.

Leadership education and development of these attributes start at initial training in Defence, whether someone steps forward to take the lead or is appointed. From the moment we put on the uniform, we are indoctrinated on the values, ideals and skills required to be an effective leader.

What is not understood well during ab-initio training is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is learnt through experience over time and is built upon through involvement and mentoring. It could be disputed that the military is not doing enough at pre-enlistment to assess an individual’s emotional intelligence. Conducting assessments to ensure they have both cognitive and emotional intelligence has not been completely developed. The process of assessing a candidate’s cognitive intelligence (IQ) simply provides an assessment of ones ability to process and retain information. It does not consider the candidate’s resilience and potential as a future effective leader. Currently only rudimentary emotional intelligence testing is done at recruiting and therefore candidates are not fully assessed on entry level emotional intelligence standards.

It is widely understood by western militaries and academics in the field of military leadership, that intelligence is more than cognitive, and that emotional intelligence can prove far more important in building and developing effective leadership. This is not to say cognitive intelligence is not important. To be a successful leader you need expert knowledge and skill in your chosen field to remain current, relevant and competent, however the art of leadership, especially in contemporary times, requires a more creative and innovative approach.

Emotional intelligence education, embedded in leadership training, can create positive effects for command and relationship management. This in turn could prove particularly helpful when dealing with operational challenges and post-adversity impacts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not to say that soldiers will not be affected by trauma, only that soldiers who are provided with emotional intelligence training will have more emotional resources to draw from and provide more skills to recover.

Emotional Intelligence – An Important Factor in Resilience

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can have a debilitating long-term effect on the individual and can negatively impact the Army’s performance and reduce its manpower.

Resilient leaders can recover quickly from setbacks, shock, injuries, adversity and stress while maintaining their mission and organisational focus

LTCOL (Ret) Gerald Sewell (USAR)

Published in the military review, ‘Emotional Intelligence and the Army Leadership Requirements Model’ recognises the necessity of building resilience training into their programs. The purpose of this training is to, firstly enhance resilience, but also to decrease susceptibility to PTSD, decrease incidence of undesirable destructive behaviours, and create a greater likelihood of post adversity growth and success. The five dimensions of their resilience training are:

  • Physical – Performing and excelling in physical activities that require aerobic fitness, endurance, strength, healthy body composition, and flexibility derived through exercise, nutrition and training.
  • Emotional – Approaching life challenges in a positive, optimistic way by demonstrating self-control, stamina and good character with your choice and action.
  • Social – Developing and maintaining trusted, valued relationships and friendships that are personally fulfilling and foster good communication, including a comfortable exchange of ideas, views and experiences.
  • Family – Being a part of a family unit that is safe, supportive and loving and provides the resources needed for all members to live in a healthy and secure environment.
  • Spiritual – Strengthening a set of beliefs, principles, or values that a person has; beyond family, institutional and societal sources of strength.

In addition, studies in the field of psychology suggest that leaders with emotional intelligence may prove vital in stressful combat situations where cognitive function is constrained. This lack of cognitive function often occurs in high pressure and stressful work environments. Soldiers in these situations are difficult to access and manage. Therefore a leader’s cognitive intelligence as a leadership strategy becomes less effective. Truly effective leaders are forced to use non-cognitive, emotional intelligence skills to maintain control, assess the challenges, take decisive action whilst building trust and being a source of strength.

Perhaps unlike other types of intelligence, emotional intelligence is not static. It can be continually built and developed over time. Nor is it easily assessed or measured. Assessing emotional intelligence is a relatively new field of study, however there are a number of programs that exist to measure an individual’s level of emotional intelligence.

Photo courtesy Australian Army
Photo courtesy Australian Army

Training Emotional Intelligence

Certainly, any training program needs to start somewhere. Assessment of potential recruits is an obvious beginning. Testing pre-enlistment, complemented by continual emotional intelligence education throughout a soldier’s career seems like the most apparent method of building better emotional intelligence, such as resilience in Australian soldiers. Achieving reliable pre-recruitment assessment may prove the greatest challenge and is recommended as an area for future research and development. Further, if a soldier is deployed on operations, continual theatre based emotional training may prove invaluable. Critical incident stress management teams could be trained to respond to stressful incidents to assist in the management of members directly after a traumatic incident exposure.

Decompression after operational service is also a concern. A Return of Service Obligation (ROSO) would compliment the current decompression policy, which may decrease the likelihood of long term mental health issues currently present in today Army. Further, a ROSO could be used to continue to develop coping strategies and resilience, which as stated are linked to Emotional Intelligence.

With regard to ongoing training, there are programs that exist already. They simply need to be reinvigorated and built upon. Programs such as adventure training, which by design apply war like stresses and emotions, are an excellent method of exposing personnel to their own emotional intelligence. It also promotes emotional self-awareness and enables one to become familiar with their feelings, stressors, weaknesses and strengths.

Without doubt, emotional intelligence is a key to real leadership success, however just as cognitive intelligence is not the only solution nor is emotional intelligence. For real leadership you need both cognitive intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ). Through the application of both, one can derive leadership intelligence (LQ).

Having LQ will allow you to demonstrate the relevant job knowledge and skills, while also demonstrating emotional intelligence of self and others. LQ allows us to switch between leadership styles to suit the situation. Situational leadership allows the leader to assess the circumstances and chose a style that best suits. Research clearly indicates that leaders who achieve the best results do not rely on one leadership style alone. A good leader uses an eclectic approach in order to ensure they provide an appropriate and measured response to any situation.

The Army is quickly embracing the importance of emotional intelligence concepts. Resilience and its potential to curb the instances and impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, having received considerable air-time recently. However, some still roll their eyes and scoff at the potential benefits of touchy-feely concepts such as emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence does not mean a softening of standards, nor the degrading of discipline, conversely, it means a more considered, balanced and educated approach where there is an understanding of the second and third order of effects.

The modern soldier is placed under enormous pressure professionally and emotionally to operate is today’s complex environment. Training soldiers on how to develop self-awareness, awareness of others, emotional management strategies, techniques to handle stressful situations should be at the forefront of any commander’s thoughts. Assessment at point of entry and education in the area of emotional intelligence is unquestionably the way forward.

About the author

Jason Moriarty is Regimental Sergeant Major of 12th/16th Hunter River Lancers in NSW.


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

One thought on “Leadership in Focus – Emotional Intelligence, Leadership and Resilience

  1. The introduction of the Battle Smart program at each point of entry into the ADF will go a long way towards providing tools that the individual can develop over a career within the ADF. For many that enlist, this is the first time they are dislocated from a family support network and within the fist few weeks they question their decision to enlist. To provide the initial coping mechanisms that the program delivers will allow them to manage their own emotions, supported by the exceptional staff within these training establishments.

    These tools can be developed throughout the ACO&STC through the conduct of EX Shaggy Ridge, EX Kokoda as well as during unit training. Resilience training can be introduced into the ACCC and the Subject One series of courses.

    Within he leadership realm it highlights the need to know your people. No need to be best mates, just know them and a little about them (family make up, background life experience, etc). When you invest that small amount of time in each one you will identify very quickly when things change, these can be both positive and negative changes. This is also important when it comes to report writing.

    Experience is a key factor, if we display what is right during those formative years, Army will benefit in the future, equally if they have a bad experience it becomes a challenge to regain their confidence.

Comments are closed.