Friday, January 31, 2014

Developing Socio-Cultural Awareness in the Military

Sociocultural awareness is becoming more important in the military. At present there appears to be sociocultural gaps in military leadership development. The researcher Janice Lawrence believes that leaders will be called upon to engage socially across many different cultures and to build trust, create alliances, read intentions, and influence and understand people and their motivations (2011). This type of learning is fundamentally different and higher than previous learning. 

For decades the military has been at the helm of leadership development. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have highlighted some gaps. The development of higher sociocultural awareness helps leaders understand the local population, their needs, and their motivations. To create greater cross-cultural awareness requires skills in empathy, respect, genuine interest in others, flexible behavior, tolerance for ambiguity, open-mindedness, sociability, and initiative (Early & Ang, 2003). 

A failure to be culturally aware means that leaders may not be aware of the deeper issues at play. As all language contains a coding, transference and decoding process of signals it is necessary for leaders to understand the non-verbal cues of the local population to understand their emotions such as anger, happiness, disgust and many other facets to get a deeper picture of the local population. 

Situational awareness is important to military leaders but so is cultural awareness. It cannot be easily documented in a photograph or satellite picture. It requires an understanding of interests, habits, intentions, beliefs, social structure, and political systems (McFate, 2005). It is a subtle skill that should be rewarded in military training. 

There is a natural blending between military and social science. Leadership exists within a medium of culture. Culture is not finite or immobile and doesn’t exist by the same standard rules one might find in other sciences. The author indicates that sociocultural competence should be rewarded in the military as its impact in saving lives may be more profound than other methods.  To understand the situation and the people that have a natural impact on that situation can do much in being more effective strategically, socially, and militarily.

Comment: The subtle tones and non-verbal expressions can give an indication of how a person is receiving, interpreting, and adjusting to new information. When engaged in cross-cultural communications the specific nuances of human expression may be more important in determining intention than the words themselves. Understanding the local population, how they view the situation, and their likely actions, will help in improving upon effectiveness. Social skill at a deep neurological level that creates awareness is difficult to train but can be fostered. 

The same process applies to business leaders that may not have a strong grasp of the culture and the associated cognitive models within their workplace. It is possible to find workplaces where there are 2 or 3 different cultures that interpret information differently. Strategic changes will naturally have a different impact and interpretation to each of the different cultures. Understanding how a new strategic plan will be interpreted will impact its business effectiveness and the success of the organization.

Earley, P. & Ange, S. (2003). Cultural intelligence: individual interactions across cultures. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books. 

Laurence, J. (2011). Military leadership and the complexity of combat and culture. Military Psychology, 23

McFate, M. (2005). The military utility of understanding adversary culture.  Joint Forces Quarterly, 38.

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