By Brandon White
U.S. Army Civil Affairs NCO, Specialist Brandon White, Team 4713, Alpha Company, 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, delivers backpacks and school supplies to children in El Triunfo, Choluteca, Honduras, January 15, 2020. Photo by SSG Robert Hames.
Civil Affairs (CA) Soldiers are expected to possess a unique combination of professional knowledge, a proficiency in basic soldier skills, and exceptional critical thinking. More importantly, we must consistently exhibit expert judgment, professionalism, integrity, and trustworthiness. These attributes, which are encompassed in the 8 ARSOF Core Attributes, are even more critical in a deployed environment because of our considerable latitude at the team level to shape our missions and build relationships. These demands apply consistent emotional pressure throughout the deployment; therefore, team success can often hinge on each Soldier’s level of emotional intelligence.
According to Emotional Intelligence 2.0, emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships…It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.” Most Reserve Component (RC) CA Soldiers receive limited training or feedback on EQ before deploying in small, highly independent, and relatively isolated teams for nine months or longer. For that reason, it would benefit RC Soldiers to incorporate EQ training into professional development and use it to assess small group dynamics when composing teams for deployments.
Our peers in SOF Civil Affairs go through an initial selection process that stresses them to their physical and psychological limits. At the end of which, peer evaluations allow for the removal of Soldiers who fail to consistently demonstrate the ARSOF Core Attributes and who are unable to work with others in the most stressful situations. The RC does not have a similar selection process, therefore Soldiers who cannot adapt to the unique CA mission set are never identified.
More critically, the process for finalizing a deployment roster typically only covers a Soldier’s willingness to deploy, possessing the appropriate rank, an active Government Travel Charge Card, “green” medical readiness, and completing a number of “click-through” online courses. Meeting these requirements is often a higher, more urgent priority for Commanders than team cohesion and interpersonal dynamics. Therefore, RC CA Teams may be composed of competent and qualified Soldiers on paper, but many may lack the EQ needed to thrive in our dynamic, demanding environment. Without the tools to identify potentially toxic leaders and followers and to teach Soldiers about the importance of EQ, Commanders and Team Leaders are more likely to deploy teams who will struggle to navigate their own social complexities and will ultimately be less effective.
Before my recent rotation to Central America, my team’s roster was finalized only a few weeks before our deployment. Our four team members had not all met face-to-face until we arrived for mobilization. This led to a fairly steep learning curve about how best to work with each other, and given the highly relationship-based nature of our mission, our success relied on our ability to learn, adapt, and quickly grow as both individuals and as a team. As we all learn in stressful military environments, we are rarely at peak mental and emotional health while under stress. Although we may appear collected and secure on the surface, Soldiers may often be fatigued by home or mission-related stressors, insecure in our abilities to meaningfully contribute to the team, or agitated by other Soldiers we are with 24/7. That is why tools that can identify behavioral tendencies under stressful conditions can be particularly important resources for RC CA soldiers.
Looking back over my career in the Reserve Component, there were opportunities throughout monthly battle assemblies or even during pre-mobilization to incorporate EQ training, without distracting from other training requirements. The following tests and tools, when used in combination, can provide a detailed picture of your personality, help enhance self-awareness, and improve overall EQ.
Individual/Team level: Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and DISC Assessment
Enneagram Personality Test: The Enneagram is a diagram of the human psyche represented by 9 interconnected personality types, each with its own archetypal characteristics that aims to describe your basic personality based on inborn temperament and other prenatal factors. The test identifies you as one of the 9 personality types but also offers an assessment of how each type shares qualities of other types, for example during times of security or stress. The test accounts for how, in a secure environment, you may exhibit positive traits of a second type, and in a stressful environment you may exhibit toxic qualities from a third type.
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Seven months into our rotation and eight months as a team, our chaplain encouraged us to take the Enneagram and participate in his class on small team dynamics and emotional intelligence. Prior to the class, we were instructed to take the 15-minute test and study our type. Once the chaplain explained the methodology and the various layers of analysis involved in each personality description, it was almost as though there had been a fly on the wall during our eight months together, accurately describing our intricate team dynamics, both positive and negative.
RC CA teams will find the Enneagram most useful because it describes your personality traits when you are secure and healthy as well as when you are insecure and stressed, both as a leader and a follower. This was extraordinarily helpful in improving my own self-awareness, as well as my knowledge and understanding of my teammates. Armed with this knowledge, individual Soldiers will be better able to adjust their behavior and be a more constructive and positive influence on others. Team members can also more intelligently communicate and empathize with each other to maximize the effectiveness of the team in all environments.
Additionally, there are Enneagram resources to help identify paths to success and potential pitfalls to avoid when certain combinations of personality types work together. The entire process of taking the test and discussing the results with our chaplain took one hour. Had our team conducted this training at the start of our deployment, we may have avoided some of the difficulties and growing pains we encountered during our first few weeks and months.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): The MBTI is designed to determine how individuals view the world, process information, and confront problems. It divides personality traits into four categories which identify the participant as one of 16 personality types, displayed as a four-letter identifier (ex: INTJ). Prior to our deployment, my team took this test and found it to be helpful and fairly insightful because it challenged us to think about our demeanors and personalities, and more clearly identify our approaches to problem-solving, our motivations, and our values. However, it lacked analysis of how we approach interpersonal relationships under stress as provided by the Enneagram. We also found that the results from the test linked above placed a positive spin on our personality results, comparing us to greats like Albert Einstein, Oprah Winfrey, or Barack Obama, that were less useful to us in navigating our team dynamics.
DISC Assessment: The DISC is a behavioral assessment which centers individuals based on traits of Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C) and can be helpful in assigning work tasks or determining how to solve problems collectively. This test is valuable in determining how you will behave in a small team environment and your style for working closely with others. However, the DISC did not help us in identifying strengths or weaknesses or toxic behaviors in stressful environments.
Company Level: Peer Evaluations
In the Civil Affairs AIT course at JFK-SWCS, our cadre implemented a peer evaluation exercise. We were asked to rank the top 5 and bottom 5 Soldiers we would like to work with and provide 1-2 sentences explaining our ranking. The votes were then tallied to create a ranking of all Soldiers based on their respective votes received. The results were not binding on our completion of the course and the evaluations stayed at the schoolhouse. However, the final published results were instructive because we were able to see what others thought of us in an anonymous way, and then reflect on how we interacted with and presented ourselves to the rest of the platoon.
A similar peer evaluation system could be implemented at the Company level on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. The Command Climate Survey may be useful for leaders, but there is no similar mechanism for soldiers to praise positive behavior or identify problems with each other as peers. While it may not be appropriate for these results to be binding on a Soldier’s career like an OER/NCOER, these peer evaluations would provide leaders with an additional tool to measure, predict, or improve team compatibility. Leaders could preempt issues that may arise and prepare courses of action to address them. In the most extreme cases, this could inform decisions to modify team compositions to improve chances of mission success.
With the insight provided by personality tests and peer evaluations, Soldiers and leaders will have the tools necessary to enhance their own self-awareness, raise their EQ, and improve any toxic behavioral tendencies they may have. Even without the catalyst of a mobilization, if RC CA units incorporate these tools into professional development and emphasize emotional intelligence as a valuable skill, Soldiers will be armed with a toolkit for enhanced self and social awareness, ensuring they are more positive influences in their units. Teams who are organized on short notice will be able to condense their interpersonal learning curves and better address the negative impacts low EQ could have on the mission. Most importantly, leaders will see their Soldiers pursuing self-improvement, not only in military skills and physical fitness, but in their emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Over time, these efforts will build a more capable and compatible Reserve Component CA force, better equipped to handle the unique emotional and psychological demands of the mission.
About the Author
Specialist Brandon White is a Civil Affairs Non-commissioned Officer at the 478th Civil Affairs BN, currently mobilized to Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Lewis University and a M.A. in International Relations from the University of Indianapolis. As a civilian, he currently works as a Consultant for National Security and Defense at Capgemini Government Solutions, previously served as a Legislative Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives, and resides in Washington, D.C.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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