With a vision statement including the phrase fight and win our nation’s wars, it is no mistake the United States Army utilizes a psychodynamic approach to developing recruits during initial entry training. The fog of war necessitates decentralized leadership in chaotic environments. Therefore, understanding and developing the behaviors of soldiers is vital. According to de Vries, Florent-Treacy, & Korotov, (2013), “A psychodynamic approach to exploring human nature, when broadly defined, draws attention to the sources of energy and motivational forces that give impetus to, or create inertia against, human actions” (p, 67). During initial entry training, physical conditioning and basic combat skills are taught. Behavioral development of soldiers, however, through the understanding and adaption of the motivational forces that give impetus to their actions is the most crucial challenge to the drill instructors. In the winter of 1993, I attended initial entry training and experienced the psychodynamic approach first-hand as my drill instructor taught me the both the value of integrity and the limits of loyalty in one unforgettable lesson.
On the second day of basic training I was selected to be the platoon guidon bearer. A guidon is a flag or banner carried on a staff in front of every formation that represents the organization. Like the coat of arms in medieval times, a since of pride for the guidon is instilled. Like every basic training platoon, the guidon is simply a single color with the platoon number in the middle of it, in our case the number “3” for third platoon. Every third platoon in every company had the same guidon. None the less, I carried ours with pride, for about a week. Unfortunately, the pride turned to utter embarrassment when I lost the unit guidon.
The platoon marched in formation to dinner at the chow hall where I posted the guidon by driving the shaft in the ground near the door as was customary. But, for the first time, we were allowed to return to the barracks individually without marching. It was not until morning I realized I had forgotten the guidon. I snuck away and ran to the chow hall, but it was no longer where I left it. Needless to say, my drill instructor was not pleased when I reported it was lost. For the next week I was ridiculed by the entire platoon and made to perform pushups by the drill instructors every time we assembled in formation without the honored guidon. After a week, the drill instructor must have felt I had learned the lesson of responsibility. This lesson was straight forward and easily understood. The final two lessons, however, were taught with a psychodynamic approach.
The framework for applying the psychodynamic approach, according to Northouse (2016) includes: determining the rationale behind human behavior, a great deal of that rationale lies behind conscious awareness, the essence of human behavior is their ability to regulate their emotions effecting that rationale, and experiences develop behavior through the adaptation of rationale. My drill instructor addressed me in front of the entire platoon during the morning training events. He told me that I needed to get the platoon a guidon by any means necessary by the end of the day. He told me specifically not to steal one multiple times, and suggested finding ours, sewing together a new one by hand, or praying that God would delivery me one. He then emphasized not to steal another guidon. In my naivety, I realized that multiple third platoon guidons were posted outside the chow hall whenever we where there and perhaps his multiple declarations not to steal one were actually a suggestion to. This represents step one of the psychodynamic process. My drill instructor had laid a test to determine the rationale behind my behaviors.
Later that day the platoon marched to the chow hall for lunch. As the platoon began to assemble after eating, some of my fellow soldiers pointed out the presence of a red guidon with the number three embroidered on it. It was not our guidon and clearly belonged to another platoon still inside eating. As the platoon encouraged me to go take the guidon, I hesitated. My since of moral integrity was preventing me from stealing. As the entire platoon continued to pester me to go take the guidon, one of my good friends said that I should go ahead and take it and he was tired of the embarrassment of not having a guidon to represent the platoon. The second and third aspect of the psychodynamic process then occurred. Beyond my consciousness, my sense of loyalty to the organization and specifically my friend outweighed my sense of integrity, so I violated that moral obligation, ran forward, and grabbed the guidon. When my drill instructor emerged from the chow hall, he saw me standing with the guidon and praised me for restoring the platoon’s honor. What I did not know was the entire situation was a setup.
My drill instructor gave the commands and the platoon turned and began to march away from the chow hall. Not ten seconds later, another drill instructor yelled from the front of the chow hall for us to stop and return the stolen guidon that belonged to his platoon. My drill instructor ordered me to stop and the rest of the platoon to continue to the class building where we were headed for training. I do not remember the exact words used by both my drill instructor and the other drill instructor from whom I stole the guidon from. It is unlikely they would not be appropriate in this forum and they are not relevant to this discussion anyway. What are important, however, are the words my drill instructor said to me later that evening in his office. That is when he revealed to me that he knew I would steal a guidon that day because there was no other possible means for me to obtain one. He also stated he intentionally waited and watched from inside the chow hall to see if I would steal the guidon. He also told the other drill instructor that I had taken it and asked him to wait until the platoon started to march away before yelling for it. My drill instructor then told me that he was proud that I hesitated and had to be coerced by the group to steal the guidon. Then he explained the danger of loyalty to me. He warned me that the military places a strong emphasis on loyalty and rightfully so. He cautioned though, that if I became a leader, my sense of loyalty should never outweigh me sense of morality. This lesson, learned through the fourth point of the psychodynamic approach involving experiential development, has remained with me throughout my career and has influenced my decisions on multiple occasions.
According to Northouse (2016), “One of the objectives of a psychodynamic leadership development program is to create an opportunity for participants that provokes an exploration of hidden or unconscious rationale” (p. 308). The experience I had in my initial entry training in the Army with the lost guidon is a perfect example of one of those opportunities. My drill instructor searched to discover my innermost feelings that drove my behavior. He then provided an experience to alter and develop my character. This use of the psychodynamic approach to leadership was highly effective and represents just one example of how leadership within the military can be life-altering for those that experience it.
de Vries, M. F. K., Florent-Treacy, E., & Korotov, K. (2013). Psychodynamic issues in organizational leadership. The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Leadership, Change, and Organizational Development, 65. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/download/49913578/The_Wiley-Blackwell_handbook_of_the_psychology%E7%9A%84%E5%89%AF%E6%9C%AC.pdf#page=80
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage.