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Strong Leadership Aids Warrior Resilience

Soldiers at ending of a Ceremony

U.S. Army photo by Sam Shore/Released

The power of leaders to influence the motivation and performance of their warriors is a proven and accepted part of military culture. In fact, research conducted by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research stresses the importance of leadership in influencing the resilience and performance of the warriors in their units. As operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe continue to demand peak performance from military personnel, it is critical for line leaders in each armed service to understand the positive impact they can have on their personnel.

What the Research Shows

The link between supportive leadership and unit performance has been explored by many researchers. In particular, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has examined the role of leadership as a way to prevent stress, minimize stress and reduce its adverse effects on the unit.

1. Preventing stress
Although line leaders can’t have control over some stressors — such as uncomfortable living conditions during deployment — they can do several positive things to help prevent stress within their units. Specifically, line leaders can:

  • Provide clear expectations for performance
  • Use rewards and punishments for performance fairly
  • Allow warriors to exercise judgment over how certain jobs are done
  • Provide support by expressing their concern for personnel’s welfare

2. Minimizing stress during challenging situations
Experiencing stress during deployment is a common reaction to uncommonly challenging events. Research shows that when stress does occur, units who perceived their leaders as supportive performed better. For example, units that viewed the job they were performing as insignificant showed low levels of hostility (a result of stress) when their leadership was supportive of them. In contrast, units performing similar jobs but saw their leaders as unsupportive showed high levels of hostility. Simply put, warriors with more supportive leadership showed less stress than warriors with less supportive leadership.

3. Reducing the adverse effects of stress
A warrior’s belief in his ability to accomplish his/her mission — sometimes called “self-efficacy” — is critically important to mission readiness. Strong leadership from NCOs and officers has been proven to drive self-efficacy in warriors, a key way to help warriors return to mission readiness following a stressful situation.

Learn How to Put the Theory into Practice

Because of the proven importance of effective leadership, each armed service provides extensive information tailored specifically for that service’s line leaders. Line leaders in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force can use the documents below to learn effective strategies for driving resilience and mission readiness in their units.

In addition, line leaders from every military service can read about practical tools and tactics for helping individuals in need of care. The article discusses how to identify personnel experiencing stress, manage personnel in a combat environment and provide support throughout the entire deployment cycle.

Strong and Supportive Leadership Works

Regardless of branch of service, stage of deployment or geographic location, strong and supportive leadership is a critical factor in driving mission readiness. Or in the words of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, “the actions leaders take directly [relate] to the amount of stress soldiers experience.” Every line leader can use the resources and information outlined above to provide that strong and supportive leadership to the men and women in their units.

Additional Resources


Britt, Thomas W., et al. “How Leaders Can Influence the Impact That Stressors Have on Soldiers.” Military Medicine. 169. 7:541. Published July 2004.

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