Morale [muh–ral] – noun: the emotional or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc., especially in the face of opposition, hardship, etc.,: the morale of the troops. Add: The willingness and ability of the group to continue activity individually and as a whole in the face of increased adversity, discomfort, anxiety, or other distress.
Every now and again some very good questions are posed regarding what position to take on who should or should not train with a group, where the threshold for acceptance or rejection lies, and how does one enforce that threshold. Family groups or, as the more popular catch-phrase is used, “tribes” find this question to be even more complex to answer.
When it comes to family, be cognizant of the wherewithal of the willingness and ability of the person(s) in question to contribute and follow through with their commitment (you’ll only find this out by observation over time). When it comes to non-family groups or groups having multiple families, be cognizant that you may end up with a few more members come ‘go time’ than you might have thought (which should be dealt with in your planning sessions) and either be prepared to turn away the ‘add ons’ or be prepared to bring them on-board and integrate them into the group.
Any of these scenarios (as well as a host of others) require something to ensure the group grows in cohesion and doesn’t ‘tactically disintegrate’ at the first sign of crisis directly aimed at the group.
It’s simply defined as, “Effective Leadership.”
Effective leadership (also known as competent command) sets the example in a group as well as the pace. When not engaged in training or operations, the leader should be (if at all possible) socially interacting with the group to know and understand his folks and also to spot or monitor any unacceptable group behavior that would significantly have a negative impact on the group’s continued survival. A good (effective) leader will not allow anyone to behave in a manner that conflicts with what our values (Constitutional principles as well as religious mores) dictate is acceptable.
For example, let’s say somebody _______________________ (fill in your own example of a behavior/speech that would cause group disruption) and the leader hears or sees it (whether or not the subject of the behavior/speech is present only bears on what the leader will do later). The leader can do one of three things: Laugh along with the group (most likely the worst move possible), ignore it while pretending to not hear (most likely the second worst move possible), or take action and challenge the behavior/speech. If the leader is going to “walk the walk” and continue to rightfully earn the respect of those he is leading, he has only one choice: Take the action necessary to correct the situation! Remember, outside of brute force, all leaders in a preparedness or survival group only have ‘moral authority’, which is given by the members and can be lost very, very quickly.
This holds true even if the leader wasn’t present and he became aware of the incident (the method for dealing with 2nd hand information is different, but still has the requirement of the leader taking action) through a subordinate leader (if there is a #2) or other group member. Why? Because the leader is always being evaluated by every member of the group all the time! Any action the leader takes should be matched to the circumstances and the offensive behavior itself (overkill is not a good thing and can have results worse than the offense itself) and can range from a simple “on the spot” correction (which will send a very loud message (no matter how discreet the correction may be) to all within ear shot or who later hear about the incident that “this crap will cease now!”) to a private conversation explaining how that type of behavior/speech detracts from morale (see the above definition) to, if necessary in an extreme case, expulsion from the group. Expulsion? From a volunteer preparedness/survival/family group?? You bet. Absolutely! There may come a point that the person in question is causing such high levels of dissension and conflict during training with this kind of behavior that the group is in jeopardy, especially when or if “the day” ever comes. Volunteers like that are liabilities to the leader as well as every other group member, especially after TSHTF.
Does that mean everyone will like each other or be close friends? Nope. That level of group cohesion may or may not be obtained for quite some time. Sometimes, some distance between group members and different levels of leadership as well as each other is good because group members can be more objective in situations that don’t involve close friends. Remember, too much familiarity can work against everyone, let alone the leaders during training or SHTF scenarios. The old saying, “familiarity breeds contempt” didn’t come about because someone thought it just sounded cool.
The leader must focus on ensuring that while the group is together, each person present respects what every other person brings to the group in skill, ability, potential, and value. That doesn’t mean that organizationally everyone has the same influence, either! Junior members (whether junior in age or experience) of the group must also be taught to respect those with experiences they don’t have. The old saying, “keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut” is very valuable to a new group member no matter the level of their field experience, but especially to those with little or no field time.
This goal is accomplished by monitoring and controlling the behavior of the group members through personal example of acceptable behavior. What the group members think is their business – the leader can’t change value imprinting or generational prejudices. All the leader can do is ensure, as best he can, that those thoughts and prejudices stay behind the teeth and in the mind. With time and reinforcement, the member in question will do his or her own value modification. The leader helps this along by reinforcement of acceptable behavior and the correction of unacceptable behavior. It takes a while, but it does work!
Effective leadership or competent command not only infuses and involves itself in the social norms of the group, but sets the pace and example for training as well. Group leaders need to be out there sweating with their people, listening intently to others when a subordinate leader is providing training, and performing the skill sets he’s asking others to do. If you’ve never been a formal leader before, you’d be surprised how much respect you’ll earn by digging your own spider hole, or when you finish a long, fast conditioning march, going back and getting the ones who are not as fast as you are and helping them. Competent command participates in everything possible. Leadership is executed by example! “Do as I do!” “Follow Me!” We’ve all heard these phrases before, but the effective leader puts them into practice.
Effective leadership is also decisive. The effective leader takes into counsel his “subject matter experts” along with selected members (or, if you prefer, ‘riflemen’), especially those who may disagree with his perspective. Doing so makes sure the leader has all the information necessary for an effective decision. Subject matter experts, subordinate leaders, and group members providing input must also know that it is essential for the leader to be told what he needs to know, not just what someone thinks he wants to hear! And then, when he has the information he requires, the leader makes the decision and goes forward. When it comes to credit, the effective leader always gives credit to those he leads for the success and if something goes wrong, he is the first to step up and take responsibility. No passing the buck. This goes for all levels of leadership at every level, from the two person team up. It can’t be emphasized enough: At every level, leaders need to set the example.
For those who would like to increase their abilities as a leader, remember, it’s not easy but can be done with discipline. Leadership is both an art and a science, and there are no “born” leaders. Leaders are trained. Part of training is failure. A new leader or a leader who is refurbishing his skills will not do everything right every time. As time goes on, the mistakes will become fewer, expertise will grow, and the leader will become more effective. In the meantime, another way to measure effectiveness or competent command is to judge the leader’s ability to admit when he’s made a mistake, been wrong, jumped to a conclusion, or other negative things. Apparently, it’s one of the more difficult things in life to accomplish. Remember this: Apologizing for an error doesn’t mean the leader is weak. On the contrary, it means the leader respects those he leads and can admit he’s not infallible. So leader, when you’ve stepped in a pile, correct the situation, admit you made a mistake, and move on. Mistakes are authorized, especially when you don’t make the same mistake again.
To start, one good book for both new and veteran leaders is called, “Muddy Boots Leadership: Real Life Stories And Personal Examples of Good, Bad, And Unexpected Results”, by John Chapman. You can get a copy on Amazon for around eleven bucks. It’s worth the money. It’s mostly written for active duty US Army leaders, but it does apply to any leadership situation. There are countless books and classes available on leadership; it’s up to you to find the ones that provide you the best ROI (Return On Investment) for your time and money measured in skills and techniques gained.
To summarize, effective leadership is the key to ensuring you have the right people in your group (and only the right people), that they respect and adhere to the group ‘rules’ and the Founding principles, are effective in the field, attain and maintain high morale, and are ready to protect their families, homes, and communities.