To prepare to fight and win battles, soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines must possess certain qualities and skills. That is why leadership, character, trust and teamwork are watchwords in the armed forces.
In the military, we have many training and development tools to develop strong leaders. One particularly creative training program we have in the 177th Military Police Brigade of the Michigan National Guard is a 36-hour, stressed-based leader development exercise called a Mungadai.
While these types of programs are common in the U.S. military, corporate leadership teams can derive similar benefits by implementing some or all of the same strategies, too. Such training programs can be catalysts for improvement among team members in three areas: individual leadership skills, pride in accomplishing a challenge bigger than themselves and organizational cohesion.
1. Building Individual Confidence
In our Mungadai exercise, modeled after Army Ranger regimental programs of the mid 1980s and 1990s, we inject physical, emotional and mental stress by placing our leaders in situations in which they are not comfortable. We assign them to work in small groups with people they don’t know, rotate leadership roles so that less experienced people command those with greater seniority and rank, and require them to perform tasks they would typically assign to their subordinates (which they may not have practiced themselves for some time). All these things can be done in civilian settings.
Challenging people to perform outside of their comfort zones is an effective way of fostering confidence and a growth mindset as team members realize they are capable of doing much more than they thought.
Also, placing people in a stressful environment facing daunting tasks can result in a secondary benefit: Others often will step in to assist, which builds trust-based relationships between team members and kick-starts organizational cohesion.
2. Fostering Pride in Accomplishment
As humans, we all value being part of something bigger than ourselves. However, it is relatively rare to have that kind of experience.
There is a trend in fitness right now that involves competitions and races where teams of friends or co-workers become “adventure racers,” testing themselves against various obstacles along a running course. They endure physical, emotional and mental stress, and emerge more confident and proud, albeit sweaty, mud-caked and exhausted. A similar benefit can be derived from a Mungadai-like leader development exercise.
At the end of the exercise, the team is haggard and exhausted but revels in individual and team accomplishments, and often continues the braggadocio for months and years to come. The event becomes part of the organizational lore, with new members seeking to compete in their own exercise to prove their mettle to themselves and their team.
3. Building Organizational Cohesion
Organizations are often structured such that there is little opportunity for personal interaction between employees. Yet increased teamwork is critical as workers are increasingly more geographically dispersed, networked or isolated as a result of organizational hierarchy. For organizations to excel, collaboration and trust between disparate groups of employees is paramount.
A stress-based leadership development exercise serves as an effective tool to bring these team members together—figuratively and literally. It can drastically enhance collaboration, trust and cohesion. The nature of the event can vary and is only limited by the organizers’ creativity.
Photo by PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock
Stephen Potter is an entrepreneur and founder of a security company, as well as a colonel in the Michigan Army National Guard. A former Army Ranger and member of the 82nd Airborne, Potter currently serves as commander of Operation Onward Liberty in Liberia, Africa.