Watch Out for Morale and Cohesion

Posted: February 22, 2009 in Leadership
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With the current turbulent change it is imperative that leaders have a good handle on the morale and mood of their respective organizations. Here is a primer on morale, cohesion, and other immaterial aspects of leadership.

Morale is the willingness of an individual, a team, and an organization to win and to succeed. There is a relationship to other personal and group factors such as mood and attitude, but it is a different beast. Morale is best described as a grim determination to soldier on despite hardships, obstacles and failures. When morale is high, organizations and individuals will keep focusing on a positive outcome. There is a hope and even an expectation that final victory and success will be attained. Thus, morale can survive even in the presence of a temporary mood of discouragement. However, if an atmosphere of defeat persists, then morale can quickly deteriorate to the point where only an extraordinary act of leadership, or luck, can pull it up again.

Cohesion and esprit de corps are even more intangible. Where teamwork is built on the willingness of individual team members to subsume their own interests in favour of group interests, esprit de corps is built upon the willingness to sacrifice oneself, if needed, for the interests of the group. This is a level of commitment that few organizations in business achieve. The common factor in both teamwork and esprit de corps is cohesion. The difference is one of degree rather than type. Cohesion is simply the degree to which individuals subordinate their own interests to those of the group. In teamwork, individuals are willing to work together to achieve a common goal. The level to which they are willing to sacrifice personal interests will determine the degree to which esprit de corps is a factor.

Organizations such as well-led military units in combat are highly cohesive and are usually characterized as having strong esprit de corps. Poorly led units usually suffer poor cohesion and have low esprit. When this happens, units often disintegrate. A non-virtuous cycle of poor morale and even lower cohesion ensue. Consequently, military commanders zealously guard the morale and cohesion of their units, lest they fall apart under the strain of combat.

The example of military units is certainly the extreme of cohesion and morale, but any leader of a global organization must assess the same factors. This is why world-class leaders make special efforts to maintain morale and cohesion within their organizations. Various crises, perceptions of unfair competition, official corruption, entry into new markets, economic recession and depression, conflict, disease, and government intervention are just some of the factors which sap the morale and cohesion of multinationals and other global organizations. Moreover, mergers and hostile takeovers can easily lead to panic, despair and other forces that undermine morale and cohesion. Consequently, any would-be world-class leader will do well to heed the signs of deterioration in any of these factors.

© Richard Martin 2009

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