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The Good, The Bad, And Of Course, The Ugly

Guest Post By: W.P. Trotter


"Try not to become a person of success, but

rather try to become a person of value."

--Albert Einstein


Have you ever been in a unit that you disliked? Where you could not wait until your next PCS? In contrast, what about a unit that you absolutely loved? If you are anything like me, you have probably experienced both types of units multiple times throughout your career. Unfortunately, I have experienced the former far more frequently than the latter. Throughout the years, I have sought to learn why the bad units seem to make life more despondent than necessary, making the functional units enjoyable and prosperous. Throughout my brief time as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), I have learned a few things that I would like to impart with you all.

In the 1960s, a psychologist by the name of Fredrick Herzberg came up with a theory called the Herzberg Motivation-Hygiene Theory. You are probably asking yourself, "What do shaving and showering have to do with job satisfaction?" It is not that kind of hygiene. This kind of hygiene applies to organizational behavior, specifically the maintenance of an organization. The Herzberg Motivation-Hygiene theory deliberates two ideas: what increases job satisfaction and what decreases it. Put simply, this theory says that motivation increases an individual's job satisfaction.

In contrast, hygiene factors decrease an individual’s overall job satisfaction. Command policies rarely increase job satisfaction and morale but instead usually reduce them. Contrarily, motivation, and meaningfulness increase job satisfaction and morale.

The motivation excerpt of the theory consists of but is not limited to, the following: challenging work, recognition of achievement, responsibility, opportunity to make something meaningful, involvement in decision making, and a sense of importance in the organization. This definition sounds an awful lot like what leaders are called to provide those that work under them. (i.e., purpose, direction, and motivation).

The two types of motivation that exist within an individual are intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic, or internal motivation, is a motivation that comes from the love of the job, the challenge, and any number of other things that motivate individuals to do something other than external influences. Extrinsic motivation is external motivation. This type of motivation comes from rewards or punishment. This should not be the main form of motivation we use with our team. Extrinsic motivation can be used as a tool to move an individual toward intrinsic motivation.

Have you ever heard someone say, “If you don’t take the carrot, you’re going to get the stick?” This statement is a form of extrinsic motivation because the individual would be doing a task either for reward or punishment. Some of us joined the military during a time of war because we wanted to serve our country. We wanted to provide the best life for our family, or for some other noble reason. Intrinsic motivation almost always leads to better job performance because the individual has made their decision based on what is important to them. This is why knowing your subordinates and counseling them is so important. What is good for Peter is not always what is good for Paul.

As a result of personal experience, I can tell you that it is hard to motivate individuals when I am struggling to motivate myself. I have been in units with toxic command climates. This climate made it hard for me to stay motivated, let alone motivate my team. Sadly, I have seen this throughout multiple duty assignments. I have heard the same thing from my fellow peers across the workforce. No matter how hard you try to stay motivated and how hard you try to motivate your team, a toxic command climate will destroy a unit.

The hygiene portion of this theory is more complicated. Hygiene factors include job security, salary, unit policy, work conditions, pay, and leave. These items do not lead to higher motivation but will lead to job dissatisfaction when they are not correctly aligned. These items stem from significant military policies all the way down to the lowest level. As leaders, we have little control over these items, since we do not write policy or doctrine. Instead, we must have candid discussions with our leadership to influence policy to ensure our subordinates are well taken care of within our controllable realm.

Hygiene factors are often the biggest killer of job satisfaction and unit morale. As service members, we have volunteered to sacrifice for our country. We often think that means we are volunteering to sacrifice our lives if necessary. What is more common is sacrificing our families through improper management of good work and life balance. Often, we are members of units with a high operational tempo. The unit is going through rigorous field training exercises, gunnery drills, and working late hours getting ready. This is all amid the unit deploying as soon as the dwell time has expired. Spouses, on the other end, sometimes say, “when you are home, you are not actually home.” This weighs on a service member and will kill not only their job satisfaction but also their motivation.


"A successful man is one who can

lay a firm foundation with the bricks

others have thrown at him."

--David Brinkley


Due to recent sequestration(s), budget and manning cuts, the last few years have been exceedingly difficult in the armed forces. We all have seen and experienced the signs of a hollow military force across all the branches. The job uncertainty that came from those times destroyed the motivation of mid-career and indefinite service members. For example, over 16,000 Soldiers were cut from the Army, yet the mission remained the same. This equated to NCO’s and Soldiers being required to perform the tasks of three or four individuals with a fraction of the manpower. Senior leaders reacted to these cuts the best they could. These reactions caused severe short and long-term ripple-effects and reverberations. For instance, one individual who worked for me was highly trained in Human Intelligence Collection and was a graduate of multiple interagency certification courses. However, he was pulled from his job to serve as an Intelligence Analyst. This would be the equivalent of using an Apache Pilot to drive a heavy expanded mobility tactical truck. That particular Soldier had a high work ethic and never complained about the job switch. What do you think that switch did to his motivation? This is an example of the hygiene factors at the senior government levels filtering down and affecting service members at the lowest levels of an organization.

On a smaller scale, hygiene issues stemming from company-level decisions and policies are more easily identifiable. For example, a former 14E, PATRIOT Missile Engagement Operator, had served in multiple PATRIOT firing Batteries and Battalions. That individual noticed a trend across the force. He would be in a platoon of twenty 14E Soldiers, and only three would be trained to conduct Air Defense Operations. The Battery Commander would use these same three Soldiers in every gunnery cycle due to their dependability and knowledge. This would ensure a "first-time go" on table VIII gunnery, which translates into an excellent officer evaluation record for that commander. Unfortunately, this problem is not just an air defense issue. This issue happens all across the military in a multitude of job fields as a whole. Realizing a perceived fairness issue, the service member will either leave the military or start striving for mediocrity instead of excellence. Commanders should ensure they are using all service members appropriately while allowing the other individuals to get the required training to succeed in his or her job.

Herzberger identified four possible combinations of Hygiene and Motivation. These combinations manifest themselves in different ways throughout an organization.

High Hygiene, High Motivation. This combination is what we should strive for if we want our organization to run efficiently. Service members will be highly motivated with very few complaints. By nature, individuals will sometimes find something to complain about, but the fewer complaints, the better.

High Hygiene, Low Motivation. In this combination, individuals have minimal complaints but are not highly motivated. Service members simply show up to work and do what needs to be done to go home. As a generalization, these units can be identified easily by the way the individuals park their cars in a parking lot. If the majority of them have “combat parked” their vehicles, this translates into them not being able to “leave quickly enough” after the close of business.

Low Hygiene, High Motivation. With this combination, individuals are motivated to get the job done despite a large number of complaints. They may be having fun on the job, but the unit policy is dragging them down. This combination is exceedingly rare and short-lived since it can and often devolves quickly into low hygiene, low motivation combination.

Low Hygiene, Low Motivation. This is the most dangerous combination of a unit. This combination will drive an increase in alcohol-related incidents, sexual assaults, divorces, and suicides.

Herzberg’s theory states that hygiene factors can only decrease job satisfaction, not increase it. However, this is not entirely true in a unit with a strong leader. For example, exceptional unit commanders and leaders do exist who have used hygiene factors to increase unit morale and esprit de corps. For example, a battery commander understood the battalion policies better than his battalion commander, and questionably used these policies to raise unit morale. This can be seen as a short term gain while hindering long term performance. The battalion would give days off for successes in gunnery, maintenance, days without alcohol-related incidents, and various other rewards. The battery commander would save these days up and use them all in a month. He would adequately reward his battery a four-day weekend every weekend in one month. This commander also understood financing and worked with the unit Chaplain to provide a “Strong Bond” retreat for the entire battery. He utilized funds from both the Family Readiness Group and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers programs.

Toxic leaders are another issue that can significantly affect the motivation and hygiene of a unit. When you are a subordinate to a toxic leader, you know it, and the unit mirrors this reflection or leadership. Unfortunately, if you are a leader of someone toxic, you may not even know. Toxic leaders often demonstrate sociopathic or psychopathic traits. This can lead to easy manipulation of their supervisor's perspective. These types of leaders may also be ego-syntonic.

Simply put, these individuals may believe they are doing the right thing even though they are doing the wrong something. This makes identifying a toxic individual exceedingly tricky if the subordinates to that leader are not reporting his/her actions. Subordinates may be afraid of this individual; they may feel that reporting it will not do any good, or may feel like it is not their place to say something. This type of leader will cause a unit to spiral into low hygiene, low motivation scenario.

Toxic leaders can also be either intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. The extrinsically motivated leader could run their unit through the metaphorical ringer to attain the next promotion. This is at the detriment of their subordinates. Intrinsically motivated toxic leaders are often afraid of failure or afraid of their boss. These individuals will say and do whatever they can to make their boss happy, a.k.a. brown nosers. Often, these types of leaders are toxic since they lack the spine to say “no” and can be best described as a coward since they will not put up a fight and are only fit for appeasement. Both types of toxic leaders will inject themselves into their subordinates' lives through micromanagement, controlling behavior, and unrealistic expectations of looking good to their bosses. In fact, Army Doctrine Reference Publication 6-22 states, “selfish leaders ignore ideas from others, micromanage events, hoard information, undermine peers, and work to superiors. Extreme and consistent forms of these undesirable behaviors indicate a toxic or abusive leader. Leaders with a positive approach can be firm in exacting discipline. They can do so with care and respect for those they lead and in the interest of the organization's future." The bottom line is, leaders need to exhibit empathy towards their subordinates. As leaders, we need to spend more time developing a higher emotional quotient and compassion into our team to make them better leaders for tomorrow. This will elevate the motivation and hygiene of a unit and significantly increase morale.

The service branches have multiple tools that leaders can use to identify toxic individuals if the subordinates are not speaking up. Leaders need to start, including the 360-degree assessment into counseling sessions with their subordinates. This rarely-used tool can give valuable insight into the actual leadership traits of an individual and not just what the boss sees. Command climate surveys are essential, but they are not done often enough. What is worse is when a command climate survey identifies a toxic leader. Then that same toxic leader is left to fix the issue. This problem is akin to allowing a fox guard the henhouse. Finally, trend analysis can identify issues within a unit through pinpointing sexual assaults, suicides, low retention rates, and alcohol-related incidents. Units with high levels of discipline issues may be dealing with residual toxicity from a previous leader. Still, it could also identify a current toxic leader.

We can better understand some of the issues our units are facing once we are aware of Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory. Additionally, understanding what impacts our team can allow us to better motivate them by trying to adjust the negative hygiene factors that they may be facing. Employing empathy and understanding what our subordinates are going through will not only build credibility for us as leaders but will also allow leaders to correct issues and find ways to increase intrinsic motivation. As leaders, we need to make small adjustments to how we lead our subordinates and mentor our officers. This will allow us, at the lower level, to help enable effectively change the culture of the armed forces and make our organizations better as a whole.

Sergeant First Class W.P. Trotter currently serves as a Senior Instructor at the Army Counterintelligence Special Agent’s Course, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He began his career as a 14E, Patriot Missile Enhanced Operator/Maintainer in 2004. He later changed his military occupational specialty to Counterintelligence in 2011. He earned his Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Science in 2015 from Liberty University and is currently working towards a Masters in Executive Leadership.

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