In the military, mission readiness is paramount. It determines success or failure on the battlefield–and impacts life-and-death outcomes. Military leaders are recognizing that psychological readiness is vital to individual and unit-level mission readiness. After studying job performance across 1 million people in the U.S. Armed Services over five years, Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology and a BetterUp Science Board member, found that optimism and well-being are the biggest drivers of job performance. Mindset matters when performance is on the line.
Amid rapid and unpredictable change, often precipitated by small groups of stakeholders or one-off events, business teams need to be agile, adaptable, focused, and creative to drive results–just like soldiers in the increasingly networked and dynamic world of war. Their leaders, too, must keep adapting and performing without succumbing to exhaustion or burnout–be it mental, physical, or emotional.
As such, in today’s work environments, psychological readiness–to perform, adapt, and persist through shifting priorities and changing conditions in service of a shared mission–is as important for corporate teams as it is for military units.
What can we learn from the military? It turns out that too many troops lack readiness. A 2020 Department of Defense survey suggests 25% of service members are not mission-ready–and 41% believe their unit is not ready. While having troops and tanks in the right places is important, so is having troops ready to do their jobs. If individuals lack psychological readiness, leaders and units struggle to perform.
Seeking to fill gaps in the literature on psychological readiness, BetterUp conducted a study with over 1,300 members of the USAF to determine the mindsets, skills, and behaviors associated with mission readiness and the degree to which individual and unit readiness can be improved.
Our findings allow military and corporate leaders alike to apply the latest science on psychological readiness in order to build stronger, more resilient–more ready–teams and individuals.
The behavioral drivers of readiness in the military
Over a four-month period, participants engaged in personalized coaching with an ICF-certified coach, covering personal and professional topics such as alignment, purpose and meaning, physical activity, and emotional regulation. A validated survey at intake and conclusion of the study measured how overall readiness and key mindsets, skills, and behaviors changed over time with coaching. A relative-weights analysis further identified which mindsets and behaviors were the most important drivers or predictors of readiness, based on the variance found in the intake survey.
What did we find? Individual and unit mission readiness improved for service members in the study.
Individuals: After four months, 13% more Airmen and Guardians felt prepared to carry out their wartime mission. Those who started low experienced the largest gains.
Airmen with the highest purpose and meaning, alignment, emotional regulation, and physical activity were the most likely to report the highest levels of individual mission readiness, with purpose and meaning as the largest contributor.
Of note, in the study, participants were also able to develop and strengthen these important drivers of readiness. The sample group experienced growth in physical activity (15%), emotional regulation (13%), alignment (13%), and purpose and meaning (8%).
Units or teams: After four months, 17% more Airmen and Guardians believed their units were mission-ready. Again, those who initially rated their unit readiness as low experienced the largest improvement.
For unit readiness, purpose and meaning and empowerment were both strong predictors, as was relationship building. Study participants grew 17% in empowerment, 14% in relationship building, and 8% in purpose and meaning leading to overall improvement in unit readiness. As previous research has also shown, when unit leaders exhibit leadership behaviors such as empowerment, trust, and care, it has a significant impact on the psychological readiness of their unit.
Michael Litano is RVP of people insights at BetterUp. Gabriella Kellerman is BetterUp’s Chief Innovation Officer. Prakriti Singh is a senior manager of government alliances at BetterUp. Derek Hutchinson is a senior analytics consultant of people insights at BetterUp.
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