troops yellow ribbonAfter a six-year $287 million campaign to make US Army soldiers more optimistic, happy, and resilient, the results are less than stellar.

USA Today reported that twelve months of data through early 2015 found that 52% of soldiers scored poorly in optimism and 48% have little satisfaction in or commitment to their jobs.

One of the most concerning trends to me is that 39% of soldiers don’t trust their immediate supervisors or fellow soldiers; they don’t feel respected or valued.

The Army’s positive psychology program began in 2009 in response to rising suicide and mental illness among enlisted troops. The program was controversial from the start. A panel of scientists showed that the program demonstrated little to no evidence of preventing mental illness. This 2012 article raised serious questions about the program’s ability to address these issues.

It is very good that military leadership recognizes the importance of positive mental health of troops. And, it is clear that this particular program has had very little positive impact on soldiers’ well-being.

The psychological impact of combat, frequent deployments, and defense cuts on soldiers’ engagement and optimism is easy to comprehend. I don’t believe that any single program or training can offset those sobering effects.

The good news? There are ways to create consistent civility, performance, and satisfaction in the workplace. Any workplace.

What can have a significant positive impact on the well-being of team members – be they soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, employees in your company, etc. – is how they are treated by their leaders and their peers.

All trust is local. All relationships are local. By “local” I mean “within arms reach.” The folks you interact with regularly, face to face or virtually (email, video link, etc.) are where your most frequent experiences occur. Those experiences either enhance trust and positive relationships or they erode them. Those experiences are rarely neutral!

How you are treated by your leaders and peers, moment to moment, in daily interactions, has a huge impact on your feeling of being in on things, of being trusted, respected, and valued for your efforts and your accomplishments.

There are numerous examples of inspiring leaders in our military today. US Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff changed the culture of the USS Benfold through grassroots leadership. Abrashoff created a crew of inspired problem solvers by creating a meaningful purpose, trusting talented crew members, and building buy-in with his “it’s your ship” mantra.

All military organizations have values defined. The US Army’s values are clearly spelled out. What is missing in many organizations around the globe is demonstrated alignment to their values, in every interaction, every day. Those values need to be defined in behavioral terms then measured, monitored, and rewarded.

A training program can boost awareness and build skills, but the program alone can’t change day to day behaviors. That requires commitment on the part of leaders to model the values, praise aligned behavior, and redirect mis-aligned behavior, consistently.

Our active and veteran service members give their best daily. They’re not getting OUR best, in the form of proactive care, treatment, and support.

We must do better.

What do you think? Do you agree that trust and relationships are “local”? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © Carolina K Smith MD – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

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The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I play all instruments on these recordings.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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