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Primary-Group Cohesion – lessons from military research to the business world

What drives soldiers into battle? This question and, perhaps even more baffling, the questions of what keeps them fighting, has been much researched in the 20th century. And the conclusion? The term Primary-Group Cohesion has been coined; soldiers don’t fight for King and Country but for their comrades. For this primary-group cohesion to exist, the group must be closely knit. And for that you need leaders.

Although nothing in organisational life is as dramatic and challenging as a battlefield, lessons can be learned. The issue of leadership is often dealt with on an organisational level when people look up to the CEO or the Head of Division. But just as the soldier sees in front of him his Commanding Officer’s back and not the general’s, employees see their direct manager’s. And just as when a CO can’t effectively lead his group or company and is unable to create a cohesive team that will charge ahead together under fire, a department manager who can’t create a true team will not be able to lead through difficult times with their heads up.

Many years of managerial experience have taught me that the most important thing direct reports expect from their superiors is to be able to listen, understand, and help them figure out what to do next. In other words – coaching.

Unfortunately, too many managers look the other way when they hear this expression. It is associated with psychological analytic abilities, perceived as unstructured and considered better off left to professionals. But, being a cornerstone of leadership, a manager can’t get the best from their staff if they don’t know how to coach them on a daily basis.

I would therefore argue that getting your organisation’s line managers to integrate coaching into their daily routine is essential and “I don’t have time for this” or “I don’t know how to do it” are only excuses that must be dealt with, especially in challenging times like now.

There are external coaches, and many of them are excellent. And there are cases when professional coaching is necessary. But just as an army group would disintegrate if during battle their CO will have to call an outsider to give advice on how to lead their team, you can’t expect a department to work well if their manager can’t coach.

Coaching is not magic. Managers can learn, apply and develop their coaching skills as part of their jobs. All it takes is finding a way to harness them to it by making coaching compatible with their abilities.


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