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Meaningful Recognition in Special Operations Forces LeadershipJonathan LuMaster Leader CourseAuthor NoteJonathan Lu, Sergeant First Class, United States Army.Submitted in partial fulfillment for the requirements of the Master Leader Course, Class 002-19, Fort Bragg, NC.Address correspondence regarding this assignment to: SFC Jonathan Lu, C 4-1 SFG(A), Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, 98433. Email: [email protected] Meaningful Recognition in Special Operations Forces LeadershipMeaningful Recognition (MR) is defined as any practice which provides positive reinforcement to individuals for contribution and value toward an organization ADDIN RW.CITE{{265 AmericanAssociationofCritical-CareNurses 2005}}(American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 2005). According to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses ADDIN RW.CITE{{265 AmericanAssociationofCritical-CareNurses 2005 /a}}(2005), recognizing the value and significance of an individual’s contribution to an organization’s mission is a “fundamental human need and an essential requisite to personal and professional development” (p. 1). MR programs aim to provide ongoing acknowledgment for demonstrated professional skill and compassion (The Daisy Foundation, 2018). Many organizations have implemented programs such as The DAISY Award, in which a recommender may award an employee for exceptional skill or demonstration of compassion (The Daisy Foundation, 2018). Although the United States Army implements a robust awards and evaluations system for all Soldiers, there remains an absence of true MR implementations toward improving workplace and health outcomes in Special Operations Forces (SOF). It is well-understood that SOF embodies an organizational culture that shuns personal accolade in favor of discretion and non-attributability. This is due largely to the unique nature of Special Operations missions which often require a level of discretion that is uncommon among other professions ADDIN RW.CITE{{180 Espinoza,JessicaM. 2010}}(Espinoza, 2010). It may be reasonably asserted that this characteristic of the organizational culture is at least partially complicit in the lack of MR principles in existing programs. Nevertheless, leaders at all levels have a duty to ensure the welfare of their Soldiers.There is evidence in the literature to suggest that MR programs are associated with lower levels of measured burnout and other primary outcomes of workplace stress ADDIN RW.CITE{{212 Kelly,LeslyA. 2017}}(Kelly, 2017). There is further evidence that workplace stress is associated with the development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and worsening mental health outcomes ADDIN RW.CITE{{232 Sliter,Michael 2014; 225 Sattler,DavidN. 2014; 208 Haik,Josef 2017; 222 Jo,Insung 2018}}(Haik et al., 2017; Jo et al., 2018; Sattler, Boyd, & Kirsch, 2014; Sliter, Kale, & Yuan, 2014). The incorporation of MR principles into the SOF leadership culture may be an effective means to address the trend of worsening mental health outcomes among SOF Soldiers. Herein this short expository essay, a brief description of the rationale for implementing MR principles, as well as specific opportunities, will be presented.DiscussionThe Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) offers two instances which support the application of MR. First, one of the two explicitly stated NCO primary responsibilities is “the welfare of [my] Soldiers” ADDIN RW.CITE{{266 Elder,Dan 1998}}(Elder & Sanchez, 1998). In another instance, the Creed affirms the NCO’s duty toward being “fair and impartial when recommending both reward and punishment” ADDIN RW.CITE{{266 Elder,Dan 1998}}(Elder & Sanchez, 1998). These instances form the basis of two presented postulates regarding the applicability of MR in SOF: (1) if a primary responsibility of Army leadership is to ensure the welfare of Soldiers, it becomes incumbent upon leadership to address threats to the welfare of Soldiers as they become evident, and; (2) it is the duty of the SOF leader to provide MR to affirm the contribution of subordinates not only to foster high morale and continued performance, but to also achieve positive health and behavioral outcomes.Establishing NeedWorkplace stress is a collective term that describes the various stressors that are encountered during the execution of professional duties ADDIN RW.CITE{{260 Hobfoll,StevanE 2001}}(Hobfoll & Shirom, 2001). These stressors are generally chronic in nature and are not typically associated with a specific incident ADDIN RW.CITE{{232 Sliter,Michael 2014}}(Sliter et al., 2014). Rather, workplace stress is understood to be cumulative in nature ADDIN RW.CITE{{232 Sliter,Michael 2014}}(Sliter et al., 2014). Recently, there has been a focus toward understanding the role of workplace stress in worsening health outcomes among high-risk occupations ADDIN RW.CITE{{257 Chao,Ming-Che 2015; 220 Dasan,Sunil 2015; 232 Sliter,Michael 2014}}(Chao, Jou, Liao, & Kuo, 2015; Dasan, Gohil, Cornelius, & Taylor, 2015; Sliter et al., 2014). Such occupations may be characterized by repetitive exposures to uncommon levels of stress, long shift work, and positions that routinely demand compassion and empathetic responses ADDIN RW.CITE{{261 Quick,JamesCampbell 2013; 232 Sliter,Michael 2014}}(Quick, Wright, Adkins, Nelson, & Quick, 2013; Sliter et al., 2014).Burnout is a primary outcome of workplace stress ADDIN RW.CITE{{260 Hobfoll,StevanE 2001; 249 Figley,CharlesR 2013}}(Figley, 2013; Hobfoll & Shirom, 2001). Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal work-related stressors ADDIN RW.CITE{{248 Maslach,Christina 2001}}(Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). There is evidence that burnout contributes to higher PTSD symptoms in law enforcement and the fire service ADDIN RW.CITE{{234 Katsavouni,F. 2016; 225 Sattler,DavidN. 2014}}(Katsavouni, Bebetsos, Malliou, & Beneka, 2016; Sattler et al., 2014). These populations are vulnerable for several reasons; among them are high rates of recurrent exposure to critical incidents, emotional labor, stress, excessive workloads, and job characteristics ADDIN RW.CITE{{234 Katsavouni,F. 2016; 225 Sattler,DavidN. 2014; 232 Sliter,Michael 2014}}(Katsavouni et al., 2016; Sattler et al., 2014; Sliter et al., 2014). It is reasonable to suggest that SOF may also be comparatively vulnerable, as these workplace stressors exist in the same manner, if not at even greater intensity.MR BenefitsOne large descriptive study analyzed the impact of MR programs among intensive care unit nurses across several hospitals in the US ADDIN RW.CITE{{212 Kelly,LeslyA. 2017}}(Kelly, 2017). The study found that MR was a significant predictor of lower burnout and higher compassion satisfaction scores ADDIN RW.CITE{{212 Kelly,LeslyA. 2017}}(Kelly, 2017). Job satisfaction and enjoyment were also found to be highly predictive of decreased burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and increased compassion satisfaction ADDIN RW.CITE{{212 Kelly,LeslyA. 2017}}(Kelly, 2017). From these findings, it may be reasonably suggested that the application of MR principles by SOF leaders may be an effective way to reduce burnout symptoms and other primary workplace stress outcomes. A reduction in these primary workplace outcomes may positively moderate other outcomes prevalent within the community, such as PTSD, and assist in improving morale and health outcomes among SOF Soldiers.Opportunities for ApplicationCurrently in SOF, there are robust military policies in place regarding performance evaluation and awards. Army Regulation 623-3 provides guidance for providing merit-based evaluation on performance and professional development (U.S. Department of the Army, 2015c). Evaluation is an effective means by which to acknowledge one’s contributions to the organization over a specified time period ADDIN RW.CITE{{265 AmericanAssociationofCritical-CareNurses 2005}}(American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 2005). However, the interval of evaluations, which may be as infrequent as once per year, may limit the evaluation report’s utility toward MR. To address this, the SOF enterprise may benefit by encouraging leaders to counsel more frequently, and to emphasize the utility of positive performance and event-oriented counseling as described in Army Field Manual 6-22 (U.S. Department of the Army, 2015b).Similarly, Army Regulation 600-8-22 provides guidance for awarding Soldiers for exemplary performance (U.S. Department of the Army, 2015a). Military awards following exceptional performance or service is consistent with the model for MR as framed within the DAISY award ADDIN RW.CITE{{245 TheDaisyFoundation 2018}}(The Daisy Foundation, 2018). However, it may be that the systematic practice of awarding after a period of service, such as that which occurs after a deployment or at a permanent change of station, reduces the impact that military awards have toward achieving desired positive outcomes. This, coupled with the expectation of receiving any award as a function of process as opposed to true achievement, may contribute to a culture that fails to make any true MR for excellence. To address these concerns, leaders must strive to recognize exemplary performance and service that occurs outside the contexts of major deployments, field exercises, or duty station changes. Positive counseling, as previously discussed for evaluations, may also be used to achieve MR, and thus confer the protective benefits to subordinates toward improving morale and health outcomes.ConclusionMR poses as an interesting but complicated complementary modality in the Special Operations leadership context. The efficacy of MR programs toward reducing workplace stress levels and increasing job satisfaction and performance is supported by evidence found in nursing care ADDIN RW.CITE{{245 TheDaisyFoundation 2018; 212 Kelly,LeslyA. 2017}}(Kelly, 2017; The Daisy Foundation, 2018). However, the nature of Special Operations missions demands levels of secrecy and discretion that are typically not mirrored in other populations, which poses as an initial complication toward adopting lessons from the nursing community ADDIN RW.CITE{{180 Espinoza,JessicaM. 2010}}(Espinoza, 2010). Furthermore, the military system already incorporates a robust awards system, although SOF tends to be more reserved toward awarding medals as MR. Indeed, the Special Forces moniker of “The Quiet Professionals” suggests a deep-rooted organizational culture that is highly critical of seeking personal accolade and acknowledgement; Special Forces operators are simply expected to do their job well without external motivation ADDIN RW.CITE{{180 Espinoza,JessicaM. 2010}}(Espinoza, 2010).Instead of at the individual-level, MR may also be applied by leaders at the unit- and community-level. There exist opportunities to apply MR principles by acknowledging professional excellence, compassion, or any desired workplace virtue at a level higher than the individual ADDIN RW.CITE{{212 Kelly,LeslyA. 2017}}(Kelly, 2017). However, there is limited research on the efficacy of MR not specific to the individual, although the DAISY foundation supports a team award ADDIN RW.CITE{{245 TheDaisyFoundation 2018}}(The Daisy Foundation, 2018). It is hoped that this initial exposition of MR in the SOF context may spark further discussion toward how leaders empower their Soldiers and foster both morale and an organizational culture of continued excellence.ReferencesAmerican Association of Critical-Care Nurses. (2005). AACN standards for establishing and sustaining healthy work environments: A journey to excellence. American Journal of Critical Care : An Official Publication, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, 14(3), 187-197. doi:14/3/187 [pii]Chao, M., Jou, R., Liao, C., & Kuo, C. (2015). Workplace stress, job satisfaction, job performance, and turnover intention of health care workers in rural taiwan. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 27(2), NP1827-NP1836. Dasan, S., Gohil, P., Cornelius, V., & Taylor, C. (2015). Prevalence, causes and consequences of compassion satisfaction and compassion fatigue in emergency care: A mixed-methods study of UK NHS consultants. 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