Officer and military psychologist of Netherlands armed forces. He participated in many missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Afghanistan. In his expertise, he combines the academic knowledge and field experiences.
Do you think military officers must have certain personality traits before joining the military?
Yes I do. At least to a certain extent we have enough proof that emotional stability, openness to experience, extraversion and achievement motivation contribute to various factors among which are for example, leadership behavior, moral competence and mental resilience. Yet we should not overestimate the role of personality because it does not predict that much of the ‘outcomes ‘.
In a selection process for officer candidates, what do you look for in an individual?
Besides the personality traits: discipline, teamwork, responsibility and emotional stability in practice and if possible (recruits are often young and inexperienced) leadership behavior.
In most European countries officer candidates come from civilian universities and not from military academies (we don’t have one in our country). Does this cause problems?
I think both options provide beneficial elements. A military academy at which recruits can develop a critical way of thinking owing to a bachelor or master educational programme provides the possibility to engender a sort of inside organization view of academic learning and moreover provides the possibility to make young recruits adhere more to the organizational ethos. Officers that are educated at civilian universities already have that education and are less ‘costly’. They only need the military officer education and as such need less time in training before they are ‘productive assets’. In the Netherlands we have a mix. We train both civilian masters in a short educational model of military officer training and we have a long educational model which also involves an academic bachelor diploma.
What makes a good leader in your opinion? Is leading by example the best approach?
Leading by example is always good, however a good leader must be able to switch in his styles according to what is needed in relation to his team, task and contextual settings. Therefore he or she has to have an extended baggage and view of leadership styles and possibilities. Moreover he or she has to possess character (moral and physical courage, honesty, responsibility and selfless service are our central virtues) and a good leader is always eager to learn and adjust.
Do you think female military officers are less efficient in leading in a male dominated sphere, such as the military?
NO! I think that gender does not matter. However, there are some physical differences that might make female officers less able to perform their personal task when physical power is needed. That does not relate to leadership behavior. In my opinion female leaders (and thus officers as well) are often more able to switch between leadership styles than men are, but I cannot provide evidence for this statement by any research. There are some articles regarding the Israeli Defence Forces that used all female combat units. They were very effective. I know several female officers that function very well as leaders of male dominant units. (But I also know a lot of male and female officers who do not do so well for very different reasons).
Interview by Živa Kolenc