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Emotional Intelligence and the Modern Military Advisor

By Sgt. 1st Class Michael Waxler

1st Battalion, 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade

April 24, 2020

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a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter mechanic with Task Force Aviation

As the United States Army's newest units, the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) continue to stand up, train, and deploy around the world. To supply this need, the U.S. Army is working to identify the right people to fill the ranks within these organizations. Noncommissioned officers (NCOs) are at the center of that demand. “Soldiers in SFABs are highly trained, and among the top tactical leaders in the Army. Their work will strengthen our allies and partners while supporting this Nation's security objectives and the combatant commanders' warfighting needs“ (Department of the Army, n.d.a., para 2.). NCOs in SFABs must maintain exceptional fitness, possess character, presence, intellect, and be able to think beyond traditional roles and responsibilities. SFAB advisors must also possess emotional intelligence (EI) to excel.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Daniel Goleman, a psychology writer and journalist, argues emotional intelligence accounts for more career success than the traditional intelligence quotient, or IQ. Goleman contends that EI accounts for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders, and matters twice as much as technical expertise (Goldman, 2018). So how does the U.S. Army and the Joint Force equate EI to advisor support? Their ability to lead.

U.S. Army Soldiers with the 224th Sustainment Brigade

The U.S. Army defines leadership as “the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization” (Department of the Army, 2019, p. 1-13). At the core of the advisor's mission is the task of influencing the thinking, planning, and warfighting of others. The model to measure EI, introduced by Goleman, and expanded upon by Goleman and Richard Boyatzis (2017), focuses on an array of competencies that drive leadership performance. Goleman's model outlines four key tenets: Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.


Self-awareness is the ability to know one's emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals, and recognize their impact on others, using these skills to guide decisions. According to the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership, “Leaders with this characteristic are good at knowing how their actions will be perceived and translated by others. They use this knowledge to clarify communications and better influence others, when required” (Department of the Army, n.d.b, para. 3). SFAB advisors must be able to adapt to new cultures at a rapid pace with minimal centralized training and oversight. They must have a strong sense of self-awareness to be successful.


Self-management is the ability to control or redirect one's disruptive emotions and impulses and adapt to changing circumstances. Great leaders know adaptability is critical in combat, and can be an essential factor in deterring escalation of violence. According to the U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, the joint force will need to be capable of defeating an enemy's destabilizing operations, as well as diffusing escalations of violence, or transition quickly to armed conflict when necessary (Department of the Army, 2018). The SFAB is made to address this problem set, and self-regulation will be an imperative advisor capability in multi-domain operations.

Social Awareness

U.S. Army Staff Sgts. Jonathan Jones and Christopher Nakatani

Social awareness is the ability to manage relationships in order to get along with others. It requires empathy and an ability to judge a group's emotional state as well as organizational dynamics (Emotional and Social Intelligence, 2017). These are key attributes for advisors and allow them to transfer expertise and information to a partner force. If advisors are to secure strategic goals in a contested environment by building partner capacity, social awareness will factor into the measure of performance, just as partner capability will be the measure of effectiveness.

To date, the Korean Military Advisory Group is one of the most successful long-term American advising efforts (Sawyer & Hermes, 2005). Through social awareness, Brig. Gen. Cornelius E. Ryan was able to transform the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) into a capable fighting force. Ryan developed strong relationships with his counterparts, ROKA Gen. Lee Chong-Chan and Gen. Paik Sun-yup, and worked with them to create a Korean Army capable of fighting the Chinese in symmetrical warfare.

Relationship Management

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Remington

The final tenet, relationship management, involves the ability to influence others, coach and mentor groups, manage conflicts, and foster positive team work (Emotional and Social Intelligence, 2017). This skill enables an advisor to frame a problem set and develop a solution with a partner force. Advisors must be able to identify what motivates their partner force in order to effectively influence them. This creates a unified approach toward tactical and operational challenges. Understanding influence, as outlined in Army Doctrine Publication 6-22: Army Leadership and the Profession, enables advisors to identify the needs and desires of those they wish to train and assist (Department of the Army, 2019). These leadership strategies build trust and commitment from host nation forces.


Military advisors of the future will face new challenges in constantly evolving environments, much of which will be contested by peer and near-peer adversaries, state and non-state actors. SFABs, outfitted with NCOs competent in EI, will be the global leaders in contested environments across all domains as the U.S. Army continues to set the standard for what a military leader must be, know, and do.


Department of the Army. (n.d.a.) Careers and jobs: Security force assistance brigades.

Department of the Army. (n.d.b.) Six tell-tale signs you are self-aware.

Department of the Army. (2018). The U.S. Army in multi-domain operations 2028.

Department of the Army. (2019). ADP 6-22: Army leadership and the profession.

Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam.

Goleman, D. (2009). What makes a leader? In Military leadership: In pursuit of excellence. (6th ed., pp. 38–52). New York: Routledge.

Goleman, D. & Boyatzis, R. (2017). Emotional Intelligence has 12 elements. Which do you need to work on? Harvard Business Review.

Emotional and social intelligence. (2017). Key Step Media.

Sawyer, R. K., & Hermes, W. G. (2005). Military advisors in Korea: KMAG in peace and war. Honolulu, HI: Univ. Press of the Pacific.


Sgt. 1st Class Michael Waxler is a fire support NCO in the United States Army. Waxler is currently serving as an operational advisor for 1st Battalion, 4th SFAB. He previously served as a platoon forward observer through battalion fire support NCO in 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division (LI), and brigade fire support NCO in 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), deploying eight times in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

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