Positive Psychology for Military Leadership


Leadership in the military is a complex task given the adverse working environment of officers especially during and after deployment. The long and frequent deployments coupled with consequences of combat, such as exposure to traumatic events, normally test the resilience of service members and their families. Therefore, effective coping skills are needed to ensure that affected individuals do not suffer psychologically, which could lead to mental health conditions. While the majority of service members together with their families are resilient to overcome difficult times, others are not fully prepared to face challenges, hence the need for an intervention program or strategy.

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Master resiliency trainers and other senior noncommissioned officers (SNCOs) could apply the concept of positive psychology to support their unit members to ensure that military personnel and families are equipped with the requisite skills to navigate the complicated work environment, especially during and after deployment. In cases where the necessary support is not given, the affected servicemembers suffer psychologically, and they may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and other related mental health conditions. This paper discusses how SNCOs and specifically master resiliency trainers could use positive psychology to overcome leadership challenges (sexual assault, domestic violence, and substance abuse) in their units.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology could be defined as the scientific study of factors that contribute to a life worth living. It involves studying human behavior, feelings, and thoughts by focusing on their strengths as opposed to weaknesses. As such, positive psychology seeks to build a healthy life instead of fixing a broken one (Singh, 2018). In other words, this concept is a proactive approach towards life to ensure that individuals face and overcome challenges in life without becoming victims of their situation. Positive psychology’s focus falls into three categories – positive experiences, positive states and traits, and positive institutions. Positive experiences include human feelings of love, inspiration, and happiness, while positive traits and states are attributes, such as compassion, resilience, and gratitude.

The concept of positive institutions implies the systemic application of the principles of positive psychology across entire organizations (Shrestha et al., 2018). The idea of positive psychology could be applied in training, coaching, and leadership to improve people’s lives through experiencing positive emotions. Specific goals of this approach include helping individuals identify and develop their talents and strengths, enhance goal-setting and striving capabilities, create a sense of hope, cultivate happiness, and nurture gratitude.

The concept is also used to help people establish and maintain healthy relationships, maintain optimism, and enjoy life by focusing on the bright side of situations (Doll, 2019). As such, positive psychology can be taught and learned, thus master resiliency trainers and other SNCOs could use the same to guide service members in their units to overcome psychological distress, which is a major leadership challenge in the military.

General Application by SNCOs

SNCOs are tasked with leadership responsibilities in their different areas of specialization, and thus they could employ the concept of positive psychology to impart psychological resilience to their unit service members. This form of resilience is important within the military community, as it ensures that service members are prepared for duty together with protecting their mental health and that of their families. Therefore, SNCOs could use different programs to impart psychological resilience skills to their teams. Military service members experience the stigma of seeking help to deal with behavioral and emotional problems (Shrestha et al., 2018), and thus SNCOs could create an enabling environment for such individuals to get the necessary assistance.

Leaders could focus on improving personal strengths, such as dealing with stress, thriving, and fitness as opposed to using traditional treatment-based interventions to psychological problems. Positive psychology could also be used as a preventive approach, as it allows service members to develop resiliency by focusing on traits, such as compassion and gratitude. SNCOs could also focus on the creation of unit cohesion through the principles of positive psychology for improved morale and resilience (Singh, 2018).

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These strategies would play an important role in ensuring that service members do not succumb to psychological distress leading to damaging behaviors including domestic violence, substance abuse, and sexual assault among other related tendencies. Prevention and early intervention measures through training and education by SNCOs would play a central role in ensuring that service members and their families are mentally prepared for pre-deployment, in theater, and post-deployment phases of military duties.

Application by Master Resiliency Trainers

The master resiliency training (MRT) was introduced in the US military to help noncommissioned officers gain resilience skills as a proactive approach towards dealing with depression and PTSD, especially after deployment. The program has seven modules divided into three components – preparation, sustainment, and enhancement (Moore, 2019). The preparation phase has five modules while sustainment and enhancement components have one module each.

According to Selva (2019), the first five modules of the preparation phase are based on principles of positive psychology, and they include “resilience, building mental toughness, identifying character strengths, strengthening relationships, and concluding the preparation module” (para. 6). Therefore, master resiliency trainers could focus on these modules and apply the principles of positive psychology as discussed in the next section.

The three categories of positive psychology, viz. positive experiences, positive states, and traits, and positive institutions could be further classified into individual-level factors, family-level factors, unit-level factors, and community-level factors. Therefore, MRT trainers could incorporate the following aspects of positive psychology at different levels as highlighted below. This paper focuses on individual-level factors for a detailed analysis.

Individual-Level Factors

Positive coping

This attribute enhances an individual’s capacity to handle stress and conflict, and it could be achieved through spiritual, problem-focused, or pragmatic perspectives of training. Trainers could use reappraisals of challenging situations to impart resilience to service members in their respective units. The focus at this point should be offering training that emphasizes active planning and ways of confronting difficulties as opposed to avoiding them. Coping skills involve identifying and delineating feelings, renormalizing fears, and addressing anger as part of turning challenges into opportunities (Selva, 2019). Such an approach towards life would allow service members to nurture healthy relationships with their families, friends, and colleagues.

Positive affect

This positive psychology trait defines the ability to maintain an optimistic outlook despite the underlying challenges. For instance, trainers could encourage their unit team members to deal with stress by sharing their feelings with others instead of keeping them as a personal matter. Another strategy is to find humor in difficult situations and maintaining hope despite what is happening around. Positive emotions contribute significantly to building the capacity to stress tolerance, which alleviates depression and other related mental conditions (Selva, 2019). Through this attribute, service members could transition from one phase of their duty to another without the need for seeking medical intervention.

Positive thinking

The reality of combat could be different from what service members are prepared for before deployment. However, positive thinking could be used as a training framework for individuals to develop realistic outcome expectations. As such, noncommissioned officers will embrace a positive outlook despite what happens on the battleground once they are deployed (Selva, 2019). Trainers could use this aspect to equip officers with the skill of reframing any situation constructively or positively. For instance, service members could be encouraged to find meaning in whatever they are doing by associating their actions with a higher purpose that transcends personal interests.

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Realism and behavior control

On the one hand, the concept of realism helps individuals gain an internal locus of control, confront, and accept the reality of their situations. Individuals can find meaning in their lives or regain their normal functioning by embracing realism. On the other hand, behavior control focuses on self-discipline and regulation as a way of promoting resilience (Selva, 2019). Therefore, trainers could employ these strategies to ensure that noncommissioned service members gain the necessary resilience skills to overcome anticipated challenges that come with deployment including substance abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence.


Master resiliency trainers and other SNCOs are given leadership responsibilities, and thus they should ensure that their unit members are fully equipped with the requisite skills to overcome psychological distress once deployed. Applying the principles of positive psychology imparts resilience on noncommissioned service members to deal with difficult situations successfully without succumbing to depression and PTSD after deployment. MRT trainers could apply individual-level factors, such as positive thinking, positive coping, positive affect, realism, and behavior control to deal with leadership challenges associated with sexual assault, drug abuse, and domestic violence among other related behaviors.


Doll, K. (2019). 23 resilience-building tools and exercises (+ mental toughness test). Web.

Moore, C. (2019). Resilience training: How to master mental toughness and thrive. Web.

Selva, J. (2019). Master resilience training (MRT) in the US Army. Web.

Shrestha, A., Cornum, R., Vie, L., Scheier, M., Lester, P., & Seligman, M. (2018). Protective effects of psychological strengths against psychiatric disorders among soldiers. Military Medicine, 183(1), 386-395.

Singh, J. K. (2018). Psychological strength in military set up: Current status and future direction. Defense Life Science Journal, 3(4), 340-347.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, July 7). Positive Psychology for Military Leadership. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/positive-psychology-for-military-leadership/

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"Positive Psychology for Military Leadership." StudyCorgi, 7 July 2021, studycorgi.com/positive-psychology-for-military-leadership/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Positive Psychology for Military Leadership." July 7, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/positive-psychology-for-military-leadership/.


StudyCorgi. "Positive Psychology for Military Leadership." July 7, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/positive-psychology-for-military-leadership/.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Positive Psychology for Military Leadership." July 7, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/positive-psychology-for-military-leadership/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Positive Psychology for Military Leadership'. 7 July.

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