Adaptive behaviors and skills in high-level military staff work : Coping with organizational demands, use of smooth power, and political skill

Abstract: Many organizations operate in fast-paced and collaborative environments. Individuals’ adaptive behavior may play an important role in managing challenges and for meeting organizational goals. Although individual adaptive behavior has previously been identified as important in organization productivity and flexibility, a lesser extent of research has focused on the variety of adaptive behaviors and skills that may aid in this process. The overarching aim of this thesis, addressed in three empirical studies, was to provide an increased understanding of the adaptive behavior and skills used in high-level military staff work. This included investigating what adaptive behaviors leaders used to try to manage demands and challenges and to investigate relevant skills used by leaders and military officers which may contribute to adaptability in military staff work. Study I, which used a qualitative approach, aimed to identify ways that leaders managed organizational demands and challenges and, subsequently, relate these strategies to established organizational theory regarding negative organizational characteristics. An inductive analysis identified five coping strategies: repair work, catching up, reproducing, managing loyalties, and balancing formal and informal processes. These were described as being used to decrease the workload and manage demands and challenges. Results of a deductive analysis indicated a possible relationship between the leaders’ coping strategies and negative organizational characteristics. Study II, which used a qualitative approach, aimed to identify what leadership skills were perceived as important for leaders in gaining adaptability in military staff work. A core variable was identified in the data, the leader’s use of smooth power. This included the use of structural, emotional and relational smoothness, to gain adaptability. Smooth power was interpreted as facilitating adaptive behaviors, including networking and influencing behavior. Study III investigated a specific social effectiveness construct, political skill, in a military staff context. This included the investigation of the 18-item Political Skill Inventory (Ferris et al., 2005). Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses supported the original four-dimensional representation of political skill, including networking ability, apparent sincerity, social astuteness, and interpersonal influence. The study also explored whether there were different combinations of the dimensions of political skill through latent profile analyses. Four profiles were identified: 1) weak political skill, 2) weak political skill with strong sincerity, 3) moderate political skill, and 4) strong political skill. Subsequent profile comparisons indicated differences regarding demographics, personality, and performance. The results from the thesis imply that there are a variety of behaviors that individuals perform to manage organizational demands and challenges, including reactive and proactive behaviors in military staff work. These behaviors appear to vary depending on contextual factors. In addition, the results indicate the importance of networking activity in military staff contexts, which appear to contribute positively to organizational outcomes. Taken together, the findings broaden the current understanding of the function and diversity that adaptive behaviors and skills may represent in relation to managing demands and challenges in high-level military staff work.