Network or hierarchy? Personality profiles of future military leaders

Oluf Gøtzsche-Astrup*, Morten Brænder, Vilhelm Stefan Holsting

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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To what degree do future military officers resemble the traditional hierarchical leadership ideal, and to what degree do they resemble an emerging new kind of network-based leadership ideal? Military organizations are constantly changing in response to pressures from within the organization and surrounding society. Today, such changes exert themselves in novel recruitment strategies for a new generation of military leaders. Previous studies have shown how a new network-organizational paradigm has come to the fore in military leadership and officer recruitment. However, the core requirements of military leadership—remaining calm under pressure and demonstrating an ability to lead others and inspire followership—remain the same. Military psychological scholarship has often focused on subgroups within the military rather than general differences in personality between military and civilian populations. We remedy this limitation in the literature, and use the Big Five taxonomy and a unique dataset consisting of the personality profiles of an entire cohort of Danish officer cadets (n = 190) and a large (n = 1,568) Danish population-representative sample. We compare officer cadets to civilians using a three-level matching procedure, finding that the pool from which future military leaders are selected, the military cadets, are less neurotic, more extraverted and somewhat more conscientious than their civilian counterparts, traits that we theorize fit with the core requirements of traditional military leadership. The results indicate that cadets are no less open or agreeable than their civilian peers, traits that we theorize are related to a balancing towards the network-organizational paradigm.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNordic Psychology
Pages (from-to)183-204
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • big five
  • civilian population
  • military leadership
  • personality
  • recruitment

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