Importance of Motivation in Naval Officers

What makes for a good Royal Navy senior officer? - Marginal REVOLUTION)

Findings suggest differences in motivation are more important than differences in general intelligence, or personality traits, in predicting assessed performance, potential within, and actual rate of advancement to, senior leadership positions.

This seems correct in my experience .

The paper is gated but there is some more details at the link.

I can’t imagine that is unique to the Royal Navy. Motivation can work wonders, as can demotivation. If you think you are doing a good deed pointing out an oil leak before departure and quickly find out that is a quick trip to the unemployment line, you won’t be saying much ever again even if the ship/plane is on fire.

From a Royal Navy officer fitness report: “I’m sure this officer’s men follow him simply out of curiosity.”


There have been others such as “ This officer has performed entirely to his own satisfaction.”
The study looked at officers of Commanders rank and above for suitability of promotion to flag rank where the chaff has been largely weeded out.
There are some documentaries on the “Perisher” course for examining the suitability of a Royal Naval officer for command of a submarine that might be more illustrative of where the study was coming from.

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Paper was not gated for me

Here is the full paper by Mike Young and Victor Dulewicz.

What is the public significance of this article?—This study has identified that aspects of motivation, espe-cially thriving on feeling involved and being driven to achieve career progression, are more important than either cognitive ability or personality traits in predicting performance within, and speed of promotion into, senior levels of a military hierarchy

I am so going to be using this in the future !!

Cold take - didn’t read the paper yet - but I have always pushed back on these quite subjective opinions of personnel in evaluating performance. How does one measure, or even honestly know anothers " motivation" or “drive to advance”. In practice, I believe, it means " he/she is a lot like me" - the evaluator. People should be evaluated, as much as possible by what they do. Actual behaviors or results that can be articulated, and held to some objective level of performance.

Yes, apparently motivation is difficult to measure objectively.

I mostly just skimmed the paper using the search function. There is a section on research design and methodology. Evidently there are standard tests that are used to measure motivation and my understanding is the test results were cross-checked using the Navy’s own officer appraisals.

The paper was posted by a reputable scholar at a site considered reliable. I do think motivation is often an underrated factor.

A post was split to a new topic: Sociopaths tend to flock to power (“leadership”)

That paper is kind of stating the obvious.

There are lots of people with low IQ who reach high positions because they work hard, there are lots of people with high IQ who don’t achieve much because they’re lazy. Look at the case of Christopher Langan, he allegedly has one of the highest IQs on earth but didn’t achieve much in his life.

I would have to be persuaded that what one researcher calls “motivation” simply isn’t what another would call “work ethic”.

Unless paid for looks or charm, a low IQ person is most likely going to have to work harder than one with higher IQ. And in many cases, the high IQ person can afford to be “lazy”, but the low IQ person does not have such luxury.

The high IQ does mean you could be capable, not that you are capable to fill a post.
The high IQ means that you are capable to see what permits to reach your personal goals.
This is nothing essential to do a job.

The result is well described in the ‘Peter Principle’:
…people in a hierarchy tend to rise to “a level of respective incompetence”: employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another…

This is from the paper:

The participants in this study have all been successfully promoted through a competitive hierarchy, to at least the rank of Captain, in part on their perceived ability to think on a level above peer group (a component of the Royal Navy’s definition of merit for promotion). It is therefore very likely that intelligence has regressed to being a threshold competency

In other words the not so smart officers mostly don’t make it to the rank of Captain or above. At captain and above having higher intelligence than one’s peers has diminishing returns and differences in motivation becomes more important.

So marginal intelligence ( the diff in intelligence between officers) decreases as they advance to senior officers, but motivation doesn’t ?? -

In my rather limited experience once you get toward the top of the pyramid - it becomes a game of superiors grasping for minor differences to justify on paper what their subjective preferences are based on all kinds of prejudices, perceptions, and confirmation biases.

As you may have guessed I am rather a cynic when it comes to the personal advancement - judgement stuff - IMO it is all very weak pseudo-science, at best.

Not exactly .according to the study there is still large differences in intelligence at captain and above. It’s that above a certain threshold having higher intelligence in that type of organization has diminishing returns. Differences in motivation matter more.

If a Navy officer has Albert Einstein levels of intelligence might be better off to be in physics than the Navy.

Again - with limited experiance in this - what I have come to find is - 5% of the folks are just stars - amazing and everyone in the organization knows this, 5% are awful and should be let go, and everyone in the organization knows this as well, and the only real difference in the remaining 90% is somebody’s opinion.

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ok - but yet again - do you believe that there are significant differences - and more importantly - objective, measurable differenced in “motivation” between any significant number of officers at the level of Captain ?

Politics also has a large part to do with it, especially in a military organization. And of course, those that want to win the game the most, and have no problem stepping on others (aka sociopaths) have a huge advantage in this pursuit.

Not sure who that outlier is, but with an R squared of less than .5 doesn’t look like IQ tests are a very good predictor of $ - according to this anyway.