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The Army Lawyer | Issue 1 2022View PDF

Practice Notes: Holistic Leadership

On 10 March 2022, Major General Joseph Berger, Deputy Judge Advocate General, and his team engaged with the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) Office of
        the Staff Judge Advocate during the special operations forces Article 6.

On 10 March 2022, Major General Joseph Berger, Deputy Judge Advocate General, and his team engaged with the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) Office of the Staff Judge Advocate during the special operations forces Article 6.

Practice Notes

Holistic Leadership

A New Approach to an Age-Old Responsibility

Leadership is the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.1

While the degree may vary, leading subordinates is one of the most important missions of any Service member. That said, effective leaders must balance this effort with ensuring the mission is accomplished, as “[m]ission accomplishment takes priority over everything else . . . .”2 The means used to accomplish the mission are our nation’s most precious commodity: its sons and daughters.3 For this (and countless other reasons), the care for and wellness of our teammates is paramount to ensuring mission accomplishment and the overall success of our Army. Applying a holistic leadership approach can help leaders effectively meet their demanding missions while fostering an environment where growth and wellness flourish. The desire to improve wellness can leave leaders with many questions. Two of the most common questions include what is “wellness” and how can leaders best set the conditions for improving and sustaining the wellness of their subordinates? This article seeks to bring insight to these two questions.

This article first discusses how the Army has begun to redefine its wellness efforts with a common premise that wellness is holistic in nature and imperative to mission accomplishment. This shift is more than simply using new vocabulary—it is changing the mindset of our culture to understand and appreciate that human wellness is a fusing of the emotional, spiritual, physical, family, and social dimensions.4 Holistic leadership introduces a new way to incorporate the Army’s understanding of wellness and assists leaders with providing the highest quality care for their people. After establishing the need for a more comprehensive appreciation for holistic wellness, we can then focus on how leaders can better care for their subordinates.

The Army’s Understanding of Wellness

In 2008, the Army established the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program as a means for Soldiers to build wellness and resiliency.5 Comprehensive Soldier fitness is built upon the foundation of physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and family strength. Later in 2014, the Army published Army Regulation 350-53, Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, as the foundational document used to define the elements which comprise human wellness. Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2) is comprised of five separate dimensions: “physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and family.”6 These dimensions are described as the “Five Dimensions of Strength.”7 To improve resiliency and strength, Soldiers need to continually develop each of these five areas. Through this developmental process, Soldiers can become the best version of themselves and more effectively contribute to overall mission success.

There have been many positive outcomes attributed to the principles described in AR 350-53 and the CSF2 concepts. The most important outcome is that the Army recognizes that human nature is complex, with multiple essential qualities. Greater understanding of the complexities of human wellness has led the Army to develop numerous programs which address the dimensions noted above.8 One area where CSF2 is arguably lacking is in its development and articulation of the interplay between the Five Dimensions of Strength. Because these dimensions are described as “comprehensive,” the Army has painted the picture that each pillar is disconnected from the others. The result has been that many of the wellness initiatives that the Army has instituted have focused on individual dimensions, often without any holistic connection.9

It can be argued that the comprehensive approach to wellness instituted by the CSF2 campaign has resulted in “conceptual fragmentation” between the development and sustainment of wellness and readiness initiatives.10 Most significantly, this fragmentation is seen in the lack of understanding of the holistic connection between the dimensions of wellness. For Army leaders, this can be particularly challenging as wellness issues will be isolated to the attending problem without any regard to the holistic well-being of the person as a whole.

A prime example of what can occur when leaders take a segmented view to wellness is the story of the fictional Major (MAJ) Sanchez.11 Major Sanchez was a superb officer. He was mentally and physically fit with exceptional technical knowledge and unparalleled communication skills. He attended West Point and was a below-the-zone select for promotion to major. While assigned as a battalion executive officer, he began to experience some personal problems at home. He and his wife were estranged and he was constantly worried about their children. It was not long before MAJ Sanchez begin to lash out angrily at his staff. To cope with his marital problems, MAJ Sanchez began to drink heavily and often overslept and missed physical training. This once-devout Roman Catholic stopped attending mass and started to move away from any type of spiritual discipline. His battalion commander soon began receiving multiple complaints about MAJ Sanchez from officers and noncommissioned officers across the formation. He was also contacted by MAJ Sanchez’s mother, who expressed deep concern for the well-being of her son. Based on these factors, and the marked decrease in MAJ Sanchez’s performance, the battalion commander brought MAJ Sanchez in for counseling.

The example above illustrates how emotional stress resulting from MAJ Sanchez’s home situation soon began to impact other areas of his life. He was not able to compartmentalize what was happening in his family dimension. As a result, his social, spiritual, physical, and emotional dimensions all began to deteriorate. A leader’s attempt to merely isolate MAJ Sanchez’s issues would invariably lead to a “fragmented approach” to his healing and limit his further development.12 Simply telling MAJ Sanchez to get anger management training or get help for his drinking would only treat those specific symptoms and do little to heal him holistically. If MAJ Sanchez’s leadership truly wanted to help him, they would need to understand the holistic nature of his situation. Fortunately, the Army seems to have recognized the perceived limitations of CSF2 and is finding more effective ways to support Soldiers like MAJ Sanchez. Accordingly, the Army is evolving to a new understanding and approach to wellness as outlined in Field Manual (FM) 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness.

In October 2020, the Army published FM 7-22. This FM marks a noticeable shift in how wellness is perceived within the Army: “[Field Manual 7-22] represents a cultural shift from the industrial scale approaches of the past where massed formations received the same training in a one-size-fits-all approach . . . .”13 The Army has recognized that all Soldiers are not the same and all Soldier issues cannot effectively be treated in isolation. The importance of this shift is significant in that FM 7-22 redefines how wellness is perceived. It also expresses the connection and interdependence between the Five Dimensions of Strength. Instead of looking at wellness like a house supported by five separate pillars, a holistic view of wellness treats each pillar as a part of a web of interconnected elements, each continuously interacting and affecting the other.

This holistic approach is seen most significantly in the way FM 7-22 describes the interplay between “physical domains” and “nonphysical domains.”14 In order for Soldiers to reach their top performance, they must have integrated physical training with nonphysical disciplines such as proper nutrition and sleep hygiene. Along with adequate sleep and a healthy diet, FM 7-22 also outlines that a person must also develop and sustain a strong spiritual life15: “Spiritual readiness is the ability to endure and overcome times of stress, hardship, and tragedy by making meaning of life experiences. Individuals find meaning as they exercise beliefs, principles, ethics, and morals arising from religious, philosophical, and human values.”16 The physical domains are directly impacted by the nonphysical domains, and vice versa.

Field Manual 7-22’s overarching point of emphasis is that a Soldier cannot perform at their highest level with physical training alone. A Soldier needs to develop other skills and habits which—when coupled with physical fitness—will elevate them to achieve peak performance levels. This is not a difficult model to conceptualize. It seems almost common sense that a person who eats healthy food, gets enough sleep, has a strong moral and ethical compass, and maintains proper motivation is more likely to perform at a high level. Field Manual 7-22 does a great job of beginning the conversation about the reality of holistic health. In order to have a clear picture of what it means to be a healthy human being, a more holistic approach is needed: there is a need to incorporate all the dimensions of wellness.

The effect of the impact to each of the above domains resulted in a myriad of negative consequences and decreased overall wellness.17

Holistic Leadership

Stated most simply—wellness matters. A Soldier who is well is a more effective teammate and helps ensure mission accomplishment. As the Army gains a better understanding of the holistic web connecting the Five Dimensions of Strength that make a well Soldier, the manner in which we lead Soldiers must meet this understanding. With increased understanding, Army leaders have a new challenge: how to lead and care for Soldiers in light of a more holistic approach to wellness. Holistic leadership does not require new leadership tools. Rather, leaders must ensure they are applying the proper, existing tools in the correct manner.

The Army Leadership Requirements Model (LRM) has three competencies and three attributes all Army leaders must possess.18 Each of these competencies and attributes significantly contribute to improving and sustaining wellness and a healthy force capable of successfully accomplishing the Army’s mission. The competencies are leads, develops, and achieves.19 The attributes are character, presence, and intellect.20 Each is important to leading Soldiers in a manner that incorporates their holistic wellness.

However, the scope of the second half of this article focuses only on selected portions of the leads competency and the character attribute. It will explore how leads and character provide the direction leaders need to ensure the holistic wellness of each subordinate. Specifically, the article focuses on a leader’s ability to identify when their subordinate has an issue adversely impacting their holistic wellness, i.e., recognizing there is a problem. Further, it briefly discusses two important concepts for leaders to consider in helping subordinates address their wellness issue, i.e., resolving the problem.

Leads—Recognizing There Is a Problem

“Leads” is made up of five competencies.21 Applying three of the competencies—leads others, communicates, and builds trust—provides key doctrinal principles in providing holistic wellness as a leader. The three competencies are interrelated and, when applied together, set the conditions for a leader to 1) recognize there is a problem, or 2) enable the subordinate come to them and disclose their situation.

Leads Others

Successful leaders depend on a blend of compliance and commitment as a foundation for leading others.22 While both are necessary in leadership, commitment is deeper and actually gets to the attitude and behavior of the subordinate.23 Obtaining commitment from subordinates is pivotal for leaders to build the foundation necessary to identify issues in a subordinate’s holistic wellness.

For subordinates to move from compliance to commitment, it is important for leaders to connect with their subordinates on a personal level.24 Connecting on a personal level and moving subordinates towards commitment creates a two-pronged, second order effect that helps leaders recognize issues adversely impacting a Soldier’s holistic wellness. First, if a Soldier has a personal connection with their leader, the Soldier will be more likely to approach the leader and discuss an issue. Second, connecting on a personal level “helps leaders to anticipate and understand individual circumstances and needs.”25 For example, if a Soldier does not voluntarily come to their leader to discuss issues impacting the Soldier’s holistic wellness, a leader who has connected with the Soldier is more likely to identify the issue without the Soldier volunteering the information.


While connecting with subordinates on a personal level is the first step in obtaining commitment, communication is the first step in creating a personal connection: “Taking adequate time to communicate when forming relationships is important to setting the right conditions . . . .”26 Moreover, “[o]pen communication . . . shows leaders care about those they work with . . . .”27 Open communication requires leaders to get out of the office and personally interact with their people: “The most effective leaders are the ones who are mobile and visible throughout the building.”28 If you want a personal connection that transforms Soldiers from just compliance to commitment, it starts with open communication.

Builds Trust

“Relationships built on trust enable . . . open communication.”29 As the doctrinal layers build, the interrelationship between these three competencies becomes more evident. Trust furthers open communication, open communication enables personal connections, and personal connections move people from compliance to commitment. The culminating effect is a leadership environment where subordinates willingly discuss their wellness issues, and, if they do not, the leaders will likely notice there is a wellness issue based on the Soldier’s behavior.

While this sounds rather simple, it unfortunately requires a great deal of effort and attention for most leaders. Unfortunately, leaders fail at this over and over again. The overlooked lynchpin to this entire process is time: “Taking adequate time to communicate . . . is important to setting the right conditions . . . .”30 Too often we invest our time in email, research, unnecessary meetings, and the next task at the expense of taking care of those we lead.

Character—Resolving the Problem

Character has five attributes that have specific relevance to Army leaders: Army values, empathy, warrior ethos and service ethos, discipline, and humility.31 Empathy is a key component of holistic wellness.


Once a problem is identified, empathy is key to resolving it. As seen with MAJ Sanchez, leaders must exercise empathy: “Army leaders show empathy when they relate to another person’s situation . . . . Empathy [provides] a realization that leads to a deeper understanding [and] allows the leader to anticipate what others are experiencing and feeling.”32 Because empathy provides both a deeper understanding of another’s situation and allows the leader to anticipate experiences and feelings, leaders must practice empathy to better understand, care for, and improve their Soldiers’ holistic wellness. If a leader identifies the existence of a problem, but, through lack of empathy, fails to understand the root cause of the problem, they will often fall short in helping their Soldier resolve the situation.


Holistic leadership is not a new way to lead. Rather, it is a refocused and more complete form of leadership. This refocused leadership acknowledges that the Five Dimensions of Strength are interwoven and not fragmented pillars. By viewing holistic health as an interconnected web, leaders can avoid the pitfalls of treating Soldier wellness as merely shoring up minor cracks in a foundation of any particular pillar. Instead, leaders will be more equipped to help their Soldiers deal with immediate issues at hand without having rippling effects to other aspects of their health. Understanding that one issue can directly impact all five pillars enables a holistic leader to more effectively resolve problems and help identify the root issue, rather than merely addressing the obvious symptoms. The ability to effectively communicate and understand leadership holistically—through the pillars of the Five Dimensions of Strength—will help both the leader and subordinate operate at their highest levels. A holistic leader is better prepared to take care of their people, lead effectively, and ensure mission accomplishment. TAL

Chaplain (MAJ) Chittim is the command chaplain and ethics instructor at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.

MAJ Cleek is the deputy director of the Leadership Center at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.


1. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Doctrine Pub. 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession para. 1-74 (31 July 2019) (C1, 25 Nov. 2019) [hereinafter ADP 6-22].

2. Id. para. 7-2.

3. Id. para. 6-36.

4. Army Regulation 350-53 uses the term “dimension” to describe the elements which comprise wellness. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 350-53, Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness passim (19 June 2014) [hereinafter AR 350-53]. Field Manual 7-22 uses the term “domain.” U.S. Dep’t of Army, Field Manual 7-22, Holistic Health and Fitness passim (1 Oct. 2020) (C1, 8 Oct. 2020) [hereinafter FM 7-22]. The terms seem to be synonymous and thus this article will primarily use the term “dimension.”

5. Jaqueline M. Hames, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, U.S. Army (July 23, 2009),

6. AR 350-53, supra note 4, para. 2-1.

7. Id. para. 2-1.

8. This assertion is based on the author’s professional experiences as an Army Chaplain and conducting numerous Strong Bonds events with the specific intent to strengthen the family and social dimension.

9. Stephanie L. Smith, Could Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Have Iatrogenic Consequences? A Commentary, 40 J. Behav. Health Servs. & Rsch. ٢٤٢, ٢٤٤ (٢٠١٣).

10. Paul T. Berghaus & Nathan L. Cartegena, Developing Good Soldiers: The Problem of Fragmentation Within the Army, 12 J. Mil. Ethics 287, 293 (2013).

11. The story of Major Sanchez is a composite of many encounters the author has had with Army leaders during his time as an Army chaplain.

12. Berghaus & Cartegena, supra note 10.

13. FM 7-22, supra note 4, at xiii.

14. Id. para. 1-1.

15. Id. para. 1-5.

16. Id. para. 3-21.

17. An example is the dramatic rise in suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic as referenced in the compelling article by Haley Britzky, The Active Duty Army Is Facing a Record Suicide Rate. Leaders Have No Idea How to Fix It, Task & Purpose, (Oct. 14, 2021, 1:25 PM).

18. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 1-82.

19. Id. para. 1-82.

20. Id. fig.1-3.

21. Id. para. 5-1.

22. Id. para. 5-7. See also id. para. 5-9 for the enumerated nine methods of influence. These methods can be implemented based on the commitment, compliance, or a combination of the two the leader has from their subordinates.

23. Id. para. 5-8.

24. See generally id. para. 5-40.

25. Id.

26. Id. para. 5-76.

27. Id. para. 5-80.

28. Jon Gordon & Mike Smith, You Win in the Locker Room First: The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life 59 (2015).

29. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 5-46.

30. Id. para. 5-76.

31. Id. para. 2-3.

32. Id. para. 2-23.