Sensemaking of Military Leaders in Combat and Its Aftermath: A Phenomenological Inquiry

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Carmit Padan
Uzi Ben-Shalom


This paper describes the sensemaking processes engaged in by leaders during close combat and its aftermath. The data were collected by interviewing ten commanders who took part in two different combat events. The phenome­nological method revealed cognitive, emotional, and social processes, which are the focus of sensemaking in close combat. We also found that sensemak­ing was performed both during and after combat. In combat, commanders’ sensemaking was focused on understanding the tactical problem, the typical micro-social processes of combat, and the emotional needs of their subordi­nates. After combat, sensemaking continued with framing professional deci­sions and knowledge, preserving unit cohesion and prestige, and mentoring subordinates. High-ranking officers had a broader sensemaking frame, which included political issues, while junior officers were focused on their immediate unit. We suggest that a broader framework of sensemaking may serve the leadership development of military leaders.

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