“Please join with me in congratulating our newest leaders within the Australian Defence Force (ADF)”
*Loud applause followed by comments of re-draw*
Invest in your career and as a junior leader.
You have just been recognised as one of the newest commanders within the ADF. The transformation from ‘Digger’ to Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (JNCO) has just begun and you have taken the first step on the ladder of leadership. Along with many new responsibilities, you also now qualify to be included in the conversation of postings and, without investing in career planning, you and/or your soldiers may find yourself as just a name on a spreadsheet.
This article aims to influence soldiers to invest in their own career path. It seeks to encourage them to take an active role in engaging with their chain of command (CoC) in order to achieve the most out of their career within the ADF.
What does success look like to you?
Every year your CoC will be asked to consider soldiers who have the experience and knowledge to be posted to a training establishment or to a trade training role. Without you investing in a career plan, it is possible that you may receive a posting based solely on the merit of being ‘qualified’ for the position. This is sometimes not in the best interests of you as the member, or the ADF as an organisation. Ask yourself the question ‘what does success look like to me’?
Be realistic about career goals and the timeframe in which you can achieve them. Communicate these goals with your CoC and revisit your plan throughout the year. It is realistic for some individuals to choose a career path that is narrow and could possibly limit career progression. If fully understood by your CoC, this pathway can be supported, so long as you accept it could limit your opportunities.
Performance Appraisal Report (PAR) Vs. Command Relationships
Receiving your PAR should not be the first time you are briefed on your performance. In the first instance, the duties and demands of the role you will undertake will be briefed to you and should be revisited during the year through a command relationship. Enter your role with clear expectations of the feedback you will receive from your command team.
Expect honest feedback on your strengths and weaknesses and keep an open mind on how to strengthen your performance as a leader. When you are presented with your PAR, it should reflect and confirm everything you have worked to improve throughout the training year. It should not be a surprise!
*A note of self-reflection – What may have been a strength in your performance as a digger may be your biggest weakness in your new role. Ask questions and have open conversations with your peers on the challengers that you are facing. They are probably facing the same challenges. Seek professional feedback often and remember that it is just that, professional feedback.
Leadership Vs. Likership
If you have been lucky enough to be given a leadership role in your preferred unit, there may be potential for you to be serving with people that you have strong interpersonal relationships with. A reality of service is the bond that develops between soldiers when serving together. What you expect from your superiors should also be what you now offer your subordinates.
If you haven’t already, get to know your soldiers and invest in making them better. Understand their strengths and weaknesses and discuss with them ways to improve both informally and by formal reporting e.g., bush reports. Remember that there needs to exist a line where your role as a junior commander exceeds the need for you to be liked by your soldiers. This does not make you a bad person, it makes you a firm leader. Like you, your soldiers should have a career plan and goals in mind. Engage in planning a realistic path with them and be able to brief this through your CoC on their behalf. Without this, they may become just a name on a spreadsheet.
Remain realistic about what you want out of the Defence Force
You seized the opportunity to serve your country and had a clear career progression in front of you through ab-initio training and in your years as a digger. Your expectations for job satisfaction in your new role need to remain realistic. One way you can identify new opportunities of a potential posting is by engaging with your Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) or your Sergeant Major (SM).
Seek the opportunity to engage with soldiers you may know who have completed the role that you want or the role you may be asked to do. Plan early and do not wait for postings to be released before discussing the reasons why you don’t want to be posted.
Give me a reason why you can’t?
If you have not engaged in a career plan with your CoC, you can expect to be put on a career path that Defence thinks best suits its needs. Don’t hope that your name will not appear and that you will not be considered for a posting. Your CoC discuss all members who are to be promoted, who will take up new roles within the organisation, and who can be considered for a posting out of the unit.
If you have not discussed with your CoC your career goals, your chances of being just a name on a spreadsheet increase, and the possibility of you being posted to a position that you never considered remain high. Your CoC will ask for a reason why you cannot fulfil a posting. If you had discussed your career plan, then there would be no reason to ask.
It is ok to use the Defence Force as a stepping-stone
The average length of service for a member of the ADF is 10 years with the median age for permanent soldiers being 31. From an organisational point of view, it is realistic to acknowledge that people use the ADF as a stepping-stone for a career after service.
During those 10 years, the ADF has invested in providing you experience in participating in individual and team activities, developing your organisational leadership skills and ability to demonstrate your potential in meeting agreed goals. All these attributes are highly sought after in the civilian job sector. If you don’t see yourself as a “lifer”, then use your time in the ADF to work towards the role you want in 10 years’ time.
While a new leadership role or a posting order can sometimes be a catalyst for someone to consider transitioning from Defence, think about the next 5 years of your professional career. Before you rush to fill in your AC 853, discuss with your CoC what your new role could include. Many postings to training establishments include monetary bonuses for instructors as well as posting guarantees on completion.
If you are sold on separating, consider a SERCAT 5 role which offers location stability while also keeping you regularly connected with Defence.
Many people love their time in the Defence Force and when asked why they left, a large percentage discuss that the job just wasn’t what it used to be after they were promoted or after they were posted. Just like a bank account, the more you invest in planning your career, the more you will get out of it. If you don’t invest, then you run the risk of becoming just a name on a spreadsheet.