This article was a shortlisted submission to the 2022 Cove Competition.
The Command, Leadership, Management and Training module (CLMT) is used as a vehicle to develop leaders across the suite of courses delivered under the Australian Army All Corps Training Continuum. Developing Army’s leaders through these four functions provides a broad suite of applicable tools to meet the wide array of demands placed on contemporary professional military leadership. As I reflected on the utility of this training based on my own experience – having now led at the troop, squadron, and regimental levels – I realised that the CLMT functions provided a solid foundation as an organisational leader but were less optimal in the more interpersonal aspects of leadership. To that end, I thought it would be worth offering to my fellow service personnel a different, more personal lens through which to view CLMT; specifically: coach, listen, mentor and trust. For ease of use I have broken these functions down below. Please note that while they are coloured by my most recent leadership experience as a CO, I believe there is utility for all levels of Army leadership.
Coach – A lot of this is about finding the right player for the right position. You have a significant amount of flexibility to move people around in your unit to where they are best suited by virtue of their own character, competence, and developmental needs. It is also about finding where you can optimise their teaming and compliment those around them. Even your sub-unit commanders can be shifted between sub-units, they are there to be an officer commanding, it doesn’t have to be the one that the Career Management Agency (CMA) writes on their posting order. You should know their strengths and weaknesses better than the CMA. Once you have them where you want them, work with them to improve their performance. Part of this is letting them fail, but not be a failure; help them learn from where they went wrong. Growth comes through adversity, and you want your people to feel comfortable pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Forgiveness plays an important role here, don’t forget that you have made mistakes that you have been forgiven for. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be where you are now. You will need some patience as often this approach won’t accomplish tasks and goals very quickly, but if you can accept some short-term failures the result will be much greater long-term learning and performance. You are likely the most experienced leader and staff officer in your unit, but every time you complete a task that could have been done by someone else because you can do it faster or better you are robbing them of an opportunity for development. This approach can rail against your instincts if you are used to employing your authority to achieve rapid outcomes, but you shouldn’t be too busy to afford the time, and developing your people is generally the best use of your time.
Listen – This is something I have done poorly in the past; too often I anticipate instead of listening, waiting to hear something I can use to buttress my own position – to prove that I am right and you are wrong. Let go of the ideas that come into your head on how you can argue your position when others are speaking, they are a distraction from your ability to understand the other person. Be genuinely curious in your engagements, be open to the idea that your current preferences aren’t necessarily optimised and that these can and should be upgraded. Remember that your enemy isn’t the person with a different viewpoint, your enemy is your ego that prevents you from challenging your own perspective. To quote the mantra from the legendary research professor Brené Brown “I want to get it right, not be right”. Remember that you already know about you; anytime you are talking and not listening you are missing an opportunity to learn something about the person or people you are communicating with. Listening allows you to create connections and develop an understanding of your people and the team, something you will need to do if you are going to be an effective coach and mentor. Being a great leader isn’t about having all the answers, it’s about being able to ask the important questions… and being open to truly hearing the answers.
Mentor – Almost every senior leader who spoke to my pre-command course highlighted the importance of mentoring. There is a lot of fluidity in this term, both in the profession and in academia. For me it comes down to helping close the gap between realised and absolute potential. Mentoring is different from coaching, coaching is generally job focussed and performance oriented, mentoring seeks the development of the whole person, driven by the individual’s professional and personal goals – you should always be trying to improve the whole human potential of your people. Through listening with interest and curiosity you can work out where the holes in their game are and then spend time with them filling these in. You will also benefit from this process, the introspection required to be an effective mentor will result in you reflecting on your own experiences and drawing more lessons from these than you may have been able to find at the time. Imagine if you had the ability to sit down with your future self and ask for advice, this is what you are doing in the moment for your subordinates. This shouldn’t just be limited to work related topics. Personal relationships are the sinew that holds the team together, and often personal issues will manifest into professional ones if left unresolved. If you want to start getting your head into some of the academic research in this space, The Elements of Mentoring by W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley and Mentoring at Work by Kathy Kram are great places to start.
Trust – For leaders at all levels, trust is your centre of gravity. Your subordinates, peers, and superiors will forgive you most things if you can establish a climate of trust within your organisation. Trust is one of the hardest aspects to master, but it is a precursor to the three functions listed above. Your ego will want to control everything, but if you can accept that you only control the effort that goes in and not the results that come out you will be mastering your ego. All work leaves our hands at some point and there is an increasing “inversion of expertise” – junior officers and soldiers coming through the system now are far better prepared, trained, and equipped than we were at the same point in our careers. The workforce you have is diverse and multi-generational, and for a lot of you it will be the first time you are directly leading large numbers of people not in your corps who are far more expert in their specific discipline than you are. You should be looking to build consensus, not just give orders. If you want to stay credible and legitimate in your leadership when you haven’t necessarily done the things your subordinates have done, then you need to be transparent in your limitations and be willing to listen. Developing trust quickly can often be a challenge. Leaning into the first three functions above can help accelerate the trust process. If you want some more evidence-based practices then I encourage you to read the book Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage With People, Work, And Everything We Do by Ori and Rom Brafman.
Army in Motion articulates that people are at the centre of our Army. Reframing CLMT through the coach, listen, mentor, and trust lens can aid in the realisation of good soldiering and help make you a more effective interpersonal leader.