This Professional Military Education (PME) exercise is designed for those junior officers with an interest in high level performance, hijacking the primitive part of their brain, and getting the most out of themselves physically and mentally. It is for those who want to be well informed about the human dimension of warfare and the links between biochemistry and evolutionary history. It may help foster an officer culture which values and strives for excellence.

As articulated in this 2019 article on The Atlantic, “as a species, humans are not armed with fangs, claws, running speed, flight, venom, fur or other helpful tools to survive a savage world… As impressive as our weapons and technology may be, one of the weakest links in waging war is the human being. Hunger, fatigue, and the need for sleep can quickly drain morale and degrade mission effectiveness. Fear and confusion can lead to costly errors of judgement and performance. Emotions and adrenaline can drive otherwise decent people to lose their moral and ethical compass, and the impact of war can take an equally devastating toll on individuals and families.”

There already aren’t enough Australians willing and able to serve in the Australian Army officer corps, so we need to maintain those who can in order to have an officer class sufficient to be able to fight and wind the next war, and the one after that.

First watch the video of Dr Jemma King presenting at the Centre for Australian Army Leadership’s 2019 Army Leadership Seminar. Dr King is a human performance consultant to the 2nd Commando Regiment, the Australian Institute of Sport, and the Olympic Swim team. Dr King is also the founder of BioPsychAnalytics (a company specialising in advanced human performance optimisation), a research fellow at the University of Queensland, and a lecturer to Sydney University’s MBA program.

Next, read her full interview on Grounded Curiosity here.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. King says: “in order for leaders to retain smart and loyal subordinates, they need to be adept at ascertaining the intrinsic motivations of each individual, and adept at explaining the goals of the Army in a way that resonates.” Can you explain the current goals of the Army? Can you explain the current goals of your unit?
  1. Are the “sophisticated interpersonal and soft skills” King describes something you can develop or something that you are born with?
  1. King describes a range of pre-emptive “biopsychosocial strategies” to help individuals placed under immense stress. Was there one which resonated with you most? For example, improved nutrition or better sleep hygiene.
  1. What factors in your life might be making it difficult to have emotional equilibrium? King says: “when you know the things that trigger you, and you take them away, then you can focus on improving yourself. Knowing what not to do is a huge part of it”.
  1. King says: “on Selection, they don’t provide feedback, so candidates tend to think things are going worse for them than they actually are, and so come unstuck due to this ‘imposter syndrome’. We’d rather have negative input than no input, and it can be torturous for candidates to be denied that and so get wrapped up inside their own heads”. How do you provide feedback to your team? Do you have a responsibility to help your team understand how they are tracking and where they sit/fit?
  1. New technology and research offer a range of ways to potentially optimise combatants for war; whether an exoskeleton, performance enhancing drugs or wearable/implanted cyborg enhancements. Given the ways Dr King lists to drastically improve performance (sleep, nutrition, emotional regulation, and so on), do you think we should be making such training more available across the Army before considering artificially enhanced humans? Read more about using emerging technology to produce ‘super soldiers’, enabled by physical and cognitive enhancements as reflected in both popular culture and military futures studies here.
  1. Dr King says: “a brain in threat is a brain that cannot learn”. Have you seen evidence of this during your training? Has it worked for you? What are your experiences with stress and fight or flight response? Have you developed your own ways to deal with this response to ‘reset’ yourself?
  1. Can you identify an opportunity in the future to trial some of the tips Dr King advises? Are there any behavioural changes you want to implement, or areas you want to learn more about going forward?
  1. How have, or will, you establish psychological safety within your team?
  1. Does Army get the balance right between training technical military skills vs training to build trust, interpersonal skills and rapport, or managing conflict in terms of time spent and time trained? Think about the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills you need as an officer. Has training prepared you well enough for each?

WANT MORE?

This sort of work is conducted by the Directorate of Human Performance – Army (DHP-A). This 2019 article outlines the goals of DHP-A and explains the 3 dimensions of their work:

  • Physical performance – covers physical strength and conditioning, nutrition and diet, and sleep hygiene. In essence, how to draw the most from sport and science to train smarter, minimise injuries and increase capability.
  • Cognitive performance – describes factors that affect learning performance and aims to produce soldiers who can make better decisions under conditions of complexity and ambiguity.
  • Finally, socio-cultural understanding – covers group cohesion and team building including character development, leadership, esprit d’corps, moral and cultural awareness. These are all essential attributes for organisations that operate in complex human terrain and need to transition seamlessly between cooperation, competition, and conflict.

WANT EVEN MORE?

Listen to Dr Jemma King in a podcast with Centre for Australian Army Leadership (CAAL) here. Episode #4 of the CAAL podcast series discusses VUCA environments (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) and psychological safety, and covers different content to her video above.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

If you enjoyed this activity, why not try the other PMEs available on The Cove?

Want more material for your junior officers? Find it here. This article collates articles from across The Cove designed for junior officers and Troop/Platoon Commanders.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

If you have suggestions for improvements – additional readings or reference material, alternative discussion points, new delivery methods – or just wish to provide feedback, please contact The Cove Team via soldiercove@gmail.com.

 

Here are the Facilitator's Notes (PDF) for this PME.