What does it take to be an effective and transformational leader? Moreover, as a leader, are you a coach, a mentor, or both? As stated by President Reagan, "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. They are the ones that get the people to do the greatest things."

Leadership is not about a title or a label. It is about having the ability to stimulate, inspire, and influence people to achieve specific things or goals. Being a leader in the military comes with enormous responsibilities that should not be underestimated. To be an effective and transformational leader you need to be able to influence people to achieve a desired end state.

Coaching and mentoring within any organisation empowers individuals and teams to foster relationships to reach their full potential. However, what does it take to be a transformational leader by utilising coaching and mentoring mindsets? This article aims to evoke discussion on how Australian Army leaders can be transformational through the lens of being a coach and a mentor. Furthermore, noting that our people are our defined asset, is it time to formally implement a coaching and mentoring program for all ranks to ensure our people fulfil their potential?


What is potential? Potential is the evaluation of someone or something's future capability. Humans have limitless abilities. This means full potential can only be achieved with the right environment, resources, and time. As leaders in the Army, we effectively own one-third of our people's potential. In the day-to-day grind of soldiering, we dominate our people's time and control resources.

Likewise, the individual also owns approximately one-third of their potential through seeking out the opportunity for, and engaging in, self-development. The Army owns the remainder and builds capability utilising various leadership techniques through professional military education, operational experiences, and talent management.

Transformational Leadership

As defined by Rebecca Newton et al., "Transformational leadership is a process whereby leaders engage with and influence others – by paying attention to their needs, raising their motivation, and providing an ethical framework for decisions. In doing so, transformational leaders can create change within people and organisations.” A transformational leader is someone who, through motivation, innovation, guidance, and mentoring, can channel or shape people to achieve the desired result or full potential.

Having the ability to influence or develop people is extremely powerful. Establishing relationships and steering someone to do something is a talent that is essential to effective leadership and a cornerstone that organisations, including militaries, rely on to ensure teams can function independently and effectively. The result ensures influence amongst subordinates, superiors, and peers to achieve mission success. Furthermore, this trait generates trust, courage, commitment, confidence, and buy-in within the group. Failing to create this effect through poor leadership is highly detrimental and long-lasting to any organisation.

These themes aside, just because you are a good leader does not make you a transformational leader – there are more components. For example, as stated by Jenette Nagy & Rebecca Wolff, influence is the ability to persuade someone to think, act, or take action in line with organisational values and objectives. This ability is an essential part of leadership. After all, someone who cannot convince people of things is not a leader as no one is following them.

An effective transformational leader must be aware of and understand influence. Transformational leaders understand the power of influence and its effects on people while understanding that the two can be mutually supportive. This gained understanding is achieved through deliberate training, exposure, and experience. Consequently, personnel assigned to leadership positions must inherently become cognisant of this ability and can develop the art of influencing people and teams as a skill. A vital component of transforming people and organisations is coaching and mentoring.

Coaching and Mentoring

As stated by J. Loren Norris, "If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before." Coaching and mentoring within any organisation can assist individuals and teams in achieving their full potential. Linked to transformational leadership, they can form a culture that benefits all involved – having someone who has previously walked the ground helps people understand the circumstances more quickly.

Mutually supportive relationships are developed as a by-product, turning into enduring personal growth. This needs to be fully understood and embraced within the Australian Army, with some people believing that coaching and mentoring are the same – but they are not. Put simply, coaching is a process of improving performance and focusing on the present rather than the future. Coaching helps a person maximise their potential. In contrast, a mentor acts as a facilitator who guides and supports someone as they work towards long-term career development, with the primary purpose being to drive personal growth.

Knowing this now, ask: does the Australian Army have a coaching or mentoring culture? Is it something that is done well across the organisation?

Being an effective coach and mentor forms mutually rewarding relationships that can have a lasting effect. Through the establishment of guidelines and open lines of communication, all involved can form a sense of belonging and being valued. As capability supervisors and transformational leaders, these figureheads should constantly try to improve and develop their people and organisations.

They must feel empowered to be a coach in the present and a mentor for the future. As the former Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Burr, said, "We continue to invest in our people and maintain a skilled and resilient workforce. We emphasise the essential value of professional military education and develop leaders at every level, growing expertise and fostering innovation". Taking the time to identify potential and then actively engaging as a coach or a mentor will go a long way to achieving this and maximise our people's and the total Army's potential. Leaders should feel inspired to be a coach, a mentor, or both. Interest in personal growth demonstrates genuine care about development – which builds loyalty, long-lasting relationships, and enduring capability.


The Australian Army must continue to care for, develop, and retain its people. A platform that can be used to achieve this is adopting a coaching and mentoring culture that encompasses all ranks. Being a team leader in the military comes with enormous responsibilities that should be considered. Leaders should feel inspired and encouraged to be the most transformational leaders in Defence. By being cognisant of the art of transformational leadership, combined with coaching and mentoring, leaders can create an environment and culture that is enduring and highly beneficial to the Australian Army's greatest asset: its people.