Leadership & Ethics

Knowing yourself and others as a leader: A personal perspective

By Bruce Cameron April 23, 2021


I’ve read all the prescribed texts on leadership (as well as a few others), and often found that theoretical analyses were ‘dry’ and failed to fully convey the things I wanted to learn. I hope that the following personal anecdotes might provide an alternative thesis. (I apologise for the ‘I’ words, but they’re hard to avoid in a personal account.)

Take responsibility. “Whose work is this?”, the Director said loudly, as he came into the work area from his office, waving the document. I knew what it was … a submission that we’d been putting together for some time. I replied, “If it’s good then it’s the work of my team; if it’s not, then it’s my responsibility”. There was a pause. “It’s very good”, he said. My team were pleased not only about the response to their work, but the fact that I was prepared to take responsibility on their behalf, if something had gone wrong.

Be prepared to explain. It was a barrack room inspection at 1st Armoured Regiment’s (then) Kapyong Barracks … usually the troopers just accepted the fact that it was an inspection.  A national serviceman; however, decided to ask what the point of it all was. I explained that he, “was being trained to be a member of a tank crew soon to be deployed in action. If he was wounded, someone else would have to take his place. That person would expect to know exactly where to find things such as the ‘tool removing jammed cartridge case’.  Instilling order into everyone in terms of layout was important to success in battle”. He understood completely. The explanation was appreciated and from then on, he took a supportive view in terms of the reasoning behind daily routines.

Don’t take the easy way out. Doing sentry on a tank in an ambush on active service requires everyone to follow drills exactly. I read an oral history interview recorded with a tank crewman after Vietnam. He said that he wanted to get to another troop because I was too strict. Any relaxation of standards; however, would have placed everyone at risk. We had to take responsibility for each other and this was appreciated, far and away, by the majority. The tenet of following procedures applied also as far as Rules of Engagement (ROE) were concerned.

We had to positively identify enemy before we engaged. In essence, this meant that they had to be carrying weapons. One night we were in an ambush. Using a first-generation night vision device, the sentry saw four legs … two followed by another two. Upper bodies were obscured. Whoever they were, they were breaking the curfew. There might have been some who would have engaged on this basis.

Breaking the curfew did not mean that they were enemy; however, (possibly farmers returning late from their fields). After ‘standing to’, I counted down over the radio and all tanks switched on their searchlights. There was no need to give the order to fire. Illuminated was the biggest buck deer anyone had ever seen. The four legs were explained.

Be honest with those below and those above. I was selected as a candidate to be the ADC to the Governor-General. At the formal dinner with the other candidates, I was seated next to the GG. Soon after, I turned to him and said: “Your Excellency, I have a confession to make!”. The whole table went quiet. The GG: “and what’s that?”. I said that I had looked him up in Who’s Who so that I would have something to talk about. “And what did you find out?” he said. ‘That you had written a book entitled the Private Man’, this seems to be a paradox for someone in such a public position.” “Well … let me tell you about that!” (The others at the table went back to talking among themselves.) The GG must have welcomed those who were prepared to speak openly and honestly, as I got the job.

Maintain your self-respect. I took leave without pay from the Army for a period and was employed by an insurance company as a District Sales Manager. I didn’t know about the ‘Baby Names’ (nor other things) that were wide-spread throughout the industry. To explain, some of those who worked within the Classified's sections of newspapers were paid by insurance agencies to provides the names and addresses of the people placing advertisements. This allowed agents to call on those expecting babies or planning weddings and meet them when they were most vulnerable.

I later went before a promotion board and was asked why I came back into the Army. “To keep my self-respect!”, I said (and I got promoted!)

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The above are but a few of the principles on which future leaders can draw as they go forward. I suggest that everyone must think in terms of the principles that are relevant to them at their stage in their career. Not all apply to everyone at all times, but most do.


Portrait

Biography

Bruce Cameron

Bruce Cameron served in the Australian Regular Army for 19 years. After commanding the last troop of tanks in action in Vietnam, his career saw him attend the UK’s Long Armour Infantry Course and Royal Military College of Science, as well as the Australian Command and Staff College. His last appointment involved responsibility for developing the Army’s future ground mobility requirements. He left the Army in 1987 to take up a position with the Office of Defence Production. He is the author of 'Canister! On! FIRE! : Australian Tank Operations in Vietnam' (Big Sky, 2012).

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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