While most reflections are formed solely from the writer, from observations of self within a given time, I sought to capture not only my personal experiences, but also insights from that of my troops – ‘The Uglies’. I hope my personal lessons will inform and provide an insightful lens to those new to command and the pedestal of leadership within Army. However, if I am lucky, these axioms of leadership may prove as useful reminders for a much wider audience. As you read, you will find my three key lessons or as what I like to call, meditations. I acknowledge I do not find myself in the position or status of the great Marcus Aurelius himself. However, I do share an immense resonation with his works and importance of reflection in our daily lives; thus, the aptly named title of this work. The first lesson is my experience with the age-old debate between likership and leadership; the second speaks to the realisation of my purpose; and the third, an understanding of who I am now from my experiences this past year – 2022.
I must admit, my initial leadership style was definitely more skewed to likership, and consequently served my first lesson as a troop commander: likership is not sustainable. I would offer likership is akin to lying – you must always remember what you said previously, or otherwise whatever you sold initially can be used against you in the future. While I grant likership its ability to quickly establish rapport in the short-term and to be language that replicates easily to a new team, strong leadership is in fact paramount and enduring. I am not talking in the small sense of your own tenure, but more so your actions from leadership that in time set the example and identity for future generations of the team. Therefore, I have learnt that while likership does have its place in command; however, leadership should be the eternal ethos we all seek to embody as commanders.
It was this knowledge that led me to question myself periodically and help realise my second lesson: what is my purpose? Through a year that included three domestic operations, one humanitarian and disaster relief mission, three regional engagement deployments, three conventional exercises, and unending training support requests – you could surmise that my purpose must be the ability to prioritise and execute the missions of my team like some manufacturer’s production line. Yet, through reflection, I believe my purpose is something more human. As a leader, you are the pathfinder that navigates the fragile balance between operational output and individual empathy for your soldiers. At first, this was challenging. Raised on the novel and cinematic experiences of Starship Troopers I was indoctrinated with the idea that a leader is born from the ranks. I thought I would easily handle the weight of empathy and the burden of command. This was most prevalent when seeing my soldiers and their families, now fatigued from this year, expected to rise to the next mission without complaint. However, I honestly struggled. Conflict existed between my former service as a soldier and my new role as an officer. Every attempt to accommodate or compensate for the constant give they provide, with sparse recognition, was undone by the reality that the job always had to be done. This is when I realised my purpose: be the good human and apply empathy to the indifference of reality for your team, and never stop. Each day put yourself in their position, in their shoes, and you will find your intuition guide you to being that good human and genuinely supportive of your soldiers.
Understanding effective leadership and the employment of empathy were my hallmark lessons at the beginning of my time as a troop commander. Subsequently, for my third meditation, it would be befitting to reflect on who I am now. I hope this is a moment of realisation shared across many young leaders before they move on from their first time in command. My third lesson is realised only through the first two: my team is an echo of me, and I am a product of my team. We are intrinsically linked, like a feedback loop, and through reflection, I have learnt that you can use that loop to adapt your leadership accordingly. For every birthday you remember, the partner or child’s name you recall, the humility to display through your mistakes, and the transparency in unpopular missions, you gain respect, trust, loyalty, and ultimately a greater willingness to fight for the mission, themselves, and for you.
I frequently find myself reflecting on my influence, or impact, within the troop. I am humbled to know that I, as a leader, am nothing without my team. I assure you this is not a surprise injection of a fourth lesson. However, more a final reminder of the importance of your team. Were it not for the grit of my soldiers, the wit of my corporals, and the unwavering support of my sergeant, I would find myself of less character, poorer leadership, and ultimately found wanting. Your team is a resource of knowledge and experience that should be valued and nurtured towards the success of their mission and themselves.
These are my meditations. I hope they may serve the reader in their own reflections or be the subtle reminder to the importance of leadership, knowing your purpose, and realising who you are through experience. This leaves me to my parting thoughts. If I was to walk past myself again before heading into the troop command role, and offer words of advice, all I could say is:
“Mission first, people always, and listen to your bloody sergeant”.