Our people are the most important part of our Army. As a result, it is essential to always be generous with the time you give to our people. Time creates space and opportunity for better communication, builds trust and lets your people know they are valued. Your time is a resource you will never get back and giving it to someone else shows how much you value them. Colonel Andrew Deacon
Once upon a time a peer made very racist remarks against one of my subordinates. My CO appointed me as the Support Officer. I was horrified – how could I support my peer? He verbally abused one of my soldiers, contravened Army’s values, and I could not see how I could in good faith be a Support Officer.
This task taught me that no matter what a person has done they are the responsibility of the chain of command to support. I learnt how to ensure that procedural fairness was provided to all parties – no matter their actions. Colonel Charmaine Benfield
My most important leadership lesson was to provide the space and environment for junior leaders to exercise their creativity in achieving an outcome. This includes a climate of accepting that things may go wrong, and that experiential learning often offers lessons that stay with people throughout their careers. As long as safety risks are managed, allowing mistakes to be made without people worrying that their next PAR will tank their career often yielded more effective junior leaders who then created the same type of learning environment within their own teams. Conversely, an environment intolerant of even the smallest mistake puts people under enormous pressure, and they will often avoid the pursuit of innovative ways to apply doctrine as it will not been seen to be ‘safe’ for one’s career. Colonel Colin Lingo
As Officers, we espouse ‘mission command’, but often fail to realise the full potential of the junior men and women who serve with us. Whether induced by the posting cycle’s ‘bedding-in’ period, or other reasons, we typically constrain freedom of action, and stymie innovation. This doesn’t mean we can’t lead, mentor, and check, but we must find opportunities for our soldiers to test ideas and limits. When challenged, my soldiers have never let me down. In fact, the limitation was often me. The lesson, test these limits! Colonel Steven Cleggett
There will be times – often – when you don’t know what to do. Don’t worry. You will find a way. Generally – the answer is there, just inside (or outside) your team. Your job as leader is to harness the genius of the people around you.
Kindness is not really a fashionable word in the military. But it’s just as important to be kind, as to be right. When things are really grim, you will survive through the kindness of others. And your small, everyday acts of kindness towards others can save lives. If in doubt – be kind. Colonel Renee Kidson
My most important leadership lesson is to instil the belief ‘nothing is impossible’ – solving problems just needs imagination, drive and empowerment. Your team must never give up in a desperate situation. Practice this through challenging exercises that push your team out of their comfort zone and force them to develop novel solutions to difficult problems.Never take an ‘easy out’ in an exercise – use every opportunity to develop critical and creative thinking skills plus resolve and perseverance. Let your team know you back them and challenge them to succeed; you will reap the rewards when the chips are really down. Colonel Mick Scott
Leaders are accountable for everything their team does and everything it fails to do – but there is more to this than the ‘buck-stops-with-me’ cliché. Building a team mind-set around accountability to each other means recognising that reporting and owning your mistakes is a mark of leadership, integrity, and character – not incompetence. It is a core element of professionalism and innovation because it is the foundation of how teams learn and adapt quickly – particularly in adversity. Sometimes our best people can make the worst mistakes and often it is because they happened to be holding the can at a moment when the organisation itself was weak. By reflecting on those circumstances leaders can apply the ‘substitution’ test and assess whether someone of the same rank and experience could have made the same error. If the answer is yes – then the leader and the wider organisation must also hold themselves to account for this and learn as a team. Colonel Robert Calhoun
To rely on the person and not just the rank. As leaders we have the responsibility to mentor others but also remain accountable for outcomes. Identify members in your team who hold or can develop the required skills in others, who have the time and capacity to undertake tasks, but most importantly have a mutual understanding of what right looks like. This is the essential building block in developing social capital that make teams more effective in achieving what we set out to do. Colonel John Molnar
It’s never about me – Building the environment of trust to ensure my smart team members are exposed to senior decision-making, at the point of contact, is my leadership ‘must-do’. Every opportunity for them to be ‘in the room where it happens’ is critical for their development into the strategic leaders Army needs them to be. Contextualising their observations and experiences, based on broader understanding of individuals, priorities and issues, is my value-add. Ensuring the team receive direct praise is important – being in place to immediately step in and ‘own’ issues, shielding them when it doesn’t go to plan, is essential. Colonel Jason Logue
My most important leadership lesson was to understand the importance of location and its effect on decision-making. As an air defence leader, your command post with the radar picture, and the voice communications with lower and higher, is the right location. Do I turn on our radars or resupply? I was in the right location to access the relevant information to make the best possible decision. On Bushfire Assist, the command post was the worst place. I needed to see where the damage was, speak to the affected residents and talk to the soldiers that were doing the gruelling work. Colonel Mark Mankowski
Delegate! The most important leadership lesson I learned as a CO is that you cant do it all and you have to rely on your team. Delegate to the point of discomfort and then just beyond. Trust your subordinates, tell them what you want to achieve, not how. They will surprise you with their ingenuity, creativity and capability. They will grow in confidence and your confidence in them will grow. Whilst you can delegate the task you cant delegate the responsibility – own it and free your team to knock it out of the park! Colonel Robin Smith
Motivation is infectious. Without personal motivation and drive you cannot expect the same from your people. Leadership is a team sport and success is not just about you. Your team will crave motivation for themselves. What makes them tick? How do you influence them? What rewards might you use? This could be as simple as a compliment. If you want your team to achieve great things, try taking the time to understand what will motivate them to own the problem; their success will follow. Colonel Ed Wunsch
This is a distillation from three decades of leading, learning and following.
Leadership must be purposeful. Leaders illuminate purpose for those they lead.
Purpose, which can vary, should be underpinned by the organisation’s enduring Why – its raison d'être.
Leaders must know the organisation’s Why, understand their own, and enable teams to find and own theirs. These three should comfortably align.
Why, you ask Dear Reader?
People achieve more knowing the purpose of their actions and the ends sought: And those with a Why will endure any what or how. Colonel Charles Weller
When motivation remain values-oriented, particularly towards Service, trust your instincts.
As a junior leader, I was surrounded by overt and covert experienced leadership. My decisions were not always best for my mission or my team, but safety nets guided and re-aligned me when necessary. My roles eventually emerged from under those safety nets and complexity has tempted me at times to deviate from values and my intuition, resulting in some mistakes that really mattered.
Whenever I trust the instincts I forged through trial and error; seasoned guidance; and adherence to values – I walk the best path. Lieutenant Colonel Antony McNamara
This isn’t my most important leadership lesson but one I’ve been repeatedly reminded of. I was a brand new Lieutenant in a transport troop. What is now the 9 FSB precinct at RAAF Base Amberley was being planned and the project officer called me and asked what the height of a rigid Mack Fleetliner tray and 41 foot trailer was. This would inform the heights of the very fancy concrete loading ramps at the new facility. I walked into the Troop Ops Room and asked the team in there the question. Without any referral to anything factual a PTE answered very confidently that the heights were 1.2m and 1.5m respectively. I immediately returned my findings to the project officer with great certainty.
Once the new facility was occupied they made a decent attempt to correct the heights with a basic engineering solution but it never really was fit for purpose. I was posted to 9 FSB twice after the facility was built and every time we loaded or unloaded a vehicle it was a constant reminder of this lesson: trust but verify. I’m sorry to every driver who has ever tried to load a vehicle onto a truck using those ramps. Lieutenant Colonel Marcus Luciani
100 words on leadership is too many. Leadership is simple; do the best you can with what you've got. Be genuine. Don't overcomplicate it. Use the other 67 words to plan quality training. Lieutenant Colonel Chris Johnson
Use ‘intentionality’ to help you lead and follow. What is your mission? What change do you seek? What behaviour demonstrates this change? This forces us to be forward thinking, to anticipate the commander’s intent and lead proactively. By being purposeful, we can gain traction and reduce distraction. This helps to deliberately motivate our teams towards objectives, with laser-like focus when done well. Lieutenant Colonel Cameron Porter
One of the most important leadership lessons is that leadership is not about you, your individual glory, or your individual success. The old adage “your people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” remains true. Empathetic leaders build successful teams by valuing and harnessing how each individual’s diverse and unique life experiences can contribute to team success. Lieutenant Colonel Travis Day
A leadership lesson shared to me by a ‘greybeard’ Battalion Second in Command when I was the Adjutant. Incidentally, many wise people sit in these perhaps less glamourous positions, and some have witnessed many command teams come and go, so their advice should be ignored at your peril!.
His maxim on command, leadership, and management: There is procedure, then policy, and then principle.
My extrapolation: Procedure loosely equates to management – day to day business, SOPs, heuristics, IAs, drills, etc. Policy loosely equates to command – appointments, authorities, legal obligations, etc. But principle, this is where sound leadership shines. Always let principle guide your decision making, and let it supersede policy and procedure when they do not sufficiently address the issue at hand. Lieutenant Colonel Roland Spackman
The most important leadership lesson I have learned is that true leadership is inextricably linked to who you are as a person. While it is informative and useful to study the leadership styles of others, inevitably the most effective leaders take an approach that remain authentic to their own values, standards and beliefs. Within the profession of arms, trust underpins everything that we do. The very foundation of trust is built upon personal integrity. Soldiers and Officers alike have a skill for identifying those in which they trust, and the easiest way to lose that trust is to try to be someone you’re not. Lieutenant Colonel John Armour
The most important lesson I learnt as a tank troop leader in Vietnam, was not to be predictable. Four tank squadrons were deployed to Vietnam between 1968 and 1971. Each of them trained using exactly the same tactical drills (contact, defile and mine). By the time our squadron deployed in 1971, the enemy knew these drills as well as, if not better than, we did. If any operational analysis had been done, it would have been obvious that the enemy captitalised on our predictability. Leaders must continually ask themselves: am I being predicable? Exercise staff must highlight any such weakness. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Cameron (Retd)
My most important leadership lesson is that nobody comes to work intending to do a bad job. If someone is underperforming either temporarily or long term, there could be a variety of reasons often beyond the member’s control. If you are too busy to assist that member, you are also not doing your job correctly, so try to be empathetic with your personnel. Major Bryan Brown
1. Know yourself and what really matters.
2. Know and communicate your teams direction regularly.
3. Being told respectfully by a subordinate that you have made an error or they disagree is not an attack on your competence, but in fact testament of a strong team culture.
4. Strive to be unnecessary by virtue of your teams superior competence. The day your team pursues your intent without needing you there is the day you have mastered leadership.
5. Re-evaluate your purpose or seek to be replaced if your motivations becomes anything other than the success of your people. Major Alan Bretherton
My most important leadership lesson is that leadership is collaborative. By building on the shared sense of ‘us’ we create trust, belonging and reinforce positive group behaviours that encourage and value individual contribution. There is no leader without the individual followers who are willing to participate because they believe they can achieve more together, and are enabled to do so. This is because leadership is not a person, it’s a process – a collaborative one that encourages communication and participation. It’s this sense of collective power that a leader (and leadership as a process) is responsible for facilitating, nurturing, enhancing and building, that you can only achieve by leading from within the team, not from above it. Major Jared Nicol
There will be times when you feel that you don’t have a choice, that you must do something a certain way. This is a fallacy – you always have a choice.
Challenge your biases or consult more broadly to find the solution that makes the best of what is before you. In the face of opposition or uncertainty, you will need to dig deep on your intellect and resolve to follow through.
With courage, conviction, and reflection you will make choices that positively affect the people and the organisation you serve. Major Rheanna Vehlow
Through my experience, leadership includes knowing your people, they don’t need to be your best mate, but just know them, their background and current circumstances. When you invest time in understanding this they will feel valued, this will assist in noticing change in behaviours and the knowledge will assist in identifying something before it becomes a leadership challenge. I would include the importance of establishing a workplace that that values the thoughts of those that are part of the team. Our teams are very much inclusive and we should strive to maintain this, exclusivity has no place in the team. Major Derek Simpson
I have an important role to lead a team of adult community volunteers in the Army’s youth development program, Australian Army Cadets. This leadership is not taught, it is learnt, sometimes by trial and error, but to learn from the errors and to grow shows the adult volunteers in the AAC that we all need to learn, lead, grow and mentor the youth in the program to be better citizens in our community. Leadership does not come naturally to some adult volunteers, through the mentoring, leadership and support, these mums and dads deliver a fantastic program to our youth and they develop their own leadership style in line with the AAC’s outcomes. Major Lawrence Hawthorne
The core of leadership is about influencing others, as such a leader cannot lead without people. Therefore I learnt that the crux of leadership is about empowering the people you lead and entrusting them with your vision. As an Army we place a significant emphasis on tactical knowledge and application and physical presence. Whereas I have learnt that empathy and understanding is a much greater and more influential skill. Major Kaitlin Gilbert
A long career has taught me many things. Taking control and attracting followers is wrong. Giving control and creating leaders by trust is key. Whilst maintaining overall Command, I have moved the authority to where the most up to date and relevant information is. Subordinates are encouraged not to ask for permission. I trust and enable them, I give intent – it promotes growth, confidence and establishes their leadership style. Giving them ownership of the issue encourages creative and passionate thinking. They in turn give me their intent and mitigation strategies through analytical thinking to reach the required end state. Major Nick Bowers
Many embark on their leadership career looking for the mechanical aspects of leadership. How do I fill out a Platoon Commander’s Notebook? Get someone on a course? Schedule resources to complete a task? While these are important things for a leader to know, they are largely management functions, not leadership.
Leadership is about the ‘soft skills’: getting to know your soldiers, what motivates them, and what will hold them back from their potential. Leadership is determining how to inspire your soldiers, individually and as a team, to achieve missions, though appeals to their hearts as well as their heads. Major Paul Summers
My most important leadership lesson is that if you do nothing else, grow new leaders and let them lead. The conventional military ‘leader-follower’ model places an unsustainable physical, mental, and emotional burden on a single point of failure, the Commander. In a ‘leader-leader’ model, the Commander cedes control and decision-making to the team, but maintains the vision and overall responsibility for its success or failure. This gives subordinate leaders the room to self-actualise without the threat of punishment when they inevitably make mistakes. In the same way that decentralisation increases the system’s survivability, growing more leaders increases the organisation’s resilience. Major Boris Lopez
When you lead lead altruistically, don’t just be at work for you, be there for your soldiers first. This will positively affect their training, career and home lives. Always remember it’s not about you it’s about them. If you can show them their worth and make them feel valued then they will follow you and be loyal. I learnt this from my CO 10 years ago and it has served me well in every posting. Major Ernest Felix
The most important leadership lesson I have learnt is to be authentic and not to replicate the mannerisms or behaviours of others (including mentors who you admire and look up to). Through being yourself and accepting of individual strengths and weaknesses it gives confidence to others in your integrity and is a great foundation for building professional relationships and cultures. It is in these foundations that we lead / follow / inspire our teams to develop a pride in their performance and continue to push the boundaries of performance. In this way we enhance Army capability through building pro-active, professional and supportive small teams. Major Kristian Zemaitis
My most important leadership lesson is to always look after the people for whom you are responsible. Support them, guide them, and when necessary, fight for them. Why? Because it is much easier to achieve the mission with a team of people who want to work with you rather than work for you. Major Karen Turner
Fear. This trait has been evident across the board for toxic leadership I have observed in superiors, peers and subordinates. This is not the use of fear to intimidate, but the fear they have within themselves that their shortcomings will be brought to light. They are insecure in their leadership position, which causes them to either lash out in anger like a cornered animal or cower in their office afraid to make a decision. On many occasions, these leaders are rewarded due to their overtly aggressive nature, but in reality their teams are inefficient, fearful themselves to make independent decisions. Major Richard Donohue
It is important to know the depth and scope of the opportunities available in the wider defence organisation and how to access and capitalise on these opportunities to develop strong career paths. Major Jason Law
My mentor during ARES Officer training (a Vietnam Veteran NCO and later Army Reserve officer) taught me that most organisation diagrams put the Commander/CEO on the top and the hierarchy works downwards. He reversed the diagram and said the leader is at the bottom to facilitate the needs (resources, physical and emotional) and productivity of their team. The leader sets up the environment and provide the resources to their people so that they could get the job done. It means prioritising their needs over your own. I summarise this as "Leaders eat last"! Major Paul Langtry
Tactical competence, mental and physical robustness, and a strong work ethic will build your leadership credibility with your subordinates, superiors and peers – but humility, caring for your people, and rewarding the team when they succeed will define how people remember your leadership long after you are gone. When the team succeeds, be humble and let them know it is because of their efforts – when the team fails, take ownership and develop the team for success. Major Peter Witcomb
A mentor early in my career once imposed onto me the three levels of practiced leadership to be aware of; Selfish leaders draw a circle around themselves and invests only in their own output, their own goals and their own tasks. Good leaders draw a larger circle and invests in their team, their families and their aspirations. Great leaders ensure those under their influence are enabled to surpass them though patience, mentoring and honesty. My experiences with the aforementioned definitions of leadership, being synonymous with what not to do and what to do, have helped me to continually develop my leadership style and ethos throughout my career as an Army Officer. Major Clinton Ng Chok
Attitude is everything. Your attitude and reaction will leave a lasting impression on those around you. Major Brent Saltmarsh
Humility is a very important attribute in a leader. John Dickson argues in Humlitas that “true humility in leadership is power held in the service of others.” This quote reminds me that I wear a rank (and crosses) in order to serve those I work alongside and their families. It helps me to reflect on who my leadership is benefitting. Finally, it challenges me to think about my actions, words, how I carry myself and how I approach the privileges and responsibilities of my position. Chaplain John Dansie
Smart leaders adapt to their followers, and know them well. They don’t expect their followers to adapt to their way of leading. Self-awareness and empathic accuracy are two of the most important skills you can have as a leader. Knowing yourself, your people, and how to read them allows you to tailor your leadership methods to fit the needs of each of your followers which generates strong loyalty and followership. Further, understanding and anticipating their responses to situations allows you to pre-emptively plan for them, and have more control over the outcomes of difficult conversations while maintaining your own composure. Major Rob Gibson
The shared identity of the team you lead matters. The way your actions exemplify, support and add value to that shared identity will decide whether you accepted as the leader, or simply an authority figure. Contributing to the shared identity, and being accepted as a leader has incredible impacts of morale, performance and outcomes. It must be genuine, it cannot be faked, and no level of personal charisma or leadership training can overcome being rejected as a leader by the team. Major Dan Molesworth
Borrowing a saying from James Kerr and the All Blacks, “soft skills drive hard skills”. Our people are our most important capability, and as leaders we have a key role in maximising their potential. In today’s challenging environment, leaders cannot solely rely on hard skills, their position or authority to influence the team. Leaders need to possess, and continue to develop soft skills to get the best out of their people. When a person feels valued and cared for, they will do their best to support the team achieving mission success. So, take a vested interest in your people, support and develop them, and then watch them thrive. Major James Martin
It is a difficult task for a leader to instil a culture where their people are comfortable with making honest mistakes, owning up to these, and subsequently trusting that the CoC will afford them the ability to grow (individually/collectively). There is sometimes a stigma around being seen as a failure, or even worrying that incidents will have an adverse effect on their future career aspirations. Unless teams are consciously adapting at their peak, little is gained from continual success. Therefore, we do not learn and become a better Army without making mistakes. As leaders, we need to continually build trust with our teams IOT create a continual learning environment. Major James Martin
My most important leadership lesson is the need to master the perpetual balance between organisational and individual needs. Executing change in a chaotic environment is an art form when contending with a longing for the way things were (hiraeth) or a desire for predictability from juniors. Change is inevitable and the human performance aspect of teams cannot be underestimated in its effect on outcomes. Elements for achieving the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few I find are to work with, alongside and collaboratively, and to sparingly measure directiveness unless needed. Major Andrew Church