Leadership & Ethics

On Personal and Professional Potential

By Chris Field August 13, 2019

This article has two purposes. First, it examines how the Chief of Army’s three key documents, Army in Motion, Accelerated Warfare and Good Soldiering, create opportunities to unlock peoples’ potential. Second, and supporting Army’s three key documents, this article articulates three ideas on how leaders can enable people to reach their personal and professional potential through:

  • nurturing the entry-workforce
  • defining roles and responsibilities
  • enabling people to share their talents with the world

As the core of the joint land force, the Australian Army raises, trains, deploys and sustains land forces that are ready now and future ready. A summation of Army’s approach, as articulated in Army in Motion, Accelerated Warfare and Good Soldiering, is that people are the Australian Army’s competitive edge.

To maintain this edge and our Army’s cognitive advantage, we train and educate our people to learn, consider context and tailor solutions to reach both their own and their teams’ professional and personal potential. We seek to combine and simplify our training while enhancing Army’s high-performance culture. Through our people, their diversity of ideas, and their individual and collective potential, we nurture ethical, prepared, resilient, persistent, partnered and potent military professionals.

Australian Army’s three key documents creating opportunities to unlock peoples’ potential

As noted, the Australian Army employs three key documents as guidance to raise, train, deploy and sustain land forces that are ready now and future ready. These documents each emphasise opportunities enabling people to unlock their personal and professional potential.

Setting the framework for Army’s thinking ensuring our people are our competitive edge, Army in Motion – Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy emphasises that:

The evolving character of war and an increasingly competitive and disruptive world demand Army unlocks its full potential. Army continuously adapts, seeking military advantage through the unique qualities, skills and experience of every person in Army, embracing new technology and creating military power through partnerships.

The Army requires a workforce that is multitalented, highly-skilled, comfortable with change and committed to serving Australia. Army must continue to recruit the best people it can and unlock their unique potential. It must then train, educate, and develop these people using a world’s best-practice approach to training, education, and above all, leadership.[1]

Examining our contemporary operating environment, Accelerated Warfare – Army’s Futures Statement states:

Our people must be leaders and integrators who contribute to multi-disciplinary teams, enabling us to thrive in uncertainty, adapt to change and generate solutions…[including] partnerships through teaming with our international military partners, industry and academia [which are] of paramount importance to unlock potential and strengthen relationships for mutual benefit.[2]

Finally, in setting expectations for Army’s values and culture Good Soldiering – Army’s High-Performance Culture concludes:

Use your initiative to design innovative outcomes that create a culture of high performance by actively achieving our four command team behaviours [Preparedness, People, Profession, and Potential]…placing high value in these behaviours will ultimately allow our Army to realise its potential and to seamlessly and quickly form successful teams whenever, wherever and with whomever is required to achieve our mission.

We think critically, respectfully contest ideas, and experiment to unlock potential. We collaborate and partner to realise potential.[3]

Based on these three documents, the Chief of Army’s clear direction is to seek military advantage through employing the unique qualities, skills and experience of every person in Army. This advantage is enabled through people as the Australian Army’s competitive edge, who unlock their own personal and professional potential while strengthen relationships for the mutual benefit of their teams.

Next, this article articulates three ideas on enabling people to reach their personal and professional potential through nurturing the entry-workforce, defining roles and responsibilities and enabling people to share their talents with the world. 

Nurture the entry-workforce.

Built upon ethics, character, skills, education and potential gained before enlistment, people entering a military workforce receive foundation training and education either as recruit soldiers or officer cadets. This training and education nurtures a military’s ‘entry-workforce’ combining some hard-skill capabilities, such as fitness, weapon employment, navigation and first aid, with so-called soft-skill capabilities, such as ethics, culture, values, empathy, teamwork, communications and leadership.[4]

Upon graduation, to ensure accuracy, reliability and resilience in combat and combat support duties, a military’s entry-workforce, ranging from Private soldier to Major, receive certified and governed technical or hard-skill capabilities. These hard-skill capabilities include intelligence-analysis, communications, close-combat, protected manoeuvre, fires and movement, non-lethal effects, cyber, aviation, trade and engineering, medical, logistics and force protection.

As people build their technical or hard-skills, concurrently their soft-skills are developed and enhanced. In part, these soft-skills are nurtured in military personnel through disruption and change, in both structured and unstructured environments.

For example, structured soft-skills development in the military workforce is achieved through courses. During these courses, disruption and change occur where a soldier or officer learns alongside an unfamiliar and eclectic group of people, including all-corps, joint, partnered and coalition training environments.

In unstructured environments, for example in combat or during demanding and creative training exercises, soft-skills development continues through placing people in dynamic and challenging leadership roles, such as command duties. Disruption and change in the military workforce are also caused through balancing command and leadership roles with support roles, such as staff and instructional duties.

This balance of roles is, in part, intended to circumvent hubris in leaders, the antithesis of soft-skills, by requiring military leaders to, in various combinations, lead, follow and support people, teams and organisations.[5]

Finally, training and education, nurturing a military’s ‘entry-workforce’ combining hard-skill capabilities and soft-skill capabilities, provides the joint land force a combined arms advantage by asymmetrically enabling our people’s strengths and shielding their weaknesses. These capabilities are the basis of manoeuvre theory which ‘focuses commanders at every level on applying friendly strengths against adversary weaknesses, shielding friendly vulnerabilities and defeating the enemy’s will to fight through destruction of the enemy plan rather than attrition of the physical force’.[6]

Army in Motion, Accelerated Warfare, and Good Soldiering emphasise that personal and professional training and education for our people, based on a dynamic life-long journey of learning, is a continuous presence and requirement for our people as military professionals.

Define roles and responsibilities.

People simultaneously seek leaders and expect leadership while appreciating their own opportunities to lead, contribute, learn and develop personally and professionally. Leaders enable workplace needs by clearly defining and articulating people’s roles and responsibilities.

One method of defining roles and responsibilities is through articulating a leader’s or commander’s intent, in particular people’s main and supporting efforts for tasks assigned. Leaders achieve a shared understanding of tasks assigned through deliberately explaining the mission and their intent to solve a problem, such as creating an opportunity or defeating an enemy, combined with the leader’s assessment of risk.

As a minimum, people need guidance from their leaders and commanders regarding:

  • Who works for whom? (or command and control)
  • Boundaries to a problem and environment (or battlespace)
  • Authorities to act (or resources, constraints, and freedom of action)
Enable people to share their talents with the world.

Leaders and commanders enable their people to lead, contribute, innovate and create. In doing so, people can iteratively, cooperatively and collaboratively share their talents with the world. Mission command is a framework available for our leaders, commanders and people to work together in optimising organisational talent.

Conceptually, mission command can be articulated through six-principles:

  • Build cohesive teams through mutual trust
  • Provide a clear commander’s intent
  • Create shared understanding
  • Exercise disciplined initiative
  • Use mission orders
  • Accept prudent risk[7]

At its simplest, mission command requires leaders to create leaders. Some techniques available to employ in creating leaders include:

  • Value clear verbal or written briefs that get to the point in the first sentence
  • Encourage and deliver simple plans and orders enabled by appropriate resources
  • Collaborate with our teams, achieving a shared understanding, through deliberate confirmation-briefs and back-briefs[8]
  • Fail and then learn quickly, enabling people to lead with ownership by accepting responsibility for failure and empowering our teams to focus on creating solutions. Lead with learning by understanding what went wrong and what can be learned from failure, both now and in the future.
  • Provide time to practice drills and rehearse complicated and complex activities and operations

People are the Australian Army’s competitive edge. This article articulates three ideas on enabling people to reach their personal and professional potential through nurturing the entry-workforce, defining roles and responsibilities and enabling people to share their talents with the world. 

The article builds upon the Australian Army’s three key documents, aiming to unlock people’s potential, as the core of the joint land force: Army in Motion – Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy; Accelerated Warfare – Army’s Futures Statement; and, Good Soldiering – Army’s High-Performance Culture.

In the Australian Army we train and educate our people to learn, consider context and tailor solutions to reach their own and their teams’ professional and personal potential. We seek to combine and simplify our training while enhancing Army’s high-performance culture. Through our people, their diversity of ideas and their individual and collective potential, we nurture ethical, prepared, resilient, persistent, partnered and potent military professionals.

End Notes

[1] Commonwealth of Australia, Army in Motion, Chief of Army’s Strategic Guidance 2019, Canberra, 2019, pp. 11, 15

[2] Australian Army, Accelerated Warfare Futures Statement for an Army in Motion, Canberra, 2018, p. 3

[3] Australian Army, Good Soldiering - Army’s cultural optimisation program, Canberra, 2019, p. 2

[4] Jaime P. Greene, Characteristics of Viable and Sustainable Employees in 2025, A Dissertation presented to The Faculty of the Education Department Carson-Newman University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree Doctor of Education, March 2017, pp. 9-10

‘The idea of soft skills has evolved over time. The earliest references to soft skills appeared in military training documents by Fry and Whitmore in 1972. Success in the military involved more than tactical skills in battle and incorporated service skills, teamwork, and the ability to inspire confidence in others. In a 1972 field manual, the U.S. Army defined soft skills as those involving primarily people and paper including troop inspection and supervision of personnel (Fry & Whitmore, 1972). Soft skills, as discussed by Fry and Whitmore, are still cited

as common competencies among veterans (Frame, n.d.).

Soft skills can be defined as desirable qualities for a specific form of employment that do not depend on acquired content-based knowledge. In 2012, Robels defined soft skills as character traits, attitudes, and behaviours rather than technical aptitude or knowledge. Sometimes known as key skills, core skills, key competencies, or employability skills, soft skills are those that apply across a variety of jobs and life situations (Karthikeyan & Baskaran, 2011). Robels’s (2012) study of 90 business executives yielded a list of 517 skills, with repetition, identified as important new employee skills. The list was then codified by theme to yield the top 10 most mentioned soft skills including integrity, communication, courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, professionalism, flexibility, teamwork, and work ethic with integrity and communication listed as the top two skills.

A study by Idrus, Dahan, and Abdullah (2014) included critical thinking and problem solving, information management, and entrepreneurship in the list of soft skills considered important by business leaders.’

[5] An excellent examination of this condition is Alistair Horne’s, Hubris: The Tragedy of War in the Twentieth Century, 2016, where Professor Horne emphasises that:

  • Hubris arises from success. In the aftermath of victory, anything seems possible. Victory is when, in our exuberance, calamitous decisions are made. Hubris is part of the human condition – deep-seated, lingering, pervasive and potentially lethal.
  • The ancient Greeks defined hubris as the worst sin a leader, or a nation, could commit. Following the supreme arrogance of hubris, the Greeks defined peripeteia meaning a dramatic reversal of fortune; falling from the grace of a great height to unimaginable depths.

[6] Australian Army, Land Warfare Doctrine 3-0, Operations, 2018, p. 43

[7] Headquarters Department of the Army, Army Doctrine Reference Publication, No. 6-0, Mission Command, Washington, DC, 17 May 2012, p. 2-1

[8] Back Brief versus Confirmation Brief

  • Confirmation Brief is given by subordinate leaders to the higher commander immediately after receiving the operation order. Subordinate leaders brief the commander on their understanding of the:
  1. Commander’s intent
  2. Unit task and purpose in the mission
  3. Relationship between their unit's missions and the other unit's in the operation
  • Back Brief is a briefing by subordinates to the commander explaining how the subordinates intend to accomplish their mission. This helps the commander clarify their intent early in the subordinates' tactical estimate process. It allows the higher commander to:
    1. Identify problems in the commander’s concept of the operation
    2. Identify problems in a subordinate unit commander's concept
    3. Understand how subordinates intend to accomplish their mission




Chris Field

Major General Chris Field is Deputy Commanding General, Operations, US Army Central.


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.


Gidday Sir,  Once again another informative and relevant article. A number of the points you have raised are also applicable in the civilian environment that I know work within. In particular I can really relate to your views and points in your final paragraph "Enable people to share their talents with the world" if we enable our people to do this we can influence and improve across a workforce, sector, (such as the disaster management sector I now work within) or most importantly identify and train, nurture, guide, enable, & mentor those we envisage will one day occupy our roles/positions. cheers Wayne 

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