This article is awarded 2nd place in the 2022 Cove Competition OR category. Check out more in 'Tips for Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSM)'.
Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) appointments are not all the same. Throughout my previous RSM appointments I have developed my knowledge and skills and learnt many lessons. Many of these lessons I learnt the hard way, through failure or less than optimal outcomes for our people or organisation. These experiences taught me that every event was unique and requires a nuanced approach to finding the best solution or response. I quickly realised that while I had significant knowledge and experience, I did not and was not expected to know everything. I also learnt that I had a relatively short fuse when emotionally attached to an event or an outcome, which was not helpful for the senior soldier. Over time, I developed my approach and learnt not to react as I had in the past. My previous roles and training prepared me exceptionally well to provide the support and guidance my commander and members of the unit needed from me, and I thought I was ready for the challenges of 1 RTB. What I was not prepared for as I marched in, though, was the sheer scale at which I would have to operate. The following reflection is based on the last 18 months as RSM 1 RTB and my previous appointments. I hope that it might in some way prepare you for a future position or assist in a current one.
Work-life balance. Setting and displaying the standard regarding work hours and prioritising life and family over work whenever possible is essential. There will always be times when Army requires us to prioritise it over all else, but this is infrequent and most often not in barracks. Be sure to take time out for your family and well-being and enjoy life. I found that placing these opportunities into my calendar, and prioritising them highly, allows me to achieve balance in work success, enjoyment of life, and my family and I's well-being. For example, I put time aside to donate blood frequently and usually do this in the afternoon, forcing me to leave work early. At the ripe age of 41, I also decided to return to playing AFL, maybe to prove something to myself or others, but also to encourage my son to enjoy being part of a team. So I found a local team, raised their average age by about 15, and committed to the season. I quickly found that I was the only ADF member in the club and although an odd feeling, it was also a relaxing change. There is no expectation of being ‘the RSM’ – I am just Wolfy. As we train for the Grand Final this weekend, I have realised how much I thoroughly enjoy being part of my footy club, although my body might think otherwise.
Values and virtues. The RSM walks the fine line between enforcing our standards and values and fully supporting our people always. I feel this tension, particularly when processing adverse administrative action. Regardless of the individual’s conduct or behaviour, they are still soldiers, and their wellbeing must remain at the forefront of your mind. You might be involved in suspending or the cessation of service, but they still deserve compassion and care. Ensure your people have the necessary support through these incredibly challenging times. Accountability is critical to your credibility, so be honest always and own it when you err. I preach that there are only three things you must do when you make a mistake. Admit it, learn from it, and never repeat it. I see accountability as my core virtue, which drives me to deliver for my team and Army every day. Furthermore, I believe that empathy is a critical characteristic of an RSM. An incredibly insightful person, and a mentor to me, once said, “everyone who comes to your door has lots happening in their life and many things you might never know. Remember to understand that and their circumstances. Don’t just hear it.” Empathy is the ability to consider the complete perspective of another individual and then consider the impact of your action or decision from that perspective, not just ‘putting yourself in their shoes.’ Empathy is critical for trust, and allows for a greater connection with your people. It shows a higher level of care, leading to better outcomes for the individual and Army.
Professional development. I am a self-motivated learner who enjoys a range of development methods for myself and others. I purposefully set aside time for reading and reflection, allowing me to learn from my own and others’ experiences and knowledge. I was fortunate to be selected to attend the Australian Command and Staff Course in 2020, and the development that this provided me was invaluable. I realised that after 20+ years, I still didn’t know how Army Headquarters worked – the committees, capability programs, and what directorates did what. The opportunity to spend a year focused on my development truly opened my eyes to ways and means of providing the same for others. I encourage you to dedicate time to your improvement professionally, in whatever form you prefer, but make it purposeful and pass on what you learn to your subordinates, peers and superiors. Additionally, I work with an exceptional group of warrant officers who constantly share our learning in an open, honest, and collaborative environment, allowing us to share knowledge, failure, and success. I use collaboration and vulnerability to develop those around me and share examples of when I have erred, hopefully enabling a safe workplace for them to learn without fear of failure.
Career management. I have had to significantly change my approach and process of career management at 1 RTB. Managing the NCOs in my unit whilst at the 3rd Brigade meant that I had the capacity to know and understand each individual, their aspirations, their personal circumstances, and their careers in detail. I could then liaise with DSCM-A and provide individualised advice. At 1 RTB, I have over 220 JNCO, 60 SNCO and 15 WO2; which meant delegating my aspirational career management actions to my CSMs, which initially made me incredibly uncomfortable. However, I gave them my trust and learned to supervise rather than manage. I am fortunate to have had exceptional CSMs in the Battalion. They have done a considerable amount of work in all facets of career management which they would not have anywhere else. The CSMs at 1 RTB manage almost as many JNCOs as I did as a unit RSM. Consider the effort you must expend on every Soldier Career Planning Tool and PAR and plan for this. Have a PAR directive that provides the methodology and tools you will use to ensure that reporting and feedback is the best quality, and of course, timely. DSCM-A has changed considerably over the past two years, and while these changes have been highly positive, it does mean that some previous information you have always ‘known’ may have changed.
Incident management. In my previous appointments, I was involved in the vast majority of incident types that occur in units and had good knowledge of the required policy, procedures and responses. I also believe I have established a balanced approach to any incident. Remember, the first report is frequently wrong or incomplete; therefore, take pause and consider the outstanding critical information. Of course, where a directed response is required based on current information: act. It is always better to correct a response to a critical incident later than to delay notification/reporting. I contend that there are usually three versions of every event, two sides of the story and the truth somewhere in the middle. Reflecting on recent incidents, I have become relaxed about some types of reasonably serious reporting, a shift from my previous ‘short fuse’ state, but awareness of this allows me to remain objective and empathetic. Access, and if possible, use AIMS. I was luckily thrown in the deep end in a previous appointment and am comfortable with its use and prepared for the follow-up with Incident Managers when required. It is not only the realm of the Adjutant. Do not let your first exposure to AIMS be during a critical incident.
I hope this reflection has been insightful and has provided you with some additional perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of being an RSM. The role is incredibly humbling and one I am thankful for daily. You are entrusted with the care of our soldiers, and your advice is trusted and valued always. Being an RSM can be lonely, but it is the most enjoyable and rewarding job ever. Good luck with your future in Army, wherever it may take you!