This article was awarded 2nd place in the officer category in the Cove Competition 2022. Check out more in 'Tips for New Commanding Officers'.
At the end of my command tenure and preparing for the farewell dining in night, I spent some time thinking about what command meant to me. After ruminating for some time, I penned the following simple observations, which I feel are applicable across many leadership roles.
Command is a fleeting privilege. For most, moving into a command or leadership role has been a long road, punctuated by different experiences and sacrifices. It can be very easy to forget that as a commanding officer, you have the ability to deeply impact the lives of those around you – at every level. Every experience you have had to date prepares you for that one opportunity to positively influence, mentor, and lead an inspirational group of Australian Soldiers. Importantly, you should remember that this opportunity is fleeting – enjoy every moment, speak to the soldiers, take photographs to capture the moments, and try to enrich everyone’s life in service. It’s an opportunity to not only share your skills and experience to shape the future, but to learn from it also.
Command is a deeply personal endeavour. You will receive lots of advice on what it means to be a great Commanding Officer – just remember though that it’s your personality and your values that were key in your appointment. Strive to avoid being a template and be genuine with your approach. The second part to this is to acknowledge that command, whilst incredibly fulfilling, can also come at a significant personal cost. This cannot be overstated. There will be occasions during your command where you will second-guess a decision or be faced with challenging or tragic circumstances; it’s at these times that the adage of command being lonely rings true. In my mind, to do it properly you must be completely invested, which can be especially draining towards the end. Finding balance through a trusted professional network, investment in family, or making time for hobbies are what I found to be the best way to remain centred.
Command is humbling. There are very few roles that a person will do in their life where they are surrounded by the most incredible men and women our nation can muster. I found myself consistently impressed with the innovation, humour, and professionalism of those in the Regiment. It would be foolish to think that only a few in a unit are the proprietors of good ideas, when there are highly educated soldiers and young officers that think at a far greater pace than you. Your role is to nurture this enthusiasm and guide it towards achieving great outcomes, and when you do I guarantee it will be humbling and rewarding.
Command is a team sport. It’s a very easy trap to fall into thinking that you, in your role as a Commanding Officer, are the single entity that defines a unit’s success (or otherwise). You will find yourself surrounded by a group of dedicated professional soldiers who have most likely seen or done things you are only just experiencing. Be approachable, accountable, allow them to offer opinions, and establish an environment which allows them to feel invested in achieving the collective outcomes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you divulge responsibility or positional authority; rather, that you are collegiate whilst balancing the variables of unit life.
My final observation though, is that in organisations where career success is often defined by merit and recognition, it can be very easy to have this shape the nature and perception of our service. A unit is its own entity and is not defined by its command team, they are merely stewards guiding it along a path at that point in time. If that time is characterised by success, it is a result of the collective efforts of the team; acknowledge that, and don’t be that person who claims recognition off the back of other’s efforts or at the expense of the unit.