Since the Cold War there have been three global crises: the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001, the global financial crisis of 2008-9, and now coronavirus. Each has radically disrupted the international order and, while each has been responded to more or less effectively, they have left the system weaker, more distorted and with more structural dangers.[i]
Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 14 March 2020
[As a result of COVD-19, Australia’s] economy will look very different…[and we must now] work together, not just through the pandemic, but to through the economic impacts of that pandemic and put in place the necessary changes we need to make Australia's economy stronger again.[ii]
The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia, 15 May 2020
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), of the genus Betacoronavirus, is the causative agent of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). At the time of writing, globally COVID-19 has infected approximately 5.5 million people and caused almost 350,000 fatalities.[iii]
World leadership in response to COVID-19 is exceptional. From medical first responders to hospitals, laboratories, businesses, charities, civil servants, militaries, and government leaders we are inspired by soaring global humanity, ceaseless innovation, and a collective desire to succeed in the face of COVID-19. Individuals, families, teams and communities are demonstrating discipline and resolve to stay at home, socially distance, wash hands, control coughing and comply with direction protecting the greater good.
The Australian Defence Organisation is supporting the whole-of-government response to the pandemic through the COVID-19 Taskforce which leads Operation COVID-19 ASSIST. About 2,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are supporting the Australian Government’s counter-COVID-19 efforts. Operation COVID-19 Assist builds on the ‘extraordinary efforts and courage of [Australia’s] first responders, maintenance specialists, border force agents and others’. As noted by Lieutenant General Burr, Chief of the Australian Army, ‘this is our people at their best… stepping up to help others, to contribute in unique ways, to reassure and protect’.[iv]
Seven ideas on how to lead beyond COVID19
Building upon ADF action during Operation COVID-19 Assist, while accounting for the current situation and the futures articulated above, this paper describes seven ideas that will enable the ADF to lead our way beyond COVID-19. These ideas are based on ADF leadership. This paper defines leadership, connects leadership to the defeat of COVID-19 and then provides seven ideas for leadership enabling the ADF’s mission to defend Australia and protect our national interests.[v] These ideas include:
- We develop selfless competent leaders
- Leaders are approachable, demonstrate competence and set the organisational tone
- As our organisations move, leaders plan to manoeuvre
- Repetition, repetition, repetition
- Creating an accurately defined lexicon
- Leaders articulate their intent
- Relationships are a pacing item
These seven leadership ideas bring the ADF to our ‘new normal’ or ‘accepted enduring conditions’ beyond COVID-19. Many of these ideas are already in place. In some cases, these ideas are an affirmation of what we already know. Other ideas are a timely reminder of the ADF’s existing leadership processes and culture. These ideas also remind us, through leadership beyond COVID-19, that we have multiple opportunities and paths enabling the achievement of our collective ADF potential.
The ADF defines leadership as: ‘the process of influencing others to gain their willing consent in the ethical pursuit of missions’. The ADF further defines six components of leadership as:
- Influencing, motivating, and inspiring people and teams.
- Followers fulfilling responsibilities and obligations to support and guide leaders and ensure leader accountability.
- Establishing objectives designed to achieve a mutual goal, mission and/or vision.
- Purposeful action striving, with people and teams, to achieve objectives.
- Consent through relationships of mutual obligation between a leader and followers.
- Enabling ethics creating influential, visionary, and morally sound environments and relationships.[vi]
Combined with the seven principles of mission command – competence; mutual trust; shared understanding; commander’s intent; mission orders; disciplined initiative; and, risk acceptance –the ADF’s six components of leadership guide commanders, leaders, our people and our teams to achieve our tasks, purpose, objectives and mission.[vii]
Connecting leadership to the defeat of COVID-19
In strategy, ends are achieved through coherent and synchronised ways and means.[viii] Defeat of COVID-19 is a strategic end for Australia and the world. Defeat occurs when a threat has temporarily or permanently lost the physical means to delay, disrupt or disable...and can no longer interfere to a significant degree in our society.[ix] Defeat as a strategic end, challenges our collective ADF leadership to continuously adapt the ways and means we employ to counter-COVD-19 while advancing our tasks, purpose, objectives and mission.
Through ADF leadership deploying the COVID-19 Taskforce and employing Operation COVID-19 Assist, we quickly and effectively connected strategic ends to the defeat COVID-19. Defeat occurred through ways - including ADF readiness, responsiveness, cooperation, and collaboration with whole-of-government Federal and State authorities - and means, employing our people, teams, leaders, equipment and organisational structures including the COVID-19 Taskforce.
Defeat of COVID-19, as a strategic end, realises the futures articulated at the commencement of this paper. As a result of COVID-19’s defeat, we will experience our so-called ‘new normal’ or more accurately our ‘accepted enduring conditions’. These are conditions that are acceptable to our collective communities and stakeholders, conducive to our individual, collective and national interests and enable people to reach their potential.[x]
Seven ideas for Leadership beyond COVID-19
Building upon ADF action during Operation COVID-19 Assist, while accounting for the current situation and the futures articulated earlier, this paper now describes seven ideas enabling the ADF to lead our way beyond COVID-19. These ideas are based on ADF leadership assuring our ability to defend Australia and protect our national interests.[xi]
As earlier stated, many of these seven ideas are already in place. In some cases, these ideas are an affirmation of what we already know and a timely reminder of the ADFs existing leadership processes and culture. These ideas remind us that we have multiple opportunities and paths enabling the achievement of our collective ADF potential.
Seven ideas for leadership beyond COVID-19 include:
1. We develop selfless competent leaders. People in teams are the ADF’s competitive edge. We are resilient and potent military practitioners. We purposefully and safely train, practice, and educate our workforce. We enable our people and our teams to reach their personal, professional and cultural potential.[xii]
2. Leaders are approachable, demonstrate competence and set the organisational tone: This means that our leaders:
- Lead through excellence in their basic trade skills of leading, shooting, moving, and communicating.
- Read and continuously self- and team-educate, learn, apply, adapt, improve, and evolve.
- Listen through mindfully hearing and understanding diverse and contested ideas.
- Care through placing others before themselves and through continuous availability for a question and/or a request for assistance.
- Participate through demonstrating they are part of the team.
- Set the organisational tone based on cooperation, integration, empowerment and generating solutions through adapting to change.[xiii]
3. As our organisations move, leaders plan to manoeuvre. Our organisations move to improve their readiness through training, education, sustainment, maintenance, capability, and capacity. Simultaneously, our leaders continuously plan, prepare, and execute manoeuvre. Our leaders manoeuvre through close coordination, cooperation and collaboration with key partners and stakeholders enabling the transition of improved readiness into ADF force projection capabilities of surprise, shock, and momentum.[xiv]
4. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Leaders train, practice and educate our workforce through excellence in continuous repetition. Enabling force proficiency, our ADF capabilities require a foundation of four continuously repeated skills: leading, shooting, moving, and communicating. All four skills improve through excellence in repetition, as people:
- Learn by leading and following combined with success and failure
- Enhance shooting tactics, timing, and accuracy
- Move at speed with alacrity and security
- Communicate in written, verbal, non-verbal, emotional, cross-cultural, and electromagnetic domains
5. Creating an accurately defined lexicon. Words matter. COVID-19 introduces a new lexicon to the ADF. Leaders understand the unifying effect and shared understanding that an accurately defined lexicon brings to our people, teams, families, and community. Through precise language, leaders define an organisation’s purpose, challenges, and approaches to solving problems.[xv]
Leaders enable organisations to see themselves, see the threat and see the environment. Shared understanding, combined with accurate information for our people, teams, families and community, forms the basis of unified effort enabling initiative from our workforce.[xvi] Leaders can create a shared understanding, during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, through accurately defining the following concepts with our workforce:
- Contact tracing
- Travel bans
- Chief Medical Officer
- Personal protective equipment
- Social distancing
- Stay-at-home orders
- Flattening the curve
- Asymptomatic, of a condition or a person, producing or showing no symptom
- Quarantine, 14-days in isolation for COVID-19,[xvii] original meaning 40-days in isolation[xviii]
- Cohort, group quarantined together, originally 420 soldiers, the Roman equivalent of a battalion[xix]
- Technologies including diagnostics through testing, vaccine, and antiviral drugs[xx]
- Cyber risk, especially for workers at home
- Cloud video conferencing, video conferencing as a service (VCaaS), including: Zoom; Amazon Chime; Google Meet; Cisco Webex; Microsoft Teams; and, Workplace by Facebook
6. Leaders articulate their intent. Well-led staff do not need to say: ‘it is time for the mission analysis brief, fetch the commander’. Leaders lead. Commanders lead through personally designing their commander’s intent. Intent is a leader’s personal message to their team. Intent is the embodiment of a commander’s visualisation of their organisation’s tasks, purpose, objectives, and mission. Commander’s intent articulates:
- Purpose of the operation
- Risks, including risk to force, risk to mission, who owns the risk and for how long is risk held combined with analysing the enemy’s intent and our preparations for counter-action
- Prioritised conditions, including main effort, supporting effort(s), decisive points, and events, leading to mission success
- Combinations of potential actions in time, space, objective, and purpose
- Coordination, synchronisation and/or integration with other applicable organisations
- Measures of effectiveness (MOE), enabled through measures of performance (MOP)[xxi]
- End states, including planned force postures enabling follow on operations[xxii]
7. Relationships are a pacing item. Where pacing items are ‘major systems [or capabilities]…central to an organisation’s ability to perform its designated mission’.[xxiii] These systems and capabilities are subject to continuous monitoring and management at all levels of command. A pacing item is held at the highest level of readiness. We must constantly care for and maintain these systems and capabilities.
Relationships as a pacing item require mutual trust and shared confidence between leaders, their people, partners and teams. Trust in relationships is built over time based on common shared experiences and habitual training.[xxiv] Trusted relationships are hard to build, and easily broken. Trusted relationships are accelerated by exercising consistent considered leadership, demonstrating personal example, and upholding the ADF’s six values of professionalism, loyalty, integrity, courage, innovation, and teamwork.[xxv]
This paper accounts for existing counter-COVID-19 endeavours and futures articulated at the beginning of this paper, while building upon ADF action during Operation COVID-19 Assist. In response, this paper describes seven ideas enabling the ADF to lead our way beyond COVID-19.
These ideas are based on ADF leadership. These seven leadership ideas bring the ADF to our ‘new normal’ or ‘accepted enduring conditions’ beyond COVID-19. We are reminded, through leadership beyond COVID-19, that we have multiple opportunities and paths enabling the achievement of our collective ADF potential.
This paper does not represent any official positions of the Australian Army or the Australian Department of Defence