This article was published in Smart Soldier 65, August 21. You can access the full edition on the DPN in the Army Lessons page. (Tip: Search for Army Lessons and select the second/third search option).

Since assuming duties as the 11th Regimental Sergeant Major – Army in July 2018, Warrant Officer Grant McFarlane OAM has supported the Chief of Army through a period of modernisation that is helping to strengthen the Australian Army, ensuring our force is future ready.

During his 40-plus years in uniform, WO McFarlane has served as the RSM of the 10th/27th Battalion, Royal South Australia Regiment; 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment; 3rd Brigade; 2nd Division and Career Management– Army.

RSM-A: Firstly, I would like to congratulate the team at Army Knowledge Centre on the development of each edition of Smart Soldier for the past 20 years – your contribution has been significant. Your booklets have enabled Army and kept our people updated on lessons learnt, challenged our thinking and encouraged our people to personally contribute their thoughts and ideas.

Can you describe the real value of RSM-A?

RSM-A: My value is I’m genuinely interested in others. I’m invested in all our people reaching their full potential and leaders being the best leaders that provide capability for our Army. I’m able to translate and reinforce the CA’s priorities, his messages and the vision for the Army, then pass this information with context down to our most junior soldiers and leaders. Part of the reason for my visits is to gauge the morale, pulse and climate of units and the impact of tempo on teams. This also gives soldiers direct access to the RSM-A. I would hope that I am seen as a role model and the bearer of standards, behaviour and conduct and care of and for our people and their families.

What is your daily routine and what does a typical day consist of for RSM-A?

RSM-A: My day starts at 0445h with PT which is around a 30-40 km bike ride. Then it’s back home to have breakfast before I walk to work ready for the day around 0800h. CA has a synch meeting every morning with key AHQ staff and then that is followed by meetings and updates. Sometimes these are with the CA and other times by myself. My day finishes with an update on the next day’s schedule and any administration that is required, normally home by 1800h. Every opportunity there is to visit courses and units I take. It’s normally two or three days out of the office and Canberra each week.

How important are personal interests outside of Army to the development of a soldier in Army?

RSM-A: Personal interests outside of Army are very important – these enable you to have a good work/life balance. Mine was family time, particularly coaching my sons in footy, cricket and rugby. These roles all taught me patience and different leadership styles for different circumstances. I also enjoyed personal study. These days it’s being a member of different boards, spending time with my growing family, bike riding, paddle boarding, reading, challenging myself to learn every day and discovering the unique gins of Australia and from around the world.

What’s the best reference that has served you during your career?

RSM-A: The Junior Leadership on the Battlefield handbook written by Brigadier George Mansford AM (Rtd). I still have it.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

RSM-A: The best advice I have had comes from two people. Firstly my Pa, who was a veteran of the Kokoda Track, who told me, 'you can be anything you want young fella'. Secondly, WO Kevin Woods, who was the seventh RSM-A and my DS on Sub1 SGT, told me, 'know yourself and challenge yourself because you can achieve whatever you want to be in our Army.' It took me a while to understand that.

What are the key leadership traits a soldier should focus on developing?

RSM-A: Know yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses first. Know your soldiers inside and out, including their families. Challenge yourself every day to learn something about who you are and reflect often on your actions and observations. Be an active member of your team and contribute to your unit in the growth and development of the people and the capabilities.

What is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your career?

RSM-A: The biggest lesson I have learnt is to know myself and be my authentic self. You can learn from others but you must implement these learnings and actions in your own style. You can’t be someone else.

You must have seen many changes in Army between when you joined and now. Do you have any tips for how to adapt to a changing Army?

RSM-A: There were minor changes in my first 20 years in the Army, but now it seems that we have packaged up 40 years of thinking and development and made significant inroads into how we think, focusing on capability investment, embracing technology and future structures in just three years. It is an exciting time for Army and our people in the coming decade.

I am sure you have worked with or observed coalition soldiers in action. What can we learn from them? Do you have any tips on how to engage them?

RSM-A: Firstly be yourself, be respectful, listen and engage in conversations and activities. Offer points from your observations and what you have learnt. Pass on how our Army operates in the same circumstances.

What main piece of advice would you give to a young soldier starting their career?

RSM-A: Listen to those around you. Be a good person. Live our values. Understand you will make mistakes but own them and learn from the situation. Read widely to broaden your thoughts on leading, thinking and human behaviour. Be really good at your basic Corps skills. Learn something every day.

What is the main advice you would give to leaders responsible for developing soldiers?

RSM-A: Give your people the opportunities that you wish you had. Listen to them and their thoughts, be honest with them, challenge them and ensure they learn something every day. Develop your soldiers through three lenses – culture and values, leadership and accountability.

What guidance can you provide for a young soldier aspiring to become an RSM?

RSM-A: My guidance to anyone that aspires to be an RSM is to be yourself, know yourself and maintain your skills and standards. Continually learn. Do your current job well and do not worry about your next job. Create your own path to becoming an RSM and remember you don’t have to follow the footsteps of others.

Army goes through phases where we are deploying on a regular basis and times where we are continually training for the next operation. What is your advice to soldiers who are eager to deploy but can’t see obvious opportunities to do so?

RSM-A: While operations are drawing down, our focus is more about International Engagement, in and around our region of South East Asia and the South West Pacific, re-establishing and building relationships, understanding their language and culture, and undertaking more training opportunities. Keep training and maintaining your skills and standards because we don’t know what is around the corner. We need to be prepared and ready to shape, deter or respond to what the government and community need. (Note from The Cove Team: Learn about the Indo-Pacific region through the Know Your Region series).

What are your top three tips for an RSM new to the job?

  1. Meet up with your CO away from work and get to know them on a personal level and understand what their vision and direction for the unit is. Discuss what they see as your role and function and share your view and what you will bring to the unit.
  2. Ensure you get to know all your people. One good way to do this is to get out and speak to them and see them in the work/training environment. You learn a lot out of your office.
  3. Look after yourself. Do PT every day and take time for yourself and remember your family, as both are important.
  4. If I can have a fourth, it would be to keep connected and engaged with your peer group and formation RSM.

How should soldiers relate to and implement good soldiering into their everyday work?

RSM-A: Good soldiering should be in our DNA – be a good person, live our values every day through behaviour and ethics, maintain your skills and training and make your team better every day. Be accountable and responsible for your actions and take action where others fail in good soldiering.

What do you recommend for the development of professional knowledge?

RSM-A: Professional knowledge and development is a personal trait. Find your passion and pursue it. Whether this is through reading, studying, being part of a committee or volunteering, it is all about bettering yourself through thinking, communicating and connections.