Leadership & Ethics

A Study of Strategic Leadership

By The Cove August 31, 2020


The Chiefs: A Study of Strategic Leadership is a study by Brigadier Nick Jans, published by the Australian Defence College. It describes the leadership processes and culture at the most senior levels of the Australian military profession. This five-year study is focused on the experiences of recently serving 3 and 4 star officers in the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The Chiefs takes a 'sociologically-oriented' perspective on strategic leadership and acknowledges that the work of senior leaders is work mainly within the complex Defence bureaucracy in Canberra. It focuses on the determining factors in the organisational situation rather than on the qualities of the individuals involved.

It also depicts strategic leadership in terms of a simple ‘frame of reference’ that can be used by practitioners and observers to enhance their understanding of the processes involved. The author explains that “analysis concentrated on how and why senior military leaders made decisions rather than on what decisions had been made; on processes and relationships rather than on products and outcomes; on the roles that individual Chiefs perform and the examples that they set rather than on the individuals themselves; and on the thinking and enabling processes that underpinned such decisions.” The study draws 3 main conclusions:

  • for the ambitious officer, “what got you here, won’t get you there
  • for the Australian military institution, “what got us here, won’t get us there”
  • the principle that “leadership is a team sport” is just as valid at the senior level as it is lower in the organisation.

Brigadier Jans suggests that striking the right balance between leadership and management at the strategic level is essential. Senior officers might make their professional reputation on the basis of their talent for leadership, but believes their longer term success will rest, at least as much, on their ability to manage.   Although only a small proportion of our Cove followership includes the senior leaders of Defence, this paper allows us a rare insight into some of the challenges faced at that level. Do you agree with the author’s conclusions and recommendations? What’s your perspective on finding the balance between leadership and management?    



The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

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.

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