This article amalgamates exchanged ideas on the wellness of our leaders from training, reading, observing, listening and experience.[1] These ideas are shared so we, as leaders, can enable, support and care for each other while enhancing organisational fighting power. In doing so, we must look for signs of fatigue and fragility in our colleagues. We must be kind to each other. We must collectively serve to ensure our colleague’s wellness balances the demands of our profession with their own needs and the needs of their families, our serving personnel and our nation.

Wellness and Fighting Power  

In the 1986 Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, the World Health Organisation defined a ‘wellness-model’ as:

The extent to which an individual or group is able to realise aspirations and satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment. Health is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living; it is a positive concept, emphasising social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.[2]

Wellness empowers motivated, educated and energetic leaders as core enablers of a military’s fighting power. Martin van Creveld, in Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945, asserts that ‘within the limits set by its size, an army’s worth as a military instrument equals the quality and quantity of its equipment multiplied by its fighting power’.[3] He defines fighting power as:

…resting on mental, intellectual, and organisational foundations… manifesting, in one combination or another, as discipline and cohesion, morale and initiative, courage and toughness, the willingness to fight and the readiness, if necessary, to die. …Fighting Power, in brief, is defined as the sum total of mental qualities that make armies fight.[4]

Implied by van Creveld are the inexorable connections between fighting power and leadership. On leadership the late Peter Drucker notes, ‘only three things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership’.[5] Leadership reciprocates the trust bestowed upon us. A trust exemplified through a life well lived both personally and professionally.

This article examines wellness in the military profession through leadership stressors as well as gaining and maintaining wellness in our leaders.

Leadership stressors

The stressors on our leaders are multi-faceted and cumulative. These stressors include:

Habitual sleep deprivation. Leaders perpetuate patterns of reduced sleep, of five to six hours per night, through repeated demanding appointments, training events, mission rehearsals and deployments. In an effort to match our unblinking intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, combined with global communications, some leaders consider working with minimal sleep as a badge of honour. We know that driving tired is the equivalent of driving under the influence of alcohol. Yet we accept fatigued leaders as a by-product of our 24 hours / 7 days-a-week profession.

Continuous connectivity with work. Leaders remaining on-call and at-call, constantly conducting business after duty hours, on weekends and on leave. Over-conscientiousness causes leaders to sacrifice personal needs, and the needs of a leader’s family, for the needs of others. This habit perpetuates the same behaviour in subordinates. Many junior leaders, especially junior officers, are already working at or near full capacity. Continually stressing junior leader’s personal capacity denies them the space to think, develop, make mistakes and, ultimately, limits their ability to undertake greater responsibilities.

Neglecting personal medical needs. Leaders become too busy at work to book and attend scheduled medical appointments. They eat poorly, miss or reduce physical training and ignore or trivialise repetitive injuries, unusual strains and pain. Leaders delay medical treatments until a less-busy time that never arrives. These issues aggregate and can lead to misuse of substances to reduce stress, including sleeping pills and alcohol, or to stimulate performance, including tobacco, sugar and caffeine.

Social and professional isolation. Leaders forget who we truly are, preferring to live our professional lives behind a mask of zero-defects and infallibility. Losing the habit of listening and valuing the opinion of others. Failing to balance and nurture relationships with family, friends and work colleagues. Opting out of social engagements through continuous requirements to work or seek rest. Replacing human connections with technology including email and hand-held electronic devices.

Legal responsibilities. Within regulated and regulating legal advisory frameworks, leaders are subject to continuous accountability in acknowledging tasks, making decisions, and creating/implementing solutions.

Gaining and maintaining wellness in our leaders Through self-awareness, positive actions, planning and support, we can reduce multi-faceted and cumulative stressors on our leaders. These actions include:

Self-discipline in balancing leader’s lives. Deliberately planning days, weeks and months in a leader’s life to achieve, sustain and balance five key elements:

  • Sleep – at least seven hours per night.
  • Exercise – both physical and mental.
  • Diet – balanced with reduced alcohol, sugar and caffeine.
  • Connections – with family, friends and colleagues including mandating periods of leave.
  • Values – beginning with a leader’s personal values and adding their organisation’s values.

Look for warning signs in our peers. Are our leader’s lives balanced? Can you or someone close to them assist? Do they need professional support or intervention?

Mentors. Leaders supporting leaders. Emphasising the value of superiors, peers, team-mates and subordinates receiving support from and providing support to leaders. Finding a mentor who is fearless in their appraisal of you as a person and a leader. Establishing mentors to provide support external to a leader’s usual organisational networks and colleagues. Empowering and connecting chaplains and medical professionals to provide guidance and support.

Creating resilience programs for leaders. For example, in the United States Special Operations Command the resilience program is: Preservation of the Force and Family (POTFF). Where POTFF ‘identifies and implements innovative, valuable solutions…aimed at improving the short and long-term well-being of our [people] and their families’.[6]

In 2016, 3rd Brigade, Townsville, established a Human Performance Framework, comprising the triad of: Geckos Family Centre; the Soldier Recovery Centre North Queensland; and, the Vasey Resilience Centre. The Human Performance Framework ‘enhances readiness by enabling the resilience of people, their teams, and their families’, through people as leaders:[7]

  • Focusing on prevention measures including building physical, mental, cognitive and ethical resilience.
  • Aiming for post traumatic growth.
  • Seeking to strive and thrive in combat and in life.
  • Encouraging innovative ideas in training, retention of job-ready skills, nutrition, team development and readiness.
  • Drawing on the expertise and experience that exists in the Army, Defence and wider community aimed at increasing our productivity, retention and welfare.[8]

Stay alert for over-achievers. All leaders are responsible for helping our people avoid repeating the mistakes we made in our youth. For example, watch for operations and intelligence staff who commence work too early in the morning or work too late into the night. Take care of drivers who push their own endurance. Ensure leaders with families or personal responsibilities, feel empowered to spend time addressing these needs.

Reflection, Leaders setting aside time daily, weekly and monthly to reflect upon their family, work, endeavours and themselves. Leaders reflect through observing and analysing their own actions. Reflection is best undertaken away from day-to-day interruptions such as prior to sleeping, upon waking, mid-morning, when exercising or travelling. A leadership journal, detailing topics such as – What’s going well? What's challenging? What needs my attention? What strengths and contributions do I notice in others? What am I learning? What is an action I am committing to? – is a method of ensuring reflection leads to action.[9]


As stated, wellness empowers motivated, educated and energetic leaders as core enablers of a military’s fighting power. Martin van Creveld notes that fighting power combines mental, intellectual, and organisational foundations, manifested as discipline and cohesion, morale and initiative, courage and toughness…and leadership.

This article aims to heighten our senses as leaders to enable, support and care for each other while enhancing organisational fighting power. In turn, fighting power necessitates wellness in our leaders. We must be kind to each other, always scanning for signs of fatigue and fragility in our colleagues. We must ensure our leaders balance the demands of our profession with their own needs and the needs of their families, our serving personnel and our nation.