Why Understanding Yourself and Others as a Leader is ImportantBy Laura Hando April 28, 2021
Some trades within Army are given more leadership exposure and opportunities than others. For instance, an Infantry CPL is expected to lead an entire section of riflemen, whereas for an Admin Clerk CPL, it is common to have none or maybe one or two subordinates. I was fortunate to be posted to a training establishment in an all-corps role as a section commander of a Holding Troop. This role gave me command, management and leadership exposure and experience beyond what I ever expected. The professional and personal development I gained from being in this role has increased my confidence, self-awareness and self-efficacy exponentially as a leader. If I remained in my trade, it would have taken me several years to gain this level of leadership experience. My job satisfaction was also heightened due to the rewarding feeling of being able to make a positive impression on the trainees’ careers and watching them leave for their first postings. If you are in a trade where your command, management and leadership opportunities are limited, I highly recommend seeking out such a role, whether in a training establishment or elsewhere. I have improved personally and professionally during my posting in a training establishment more than what I ever expected. This posting has been a blessing in disguise. If you are already in a trade whereby you are given those leadership opportunities then be grateful and take full advantage of it.
Leadership is particularly important in training establishments where trainees are susceptible and vulnerable in terms of the influence a leader can have on them. Trainees become a by-product of the leaders they see and interact with in training establishments. This sets the standard for the behaviours and attitudes they take into the wider Army. These are the soldiers of the future; ensuring they serve under good leadership during the early stages of their career creates an opportunity for better quality soldiers who feel empowered and leave the training establishment with a much more positive attitude towards the Army. Furthermore, being supported by a strong leader and having a workplace with high morale are the two main ingredients for job satisfaction and increased job satisfaction is likely to result in retention of soldiers within the ADF.
As a leader, it is important to possess and display all the Defence values at all times across all aspects of soldiering. The Defence values are interrelated and are synonymous with excellent leaders; however, one skill underpinning and enhancing the application of these values is emotional intelligence. With the changing times, emotional intelligence is becoming vital for successful leadership. Knowledge of your personal strengths and weaknesses and actively trying to improve for the benefit of your subordinates is crucial as a leader. Emotional intelligence is a useful skill to reflect on reactions and emotions. For example, reflecting on what was said during a difficult conversation and identify ways the conversation could improve for next time. If there was a witness present, using their feedback would be useful too. Another example of using emotional intelligence is working with your team to leverage off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This would ensure the best management of subordinates, especially if there are time constraints. Finally, leadership is not only a vertical concept up and down the chain of command but also horizontally to your peers. Knowledge and awareness in this area is power, so if you identify a certain strength then you can teach others about it. On the other hand, actively seeking out information or guidance in areas you are not as confident in with can help with personal and professional growth. A leader who seeks to better themselves and others, sets a good example for subordinates who will imitate the leadership they see.
The self-awareness of your own emotions, predispositions or assumptions can impact your ability to effectively communicate, deal with conflict, and empathise with others. Learning how to utilise these skills is very useful. In addition to the Defence values, we each have our own internal values which may or may not align with our thoughts and feelings. In my experience, the ability to realise emotions and respond appropriately instead of acting on your initial reaction can be beneficial for confrontation or difficult conversations. Correspondingly, being self-aware requires more thought, reflection and analysis but can also lead to improved critical thinking, decision-making and listening skills which are all attributes of a great leader. This can also include taking ideas or suggestions from subordinates. As a subordinate, seeing a leader invest time into them, an issue they are facing, or an idea they have, would make them feel valued and worthy. This could empower them and give them confidence in themselves and their own leadership potential.
Personally, being more aware of my own emotions made it easier to identify emotions of others; putting myself in their shoes and understanding their needs. As a generalisation across Army, there is a lack of training in mental health. Knowledge in this area, combined with a genuine level of empathy, can improve a leader being more approachable for subordinates with welfare concerns. Each soldier is a person; someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, partner and should never be treated as just another number. Coupled with the ability to help, the more approachable you are, the more comfortable subordinates are in coming to you with welfare concerns. The more exposure you get to such situations in turn, improves your own emotional intelligence. Despite each welfare case being slightly different, being self-aware meant I was much better equipped for having difficult conversations and was able to reach solutions more logically.
Each soldier brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from the outside world which should be valued and respected. Whilst subordinates generally do have limited military experience, everyone has to start somewhere so leaders should treat them as partially full as opposed to partially empty. The Army is one of the most demanding and stressful jobs, which can invoke intense emotions. Therefore, treating others the way you wish to be treated and showing appreciation can go a long way in making subordinates feel supported and valued and thus, increasing morale. Even when disciplining a soldier, leadership requires authority but also respect. Corrections should be founded on the basis of improving the soldier through a more mentoring approach rather than yelling at them. The Army invests a lot of time, money and resources in training soldiers. A good leader should support them in any way possible to build confidence, help them reach their full potential and better contribute to operational capability. This will translate into the soldier becoming a high performing leader in years to come.
Fostering a supportive and mutually respectful workplace with a high morale is likely to make soldiers feel valued and appreciated. This generates the desire to work harder. Cohesion and maintenance of a positive outlook can be contagious in high-performing teams. Soldiers from these types of work environments are positively situated for successful long-term careers. Leaders are in control of and should take it upon themselves to improve the work dynamic in each unit. Better leaders today produce better leaders for the future.