Cove Challenge: 'I wish I had known that...'

By The Cove May 19, 2021

In February this year, Warrant Officer Class Two Joel McMahon submitted an article to The Cove named 'Defining the Role of the Regimental Sergeant Major'. In the article he outlines the various roles required of an RSM; being the senior enlisted advisor, being a mentor and being a developer are three of those roles that stand out. The development of our junior leaders is key to our future Army and any information that can set them up for future success is invaluable not only to the organisation but to the individuals themselves.

The Cove team recently had the opportunity to brief all of Army's RSMs at the Senior Enlisted Conference, where we asked them what they wish they had known when they were a JNCO. Over 80 RSMs have provided feedback with some very powerful responses that will be sure to help our junior leaders navigate their way through their careers.

Over the next 14 days we will release the feedback from a selection of RSMs on our social media sites (Twitter - @covetweet and Facebook - @TheCove) so be sure to follow us and receive these feeds at your fingertips. We're also calling for submissions from all ranks Army wide. At the end of the initiative, all ideas will be shared in this article for you to review and reflect on later. 

Here is the first snippet of feedback, provided by our most senior soldiers being the RSM of the Army and Senior RSMs (Tier C).

RSM-A:  'I wish I would have known it’s okay to make a mistake and learn from it and move on. To be an effective leader you need to know yourself first, who are you and what are my strengths and weakness – I had many on reflection . I’m responsible for my learning and development, seek out opportunities. Having a mentor or sounding board is important. It is my responsibility to develop those behind me. Lastly enjoy yourself and take pride in wearing our uniform'.

Former RSM-A: WO D. Ashley: 'I wish that I had learnt much earlier to put myself in the shoes of those I led, and in those who would be affected by my actions and decisions, before I spoke, made a decision or took action. There are consequences, often which cannot be undone, if we RSMs act before we carefully consider our people and the circumstances that support capability. It is always better to be slower and right, than very fast and wrong. And we might not know we were wrong until well after the fact or the act. This way we can more effectively mentor our people, because they will often take their cue from us whether our words, acts and decisions are good or bad – leadership by example. Only now, with the benefit of hindsight and experience, and some feedback, while I was an effective RSM, I realise that I could have done better. Put yourself in others shoes before you speak, make a decision or take action and you will be a better RSM and develop better NCOs – the future you'.

COMD SM FORCOMD: 'I wish I had know that as a junior leader I should not have compared myself to others and being my authentic self was always good enough. Comparing yourself against other peoples success can put a negative impression on your own achievements. Back yourself and step out of your comfort zone at any opportunity. Failure is ok if you take ownership, learn from it and move forward'.

RSM TRADOC: ‘ I wish I had known that being a leader in the profession of arms demanded self-directed engagement in my own professional development from the start of my career. Being a passenger early in my career will result in me not reaching my full potential by the end of my career'.

RSM 1 DIV: 'The skills and knowledge that we learn in the military are highly valuable in the civilian domain; however, your understanding of what you have acquired, how they can be used, and the process to have them recognised is very time consuming. Start early in obtaining your civilian competencies, broaden your comprehension of what you have gained within the military and understand on how this can be applied or be a benefit to other organisations'.

RSM 2 DIV: ‘I wish I had of known that a life of service is about others. Being a life-long learner makes me a better leader, so I can provide my soldiers with the best experience possible'.

WOJOPS: 'I wish I had of known that the word Service also means that you need to give yourself permission to invest in your personal and professional development, it’s not always about everyone else'.

Regardless of your rank, do you have anything you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your career. Why not post it on our facebook page, place in the comments section below or email soldiercove [at] gmail.com.  We would love to see your responses. 2-3 sentences and your name and rank is all we need. Here's an opportunity to give some advice, mentoring and development to younger soldiers.

The top five responses will receive a limited edition Cove 2021 coin and be published on this page when the challenge ends.




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.


I wish as a JNCO I had known that there’s no rush - enjoy the experience good and bad, accept every opportunity, network and ultimately have fun at all ranks. It’s your experiences, personal growth and mateship that will enable and enhance your success throughout your career so take your time.

to not be afraid to speak up, to not be afraid to ask questions and to not be afraid to stand up for what is right out of fear of being unpopular or embarrassed. Its ok to be different.

The other 'I wish I would have known ...' I have been quoting for Kapooka recruits was what I recall RSM RMC-A saying (I hope I have not been misquoting him): "I wish I would have known I WAS BUILDING THE NEXT ME." I've been using that to encourage recruits to make character development a main effort from the beginning of their soldiering . And of those listed above, thanks COMD SM FORCOMD for the wisdom of "I wish I had know that as a junior leader I should not have compared myself to others and being my authentic self was always good enough." Comparison is such a risky posture - fostering either pride on the one hand or self-depreciation on the other. When I reflect on or teach humility I define it as having a right opinion of our selves - not thinking too highly (for those of us who tend to be thrusters) and not thinking too lowly (for those of us with self-esteem issues).

Add new comment

Cove App


Fast access to The Cove anywhere, anytime. Additional feature of receiving notifications for new content.

Reflective Journal


Record your reflections in a structured way to improve your performance.