Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.

Junior Leadership in the Australian Army

May 29th, 2016 by Scott Holmes

Photo courtesy 1st Brigade, Australian Army

Photo courtesy 1st Brigade, Australian Army

Do we know why it works or are we doing what we’ve always done?

The current Australian Army leadership model is an effective means of developing officers and non-commissioned officers (NCO) for operational service. Despite ongoing success, it is worth asking the question: is the system as effective as it could be?

To answer the question, it’s important to understand what the system is and how it operates. The system is different for officer training and NCO training. Both systems rely on the transfer of tacit and explicit knowledge but they place different emphasis on how that knowledge is acquired. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is not written down or qualified. It is knowledge one gains through experience. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that is written and codified. It’s knowledge that the Army normally transfers as a qualification or training course and can be quantified.

How do we train leaders in the Australian Army?

The Officer training system relies on explicit knowledge transfer over an 18 month first appointment course (FAC) to provide dedicated leadership training for tactical command. This is supported by further explicit knowledge transfer at corps or trade training during regimental or logistic officer basic courses (ROBC and LOBC). The system relies on an intense period of explicit knowledge transfer reinforced by tacit learning gained in an officers first command of a platoon or troop, traditionally in a regimental environment. From this point onwards, experience of command (tacit knowledge transfer) is the primary mechanism of leadership development up until unit command.

The NCO training system places a reverse emphasis on tacit and explicit knowledge transfer. The NCO system is derived from tacit knowledge gained through practical experience and exposure to leaders within the context of a soldier’s trade employment. A standard package of explicit leadership training is provided through the Army’s Junior Leader Course (JLC), normally conducted in a soldiers second year of service. Each Corps reinforces the explicit training of the JLC with additional promotion courses though the level of leadership vice trade skills practiced and taught on these course varies markedly.

Neither system is reliant on only tacit or explicit knowledge transfer and both operate simultaneously in most cases. The FAC explicitly teaches leadership but this is reinforced through routine application and testing of practical leadership in administrative and tactical leader roles. Likewise, soldiers experience leadership as followers prior to attending the JLC. The tacit knowledge they possess of leadership through follower experience is reinforced by explicit leadership training during the JLC. Unit training, professional military education and mentorship of junior leaders are nascent elements of the leadership training system that the Army relies upon. Combined, these elements form the basis of leadership training and development for junior officers and NCOs.

The Army’s system of leadership development has remained relatively constant throughout the Army’s history. The degree to which the training has focussed on leadership or technical skills has ebbed and flowed but the underlying basis of explicit Officer training through Duntroon was established in 1911. The system to train NCO’s, sometimes with and sometimes without formal leadership training, has been based on tacit knowledge and practical demonstration of leadership qualities. The system has been successful and continues to be today. Is it efficient though?

Courtesy: 1st Brigade, Australian Army

Courtesy: 1st Brigade, Australian Army

Investing in Junior Leadership – Improving the Human Dimension

My review of the current leadership model suggests two aims: First, to confirm if the currently successful model is the most efficient and effective mechanism to create and retain junior leaders; second, to confirm if changes in the army training model and Beersheba restructure have impacted leader development. I’ll focus upon two areas for why I believe a review of the leadership model is necessary. The first is improvements in knowledge of neuro science and biological performance have created potentially more efficient mechanisms to select, train and educate military leaders. Secondly, the dependence on tacit knowledge transfer for NCO development requires repetition, experience and leadership examples that reinforce Army’s desired or exemplar leadership form. Recent changes in the raise, train sustain (RTS) model moving to a three-year cycle (R3) and force structure changes under Plan Beersheba have impacted the volume of repetition and experience soldiers access in any single year. This has consequences for a tacit development leadership model.

Improvements in our understanding of neurological and psychological aspects of human performance are worth evaluating for their usefulness in Army’s leadership development model. Advancements in our understanding of decision making, information retention and cognitive capacity illustrate that techniques for improving speed of thought, memory capacity and more quickly achieving ‘expert’ levels of knowledge exist. Many of these improvements are likely to validate the current model by I suspect some will challenge historical thinking and identify areas of deficiency that could be readily addressed.

Changes in the R3 model for RTS of collective capabilities and the impacts of creating common or ‘like’ combat Brigade structures have impacted the opportunities for gaining experience through exposure and repetition of military activities. Military leadership requires the combination of military competence and leadership qualities. The NCO development system, which relies predominantly on tacit knowledge transfer, is impacted by change that reduces the frequency of exposure and opportunity to perform military tasks. The R3 model reduces repetition by a third and the Beersheba structure has expanded the roles of infantry and armoured units away from specified light, mechanised or motorised roles; increasing the diversity of training undertaken at the expense of repetition. This is not a criticism of change – many positives have been gained – but it is recognition that we should at least review the impact of the change and where necessary, compensate any weakness incidentally created in the NCO development model.

To close I want to leave some thought bubbles for discussion;

  1. Do discrete Officer and other ranks (OR) leadership models produce the best results? Would we be better served by direct entry recruiting junior leaders at the NCO level and developing them through an explicit training model (as we do with officers)?
  2. Do we manage leadership talent at the OR level effectively? Would we be better served by identifying leaders during recruit and IET training and siphoning targeted members into accelerated leadership development programs?
  3. Are we doing enough to evaluate our evolving awareness of cognitive performance against our leadership development practices to ensure we invest appropriately in human advantage?

About the Author

MAJ Scott Holmes is an Infantry Officer, serving predominantly in The Royal Australian Regiment. Scott is passionate that the key to military effectiveness remains human excellence. Scott is currently studying at the Australian Command and Staff College and is a member of the DEF Australia Executive.

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15 Comments on "Junior Leadership in the Australian Army"

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Tom McDermott
It is interesting that many militaries are reviewing their leadership doctrine in this period after the’long war’ phases of Iraq and Afghanistan. The British Army, as an example, recently published a new ‘Leadership Code’ designed to focus leader development (://www.army.mod.uk/…/rmas_AC72021-TheArmyLeadershipCode…). Perhaps of even more interest, there has been a focussed effort on re-developing ‘Generalship’ as a profession. The General Staff has adopted a much more ‘Regimental’ form, the ‘Late Regt’ honourific has been removed, standardised uniform has been applied and an ‘Induction Course’ has been developed. This seems to seek to enhance operational and strategic leadership, either due to percieved… Read more »
Derek Simpson
The initial training for all leaders is based on the all corps space. The Soldier has a minimum of 12 months in trade prior to attending a Subject 1 Corporal Course (the Junior Leader Course was removed last year). The experience he/she has attained prior to this course has a significant impact on their abilities. This experience is shared amongst the team and commences the establishment of their new network, a network that will remain over many years and future promotion courses. To attempt to identify the junior leader at point of entry will impact the on ability of the… Read more »
Mick Carroll
Great read. I have been a proponent of a similar themed course to the US Army Ranger course. In addition to the ACOTC and All Corps Soldier Training Continuum, a ranger course can be conducted by any rank to develop leadership and common soldier skills in addition to spreading the experience level across Army. Emphasis must be made by the chain of command to educate and inculcate officers and soldiers. A conducive learning environment ensures troops go past the mandatory training thinking into an area where they’re challenged. I know that’s a statement of the obvious but seldom undertaken. We… Read more »
Tom McDermott
The British have taken an interesting route. They’ve not tried to change the training continuum. Instead they have tried to use a normative ‘Code’ to focus leadership capacity to a set of virtues or behaviours. They also chosen to focus on ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ styles of leadership … again seeking to drive coherence in leadership outputs. Is this a persuasive approach for the Australian Army? Is the ‘doctrine’ fit for purpose, and it is the training that might need attention? Or vice versa? Final though is the Pers inflow. Are we able to access those with the right potential as… Read more »
Julie Pearce
I have to admit that I had not considered the impact of the Force Generation Cycle on the experiences (and opportunities) of both soldiers and officers and I find the concept fascinating, and potentially this has been an unintended consequence of Army restructure. I do wonder how Army should evaluate our leadership development practices, and which metrics should be used to measure this. I like the term ‘human advantage’ but my concern is that in order to unlock the potential of our people there are numerous branches and areas across Army which have a part to play HQ FORCOMD (DGT,… Read more »
Derek Simpson
I relation to the term “OR – Other Ranks” I think that we as an Army are in a position to remove this from our vocabulary and use the term Soldier. This will create a more inclusive environment, which in turn will create a better team. This is just a remnant from our British heritage. Under some new guidance from DSCM-A we are able to “talent manage” those soldiers which are identified as displaying significant potential. This allows for those individuals to be placed on promotion courses earlier. This will generally mean our best JNCO’s will be guided towards Kapooka,… Read more »
Scott, great article. Interesting link to the force gen cycle, whilst I agree in the decrease in experiential opportunities resulting from the change to Raise Train Sustain, I don’t look upon it negatively. What we need to do is effectively fill the gap with non-military specific leadership content. I find it interesting that even within this blog, a snapshot of Army leadership, nobody spoke about non-military leadership development, yet I assume many of you have completed some form of university study with leadership subjects, majors or Masters. I propose that the current force gen cycle is more accepting of facilitating… Read more »
A Dangerous Idea: Complex Adaptive Leadership 1. I contend that we must evolve to reject the notion of JUNIOR and SENIOR leadership models in the military, full-stop – hierarchical protectionism is regressive, and I see no such division; leadership is far too universal to be arbitrarily broken into such simple constructs. The principles of good leadership do not shift with age, gender or ethnicity. This rejection will ameliorate a pathway for freer thinkers and creative decision makers, and along the way counter the curse of plagiaristic impunity that mires military thinking and morale in the 21st century. 2. This, in… Read more »
Paul Sanderson
The responsibility for forming junior leaders lies primarily with commanders in the regimental environment. Our soldiers and young officers spend too little time in formal training to depend on this as a medium for knowledge transfer (particularly tacit knowledge as noted by Scott). The scope of formal training courses is limited by the abilities and experience of individual students – it would be great to be able to push all students outside of their comfort zone, but you then run the risk of leaving the majority behind. The fix from my perspective is to continue to impart the basics –… Read more »
Perhaps of interest is an essay written recently on the junior officer continuum by LT Nicholas Waugh. Apologies for not having the link, but it is freely available at the Land Power Forum. In his discourse on the junior officer training continuum, specifically the ACOTC, Nicholas identified the gap between FAC, the ACCC and the ACMC. Similarly, from reading this article and my experience tells me there is a potential, both at soldier and officer level, where for various reasons the “tacit” training model does not necessarily fill the gap between “explicit training”. Nicholas’ essay proposes a potential of using… Read more »

Thanks Clare!

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