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Idea Pitch – An ADF Leadership Development Institute: Developing the Next Gen Leaders for the ADF and Australia

Photo courtesy of the Australian Defence Force


For years I have pondered about the way we train leadership in the Australian Army and the Australian Defence Force (ADF). How much of our success is testament to the experiential training model, and how much is attributed to luck? Are our measures for success based on fact, or a perception given to us through performance reporting, impressions that are difficult to quantify, and praise from non-ADF organisations? Moreover, what are our measures of leadership success? Reflecting on my own Army career, tertiary study, private business pursuits and professional networks I wondered what I could have learned earlier, whether I could have been taught more at the right time and had greater influence with more ease. To that end, I would like to explore an idea with you that I strongly believe in.

Army Leadership: Models, Metrics and the Current Training Continuum

The current Army Leadership continuum includes some good quality, though I would contend dated, leadership models. It is coupled with theoretical and practical leadership training, inserted at both the individual and collective level. Training is most heavily concentrated in initial training schools such as the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and the Royal Military College – Duntroon (RMC-D), as well as through our Corps and All Corps Training Continuums (particularly CPL and SGT Subject courses).

Specialist courses contain less leadership content, however usually maintain a leadership assessment component (which is mostly about experiential involvement and conduct on the course). This experiential development is difficult to assess in an effective manner due to the subjective nature of leadership. In many scenarios the assessment is in the hands of one or two personalities. This begs the question, have we done all we can to prepare these personalities to adequately assess individual leadership qualities? More than this, have we failed to identify what these qualities actually are?

Outside of the specific training environments, individual professional development and unit development is more ad hoc, driven by command personality and accountable through the performance appraisal systems. I concede this is a very abridged view of the leadership training continuum; however, this idea is about optimising the current model through a more structured, measured and strategically-focused solution, and less about ‘band-aid’ solutions to small problems.

How Does Leadership have Value to You?

You may not feel there is a problem with our current leadership training model, and in some instances I agree. This is certainly the case if you consider success as promotion, career longevity or even performance appraisal ranking amongst your peers.

Conversely, if you were to define leadership success as the level of impact on the organisation, contribution to future capability and/or influence on the community, success starts to be less about you and more about us. This is coincidental in that good leadership really isn’t about you either.

The Australian Army is clear in its message that, if we are to meet the challenges of the future, we must excel in both the theory and practise of leadership and command.  This is reflected from the Senior Leadership down to our Training Centres and Units. We should be proud of our success and proactive in seeking opportunities to both continue and build on this.  My Idea Pitch seeks to solidify our excellent in command and leadership by establishing Army, and broader Defence, as an organisation that breeds leadership mastery and, in doing so, directly supports the future of this nation.

A Leadership Development Institute for the ADF

I believe that the ADF needs to build and maintain a world leading Leadership Development Institute, both for the betterment of military capability and for the prosperity of our country.

Such an Institute, which would seek to grow true masters of leadership, would overlay military experience with new leadership research and academic study – while providing experience and exposure unattainable in Army or anywhere else in Australia. The Institute would be open to all ranks and services and it would be optimal that members attend multiple times over the course of a long career.  Civilian attendance would be highly encouraged to reinforce the core values of the Institute, whilst providing funding support. The Institute needs to be much more than simply a school or ‘just another course’. I see the institute focusing on Education, Exposure and Experience (E3) under a new model.

Education. The Institute would harness institutions such as the University of NSW at ADFA and the Australian National University as a resource for existing leadership research and development, creating content built on global leading practices from diverse government and private industry, and delivering training through revolutionary methods. The focus would be on critical topics such as: conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, effective mentoring, organisational habit development, executive coaching and self-deception (to name a few). Moreover it would develop a focus on character development; that is, who you are as a leader and less on what you know or how to act. This focus would be heavily driven through with the use of the latest psychological testing methodologies to establish personality and leadership styles. Additionally the staff of the Institute would be required to directly contribute to academic research in the field of leadership.

Exposure. Civilian and military staff working at the institute would be required to undertake research projects and study around emerging leadership concepts and ideas. These projects would primarily underpin the exposure component by providing insight into global leading concepts. The Institute would be required to maintain networks across a wide range of industries to enable guest speakers, presenters, instructors and other experts to provide exposure to students from their personal and professional experience. These networks will be grounded not only in corporate leadership but also in challenging environments found in the likes of non-profit charity organisations and start-ups.

Experience. Through the building of industry networks the Institute would facilitate two-way leadership exchanges and internships. Military leaders would be placed in prepared positions within organisations to lead projects, mediate discussions, introduce change and manage people. These internships would range from shadowing a CEO, supporting projects at a charity non-profit, to attending one of many top tier leadership programs such as those at NASA.  This would complement the outplacements stipulated in the Army Officer Enhanced Career Management (ECM) Model, only with a formalised feedback system through the Institute to make best use of the experiences. Additionally the institute would further build on the ECM by impacting broader Australian industries with measurable performance.

Internships would be deliberately different from current individual experience in order to push boundaries and promote learning and growth. Internships could be reciprocal with industry placing civilians into prepared and chosen positions to gain exposure to military leadership, decision making and projects. The ADF has a partially established network through our Army Reserve members working in a variety of industries around Australia and globally.

Support. In addition to the core function, the Institute would provide support to leadership doctrine development and training and lesson plan development for existing leadership courses. It would provide ‘fly-in, fly-out’ style teams to prepare and deliver training for specific groups (women in leadership) or host leadership conferences for the Senior Leadership Ground (SLG). Furthermore the Institute could be a mechanism for controlled research and analysis on behalf of the SLG in the field of leadership and management.

Lending Military Leadership to the Australian Community

The Institute would provide the ADF with improved leaders at all levels. In turn it could have a significant impact in the wider Australian community. Research conducted for Defence Force Recuriting this year provided valuable information on the current marketplace. Of note, it tells us that the millennial generation is driven by human capital not income, collaboration not hierarchy, meaning and purpose not reward and a general drive to be a leader. Furthermore, millennials want diverse careers and are not likely to stay with the ADF for 15-20 years. The ADF is implementing solutions to some of these generational threats through Project SUAKIN and the Total Workforce Model.  To this end, what impact might the Institute have on the future of Australia by providing the highest quality of leader into the workforce? What impact might it have on other industries looking after the future of this nation, such as Police, Fire, medical services, emergency response, politicians and innovative entrepreneurs? What impact might this idea have on recruitment, with positive post service experiences from in service development? All of this should go some way to justifying the cost of the idea.

A civilian and military combined leadership workshop - courtesy of DoD
A civilian and military combined leadership workshop – courtesy of the Australian Defence Force

A Way Ahead: Problems, Ideas and your Help

If we sought to develop such an Institute, we would need to overcome some big problems, specifically those around the Fundamental Inputs to Capability (FIC). The key areas of concern in my mind are Personnel, Facilities and Training Areas, and Command and Management. What this institute would look like, who it would involve and how it would be funded are major questions to be answered … not only through your input to this blog but also through further research development leading up to the DEFx forum.

The Leadership Development Institute would be not only about creating great military leaders for tomorrow, but also about creating a culture of leadership mastery and placing Defence unrelentingly and permanently at the forefront of leadership development and production in this country.

About the author:

Tom Larter is an Infantry Officer currently working at Defence Force Recruiting. Having worked in individual and collective training units over his career, he is passionate about the way we teach leadership and grow leaders at all ranks. He is a firm believer that leadership shapes culture and performance.


Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.

4 thoughts on “Idea Pitch – An ADF Leadership Development Institute: Developing the Next Gen Leaders for the ADF and Australia

  1. Great blog, with some timley ideas and concepts to better the ADO and leadership in general.

    Potentially the ADF Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics could form the backbone of this new institute which would leverage off an established framework and doctrine foundation to support the growth and development of this institution.

    1. Brad, thank you for your feedback. I agree that CDLE could be a great backbone for future growth. I think one of the main themes here is that there is so much great work going on out there, CLDE is one example, yet people not intimately involved in leadership have no idea and/or don’t receive the benefit from said work. I see an opportunity to increase how many people we can influence and mentor across the ADF.

  2. The concept of a Leadership Development Centre, that sources and explores ideas from both internal and external influences is an excellent idea.
    Through the concepts presented by Tom leaders within Defence will be able to provide an enhanced capability to future Whole of Government responses to issues and threats.
    Establishing a Leadership Development Centre also places a heightened importance on that personal and psychological aspect that is Leadership. I believe we are loosing a cultural understanding of what Leadership is due to multiple facets. Speaking with Military Psychologists in recent times, although in the Army we have this concept of “Every Soldier is to be a Leader” the outcome of the majority of personality tests results in members psychologically being more aligned as ‘competitors’ as opposed to ‘leaders’. This is one example which raises concerns to our understanding of leadership, as it highlights there is a large group of Defence members that will simply step over everyone to achieve what they want rather than understanding what is required of them and their team and then developing/harnessing/utilising that team to achieve a higher purpose.

  3. I’ve worked in Leadership development as an Airman and Officer since 1999. I am currently working for CDLE.

    What you propose already sits, in essence, within the Australian Defence College in the guise of CDLE. CDLE is a critical enabler of leadership capability for the Services individually and the ADF holistically. It’s Director is a COL. There is significant work being undertaken by CDLE across the leadership and ethics spaces and with their international and industry engagements to date, are best positioned to progress the conversation. I’d strongly support your initiative to talk to DCDLE, COL Weller, to socialise your thoughts and ideas.

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