One of the most distinctive memories from my early days within the Army was one of my respected Sergeants suddenly and abruptly correcting one of my trainee peers.

My mate had mentioned the unmentionable…

We were discussing what we should do if we encounter an enemy that was larger or more dangerous than we had originally predicted, and someone mentioned the word ‘retreat’. The response from my sergeant was immediate, ‘Australians DO NOT retreat!’. He went on to explain that we might withdraw in the interest of finding a terrain that was more conducive and favourable for us, but we do not retreat.

This is a statement that has stuck with me since that time. It speaks of the importance of always moving forward and regaining the initiative. Of remaining focused and deliberate in everything we do. It accepts that at times we might have to take a step back, but this should only be done to regain our footing in which to be able to take more steps moving forward. Over the years this phrase has spread its utility into most aspects of my life such as:

The Importance of Strategy

But here is the catch, it is predisposed on an assumption that we know what direction we should be heading. What point is there moving forward if it is entirely the wrong direction?

This is why having a strategy is so incredibly important. A strategy is a framework which sanity tests our decisions in short time, in order to allow us to stay focused on heading in the right cardinal direction. I have seen so many people get this wrong at their detriment.

We need to ask ourselves does our strategy (personal or professional):

  • Detail what we are seeking to achieve (Mission)?
  • Explain what it looks like when we achieve it (Vision)?
  • Include a sequence of how we might actually transit there (Goals, pillars, objectives, measures of success)?
  • Contain an acknowledgement of what we are willing to invest (or give up) in order to achieve it (resource allocations)?

It is an area that is too often paid lip service, but it is this defining feature that separates good teams from the absolute best.

A strategy allows a team to make quicker decisions, allocate precious resources towards those efforts with the highest impact and effect, as well ignore those shiny distractions which enticingly seduce people off of the centre line of their success.

Stopping the rot

‘Moving forward’ all the time is extremely difficult. It requires consistency, dedication and focus. Traits that can be increasingly hard to come by these days.

Our world is full of ever-increasing distractions and information that act as ‘white noise’ to our concentration. This white noise can incrementally increase for some people to the point where it becomes debilitating to their decision-making abilities. Some teams can become so confused by the pressures associated with these distractions that they reactively overcompensate by creating more and more high priorities. Leaders become withdrawn as the idea of moving forward appears less and less tenable.

For these teams, a ‘circuit breaker’ is required. Something that can stop the spiralling confusion and provide some level of clarity. This often requires a combination of the following:

  1. Strong leaders & managers with clear roles and responsibilities. Kotter once described the distinction between Leadership and Management, explaining that leaders coordinate ‘change’ and managers coordinate ‘complexity’. I particularly like this description as it is a simple reference for teams to make in order to refocus and distribute their team’s efforts. It is a common observation that the teams that are drowning have not clearly identified the distinction in roles and responsibilities between key roles. Everyone is trying to do everything, and no one is doing it well.
  2. Objectivity. Sometimes people are so saturated in their problems that they cannot see the overall context. They are literally living minute by minute and the idea of popping their head about the parapet in order to refocus their direction is unimaginable. This is where objectivity is so key. A third set of eyes, from someone who is not so absorbed in the problem, can be invaluable in asking the right questions and assisting in resetting the focus.
  3. Horsepower. Some teams are under-resourced and under-supported – plain and simple. These teams have often been heading in the right direction but just do not have the horsepower or workforce to get their project over the line. They have been doing ‘more with less’ for so long that they have reached culmination, and they just need reinforcement. Jonathan Clark once said to me, ‘sometimes you don’t need more people standing around the hole telling you how to dig better, you just need them to jump in and help dig’.
  4. Prioritisation. It is common to see teams that have a massive list of ‘what to do’ they have forgotten to detail what they ‘do not need to do’. The list of what is not required is often more important than what need to do. It stops people being lured down the enticing trip falls we eluded to earlier…

Some of the readers might resonate with some of these observations. If you have, I would love to hear your comments, case studies, and ideas.

The Eighth Mile Consulting team has founded a reputation for helping teams navigate through this confusion. There is an amazing feeling of elation as a team steps over the line of success when things months prior looked dire and unachievable.

For those slugging their way through problems at this very time, remember:

  • We don’t retreat, we withdraw to more favourable conditions
  • We ensure the actions we are doing are working to an overarching strategy or design.
  • We don’t give up, but we do adapt our approach

 

 

Samantha Pickering and Peter Keith from The Eighth Mile Consulting discuss the science behind resilience.

 

There is a difference between positive stress and toxic stress. Long exposure to stress can have significant impacts on our health, but there is good news, we are in control of how we perceive our world. Problem-solving and coping skills are examples of positive stress that we can exercise for our benefit.

There are five areas within our control that can influence our ability to be resilient, which we explain further in this short presentation:

  1. Social Connections
  2. Attitude
  3. Values
  4. Emotional Acceptance
  5. Sense of Humor 

In this video, we also decode the four main chemicals that affect our behaviours and moods. Looking further into how the language we choose to use directs our bodies as to how to respond to a situation. This helps provide an understanding as to how we can make simple changes to create a positive impact in our own lives. Peter Keith coaches on shifting the subconscious speech patterns that are limiting our own experience.

Building our own ability to be resilient is often a precursor to leading our teams through times of uncertainty and managing ambiguity with decisiveness and clarity. The Eight Mile Consulting has developed an online leadership course, specifically for those ambitious leaders seeking to develop themselves professionally, to become greater leaders for their team.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

 

The Eighth Mile Consulting holds true to a mantra of Good People Helping Good People. For this very reason, we chose to run this webinar in support of Women in Leadership, aiming to provide guidance for some of the challenges that women face when seeking to promote themselves up the ladder of their chosen career. We believe in equality and inclusive workplaces. Here we interview Anita Cavanough and Allanna Kelsall, two distinguished women in their fields, for their advice and experience.

Creating equality for all

As a community, we need to work together to make diversity within our workplaces the rule, rather than the exception. Barack Obama’s speech at the Women Summit taught us what modern feminism can look and feel like. 

We can all contribute to this growth and continue the positive change that we are seeing. Standing up and challenging the status quo requires both tact and strategy. We discuss setting your stage for success and getting the balance right with our own unrelenting high-performance standards. Often this requires managing up, which is another topic we have covered in a previous webinar, that you can find here. 

Sometimes it is our own limiting beliefs and fears that hold us back, is the “coach and the critic” on your shoulder helping or hindering your leadership ambitions? The Eighth Mile Consulting has built an online course dedicated to providing assistance for those wanting to develop their leadership skills, enhance their opportunities for career progression and live to their own full potential. 

Important points to remember 

  1. Take risks and back yourself! 
  2. Speak up with your creative ideas. 
  3. Keep a highlight reel, noting all of your achievements and share it with your advocates. 
  4. Build alliances and promote each other, know your allies, these can come from both sides of the gender fence. 
  5. Be yourself, authenticity and lightness can go a long way. 

For more helpful videos to feed your mind and develop yourself professionally subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What goals do you have for yourself and your career?

How are you investing in your own professional development to achieve these goals?

Let us know in the comments below!

Sometime back I posted this on LinkedIn, on the topic of leadership.

 

In response to this post many responded with a popular John Wooden quote;

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

I would like to pull this apart in a little detail because I feel for some it might add some significant value in their personal and professional growth.

Now I openly admit that John Wooden is a smarter guy than me, and he has raised an important point about the importance of once’s character as a significant precursor to developing a good reputation. In essence, Wooden is saying that by consistently adhering to strong personal values one can focus on the things that create a good reputation. To this end, you will get no objection from me, the maths adds up.

But there is something missing… Objectivity.

Defining Leadership

Forbes defines leadership in the following way:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Notice key elements of this definition: Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power. Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports”.

I personally think that this is one of the most astute definitions of Leadership that I have read in a long time. It speaks of service to others, of influence, and a lack of reliance on formal structures and authorities.

Leadership effectiveness

So, if we agree that a Leader needs positive influence over others in order to be considered a leader then surely our reputation is an incredibly important indicator of how we are tracking. One could reasonably argue that our reputation is a social litmus test which gives us a reading on whether:

  1. Our communication is landing effectively with others
  2. People align with our values and intent
  3. Our teams want to work for, and with us
  4. We are adequately explaining the context behind our initiatives and proposed changes
  5. We are suitably prepared for progression into ever increasingly complex situations and problem-sets.

Objectivity

Now I will concede that people often develop reputations that are not aligned with their personal intent or values.

These people might have initially approached situations with a personal strategy that was misaligned with the organisation’s culture or strategy. On occasions, this has potentially resulted in people developing a poor reputation that is not accurate with their true character.

But looking at this objectively, I am sure we can all agree that their reputation, in this case, is still indicative of a problem, or breakdown, somewhere along the line. This problem might be due to:

  1. A breakdown in communication
  2. Joining an organisation that had a misalignment of values in the first place
  3. Making decisions that were not understood by others
  4. A lack of personal accountability

The specifics of our reputations might be factually incorrect, but the indication that something is wrong is 100% accurate. It is our job to find out what it is and fix it.

Influence

Personally, I believe I am fortunate to have worked alongside some of the most amazing and influential leaders in the world. Every one of these leaders held amazingly positive reputations – even when they had made decisions that others had professionally disagreed with, they were still respected.

People respected these leaders due to their consistency and authenticity, enough so, that others would give them benefit of the doubt and remain loyal and avid followers in pursuit of supporting a higher team purpose. These leaders were an incredibly valuable resource, particularly in environments characterised by uncertainty, confusion, and complexity. They were often dragged from one problem to the next, leaving a positive legacy wherever they went.

With this as context, this is what is meant by ‘your reputation is your real business card’.

It is also important to note that these leaders were very well represented in forums where they could not represent themselves. Simply put, they had people covering their backs and supporting their messaging, even when they were not being watched. This is the power of positive reputation and influence! People want to help your teams, even when you are not watching or listening to them.

Legacy

One of my personal life goals is to leave a positive legacy and be remembered for being a ‘good person’. I will measure this on the day of my death bed, with the people that surround and support me, and the stories of positive (or negative) legacy I leave behind.

My reputation is critical for me to measure my success as a leader in my family, my friends, and my teams. I cannot conveniently discount its importance or its messaging throughout the course of my life.

Closing

I personally believe that the best leaders are those that are committed in the pursuit of truth.

The truth about themselves, their performance, their teams, and their impacts.

As leaders, we cannot be so quick to discount the importance of one’s reputation. It is the universe’s way of telling you that something is right or wrong in the way you are delivering your messages and interacting with others. This is valuable information for those that are genuinely wishing to improve the way they lead others.

 

‘Rupture and Repair’ is a concept widely used in the fields of social work and community services. It has origins in attachment theory founded by John Bowlby (1958) and is well known in therapeutic disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry and contemporary trauma-informed practice disciplines such as neurobiology. It is also something I have adapted to my leadership practice with great benefit.

In simple terms, ‘Rupture and Repair’ is about relationships. Specifically, it’s is about a breach or disconnect in a relationship followed by the restoration and positive continuation of that relationship.

My experience with ‘Rupture and Repair’ primarily comes from my work with children and young people with trauma/abuse histories in ‘state’ care or what we would call ‘Out of Home Care’ or ‘Care Services’ in Victoria. As practitioners, we would practice this concept after a conflict with our clients and also coach the carers of the children/young people to do the same. This model’s healthy relationships and conflict resolution with children and young people that have been abused and betrayed by their loved ones and as a result have trouble forming secure attachments with people. After a time we have the potential to assist in their healing by utilising this type of approach as we are promoting that there are safe and appropriate people in the world.

This concept can apply extremely well professionally from a leadership perspective. Conflict is absolutely inevitable In the workplace but a leader reaching out and re-connecting with their employee after a conflict situation models emotional intelligence, self-awareness and care for the employees. Some research even shows that this can improve and strengthen relationships as people now know they have been through some adversity in their relationship with you and there is strength and durability in their connection (Pinsof, 2009).

 

Rupture

Recently I received an email from a staff member that works under one of the leaders I manage. This individual asked me what I was doing about a new government initiative I had been involved in as he felt it was making him look incompetent to external stakeholders when he was being asked about it continuously and didn’t have the information to give. The message was delivered bluntly and somewhat aggressively with not much ownership on this person’s part. In a moment of weakness, I matched the bluntness and lack of ownership and added in some ego so I replied in a defensive manner and shut him down. Maybe it was the 16-hour days, maybe it was the pressure I was under in another area, maybe it was the fact that I had been in the hospital the past couple of days with a family member undergoing surgery. Who knows, but one thing was for sure it was a leadership failure on my part and there really aren’t any excuses for that. I had created a rupture in the professional relationship.

My experience with the ‘Rupture and Repair’ concept taught me that as a leader it was up to me to have the self-awareness and humility to reach out and repair things, regardless of petty details.

Repair

The day went on and many meetings later I received a text message from this staff member telling me how he had been feeling down all day and the email reply I had sent really rocked his confidence. At first, I was annoyed as my ego and defensive mindset crept back in but then I stopped, took a deep breath and realised this guy was reaching out to me. I had made a mistake and needed to repair the rupture now.

This staff member is a hard worker; a silent achiever and his bluntness are authentic. Most importantly, he was right! I hadn’t deciphered the information from the government and communicated clearly to the teams as was my job as their leader. I allowed the confusion of the information to get the better of me and let this staff member down.

I called the staff member and promptly apologised to him. I spent no time making excuses and telling him about my family member’s surgery, or my workload or anything for that matter. I just genuinely apologised for my poor communication and my lack of ownership and advised him that he was right and I would get onto the task at hand and get some clear information to him and the team as a matter of priority. I brought him on board and asked him to support me in disseminating the information once I had clarified it as he was knowledgeable and a well-respected team member (I also wanted him to take some ownership).

We both ended that phone call feeling positive, connected and had a plan where we both were accountable to get the task completed. He advised how much better he felt that we had talked it out and let me know about some personal troubles he was having which gave me some insight into his original communications to me. I followed up with a text to him before the end of the day advising that I appreciate him, the skills he brings and am very glad we have him in the team. I genuinely believe we come away from that situation with a stronger professional relationship and were able to work together effectively on a complex task and support our teams together.

 

Learning

 

The above example is just one of many mistakes I have made as a leader but what the Eighth Mile team have taught me is that mistakes are an opportune time for reflection, review and improvement. A quick after-action review and some utilisation of my knowledge as a welfare practitioner allowed me to pick up this therapeutic concept and apply it to my leadership practice.

Next time you enter into some conflict and/or experience a rupture with someone at work, I challenge you to spend the extra ten minutes genuinely repairing things with that person regardless of who was at fault. I guarantee you both come away feeling better, you will build trust with the team and you may even see improvements in areas such as performance and productivity.

Mitchell Burney – Member of The Eighth Mile Community

 

References

Pinsof, W. M., Zinbarg, R. E., Lebow, J. L., Knobloch-Fedders, L. M.,

Durbin, E., Chambers, A., Latta, T., Karam, E., Goldsmith, J., & Friedman,

  1. (2009). Laying the foundation for progress research in family, couple,

and individual therapy: The development and psychometric features of

the initial systemic therapy inventory of change. Psychotherapy Research,

19(2), 143-156.

 

Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the childs tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-371

In this 60-minute workshop, we discuss techniques for presenting ideas that gain buy-in.

TOPICS WE DISCUSSED IN THIS WORKSHOP

  •  Understanding your manager
  •  Nesting your ideas within existing objectives
  •  Micro Skilling
  •  Matrix Teams
  •  Managing Obstructionists
  •  Using yours and your team’s values to support the cause

INFLUENCE REQUIRES UNDERSTANDING

Successfully presenting new ideas requires you to do the background research and set the stage for change. Take a look at what may be affecting your coworkers and how your idea will impact them. Forbes research shows that 70% of all organisational change efforts fail. Have you done the analysis that will enable you to achieve a break in with your idea?

There is an art to preparing information in such a way that it encourages transformation within your business.  If you present your ideas with no strategy you may experience push back.  The Eighth Mile Consulting offers executive coaching for individuals looking to develop their understanding of the motivating factors that determine the outcomes in their workplace. Developing self-awareness and social awareness can give you the edge that drives your career forward.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to presenting new ideas? Are you seeing positive results from investing time in your own self-development? Let us know in the comments below!

Download Your Resources

Your Values

Download PDF

 

Download PDF

 

In this workshop, we discuss the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

As a leader, our key responsibility is our people. Therefore, we must learn and develop the skills required to provide the right environment for our people, as well as the coaching conversations that develop the people we are responsible for at an individual level.

We cover in detail the 4 steps to leading with empathy 

  1. Promote a growth mindset, with a focus on the learnings, rather than the failures in execution.
  2. Acknowledge fallibility, observing that even in achieving an objective successfully, there may have been components that we missed, and room for improvement exists.
  3. Encourage curiosity over a conclusion.
  4. Exhibit empathy by way of a combination of active listening and observation of the feelings people are displaying.

The Impact of Empathy in the Workplace

Leadership Training that develops empathy is fundamental to creating a culture of high performance within your organisation. 

What does the culture look like at present within your company? Is there a lack of connection?  Are people stuck because they are feeling defined by setbacks? Is there a habit of shame and blame that leads to fear of ridicule? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build a resilient and innovative team who are willing to embrace change and support each other against external challenges as a cohesive unit. 

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to developing the skill set of empathy within your workplace? Are you actively fostering a psychologically safe environment for your people to reach their highest potential?

Let us know in the comments below!

In this 60-minute workshop, we discuss getting the balance right in communicating with our employees.

TOPICS WE DISCUSSED IN THIS WORKSHOP

  • 05:48 – Decentralised control and the balance between expectation and empathy
  • 11:00 – The trust issue
  • 16:00 – The freedom in routine
  • 21:30 – Combatting uncertainty
  • 29:00 – The impact of cutting employees to save money
  • 42:00 – Continuous education within a cost-sensitive period
  • 48:00 – How to have courageous conversations

HIGH PERFORMING TEAMS REQUIRE TRANSPARENCY

Successfully developing your people is fundamental to the sustainable growth of your organisation. Take a look at what may be holding your organisation back. Is the rate of change making it difficult for your team to feel connected with a sense of purpose and direction?  Do you feel there is a lack of clarity at the tactical level? Do your leaders feel confident to handle having courageous conversations? The Eighth Mile Consulting can help you build your leadership team through Leadership Training to motivate disaffected teams and deliver business and people outcomes.

For more helpful videos to help you grow your people and your organisation subscribe to our YouTube channel.

What are your thoughts or learnings when it comes to managing employee performance? Are you seeing positive results from having courageous conversations? Let us know in the comments below!

Download Your Resources

Weekly Planner

Download PDF

 

Download PDF

 

Download PDF

In 1998 a movie called Blade was released staring Wesley Snipes. The movie explains a world existing with both humans and vampires. The movie details how humans continue to go about their lives not knowing about the dark underbelly culture of vampires existing in the shadows. Within the movie the vampires have created clans, alliances, professional networks, financial independence and structure. Their community is well resourced, run and powerful.

Since leaving the military I have observed the corporate world through a number of different lenses:

  • Veteran lens
  • Family lens
  • Charity/Non-for-Profit lens
  • Business Owner lens

My observations are leading me towards a unique observation; ‘good people’ are similar in so many ways to the vampire community in Blade, except their intent is entirely different.

I continually see positive and passionate individuals attracting other amazing individuals. They are conceiving, planning and delivering amazing initiatives behind the scenes of so many others who are worried only about themselves. These amazing people are:

  • Having backdoor discussions to find ways to resource positive projects that will help others.
  • Linking positive people with other powerful networks
  • Finding ways around red tape and bureaucracy in order to get positive and rewarding ideas up and moving
  • Negating the effects of negativity and toxic work cultures by providing each other with support networks and frameworks which allow them to maintain their resilience and momentum when the odds are against them
  • The list goes on…

I feel truly honoured that positive people would include me and my team in this exclusive sub-culture. It is something I prize and take very seriously but entry is not free. It requires demonstration of certain behaviours and values in order to be considered for entry. These characteristics and behaviours are evidently not for everyone:

  • Our projects and ideas must serve others. This might be the environment, the community, professional and personal development. It is okay to make money. No one should say otherwise, but the higher purpose must be there!
  • People are willing to ‘put skin in the game’. This might mean having to receive a temporary revenue hit because you choose not to support a negative organisation, project or individual. It might mean, donating time to things that don’t make money but significantly help others. It might also equate to working after or before hours in order to support something you might never see the benefits of, but you know will help people.
  • We are always loyal to other positive people! Your actions speak louder than words. When one of the team is knocked down, we all bond together and fight the negativity away. No excuses. I am not going to suggest that this is always easy. Because it is not. It also requires making hard decisions at times. But it is a necessary feature of the community and it is a criterion for claiming to be a ‘good person’.

We founded The Eighth Mile Consulting on a mantra of ‘Good People, Helping Good People’. In doing so we accept that this means there is a level of exclusivity in what we do. We also accept that in some ways it will affect our revenue and growth. I don’t care.

Good people attract good people and that’s enough for me. Of note though, being a good person is rightfully great for business.

I put it to you that if you are surprisingly absent from these positive people and these backdoor discussions. Then you might not have been invited in yet. Not to worry. You now know the rules of the game and the expectations associated with entry.

I hope in time we might cross paths and be involved in the same positive projects and initiatives. Until then, safe travels.

I left school at 18 years of age and joined the Australian Army where I undertook 4 years of tertiary and leadership training with the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon. Most of what I learnt in that time was structured academic education about leadership, management and tactics. I then graduated into the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and was posted to a Battalion in Darwin with a couple of my good mates.

After a very short time out of the College, I was informed that I would be deploying to Afghanistan in a combat capacity as part of Mentoring Task Force II. It meant that I would be responsible for a Platoon of soldiers (24 in total) for the duration of a 10-month deployment. The deployment would prove to be a crash course in leadership and growing up. Basic mistakes would result in death or injury and would likely have implications on an overall strategic campaign that influenced nearly 50 countries.

I thought I would take the opportunity to compile a list of lessons I learnt from the experience now that I am blessed with the benefit of hindsight. Hopefully, it helps someone out there.

Lesson 1 – Leading is not about you

When I left the Military College, I was incredibly self-focused and concerned, as I think most of the newly graduating officers were. My pursuit for excellence was largely overshadowed by a need to win, have a strong career and be accepted by my peers.

Afghanistan taught me very quickly about the importance of servant leadership. People were not interested in a leader that was career-focused. They needed a leader that:

  1. Could voice their concerns in forums where they were not represented.
  2. Could listen to different points of view and find patterns or links which could be formed into a robust plan in a short time.
  3. Was genuinely interested in their safety and getting them back home to their families and friends.
  4. Took an interest in them as individuals and not just an employee.

As my career progressed, I learnt that the more I protected my staff, peers and supervisors and represented their interests, the more plans started to work, and less time was needed to coordinate them. I was also able to work around red tape by leveraging off enduring relationships and loyalties.

Most importantly, I learned that a leader has to find their own style quickly. Copying other leaders doesn’t work, it wastes time, and presents as disingenuous. Furthermore, the world doesn’t revolve around you or your preconceptions of the world. It’s going to tick along if you are there or not, so go and make a positive legacy.

Lesson 2 – Don’t assume you know a person

I left the Military College as an easily influenced, right-wing, caucasian with very limited life experience. In a very short time, my platoon and I was dragged from the protective environment of Australia and spat into one of the most dangerous valleys in the world.

In doing so, this is what I learnt:

1. People are not their behaviour

Some Afghani’s and Pakistani’s that I met in my journey would educate me, by explaining that some of them were not fighting due to hate, ideology, or cultural difference but instead were fighting due to economic pressure, an attempt to save their family, or in order to protect what little resources they had left. I had falsely assumed that they were all out to kill me, and if given the first chance would undoubtedly enact a vicious plan against us. My preconceptions were proven wrong one night when I was in desperate need of help removing bodies from a drowned vehicle and a large number of Afghani ‘fighting age males’ offered me help when I needed it the most, and I was at my most vulnerable. Lesson learnt.

2. The most unsuspecting people are often the most impressive

I had soldiers that were far more educated and intelligent than myself and it took me a long time to find out how we could utilise it. In one such example, I had made a decision that had resulted in the drowning of a Bushmaster Vehicle because of a botched water crossing. This was acceptable tactically at the time as we had risk mitigated against some of the implications but unfortunately had resulted in my team being stuck on the wrong side of a very large water obstacle. Luckily for the team, I had a low ranked private soldier who knew about engines due to his background as a country farmhand. I made the deliberate choice of giving him hands-on control of the operation to recover the vehicle, and then subsequently coordinate the river crossing back to the safe side of the river. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say confidently that he handled the situation better than I could have, and the trust I placed in him to manage the issue was well invested.

Lesson 3 – Risk Management matters, but so does finding opportunities 

I left the college under the false belief that I was fit, fast and unstoppable. My analysis of risk was always skewed towards the capture of opportunity instead of risk mitigation. My approach to tactics was generally aggressive, opportunistic and decisive in nature. I have subsequently learnt that significant changes occur to people’s bodies in their early 20’s which significantly affect their brain. In short, the chemicals that were pumping throughout my body were the same ones that would subtly influence my decision making throughout the tour. They encouraged me to take chances where otherwise I would not have.

In recent years, I have fathered two beautiful children with my lovely wife and the thought of me accepting risks like the ones I undertook in Afghanistan seem laughable. Simply put, I have more to lose now, and hold responsibilities to others.

These days I think I have a reasonably well-balanced view of risk vs opportunity. I understand the importance of identifying and acknowledging risks and opportunities early and determining how palatable a risk appetite is for an organisation. For example, some industries like Software as a Service (SaaS) have incredibly high-risk profiles, as compared to aged care which is quite low. Knowing this helps shape plans, approaches and strategies that suit the context of that organisation.

Lesson 4 – Find the positives in everything

Sometimes it can be really hard to find positive outcomes in the grind of daily activities, but they are there. It is the leader’s job to find them when no one else can see them.

On 02 February 2011, we lost a very close friend of ours called Corporal Richard Atkinson. Richard was a Combat Engineer whose specialisation was finding explosive traps that were regularly buried in the ground by the Taliban. Unfortunately, on this particular day, one of the explosives detonated and killed Richard and injured another engineer. I had listened to the event occur over the radio some 20km away and was with my team a short time after. Not surprisingly the event had crushed the team’s morale and my own. I knew deep down that we were half the way through a long tour, and we had to get back on to our A-game very quickly, or else might lose another person.

My Sergeant and I developed a unified approach. We would focus on the positives we could find. In this case, we hadn’t lost more members of the team despite a strong chance of it occurring – we used this as a means of motivation to undermine the effectiveness of the Taliban attack. Secondly, we decided to refocus our team’s energy towards coming up with the plan for our next attack on the Taliban, which we did. Our next patrol would be one of the most effective of the tour as it was reinforced by an unwavering commitment to deliver harm to the people that had cost us so much. This refocus ultimately kept my team safe and alert for the remainder of the trip.

Summary

My afghan experience taught me a great deal about life and leadership. I am hoping that by documenting some of these lessons, others might not have to re-learn them.

I like to think that I have taken many of these lessons into my current role as an owner of The Eighth Mile Consulting. These lessons continue to be transferable to the business world.