Fitting the ADF Values into your Training Programme as a Junior Leader

Reading Time: 4 minutes

At the time the Australian Defence Force (ADF) announced it was dissolving individual service values and uniting the Army, Navy and Air Force under the value-set of Service, Courage, Respect, Integrity and Excellence (SCRIE), I was tearing through Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr on Audible.

An easy read which I’d grabbed from the Centre for Australian Army Leadership reading list and which slips by effortlessly on audiobook, you can find a summary of the key points on The Cove.

Legacy claims to distil the unparalleled success of the New Zealand All Blacks National Rugby Union team into wisdom which can be applied to corporate scenarios (a bit of a long bow). While it’s a little derivative- quoting liberally from other well-known leadership books- and doesn’t get into as much detail about the players and coaches as teased, it has a lot of good to say about how the team instils their organisational values in players who join the squad. 

The convergence of my reading Legacy and the release of the ADF values has caused me to think about them, and how junior leaders relate to them, in a way I never bothered with Courage, Initiative, Respect and Teamwork (CIRT).

Junior Leader Buy In

I understand the commander’s intent easily enough; organisations need vision and common values. What does this look like in practice? Synching the service missions and establishing a common set of ADF values. One of the outcomes being sought from having common values is the ADF’s people being able to quickly create joint teams for operations in peace and war. 

It is the commander’s prerogative to define the organisation’s values, but the longevity and efficacy of a top-down decision relies upon the buy-in of the junior leaders who will be the organisation’s custodians into the future and are the mouthpieces of/to their teams.

However, anecdotally, it seems while many in middle ranks and above in the full-time organisation have had CIRT drilled into them, many junior leaders in the part-time Army, and some in the full-time Army, seem to have ‘slipped through the cracks’. If you ask them when they’ve been instructed on CIRT or when they’ve workshopped how the values applied to them, they vaguely recall a mostly forgotten period of instruction on a recruit course, and don’t seem too concerned by its absence. I’d expect a vehement memory given the topic is pretty significant, so it seems like there’s a shortfall here. If we are doing it, maybe we’re not doing it often or memorably enough.  

The junior leaders I’ve asked (and I include myself) didn’t give any serious thought to CIRT; we knew they were the organisation’s values but didn’t profess to consciously live them as our personal values. We tended to unconsciously live them like we would any other good quality. 

That’s not to say that peers were telling me they held fundamentally opposing views, where they valued cowardice over courage, for example, but that living the values weren’t at the forefront of their mind. This is particularly so for my peer group of part-time junior officers when they dipped in-and-out of their Reserve career. Indeed, the personal values they do equivocate are admirable: honour, integrity, service, and leading by example, among others. 

I take responsibility for not making the old Army values real for me; but I felt I could get away without needing to. I’ve skated through my formative years in the organisation without seeing much effort invested to get me to understand Army values, and I hadn’t ever really considered that failing to internalise the Army’s values was actually a barrier to my being part of the Army. 

But rather than bemoan what could have been with CIRT, and to take initiative rather than expecting others to do it for me, I see an opportunity with the ADF values to create the buy-in which was missing for some of us with the Army values. 

Part Time Training Programmes 

In my immediate peer group of part-time Lieutenants, we often groan about the last minute ‘interruptions’ to the precious 3h/week we have with our teams. The ‘interruptions’ are usually directed training, like cyber security awareness, which is delivered by the unluckiest subaltern who has been handed speaking notes minutes before they front up to the Company. Because the trainer isn’t given any ‘soak time’ they usually aren’t able to contextualise the training and explain why it was actually important we drag the entire Company into a lecture room other than to ‘tick a box’. 

However, I think this time it really is worth interrupting the training programme for the sake of the new ADF values. I’d benefit from it and so would my team. Legacy purports that a set of values is a mantra which tells a story and succinctly and clearly explain the ‘direction of travel’; values shape the team by articulating and connecting members to the organisation’s fundamental purpose. They then “turn vision into action, purpose into practice”. There’s lot to be gained from taking the time to get junior leaders invested. 

One third of our Army only put on the uniform intermittently, and the organisation isn’t their main effort (indeed incoming commanders typically articulate that they believe Army comes third behind family and civilian employment). The organisation will have to work to make the values lived and understood for such individuals; it’s the easiest thing in the world for them simply not to care. 

Part time training programmes can get away without one night of business-as-usual training to unpack these values as a team in order to begin embedding them. One of the gems of Legacy is that when individual and organisational values align their players are more likely to work harder towards the success of the team, and the premise of Legacy is that lessons like this are true for all organisations. Aligning values might seem like an intangible ‘nice to have’ which can’t be prioritised, but it’s widely held by the All Blacks, Harvard Business Execs and everyone in-between to produce intrinsic and extrinsic results. 

Of course, the All Blacks didn’t establish their culture with one mandated PowerPoint presentation on a Tuesday night (though small syndicate discussions led by platoon headquarters and section commanders would be a start); it was set in stone by thousands of instances of lived example. I believe our junior leaders will do the same when they are given the tools to do so. 

One of the ideas behind Good Soldiering is that you can’t ‘scale’ culture in a time of war in the same way you can scale force size or train new skills. The foundation of an optimised culture needs to be set now during peacetime; no one should ‘slip through the cracks’ this time round. 

About the Author: Samuel J. Cox is the editor of Grounded Curiosity. Find him on Twitter.

Cover Image Credit: Defence Image Gallery, ABIS Daniel Goodman