Friday, July 28, 2017

The Australian Army v Joe Hildebrand - The Misconceptions of Executive Coaching Programs in the Army

When I started my Master of Communication at RMIT in 2016, I never realised just how much of an effect it had on my understanding of the role communications play in the workforce. Communications is not just about “verbal”, “non-verbal” or “written” communication, but a field that integrates a variety of aspects from social sciences and humanities that focuses on how communication is vital in every aspect of the workplace. It is a field that intertwines itself with other fields such as psychology, political science, public policy, economics…etc. 

For my Masters, a couple of the things I have learned is how organisations use communication to achieve their goals and how to be an effective leader. One of these examples has led me to write this long post because I didn't know that so many people didn’t understand how communications play a role in how to be an effective leader. This leads to me to a interaction that I was involved with on the Facebook page.

On the 26th of July 2017, Joe Hildebrand wrote an article for titled: ‘Self-aware’ Army officers to get coached in ‘cross-cultural competence’. The article ended up on Facebook where I came across it for the first time. One thing that jumped out at me was the caption of the article that read, “Australian Army’s ridiculous HR move” as well as the sentence posted above that led the article, “Welcome to the new Australian Army, one where buzzwords like ‘cross-cultural competence’ are being pushed hard.” Clearly, the heading of the article already reads with a negative connotation implying that the Australian Army is somehow making its soldiers politically correct and that is the way of the future, so to speak. I opened up the article because I knew that these news sites and journalists generally write with some sort of bias. I wasn’t wrong.

No surprising the article opens up with a video footage of an Australian satirical comedy series called “Utopia”, more than likely teasing and telling the viewer that the content below was something to be laughed at. 

The first paragraph opens up with at least 6 terms and labels in quotations marks. That's probably the most I have ever seen in an article's first paragraph. Let's just break some of the words down in terms of leadership and communication before I get started on the rest of the article.

The Defence Force very likely uses a company similar to The Coaching Room (, and this gives us the perfect example of what training programs they create and implement for leaders in the workplace. 

Executive Coaching - 

Self-Awareness - The scope of self-awareness research has strong practical implications for the Army. Based on the motivational component, the Army has sought to design assessments and feedback tools that will increase self-awareness in leaders, therefore building the blocks of future leaders. By increasing self-awareness through feedback over time, this can help a leader develop by activating the drive to reduce the discrepancy between how we see ourselves and how others see us. This leads to honest evaluations of leadership and is intended to create discussions on strengths and limitations as a leader. Who wouldn't want that for a leader?

Emotional Intelligence - It was found that emotionally more intelligent Army officers adopted a transformational style of leadership to motivate their subordinates to perform beyond expectations. They also perceived them to be more successful in their careers. In relation to that, an increase in emotional intelligence also increases with age and rank within the Army. In terms of coaching methods within the training program, ability-based assessments asks the test-taker to perform a series of tasks designed to assess the individual's ability to perceive, identify, understand, and work with emotion. Working in the Army, that is paramount to be able to keep a cool and clear mind when dealing with any situation. 

Specifically, the Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test is an ability-based assessment that evaluates four branches of emotional intelligence: emotional perception, emotional integration and facilitation, emotional understanding and emotional management. This assessment measures the test-taker's performance on emotion-related tasks, such as using emotional competency to solve problems, communicate feelings and selecting the correct emotions on corresponding faces.

While there are many kinds of emotional intelligence tests, Leaders who demonstrate high level of emotional intelligence may be more likely to demonstrate transformational leadership behaviours than those Leaders who lack emotional intelligence. The Army values Leaders who possess transformational leadership traits, which include charismatic, visionary and inspirational leaderships. They engage with their followers by affecting their motivations and promoting their attachment to the organisation. So while many people think that "yelling" at someone is a form of motivation, I am sorry, but it's not.

Cross-Cultural Competence - Cross-cultural competencies and capabilities are critical to the Army's strategic objectives in the future operating environment. Many people I have noticed on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the journalist Joe Hildebrand, seem to think this term means catering towards the minority groups, or some other form of "political correctness" that has to do with ethnic groups within the Army or opposing soldiers. It's no wonder he used the terminology in the heading of the article to make it more attractive towards those groups who oppose political correctness as well as those with negative racial mindsets. 

I even had someone who basically told me he understood the article, yet went on to say:

"I believe people on the outside believe all this stuff is great, career building and the like. In reality though, the military isn't the place for these types of courses. I'm sure it could work...etc, but it doesn't need it. There is already so much they have to do, another warm and fuzzy course isn't going to change anything. And because of the attitude toward this kind of training, the outcomes may not exactly reflect civilian application. Also, all those points you wrote are already strengths and capabilities of the current ADF training, I believe there, not knowing what does go on, that would sound like a great thing to a civilian, but in reality it is already achieved. These courses come and go and to be honest, are the product of someone in Canberra justifying their job for another year. What I mean there is currently a lot of time spent on doing "corporate type" training like this which doesn't achieve much and is seen this way. More time would be better spent on actual crucial military training and exercises."  

I am sorry, but you did not understand the article at all, not in the slightest. Firstly, the military IS the place for these types of programs. Being an effective leader in our modern world is vital to our country's safety as well as the safety and well-being of their subordinates. It is vital these high-ranking leaders of our Army develop their skills in how they do their jobs and work with other people. 

He goes on to say "I'm sure it could work...etc, but it doesn't need it". Sorry, but they do need it. The Chief of Army himself mentioned last year that they needed more training in terms of leadership skills. Note, that was said "last year", not just recently. Every single organisation needs this and it WILL work, because that's what the training is all to be a better leader for your workplace and other organisations. If it didn't work, NO one would be taking advantage of these programs. The fact of the matter is, it DOES work and that is why they are utilising these programs to upskill.

In regards to the "civilian application" and how the outcomes of the program may not reflect the military training, these companies work with the military and other large organisations ALL the time to coach them on different levels of communication. That's what they are there for, and like many big organisations like the Army, they are able to utilise these programs to their leisure and for the growth in leadership within the Army. Insulting how a person does their job because of these training programs is an insult to all the hard work they do, all the time spent in developing these programs to up the skills of other people (different ranking officers, different levels of an organisation) and basically insulting our military because they want to grow and improve, which in turn, leads them to develop better strategies for OUR safety, OUR well-being and OUR defence against enemies.

These are the kinds of comments that I saw while interacting on the comment thread of Here are a few examples from the Facebook page:

Interpersonal Maturity - Researchers have found that self-awareness was related to the personal effectiveness dimension of a leader and identified six meta-competencies - one of which was "interpersonal maturity". As leaders move higher in organisational ranks, such as the Army, the interpersonal aspect of their leadership role becomes more important. Many of the interpersonal skills required of strategic leaders must heighten their behaviour to an interpersonal maturity that goes beyond face-to-face leadership used easier in their careers. 

Since the strategic leader's environments often exist outside traditional military organisational structures, interpersonal kills are central to success. Dealing with leaders of other services, non-governmental/governmental activities and nations require shifting from a power relationship to a personal relationship. Some of the skills on interpersonal maturity include empowerment (sharing of power with subordinates, peers and constituents), consensus building and negotiation.

Authoritarian, Assertive and Angry - All you need to read is the Leadership aspect of the Chief of Army's open letter for a better view as to what he means. It was published on the 1st of September, 2016. It is not new and it has been there for quite a long while now.

Continuing on with the article:
Heading back to the article now, the second paragraph talks about "psychometric and psychological testing" to "transform its culture to fit with modern standards". May I point out that while Hildebrand implies "culture" and "modern standards" as a political correctness statement, that this is not what it means.

Psychometric and Psychological Testing - I don't think this is too hard to understand. Psychometric testing in terms of leadership is a tool to measure the skills and abilities of individuals in a high-ranking leadership position. It helps identify strengths and developmental needs. It helps improve self-awareness in areas such as: Work and Execution (manages stress, expresses ideas clearly...etc), Interacting with Others (empowers employees, displays cooperation and teamwork...etc) and Thinking and Deciding (gathers and assess information, solves problems, making decisions, clear purpose...etc). Psychological testing is pretty straightforward, as it has to do with mental health and morale.

Hildebrand continues with his quotation marks again, this time surrounding the words "executive coaching services" for private and group sessions. As mentioned before in this article, coaching services such as The Coaching Room develop these programs for senior level personnel, including those in the Army.

So where did all the comments come from about the soldiers then (via the Facebook thread)? Did people literally not read the article and base their negative and hateful opinions on the heading instead?

You can read more about what Executive Coaching Programs do here by clicking on the picture:

Continuing on with the article:

When it comes to "identity" and leadership, this is very simple. Of the three key components of a military leader (character, presence and intellect), character is central to an Army leader's core identity. A leader internalises the Army's values and are guided by their professional military ethics. 

The extent to which a leader internalises the values and attributes that shape leader character directly, relate to his or her effectiveness in their work environment. Taking on a more psychological aspect in this paragraph, thinking of oneself as a leader will increase the chances of acting like a leader, and these factors are likely to influence the relationship between identity, behaviour and performance. Potential intervening constructs include individual difference variables such as self-efficacy, motivation to lead, and goal orientation. 

"Australian Defence Association executive director Neil James said it was a mistake to think the Army needed to change its leadership style.
"You don't want your army to change too much," he said. "You want your army to win wars."
According to the article, Mr James served in the Army for 31 years. A simple Google search brings me to his biography page on the ADA website:
One thing that jumped out at me was this line, "Neil's military experiences over four decades have spanned a wide range of regimental, intelligence, liaison, teaching, operational planning, operations research and historical research positions throughout Australia and overseas."

The fact that Neil has had various experiences within the military makes me really surprised that he feels the Army is changing and doesn't need to change its leadership style. To win wars, you need to become a better leader. You can't have one without the other.  You were a teacher, in a leadership does that not compute?

Look, Neil, you have been retired for quite a while and the ADA itself is a voluntary organisation, and unfortunately for you, leadership styles change and grow in every single workplace, including the Army. That is the whole point in growing as an organisation and as a leader. That is the whole point in being updated on current training that works in order to achieve a successful outcome for everyone involved. Do you really want them to have the same leadership style back in the days when you were working there? The world has changed so much that we all need improvement in terms of how we communicate with one another (internal and external organsiations) and how we deal with situations. It amazes me that you are so uneducated in relation to the Executive Coaching Programs and that all the experiences in your lifetime led you to say that specific comment. You should know better, so shame on you for adding onto the misinformation of the entire content headed by Joe. 

Mr James goes on to say in response with the misconception that the Army is too "aggressive": 

"Armies don't work because people yell at people," he said. "It's teamwork that drives the army, not shouting."

That is the whole point of the Executive Coaching Programs. It is about leadership, it is about these leaders being upskilled in current modes of leadership skills that help include motivating teamwork, providing an encouraging and respectful environment, and so many more other things that you seemed to have no clue about. Basically read back to the terminology I described near the beginning. 

Once again, Mr James continues on discussing his misconception on how leadership works:

He said leadership skills were already taught extensively within the Army and this program seemed to be more directed at officers dispelling that misconception when dealing with other people and organisations, rather than actually changing themselves.
"It doesn't matter what coaching you give, they'll be people out there in society who think that. But that's society's problem, not the army's."

Hold on, didn't he say earlier that "you don't want your army to change too much"? Firstly Neil, they are not going through these programs to be "less aggressive", but to enhance their leadership style and how they assess and develop strategies for our country's borders. This leads to better communication within their internal staff here in Australia, as well as overseas with other organisations. Leadership is a lifelong journey of development and the Army knows they lost focus on that, hence the need for more training. If you seriously do not understand WHY they need better leadership skills (if I have not drummed that enough already throughout this post), then I honestly do not understand how your mind works. 

Zed says it best when he sums up the article with an example in relation to the new leadership training by the Army:

Finishing off my post, this is directly to Joe Hildebrand. I took at peek at your Twitter page, and while I slammed you on there too, I noticed that you definitely do cater towards the rabid political correctness groups, and it is evident that you have no idea what Executive Coaching Programs are or what they do for our Army and for us. 

You call yourself a "journalist", Joe. You did a Bachelor of Arts degree here at the University of Melbourne, majoring in History and English. In that course you would have learned all about research skills, you would have learned that you needed "facts" in order to create a project (aka the article) that is true and factual. Your article however had some facts in relation to what the Army is currently doing, but you twisted those facts and turned the entire article into a political correctness piece. You basically encouraged (as per your Twitter feed and noted on your Facebook and news sites) people who have no idea about communications and leadership skills, with their hateful and negative agendas against our Australian Army. You spread misinformation and lies, therefore brainwashing so many people around you and me towards the political correctness agenda and uneducated opinions of how our military actually works. This has nothing to do with "if you served" in the Army, but how communication is a vital aspect in the environment and why training is needed to stay current. 

You should have turned the article into a piece about how the Army is developing and growing as an organisation by training their high ranking officers (not the soldiers as people seem to be saying) to become better leaders, which will make our country safer. It is sad that as a supposed journalist and "television personality", that you did not do the proper research skills for your article. 

Has journalism gone so far down in the drain that so many people are like you? Do they all write about things they have no idea about? I seriously hope not. I have hope that you will take a better look at what you write in the future, so that you don't continue spreading around dangerous information about our military. Our military, our Army is always growing, is always getting better. 

The best thing about them is that they know their strengths and weaknesses, and they are doing all they can to improve on those weaknesses by training themselves to become better leaders for the sake of our lives and theirs. If you do not understand what being a leader is, and how a leader should always be trained throughout their entire career, then you should be ashamed to be in your field because you should know better too.

I guess I also have to thank you in a way, because you have made me appreciate my Masters so much more, and it has really opened my eyes up to all the ignorant people who spread misinformation when it comes to communication and leadership in the workplace.

To everybody else who still feels that what the Army is doing is wrong, take a look at "The Defence Leadership Framework" written by the Department of Defence. It talks in-depth about what a leader is, what they do, who they all are in terms of ranking, what their role is, how they do it, how it affects us and how they continue growing (which is what their training is all about)...etc.

Thank you to the Department of Defence and our soldiers who, without them, our country would not be protected. Thank you to all the levels of ranking personnel within the military for using your leadership positions to keep us and our soldiers safe too. I hope you keep growing and I will gladly keep giving my money in order to be safe and protected because of your continuous training. 
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