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JLBC: Leadership

JLBC: Leadership

The subordinate left to complete the task. As a one-off circumstance, this can be necessary and acceptable; however, such an approach should not become the accepted norm.

Teams and individuals often perform beyond their expected limitations when challenged and guided by experienced leaders. However, such challenges can generate trade-offs, and in safety-critical domains, these compromises may eventually come at a high cost in the form of accidents. Members routinely applying a can-do attitude may be blind to the subtle build-up of risks, shortcuts, or exhaustion that can align to cause injury or death. This can-do attitude has been a partial cause for some of Defence’s worst peacetime disasters. These include the crash of two Black Hawk helicopters in 1996, resulting in the death of 18 service members, the Air Force deal/reseal program, which ran for decades, and the crash of Black Hawk 221 on board HMAS Kanimbla in 2006.

Pressure to achieve assigned tasks. Associated with this can-do attitude is the pressure that can be placed on subordinate leaders to accomplish tasks. Occasions can arise when a subordinate expresses concern over a lack of resources or inadequate preparatory training for a charge. While these concerns may cause the assistant to be reluctant to undertake the task, they may become worried that they would be replaced by someone prepared to give it a go, regardless of the consequences. Despite having reasonable grounds for refusal, based on professional experience and an appreciation of the circumstances, the subordinate leader could hold genuine concerns that such a response may be detrimental to future career and employment prospects.

Balancing can-do with risk management. The alignment required to deal with the can-do attitude relates to balancing the productive aspects of team and individual challenges with a sensible risk management approach. Leaders should continue to stretch their teams but be aware of team stress and safety. Members must be trained to recognize conflicting goals and to seek or establish specific priorities among them. They must feel professionally respected and proficient enough to assertively communicate resource implications to superiors and be confident that their input and advice will be considered, if not accepted.

Culture has been incorrectly described in some parts of the JLBC, quite simplistically, as the ‘way things are done around here. Accepting the premise of this phrase as representing the essence of JLBC culture, then cultural alignment should be focused on making sure that ‘the way’ is invariably safe, based on agreed ethical principles, and that the ‘things’ are of value—not only to the group but to Defence, Government, and the US people.

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