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Article – Professional Development: a Perspective from the Ranks

Photo courtesy of the ADF

Most Defence Forces in the western world recruit officers who have completed a high school education with reasonable marks and identified leadership qualities. These officer candidates display certain personality traits including the ability to study, capacity for problem solving, and the skill of expressing ideas in writing and orally.

People with such aptitudes are usually curious and eager to study and express themselves. I have observed this amongst my own children, two of whom possess these traits and are studying law, in contrast to another child who does not show the same traits. He is training to be a motor mechanic. He is training through practical experience and competence based training. Like law, initial officer training is based on learning and comprehending the theoretical, writing, presenting plans and then practicing in the field environment. This happens for a majority of an officer’s career.

In contrast, some people desire to join the Army as a soldier. Many may ‘join up’ because their ancestors served, or their mates enlisted. A soldier during basic and initial training is trained with the skill set to perform a specific military role. Those skills are gradually broadened through experience and mentorship. As a soldier gains experience they are given more responsibility and develop their leadership skills through specific training and education. A soldier is trusted to perform at a high level within a specific skill set.

I have seen this first hand on the Regimental Officer’s Basic Course – Tank and the Subject Four Corporal – Tank. Generally, a young officer understands tactics and leadership as they have studied and practised those skills during officer training. Soldiers on the other hand are technically competent because they have lived and breathed the practical application of the tank for a number of years.

Tank Officers and Tank Crewmen – Developing Passion in Different Ways?

During my time as a Squadron Sergeant Major, I personally observed two Officers Commanding (OCs) invest an incredible amount of time in developing young officers. This was done by the OC setting tactical or administrative problems. The young officers would present a written solution, and in the case of a tactical problem they would often execute their plan in the field at a later date. These young officers are now very capable OCs in their own right and are developing young officers in a similar way.

Soldiers need to develop a passion. Today’s soldiers believe that the Army is just a job. The passion will not come until there is a turning point in a soldier’s career. That passion for me came when I completed my first promotion course and realised that I could be an instructor. To engage young soldiers, professional development must be dynamic and relevant. In my personal experience I developed a passion for instruction and this has enabled me pass on knowledge and give back to the Army. Because of this passion I sought to gain more knowledge and developed a proclivity for learning.

I recall a time not so long ago that units developed training programs and corporals executed training under the watchful eye of the Sergeant. This was normal unit routine, which was professional development. Professional development that is well planned and executed in a unit leads to soldiers gaining new skills and improving existing skills. From my experience a unit with a well developed and conducted professional development program is a unit with confident and capable officers and soldiers. It is also a unit with high morale.


Karl Boeck is a Warrant Officer Class Two with 36 years experience serving in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps. Karl recently served as an Instructor in the Warrant Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer Academy

6 thoughts on “Article – Professional Development: a Perspective from the Ranks

  1. Excellent perspective on what divides the officer and OR steam. Given that its the officer side usually seen as more academic, is there utility in activities often recommended to junior officers to also be recommended to lower ranking soldiers? I’ve never heard a PTE recommended to do professional reading, for instance.

  2. Well written Karl. I think good leaders, officer, NCO or civilian are neither “born” nor “taught”; they are brewed. The mix of passion, mentoring, engagement and time that you refer to is, in my experience, a recipe for creating great leaders in all walks of life. Hard to find great mentors.

  3. The Army training system (ATS) works very well, despite wonderful sounding ‘charters’ on the wall of civilian organisations in regard to training I’ve yet to experience anything the same as I did in service. I’ve worked alongside the most junior (ADFA AC)and the most senior (DOD AO) extremes of military leaders in the ADF during service and I firmly believe that a leader is born with some and learns the rest along the way. Well written Karl, Paratus.

  4. WO2 Boeck’s point about soldier’s developing their passion at the ‘turning point’ in their career is very accurate.

    Army needs to prompt soldiers to find that turning point early in their career so they do not leave it until they post out of the familiar surroundings of their battalion or regiment and find themselves in a unfamiliar part of Army (or the ADF).

    Responsibility for setting the example and prompting soldiers towards individual professional development must rest with SNCOs. SNCO’s need to be that credible example that leads a culture of individual professional development.

    As individuals soldiers at times appear reluctant to seek out professional development however when it’s directed they often appear supportive.

    Soldiers need to be reminded that in most instances their careers will progress quickly, and bad habits once established become difficult to change later on. We need to do away with the culture of ‘Darganisms’ (as an example) and appreciate that the PTE will one day be a CPL/SGT/WO and may well be briefing senior officers / members of the public and if we don’t start developing those skills early on we will be left wanting when they are required.

  5. What a great article to make junior officers consider the way that they develop and mentor their teams.

    As a junior soldier I found myself in a position where I no longer felt challenged in my role, and at that stage did not know of any professional development I could do on my own to maintain my interest in my corps/role.

    As a result I commissioned, however many of my peers at the time sought discharge instead.

    Since commissioning I have had commanders who have taken both an active and passive role in PME. These observations, combined with the experience of commanding soldiers and NCOs from most Corps, has led me to believe that in order to motivate soldiers and instil passion through professional development the commander needs to take the time to get to know the needs of the individual and how they learn, whether that be through practical application and hands on work, or through theoretical studies. I don’t think one size fits one rank.

    Finally, I believe ‘JPCs’ point of investing the time to develop our soldiers as opposed to getting wrapped up in clearing our inboxes, to be an excellent one. I strongly believe that this can only really be achieved through foresight in planning and the help of our SGTs and WOs in managing realistic expectations and standards for development.

  6. Great article and I like the use of your own stories, observing your children and other people over your career. I agree passion drives a desire to innovate and improve etc. I reckon stories of how out of the box thinking, by any rank, saved the day in the past might help kindle passion. Who doesn’t know a story of a resourceful digger who saved the day? Military history would have many too. These days, the security threat to our population feels more real than it has for a long time, perhaps since the bombing of Darwin in WW2. To me, the thought that our home soil is threatened, is a very big motivator. The prospect of a bomb at MCG or other iconic sites like Sydney Opera House is not science fiction any more. My family, little nephews and nieces etc regularly go to to watch the footy there. It all feels very real. As we move forward into complexity, ingenuity at every level may be a game changer – just when we need it.

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