I recently had the opportunity to spend a week camping in a large paddock on Singleton Army Base with stunning views of Brokenback Mountain range, accompanying the Barker College Cadet Unit (BCCU) Annual Cadet Camp of which my son is a member.


As one of over 20 Parent Helpers I got to know a bit more about a bunch of fellow parents while cooking, cleaning and having our own little “adventures” in the down times between meals.


Events like these generate lots of learning opportunities for the Cadets, who have to look after themselves and their mates while participating in outdoor activities like camping, hiking and abseiling.


I for one came away with a few pretty basic but powerful lessons about leadership in action. I’m fairly sure that my fellow Parents won’t mind me making some general observations about our own behaviour (and for the avoidance of doubt the observations absolutely apply to me as well):


  • It’s really hard to be a follower and just do what you’re told when in your business life you’re used to being the boss and being called upon to make decisions on a regular basis.
  • It’s quite possible to have far too many opinions about the best way to get something done.
  • In this situation having too many leaders exacerbates the problem.
  • When getting jobs done that require lots of process-type activities it’s really helpful to have one Leader and lots of followers rather than the other way round
  • The pressure of an impending deadline is the most effective way of driving compromise in getting to a decision.
  • When there’s nothing to do (ie. no activities to do and no electronic distractions available) it’s becoming harder and harder for all of us – not just our kids – to just do nothing. Not being able to do nothing makes us blind to our surroundings – the little things just pass us by.
  • When things inevitably get busy again our weak observation skills let us down when we most need them – when stepping back to sum up the bigger picture.


I’m at pains to add that we actually had a great camp experience, on the whole worked really well together and made a significant contribution to a great outcome for all concerned.


SO what?


It would be clear to many, particularly those employed in corporate roles, that “modern” management has moved a long way from an Authoritarian style to a more consultative and participative approach (at least to a certain level). There are many times however in business life and in particular Engineering and Construction – when a bid deadline looms, when the concrete trucks for the pour are about to arrive, in the dead of night when track Handover must be achieved – where an authoritative approach is absolutely the right and most effective way to go.


The best leaders recognise the required style to suit the situation and either modify their own approach, or enlist others with the necessary attributes to get the job done.


It might seem a bit old-fashioned, but I believe the Military possesses a wealth valuable expertise and experience and still has a lot to offer in this regard.