Army chief deserves acclaim

  • Philip Darbyshire

Press/Media: Expert Comment


Army chief deserves acclaim PHILIP DARBYSHIRE THE AUSTRALIAN JUNE 25, 2013 12:00AM WHEN Chief of Army David Morrison sent a YouTube message to the troops in response to the latest sexual assault and bullying scandals, something special happened. It isn't just the one million-plus hits or the universal acclaim and appreciation from almost every quarter. It was the almost palpable sense of respect and gratitude for a public figure who was prepared to stand for something. The lieutenant general did at least five things in his video that made it a three-minute masterclass in leadership and communication: he walked it like he talked it. Nobody watching this video would doubt that Morrison meant every word. As the communication people like to say, everything about his message was "congruent". Morrison didn't have to feign outrage or disappointment. His controlled fury is testament to that. He laid down the law not only with his words, his timing and his body language but with every fibre of his being. One of the reasons his message has stood out so powerfully and has been so appreciated is that such honesty, sincerity and passion with purpose are available in only homeopathic doses in so many areas of public life. This message was a plain-English, jargon-free zone that was not filtered through a dozen focus groups or approved by a host of HR bureaucrats to make sure that it was on message. There would have been no risk managers or other paid paranoids softening the wording just in case someone, somewhere, for some reason, didn't like it. He led and set a standard. In a world of "she'll be right", "whatever", and institutionalised mediocrity passing for leadership, Morrison reminded us that setting the bar should be more like a pole vault than a limbo dance. He made it clear that culture isn't something that people exist and work within, but something that they are inextricably part of and contribute to, for better or for worse. You are the culture, so are you going to be a force for good or bad? When he spelled out the values and standards that he demanded, they were not there as options. In his searingly memorable words, "If that does not suit you, then get out." Note that he did not say, "If you cannot live up to our values and standards, we will simply redeploy you to another area of the armed forces, since you are entitled to a job for life at the public's expense." Morrison didn't announce another inquiry. He didn't form a committee or schedule a series of workshops. He told the army exactly what he expected from it. When you see outrageous behaviour, abuse, humiliation or degrading treatment, "Show moral courage and take a stand against it", airs/opinion/army-chief-deserves-acclaim/story-e6frgd0x-1226669007789 Page 1 of 2
Army chief deserves acclaim | The Australian 19/12/2013 8:31 am especially if you have been granted a leadership role. His most memorable phrase was: "The standard you walk past is the standard you accept." He demonstrated integrity and human decency. The phrase role model is so grotesquely overused as to have lost all currency but what Morrison showed was a level of integrity and passionate decency that has resonated globally. We live in a world where health staff refuse to apologise to mistreated patients without a lawyer's say-so, where church leaders fail to deal with child sexual abuse unless compelled to by publicity or government inquiries, where shonky businesses and banks will do anything other than admit errors and make reparations, and where politics and public service generally make television's The Thick of It look honourable. Standing far above this miasma that we have come to accept as the norm, Morrison did the right thing and demanded that the rest of the army do the same. You do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. "If you are not up to that, do something else with your life." Time will tell whether his message and his approach can turn around the cultural problems within the armed forces. In the meantime, thousands watch this clip wishing that they had a leader like this. Philip Darbyshire is professor of nursing at Monash and Flinders universities.

Period25 Jun 2013

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