Leadership is an interesting topic and can be viewed as one of the most complex and connotative words in the English vernacular. It is both discriminately and indiscriminately applied across a wide range of contexts and has been described as one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth. History is littered with examples of people who have been labeled “leaders”—both appropriately and inappropriately—but what is leadership, exactly, and what makes an effective leader? Is leadership a discipline of its own, or is it a byproduct of authoritative positions? Is there a universal standard of leadership that exists? Is there a tangible criteria that can be used to measure true leaders? Are people born as leaders or is leadership something that can be learned?

I wanted to write an article on leadership as it has been a popular topic of discussion over the past couple of weeks and one I wanted to elaborate on. I will begin by detailing what leadership means to me based on my professional and personal experiences to date. I will explore three leadership theories—being servant, authentic, and transformational—in order to make a comparison as to which theory has inadvertently guided my personal perception of the topic over the years. I will then highlight the most relevant skill I believe has been crucial to my idea and implementation of leadership over the course of my career. Finally, I will explain why my concept of leadership has worked for me in my professional and personal lives.

My professional leadership exposure and experience

Effective leadership has been the cornerstone of my chosen profession for over a decade. Having been a full-time member of the Australian Army from 2004-2014, with the last six years of my career served as a special forces soldier, I have been exposed to a variety of leaders and leadership styles. My exposure to and implementation of leadership strategies have taken place in the most benign of environments to some of the world’s most dangerous. I have followed and led team members in countless domestic training serials as well as combat operations abroad. A critical part of our mission success has always rested on the implementation of effective leadership methodologies, where the consequences for failure are as obvious as they would be tragic.

The Australian Army is unique in both its management strategies and styles of leadership. This is partly due to our unique organisational objectives, being that we must provide a “potent, versatile, and modern army to promote the security of Australia and to protect its people and interests.” The 2nd Commando Regiment has an even more specialised role within the Australian Defence Force (ADF), namely to “conduct offensive and recovery operations beyond the range and capability of other ADF elements.” Our unit’s special operations are undertaken to achieve or support political or military objectives in support of national security and foreign-policy objectives. It is not hard to see, then, how the exclusivity of these objectives are commensurate to the uniqueness of leadership style required to achieve them.