By Mr T. Sincock
“His Sergeant Major’s call-sign is ‘Two Eyes’. He is the commanding officer’s second set of eyes within the fight, he does not stay with the commanding officer. But instead is at the commanding officer’s main effort; clearing blockages, reinforcing the commander’s intent and encouraging the Battalion. They come together to reaffirm what needs to be done, then he gets on and does it.”(1) The Warrant Officer (WO) can be the most feared, respected, loved and hated person. After all they need to be able to maintain good order and discipline. At the same time the WO is the ‘father figure’ who cannot claim to be a family member, but is the retainer and serves the family, guiding young New Zealander’s who are willing to fight(2) for their country.
Whereas fundamentally WOs do not command, they unite command and support decision making by way of their leadership, experience and training know-how.
Aim and scope
This essay will illustrate that although WOs do not command per se, they are a force multiplier(3) in the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF). It begins by considering the WO in the context of command and what the term ‘command’ denotes, followed by reinforcing the view that leadership is a shared responsibility and is best conceptualised as a matter of influence (relationship-building and trust) – i.e. a WO’s ‘currency’. The essay will then demonstrate why experience is an invaluable military resource, and conclude with the perspective that training others is a duty best performed by a WO.
Command and Leadership
Generally speaking, in the military context the chain of command is the succession of individuals through which command is exercised and executed. A superior, such as a Commissioned Officer(4), makes decisions and passes orders down the chain of command to subordinate commanders who either execute or transmit those orders further down the chain until it is received by those expected to carry-out the function. Thus command is the authority that a Commander (COMD) in a military service lawfully exercises over subordinates by virtue of their rank or assignment.(5) Moreover, the purpose of command is to provide an individual (the COMD) with the authority and capabilities to apply a high degree of independence to ensure necessary action within (generally) predefined parameters to achieve (broadly) prescribed objectives under dynamic conditions involving significant numbers of interdependent teams and high consequences of failure.(6)
That said, the Officer and WO inter-relationship continues to evolve and the combination of a COMD and WO has been known to be referred to as the ‘Command Team’(7). In spite of this, it can be argued that institutionally command is vested in an individual, and is based on formally delegated authority, enacted through legislation(8). Command is tied to a function (exercising command), an appointment (being the COMD) and a process (command decision-making).(9) Notwithstanding this, there are WO within the NZDF whose title is prefixed with the term ‘Command’ i.e. ‘Command Sergeant Major’, but this does not imply they command directly. Notably, the COMD, Training and Doctrine Command (New Zealand) makes use of the title ‘Formation Sergeant Major’ within the text of his Command Directive(10). However, others commonly refer to the same appointment as ‘Command Sergeant Major’.
After all, the Officer assumes the decision making role and the WO the applied technical role. Whatever the title, the WO supports command while command authority and responsibility rests solely with the appointed COMD. In any event, there is potential for the COMD to be overloaded by the work load or tempo that can impact on the decision-making process especially when dealing with uncertainty, turbulence and high risk. The COMD, as this ‘solitary individual’, has to rely on other leadership enablers in mitigating risk and reinforcing the decision making process.
The Leadership Team
This is the reason why sharing leadership responsibilities becomes an intentional partnership which relies on the complementary skill-sets that the WO provides in supporting the COMD. The ‘Leadership Team’ better reflects the relationship between the COMD and WO. During the Trojan War (Greek Mythology), King Agamemnon could not inspire the troops as Achilles could, nor could Achilles formulate an overarching battle strategy as the king could, but they complemented each other through their strengths (skills-sets), enabling success.(11) Similarly, the contemporary WO complements the COMD through his or her mastery; having attained WO rank, he/she has inevitably belonged to the organisation for a lengthy period of time and has become a technical expert in his or her field. Notably, shared leadership occurs when two or more members engage in the leadership of the team in an effort to influence and direct fellow members to maximise team effectiveness.(12)
That said, a WO’s currency is influence. WOs develop an innate ability to build relationships, vertically and horizontally across the organisation, using clear and influential communication skills. A comparative example can be found in; the smooth running of the House (Parliament), which relies largely on the relationships built up between Whips of different parties, and through cultivating agreements with each other based on shared understanding of mutual gain.(13) The WO is the vital link between the COMD and the subordinate ranks and vice versa, they go to the point of friction. “We stern sergeant majors are the purveyors of the orders of the commanding officers, are so insistent that the orders, once issued, are intelligently obeyed to the letter”.(14)
‘They’ (‘Two Eyes’) walk amongst the soldiers and are able to gauge the climate by providing the COMD with what is known as ‘ground truth’. In a similar vein, the WO is a sounding board and confidant for the COMD. This two-way respect and understanding builds trust. WOs gain the confidence of both the officers and soldiers, much like in history where ‘Achilles’ was able to inspire the troops where King Agamemnon could not.
The value of Authenticity and Experience
Ian Elliot(15) uses the model: Authenticity + Ability + Action x Alignment = Trust. For the WO, he/she has a presence, lives with conviction and confidence, at putting people at ease. WOs are experts in their field and have the ability to critically evaluate potential problems in advance. The WO needs to ‘walk the talk’ and therefore is not afraid to switch from diplomat (engaging activities in relationship building) to the person of a ‘bad cop’ to reinforce command direction or to highlight the soldier’s concerns. For this reason their advice must be honest and frank, and measured in its application. Once a decision is made, WOs are aligned and are the champion of those decisions. The WO is the exemplar of the organisation’s values(16) and aligns his or her behaviours with these values twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. More so on operations where there are physical risks, moral challenges and psychological strains are amplified, a WO’s influence and trust coupled with experience can prevent immoral actions by moderating the appropriateness of these actions.
“Experience is underestimated – experience matters, it has value and is worth paying for”(17). That is to say, experience is about learning by doing or having done (lessons learnt). The emphasis is on the practical applications and involves feelings and sensations. Generally, experience is about practically acquiring knowledge and skills, through experiences and feedback either by comparing what you did against what someone else did, or from an appraisal from someone who is skilled. The Concise Dictionary definition of experience is: particular incident, feeling etc., that a person has undergone. “My experiences have taught me a lot and I’m happy with my learnings, if not with what I went through to learn”(18). For instance, a WO is able to anticipate future events through their foresight and judgement using their lengthy service and operational experiences.
Conversely, some may argue that WOs are in the ‘frozen middle’(19), choosing the safety of the tried and tested. By the same token they have seen what others haven’t seen and are merely looking for the best outcome. Moreover, the WO uses a wide angle lens, seeing more of the ‘big picture’, they balance emotion and cognition through having faith in the organisation’s systems and processes. As a result they have the ability to understand people and how they feel when decisions are made (increased empathy). Through their repetitive experiences they develop general guidelines and have a knack of grasping a situation and balancing their expectations, and the expectations of others. The WO is the reality check. “Asking experienced people what rules of thumb they have learned is a way to gain from the depth of their insight. Since experienced people have ‘cut neurological ground’ they have valuable resources to offer others in a learning situation.”(20)
Worth mentioning, in this context, is the fact that WOs started their profession from the bottom of the hierarchical organisation, transiting through multiple leadership development(21) levels. As a consequence, the WO has experienced success and failure and know the impact of both, whether it be on task performance or on an emotional level. Thus, experienced combined with training can be used to shape and prepare others for the uncertainty that occurs often on military operations, the ‘psychological fog’(22).
Mastery of the Training Domain
“The first duty of an officer is, and always has been to so train the men under his command that they without question beat any force opposed to them in the field”.(23) Although this may be true, “The core of the British Army, the sergeant major and sergeant has built up over centuries and generations. The officer, with all his other interests, quite rightly and properly lays down the policy and the sergeant major and the sergeant gets on with it.(24) After all the WO has a duty of care to the senior and subordinate personnel to prepare them to potentially go into harm’s way in the protection of the nation’s interests. This does not take away the responsibility from the COMD, but there are more pressing things they can be taking care of. Training is a planned process to inculcate and modify knowledge, skills and attitudes through learning experiences to achieve effective performance in an activity or range of activities.(25) The WO has been educated and trained in delivering instruction using adult learning techniques. They have also received training in ‘Planning Processes’ which encompassed subjects such as; risk management, use of resources and budgeting to name but a few. Not to mention, a WO in most cases, has been employed as a subject matter expert within a NZDF training institute on more than one occasion and has a complete knowledge of; individual and collective training doctrine and policy, and the Systems Approach to Learning(26).
Furthermore, the WO combines his/her experience in the workplace with their operational experience to design and deliver realistic and relevant training. WOs can tell if training material is not connecting or relating to a particular learner, having the ability to adapt by exploring possible outcomes developed from experience. The WO is constantly finding new and engaging ways to relay the same concepts and is therefore not reluctant to adopt new learning strategies or materials. Besides, they are known to be well versed in the learning management systems and the value of technology and new ways to integrate them. The WO is employed as the ‘senior trainer’, who coaches and mentors junior trainers. Equally, they are able to evaluate the trained state of a unit and provide advice to command to achieve the COMD’s outputs. Above all else, WOs display an open, supportive approach to training, inspiring, encouraging and motivating others.
Despite there being WO within the NZDF with the title ‘Command Warrant Officer’, command is vested (through legislation) in an individual. The legal authority and responsibility rests solely with the appointed COMD, a Commissioned Officer. Moreover, a WO supports command decision-making and is a complementary partner within the ‘Leadership Team’. WOs share the responsibilities of leadership in a partnership forged from mutual respect. To this end, the WO is a vital link between COMD and subordinates and vice versa, a link enabled through the process of relationship building.
The ability to influence through relationship building and networking is the WO’s ‘currency’; ‘Authenticity + Ability + Action x Alignment = Trust’. Equally important, experience should not be underestimated. A WO provides a level of pragmatic insight and understanding of the ‘whole picture’, bought about by repetitive experiences. For instance, WOs have developed pragmatic approaches and have the intuition to grasp a situation and balance the expectations of the parties involved. The WO uses general guidelines gained from success and failure which is invaluable to others in a learning situation.
A WO has been educated and trained in adult learning techniques, and on how to plan training at various levels. A WO is both a coach and mentor to junior trainers and has the awareness to successfully adapt a training solution that does not meet the intent nor the aim. The WO is well-versed in the training system applied within the NZDF. In short, WOs are subject matter experts and through their supportive, encouraging, inspiring and motivating approach, are a vital cog in preparing others to potentially go into harm’s way. There can be little doubt that the WO (call-sign ‘Two Eyes’) – through his or her wisdom and depth of leadership, experience and training proficiency – adds immense value to the ‘Leadership Team’.
1 A summation, by Dave McCammon a COL in the ADF, of the relevance of a Sergeant Major from the book McCoy’s Marines: Darkside to Baghdad, John Koopman 2004.
2 “The function of the profession of arms is the ordered application of force in the resolution of a social or political problem. The essential task of its members is to fight individually or collectively.” Richard M. Swain and Albert C. Pierce, 2017.
3 The Force Multiplier Effect: “If you want to multiply your impact, focus on two things; (1) What you can affect (influence) and; (2) What you can effect (change or control)” – Jeff Boss, 2018.
4 ’A person holding the Sovereign’s commission and appointment’, Defence Force Orders (Army) Vol 3, Chap 2, s1, para 2005.
5 NZDDP-00.6 Leadership 2018, p 3.
6 The Command Team – A valuable evolution or doctrinal danger? Alan Okros, 2012, p 20.
7 Ibid pp 15 – 16.
8 Defence Act 1990.
9 Alan Okros, op cit, p 18.
10 Comd Dir 01/19: TRADOC (NZ) Command Directive for CY 2019 and 2020 (dated 05 Dec 18).
11 An analogy used in: The Leadership Team – Complementary Strengths or Conflicting Agendas, Stephen A Miles and Michael D. Watkin, 2007.
12 Bergman, Rentsch, Small, Davenport and Bergman, 2012.
13 What is a party whip and what do they do? New Zealand Parliament, 2013.
14 J.C. Lord, MVO MBE, 1963.
15 Ian Elliot is a successful speaker who has over 30 years in the highly competitive advertising industry, he rose from mail boy to CEO and Chairman of Australia’s biggest agency, George Patterson.
16 NZDF values: Courage. Commitment, Comradeship and Integrity.
17 Dr Jim Bohn has served in a variety of roles in the corporate world since 1973, personally leading the transformation of multiple underperforming teams.
18 Ally Sheedy, an American actress and author.
19 “The frozen middle is the most conservative layer in the organisation. It is the most resistant to new ways of doing business, and to innovative ideas and perspectives.” Jenifer Reynolds, 2017.
20 Dr Jim Bohn, 2017.
21 New Zealand Defence Force Leadership Development Framework.
22 Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, Book 1, Chapter 3, p 108.
23 Duke of Wellington.
24 J.C. Lord, MVO MBE, 1963.
25 Land Warfare Doctrine 7-0, Training and Education, 2015: Chap 1, s 1-2.
26 Defence Manual of Learning: based upon the internationally recognised and validated ADDIE model (analyse, design, develop, implement and evaluate).
Bohn PhD, Jim: The Value of Experience, LinkedIn, 2017.
Boss, Jeff: How to be a Force Multiplier in any Industry, Article, 2018
Clausewitz, Carl Von: On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and
Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Defence Manual of Learning.
Defence Force Orders (Army) Vol 3.
Ellis, Dan: Senior Soldier – The Company Sergeant Major, The Cove, 2019.
Land Warfare Doctrine 7-0, Training and Education, 2015.
Lord MVO MBE, J.C: Transcript of Speech to the Army Staff College, Camberley, ‘Discipline’, 1963.
Miles. Stephen A. and Michael D. Watkins: The Leadership Team – Complementary Strengths or Conflicting Agendas, Harvard Business Review, 2007.
NZDDP-00.6 Leadership, 2018.
Okros, Alan: The Command Team – A valuable evolution or doctrinal danger? Canadian Military Journal Vol 13, 2012.
Reynolds, Jenifer: What is the frozen middle, and why should it keep leaders up at night? The Globe and Mail, 2017.
Swain, Richard M. and Albert C. Pierce: The Armed Force Officer, National Defence University Press, Washington D.C, 2017.
Towler, Annette Dr: Shared leadership: Fundamentals, benefits and implementation, Article, 2019.