This is Part VII of the “168-Hour” series addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.
By Major General Mick Ryan, Australian Army
The responsibility for professional development between periods in formal programs rests with the individual officer. This responsibility does not stem from laws or resolution as it does in some other professions, but is inherent in the nature of the military officer’s calling. It is inherent because the body of knowledge which constitutes the art and science of war is not only broad and deep, but is also dynamic. Thus, an officer can never truly complete his education. Learning must be a never-ending process.
LTGEN Paul Van Riper, 1982
In 2000, I published my second ever journal article. The subject was an examination of the maneuverist approach. I undertook two short case studies in the article. The first explored the Battle of Lake Trasimene where in 217 BC, Hannibal ambushed and destroyed a Roman force of 30,000. The second examined the 1862 Valley Campaign of Stonewall Jackson. The process of writing the article kindled within me a growing appreciation of studying our profession.
Shortly afterward, I attended the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, followed thereafter by attendance at the School of Advanced Warfighting. This period from 2001 to 2003, was a pivotal professional and personal two years in my life. The attendance at these schools, against the backdrop of September 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, fostered a deep appreciation within me of the profession of arms. This dawning appreciation also made clear to me how much I had to learn about our great profession.
Since that time, I have been privileged to command Australian soldiers (and sometimes US soldiers and Marines) on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Timor Leste. I have had the honour of commanding at Battalion and Brigade levels as well. Each of these has continued to hone my approach to our profession, and shaped my self-study.
Ours is a profession where self-study is central to our personal and professional development. As LTG Van Riper notes above, the responsibility for self-development is ‘inherent in the nature of the military officers calling’. It is a constant investment every professional officer must make.
As leaders in the military profession, our time is precious. As Josh notes in the introductory post for this series, we have just 168 hours that we can invest in during a week. We all must split this time between family, friends, work, personal development and reflection, and of course, rest. In seeking to use these 168 hours well, there are seven ways I invest in my knowledge of our profession, and to hone my personal leadership style and approach.
Reading – Non-fiction. Reading non-fiction books – especially military history, strategy, organisation change and current events – is the heart of increasing our knowledge of context and keep contemporary as professionals. For me this is an undertaking that normally takes about ten hours per week.
Reading – News, blogs, social media. Complementing my non-fiction book reading, I read online newspapers and journals to keep up with current events and technology. I also survey a range of blogs and twitter feeds constantly (see which ones here). Finally, I read fiction (and science fiction) every night, which relaxes me, puts my mind at rest and ensures I get a good night’s sleep. All this reading – another ten hours per week (at least).
Leading and talking about PME. I am enormously lucky that this is the core of my current appointment. It is something I am very passionate about. And while my focus is PME for the officers, enlisted and civilian personnel of our Australian Defence Force, I am also learning constantly. Whether it is talking to students and staff at the Australian Defence College, or writing about leading PME, this is something that I spend a huge proportion of my week on. Thirty hours per week.
Engagement on social media. The wonderful thing about social media, which we don’t get from books and professional journals, is engagement and a two-way conversation. I have written previously on why I think military leaders should engage in social media. For me, it is about participating in a global PME discourse that I find enriching and intellectually challenging. It is also an opportunity for me to be an advocate for many of the young professionals who are seeking to foster a professional conversation online. I can’t imagine self-development in our profession without social media. For me, this is about seven hours per week.
Writing. Over the last few years, I have been bitten by a writing bug. It permits me to get my ideas out to a wide audience, but also to hone my communication skills. As leaders, effective communication is a core responsibility. It is through good communication skills that we provide purpose and meaning to our people. I write for various blogs, but also longer papers on topics I am interested in. I invest about five hours per week in writing.
Going Walkabout. Whether it is known at battlefield circulation or leadership by walking around, I find this an effective method of learning about the organisation I command, and interacting with all levels of the college. Five hours per week.
Family. Having just spent three years living away from my family for service reasons, time with my wife and daughters is more precious than ever. These three magnificent human beings are what keep me level-headed, and I am constantly humbled by their unwavering support and love. We eat two meals per day together and spend lots of time together on weekends. Time spent – every single second I can!
Major General Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and School of Advanced Warfare, he is an avid reader and writer on military and national security topics, and is a passionate advocate of professional military education and lifelong learning. He currently commands the Australian Defence College in Canberra.
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