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Commander’s Intent: One Wildly Effective Leadership Strategy For Aligning Your Team

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Content provided by Tanya Privé - Leadership. All podcast content including episodes, graphics, and podcast descriptions are uploaded and provided directly by Tanya Privé - Leadership or their podcast platform partner. If you believe someone is using your copyrighted work without your permission, you can follow the process outlined here https://player.fm/legal.

If there is one organization that is highly effective in aligning their troops, it’s the army.

But ever wonder how they do it? Or if their strategy is replicable in business or with your team?

Rach Ranton is a TED speaker, corporate leader, author, and motivational consultant who served in the Australian Army for 11 years. Her TED Talk titled “Where are we trying to end up?” and book DAUNTLESS: Leadership lessons from the front line draw parallels between leadership concepts the military is especially brilliant in executing and how those concepts can be leveraged in business.

In particular, Rach calls out one tactic: Commander’s Intent.

Commander’s intent is a technical term used in the army to get aligned and initiate coordinated actions. When alignment and coordinated action are present, can you guess what becomes possible?

High performance. It’s a thing of beauty. I’ve seen it in teams we coach but Rach breaks it down to a 3 step process.

Tune in to the full episode to learn about:

  • Commander’s Intent: how to align your team and organization
  • Major leadership lessons learned from the front lines
  • How to apply these lessons at work
  • Foundational principles that must exist for high performing teams

Connect with Rach Ranton:


Rach Ranton’s biography:

Rach Ranton spent a decade in the Australian Army including deployments to East Timor and Afghanistan. Serving as an Electronic Warfare Operator, she conducted intercept and analysis of enemy communications whilst embedded with frontline troops, providing advice to commanders on the battlefield.

Rach took what she learned in the military about leadership, teams, culture and courage and applied it to her post-military career, leading broad and varied teams across corporate Australia in service, sales, inclusion and organizational development. She is now a sought-after keynote speaker and facilitator working internationally with governments, large corporates and businesses to help them consider leadership, inclusion, change and organizational culture through the lens of the leadership lessons she learned in the military.

Rach is a TED speaker and award-winning leader, receiving a commendation for the role she played in Afghanistan and in 2018 being named ‘Prime Minister’s Veteran Employee of the Year’ at the Prime Minister’s Veteran Employment Awards and Professional Alumnus of the Year at her Alma Mater the University of Southern Queensland for her veteran’s advocacy work.

Along with her partner, their son and their ‘mates who are family’, Rach loves wakeboarding, fishing, the beach and camping adventures across the wild and remote parts of Australia

DAUNTLESS: Leadership lessons from the front line

* * *

Full Transcription:

Rach Ranton: Trust and empowerment and that culture in your team, if that’s not right, it doesn’t matter how good the mission is, or how good the strategy is, or how much people know about it. If they don’t feel like they have the power to be able to get stuff done and to make great decisions, then it holds you back, absolutely.

Tanya: That’s Rach Ranton, TED speaker, corporate leader, author, and now motivational consultant who served in the Australian Army for 11 years. Her TED Talk titled “Where are we trying to end up?” draws parallels between leadership concepts the military is especially brilliant in executing and how those concepts can be leveraged in business. Rach, you really had an interesting career where you decided to take a quite unconventional path. Can you tell us about it?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a small town in the country here in Australia so way out in the bush, only about 1200 people that lived there. As I got towards the end of my high school, I really started to think about what do I want to do next? I was desperate to escape that small town, and so I think that’s a big part of why I ended up joining the military. The military for me was a way to be able to see the world, to go on adventures, to meet people that were from completely different places and completely different backgrounds to me. It was a really attractive proposition to pick up from home and join the Army and let them tell me where I was going to live and where I was going to go.

Tanya: How long were you part of the Army?

Rach Ranton: I was in the Army for nearly 11 years, all sorts of, yeah, different places that you live over times like that. Yeah, it was great.

Tanya: When you think about your time in the Army, what’s one of the one or two top things that stand out immediately as top experiences?

Rach Ranton: The opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan with the first Regular Army deployment in 2006 was absolutely a career highlight for me, being able to do my job in real time on the battlefield. Earlier in my career, I’d been to East Timor as well and, again, was lucky to be on the first deployment to East Timor. Then it’s also the people that you meet. I know that’s not a specific what’s a one thing. I look back now at the leaders that I worked with and the people that were my teammates, and that’s what absolutely made it such a positive experience for me.

Tanya: It always comes down to the people now, very much so. Whether it’s military, or your job, or your community, or your neighborhood, it’s always about the people. I completely get that. Have you found that connecting with people from the military or at least having those experiences you actually formed really special bonds as opposed to maybe other people that you meet, civilians outside of the military, or no?

Rach Ranton: I’ve absolutely got really strong bonds with a lot of my mates from the military, and they’re our closest friends and, really, our family in lots of ways, the way you lean on each other. Your families grow up together, and it’s a really intense sort of friendship. You might be posted to the same location, and you’ll be around at each other’s house a couple of times a week and hanging out with everyone. You know everything about what’s going on with their relationship and their lives and their kids, and then you post away from each other for five years. You might not even share a phone call or anything during that time, but when you land back in the same place again, it’s all just on. It never stopped, so they’re really intense friendships. A lot of the experiences that you have are pretty extreme, and so they are really enduring friendships.

Tanya: Ah, yes, I could definitely imagine. What were you accountable for throughout your time, throughout those 11 years?

Rach Ranton: I worked in a trade in communications which was electronic warfare, which is to intercept and analyze enemy communication and give advice on the battlefield, so you’re responsible for time-sensitive collection of intelligence.

Tanya: Can you give us an experience or when you – what’s one time that you remember specifically doing that job that stands out?

Rach Ranton: I tell you, Afghanistan was really where we got to do that the most. I was embedded with our bush masters, our mounted infantry and armored. We’d gone out to the local hospitals, so this is the first patrol when we got over there. My job is to try and get ears on the enemy so find out how they’re communicating. What are they saying? Then give advice to the commander on the ground about what I think the intention of the enemy is, and so on that very first patrol, of course, there was lots of chat on the radio about our movements, what we were doing, where we were going. We were outside the base. Where were we headed?

You’re outside the gate for the very first time, so your heart’s pumping as well. Having to try and figure out exactly what are the enemy saying about us? What are they going to do? Are they going to take any action? Then, from that, giving advice and saying this is what I think they’re doing. This is what I think we should do. This is what I think the threat level is. Doing that for the very first time was terrifying and exhilarating, and you realize the responsibility you have. When you get that call right, you can really make a difference to our safety, but if you get that call wrong, there are some really significant consequences.

Tanya: Yes, I mean, the level of stress that you must have built up, your tolerance must be enormous. What are some of the techniques or trainings that you went through to be able to perform peak performance during top moments of stress?

Rach Ranton: The military is really great at this, and there’s a range of different techniques that they use to help people perform at their peak when you are under extreme duress or really high stress. One of those techniques is simply repetition, so you go through things like with your weapon. What’s your immediate action drill if you get a stoppage? What are the actions that you take out to clear that stoppage in your weapon and to get the weapon firing again as quickly as possible? It’s one of those things you just practice it and practice it and practice it until the muscle memory is so strong that you react without needing to – your brain to think about what’s happening. You simply do the action. If I get a stoppage, I do the action, and I go through those motions. For things that are really physical, that repetition to the point where you don’t need to think about it is a technique that the military uses a lot.

For my job, that repetition factor wasn’t so much how do you overcome the stress? You really need to be understanding the situation yourself. You need to be really considered about what’s our overall mission and to keep that in the front of your mind overall. That will help you with all the decisions and all of the analytical thinking you’re trying to do and then, also, being able to know that your decision will make a big impact. Although that puts extra responsibility on you, it forces you to be really clear on how to communicate and what you think we should do. You don’t speculate. You take that in and make the decision with all that weight behind it.

Tanya: Yeah, that’s interesting. Your word and your input has a direct impact and, potentially, amazing results or devastating results. I guess the level of responsibility that you have for every word that you communicate is tremendously high.

Rach Ranton: There’s only four of us that did that job in Afghanistan on that mission. There’d be two of us on every single patrol making sure that 24/7 operations we had ears on to be able to give that advice. It really makes you realize that everyone had a role at that that’s so critical to the mission. It makes you realize that, when everybody’s performing at their peak and when everybody’s really switched on to just how critical their role is in the team succeeding, that’s when you really are at your best.

Tanya: Yeah, ownership, it really comes down to the team members that own and the leaders that also own everything that happens in their team. Even the people that are – there’s an expression: You’re as strong as your weakest link. I love that. It’s like, well, you can perform well, but if the people behind you are not doing their jobs and, in your case, that could be a life and death situation, there’s a problem. I love that idea of really just being so – owning it and having responsibility for the whole and not just your part, which leads us into something that you talked about as one of the strongest leadership lessons that you’ve learned from the Army in your brilliant TED Talk which I highly recommend people go and listen to. Can you talk about Commander’s Intent?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, absolutely. It was only maybe, I don’t know, five or six years after I got out of the Army and I’d been working in corporate that whole time that I realized just how powerful Commander’s Intent was and just how much I was using it all the time without ever really putting a label on it. It was only once I started thinking about it I went, oh, that’s what I’m doing. Every time I’m confronted with a new situation, or every time I’m working with my team, or looking for their buy-in, I’m actually using Commander’s Intent all the time. It’s a concept that pretty much works on three elements. It’s that everyone understands the mission so what we touched on briefly before. When every single person in your team knows that really big goal that you’re working towards, then they can make really great decisions along the way to be able to make sure that everything about what you’re doing is getting you towards that. Like most organizations you talk to, yeah, yeah, they’ve got a mission. They’re like, oh, yeah, we’re here to help people or whatever. That’s great, but it’s about your team members really deeply understanding what does help mean in that example.

Does it mean making it fast? Does it mean making it easy? Does it mean the customer doing it? Does it mean me doing it for the customer? What does helping really mean in that scenario? Once people have that knowledge of what those words mean, then also making sure that everybody knows so what – where is that big goal? What does it look like, and how do we keep moving towards it? That mission part is a really first critical part of Commander’s Intent. It’s clearly and concisely being able to describe the end stage. What does good look like?

The second part of that is around – the second part of Commander’s Intent is around understanding your own role. Again, what we were speaking about before, really, what is it that I do that helps the team achieve that mission? Not just owning my space but how does my space integrate with all the other players in my team? How can I make what I do be even better for them? What will happen if I fail? What will happen if I succeed to the rest of my team? Each individual having that ownership and really knowing what their role is is that individual part of Commander’s Intent.

Then the third part that brings it all together is around trust and empowerment. For Commander’s Intent to really work, it’s not enough to just know the end stage or to know what I need to do. I actually need to trust my teammates around me or the people that work for me. I need to be able to trust them to get the job done, and I need to be able to give them enough power to make really great decisions along the way without me micromanaging every element of what happens.

Tanya: Do you have a situation in your corporate life where you actually utilize this framework, and it really moved the conversation and aided and had a tremendous impact?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, definitely. A lot of my work in corporate – I’ve worked in the finance sector and in banks, big banks here in Australia. Obviously, the banking industry overall has gone through a lot of change, and we really started to think about the future of banking. That’s when I started to think about what our commander’s intentions are, and actually, this is what I’m using to try and bring my team along and to help us get a better result. We talk about the future of banking. We talk about how do customers want to access their money, their financials, and things they want to do? A lot of the change that was coming through the system was really uncomfortable. It really felt to people like it was change that was being done to them rather than change that they were a part of or could control.

When I took a step back from that, I realized that I could actually give my team a lot more control than I was. We could talk about the future of banking at our level of the organization, and although there’d be things that would come down the line to us, we could actually control a lot of what we were doing. If rather than hide what was happening from them, I just told them all the absolute truth, and we all explored what we thought would happen to banking in the future based on what our customers wanted and how the business would work. Once we started that really open and genuine conversation – so it almost started from that third element of trust to say I trust you guys to be able to tell you all the stuff that I’m hearing or for us to be able to explore all the possible outcomes that there could be with changes to the banking industry. Then my team actually came up with heaps of really creative solutions to how we could shape our business to be a better fit for when they were changes that came down the line or to be able to change our service offering to be better for customers right now. How could we test things for the organization? That attitude really moved from this is being done to me to how can I lead this change? Getting the team onboard with a lot of trust to start with and then us identifying that we wanted to do was – our mission effectively became we want to be the place where the bank tests this. That really helped.

Tanya: That’s amazing. When you’re leading your team like that, do you – how do you dissect these different sections? You actually started with trust as opposed to really the mission. Is trust the foundation above even getting clear on what the mission is and, like you said, drilling down to every word and getting very, very grounded on what does that mean, helping? Is that us doing it? Is it them doing it? Is trust the foundational component to this framework, even above and beyond mission?

Rach Ranton: I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I’m writing a book at the same time and thinking about all these different elements that come into Commander’s Intent, I mean, leadership in general. I think you’re right. That trust and empowerment and that culture in your team, if that’s not right, it doesn’t matter how good the mission is, or how good the strategy is, or how much people know about it. If they don’t feel like they have the power to be able to get stuff done and to make great decisions, then it holds you back, absolutely.

Tanya: Yeah, no. Trust is one of those fundamental things, and actually, I was on – I was speaking with a neuroscientist about the default brain state as being distrustful. That was useful when we were back in caves and the very early days where we needed to continuously assess our environment and the people to ensure our physical survival, but since our society has evolved, those very hardwired – and they hate when I use this, the neuroscientist, hardwired, because of brain plasticity. Anyways, because of that default wiring, I’ll say, people typically start in distrust. Here you are in a company where the default way of operating, unless you intentionally disrupt it, is distrust, and the foundation upon which Commander’s Intent or any type of effective leadership for that matter is trust. How do we really address trust in the corporate setting?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, I think that you’ve got to give it, right? As a leader, you can’t expect your people to trust you if you are demonstrating all the time that you don’t trust them, and it’s not enough to just say it. You’ve got to really do it. You’ve got to give them the power to make the decisions. You’ve got to get decision-making happening at the lowest level you possibly can because they’re the people that are closest to your customers. They’re the people that are going to be able to have all the current information about making decisions. So often, we strip that power away, and when we strip that power away from our people, we’re saying I don’t really trust you. I want oversight of this. I want signoff of this.

When you think about whether people do the right or wrong thing in general, what happens is most people do the right thing, but unfortunately, what we do is we build our world as if people are going to do the wrong thing. We write all these terms and conditions. We have pages and pages of legal documentation behind things. What if someone does the wrong thing? When, actually, I think it’s the flip of that. Where we need to get to is we assume that everybody does the right thing because most people do do the right thing. Then we can use all those spare reams of paper, or lawyers, or words to actually go and deal with the people that aren’t doing the right thing rather than making all these assumptions about – or rather than administering and putting all this governance and ridiculous red tape around everyday people who are going to do the right thing.

I think that’s the same whether it’s your customers or your people. As a leader, you’ve got to realize you’ve got that bias as well towards distrust, and that, actually, rather than putting a bunch of policies in place to make sure people can’t do the right thing – can’t do the wrong thing, you should come from a place where people are going to do the right thing, and I’ll worry about following up with anyone who doesn’t in the future.

Tanya: Yeah, it’s this default way of being. That’s the way our society is organized, and that’s what you’re pointing to where we tend to lean on mitigating against what could be possibly done wrong versus empowering what can be done right. That totally resonates. You mentioned that you’re writing a book. Can you tell us a little preview of what that is or what you’re working on?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely still in drafting phase. It’s been an amazing experience. The process of writing itself has absolutely made me really reflect on things that I probably hadn’t dug deeply into before, those few moments in my life where I felt, well, wow, that decision that that person made really shifted my career. I’ve always thought that, but writing about it has made me realize, wow, it didn’t just shift my career. It shifted how I thought about myself. It shifted how others thought about me. Actually, that moment where that person helped me out or lifted my up potentially has changed the trajectory of everything about what I’ve done from that moment. Anyone out there, definitely go and write. I highly recommend it.

What I’m writing about is leadership and the lessons that I’ve learned in the Army and the lessons that I learned on the frontline that I found have actually been really applicable to all sorts of other leadership as well both in my corporate job but also in the community and in general life. Lots of people say I’m not a leader. I don’t have team, or I’m not in charge of anyone. That’s really not what leadership’s about. Every day you have an impact on all the people you interact with and all the people around you in your life and in your family, and how you choose to behave is absolutely part of your leadership and the impact you have on others. Everyone’s a leader in my view, and it’s about the things that I’ve learnt from the Army that I think can really help us to be great leaders for everyone around us.

Tanya: I can’t wait to see it and read it. There is one saying that we say at my firm, Legacy. It’s to support your point. “Leaders are ordinary people up to extraordinary things.” A lot of people mistake a title or a position of power for leadership. If you take a look at history, some of the most unbelievable leaders, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, I mean, go down that list. Nobody appointed them until people rallied behind them, and they’re like, oh, okay, yes. Ordinary people up to extraordinary things is really the foundation of leadership. I love that. Okay, great, is there anything, Rach, that we haven’t talked about that we should?

Rach Ranton: I guess probably the only thing that I’d encourage people to think about when they’re thinking about their own leadership is around authenticity. I mean, I think we’re hearing this more and more all the time about people being genuine or people being authentic leaders. I think it’s a really critical thing for you to understand who you are, to be really honest about who you are. You’re absolutely going to get the best out of your team when you can do that, and I didn’t. When I first started at the bank, I had – I was really terrified. I’d come from the Army, and I didn’t have any banking experience. I really tried to pretend to be what I thought a bank manager was so lots of formal speech. I took all the edge off my ocker accent, and I tried to be this picture of what I thought a bank manager should be.

On reflection, I could see what a barrier that put between me and my people and me and my customers. I wasn’t being me. It was only once I put that down and was much more of myself. I was way more flawed, but people were so much more willing to help me out, or forgive me for that, or to be a part of that when I wasn’t trying to pretend to be someone else.

Tanya: It’s hard work to try to pretend to be someone else.

Rach Ranton: Yes, it’s the truth.

Tanya: It’s fulltime job. Forget doing your job. Yeah, I get that. Actually, I wrote about this not too long ago that, to your point, authenticity is real. People have these things called mirror neurons in their brain that register, that mirror the same emotions that you would be feeling but in their body at maybe a lower level or a lower intensity. If you ever have that feeling where you’re in conversation with somebody and what they’re saying just something’s off; it doesn’t register, that could potentially be your mirror neurons picking up on the baloney that somebody’s trying to feed you. I mean, it’s a real thing. This idea of having two yous, one work and one personal, is also BS. That’s going out the door.

Rach, thank you so much for being on. First of all, I have a tremendous amount of respect for your life’s career and who you are in the world and, really, the power in women that you represent, and your energy comes through very, very clearly. Thank you so much for just taking the time and being on the show, and I feel very honored.

Rach Ranton: Thank you so much, Tanya. It’s been so fun talking to you, and I’ve absolutely loved it.

Tanya: Unmessable is recorded in the heart of New York City and a special thanks to all the team involved in producing the show. Visit tanyaprive.com/unmessable to find a transcript of this episode, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

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Content provided by Tanya Privé - Leadership. All podcast content including episodes, graphics, and podcast descriptions are uploaded and provided directly by Tanya Privé - Leadership or their podcast platform partner. If you believe someone is using your copyrighted work without your permission, you can follow the process outlined here https://player.fm/legal.

If there is one organization that is highly effective in aligning their troops, it’s the army.

But ever wonder how they do it? Or if their strategy is replicable in business or with your team?

Rach Ranton is a TED speaker, corporate leader, author, and motivational consultant who served in the Australian Army for 11 years. Her TED Talk titled “Where are we trying to end up?” and book DAUNTLESS: Leadership lessons from the front line draw parallels between leadership concepts the military is especially brilliant in executing and how those concepts can be leveraged in business.

In particular, Rach calls out one tactic: Commander’s Intent.

Commander’s intent is a technical term used in the army to get aligned and initiate coordinated actions. When alignment and coordinated action are present, can you guess what becomes possible?

High performance. It’s a thing of beauty. I’ve seen it in teams we coach but Rach breaks it down to a 3 step process.

Tune in to the full episode to learn about:

  • Commander’s Intent: how to align your team and organization
  • Major leadership lessons learned from the front lines
  • How to apply these lessons at work
  • Foundational principles that must exist for high performing teams

Connect with Rach Ranton:


Rach Ranton’s biography:

Rach Ranton spent a decade in the Australian Army including deployments to East Timor and Afghanistan. Serving as an Electronic Warfare Operator, she conducted intercept and analysis of enemy communications whilst embedded with frontline troops, providing advice to commanders on the battlefield.

Rach took what she learned in the military about leadership, teams, culture and courage and applied it to her post-military career, leading broad and varied teams across corporate Australia in service, sales, inclusion and organizational development. She is now a sought-after keynote speaker and facilitator working internationally with governments, large corporates and businesses to help them consider leadership, inclusion, change and organizational culture through the lens of the leadership lessons she learned in the military.

Rach is a TED speaker and award-winning leader, receiving a commendation for the role she played in Afghanistan and in 2018 being named ‘Prime Minister’s Veteran Employee of the Year’ at the Prime Minister’s Veteran Employment Awards and Professional Alumnus of the Year at her Alma Mater the University of Southern Queensland for her veteran’s advocacy work.

Along with her partner, their son and their ‘mates who are family’, Rach loves wakeboarding, fishing, the beach and camping adventures across the wild and remote parts of Australia

DAUNTLESS: Leadership lessons from the front line

* * *

Full Transcription:

Rach Ranton: Trust and empowerment and that culture in your team, if that’s not right, it doesn’t matter how good the mission is, or how good the strategy is, or how much people know about it. If they don’t feel like they have the power to be able to get stuff done and to make great decisions, then it holds you back, absolutely.

Tanya: That’s Rach Ranton, TED speaker, corporate leader, author, and now motivational consultant who served in the Australian Army for 11 years. Her TED Talk titled “Where are we trying to end up?” draws parallels between leadership concepts the military is especially brilliant in executing and how those concepts can be leveraged in business. Rach, you really had an interesting career where you decided to take a quite unconventional path. Can you tell us about it?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a small town in the country here in Australia so way out in the bush, only about 1200 people that lived there. As I got towards the end of my high school, I really started to think about what do I want to do next? I was desperate to escape that small town, and so I think that’s a big part of why I ended up joining the military. The military for me was a way to be able to see the world, to go on adventures, to meet people that were from completely different places and completely different backgrounds to me. It was a really attractive proposition to pick up from home and join the Army and let them tell me where I was going to live and where I was going to go.

Tanya: How long were you part of the Army?

Rach Ranton: I was in the Army for nearly 11 years, all sorts of, yeah, different places that you live over times like that. Yeah, it was great.

Tanya: When you think about your time in the Army, what’s one of the one or two top things that stand out immediately as top experiences?

Rach Ranton: The opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan with the first Regular Army deployment in 2006 was absolutely a career highlight for me, being able to do my job in real time on the battlefield. Earlier in my career, I’d been to East Timor as well and, again, was lucky to be on the first deployment to East Timor. Then it’s also the people that you meet. I know that’s not a specific what’s a one thing. I look back now at the leaders that I worked with and the people that were my teammates, and that’s what absolutely made it such a positive experience for me.

Tanya: It always comes down to the people now, very much so. Whether it’s military, or your job, or your community, or your neighborhood, it’s always about the people. I completely get that. Have you found that connecting with people from the military or at least having those experiences you actually formed really special bonds as opposed to maybe other people that you meet, civilians outside of the military, or no?

Rach Ranton: I’ve absolutely got really strong bonds with a lot of my mates from the military, and they’re our closest friends and, really, our family in lots of ways, the way you lean on each other. Your families grow up together, and it’s a really intense sort of friendship. You might be posted to the same location, and you’ll be around at each other’s house a couple of times a week and hanging out with everyone. You know everything about what’s going on with their relationship and their lives and their kids, and then you post away from each other for five years. You might not even share a phone call or anything during that time, but when you land back in the same place again, it’s all just on. It never stopped, so they’re really intense friendships. A lot of the experiences that you have are pretty extreme, and so they are really enduring friendships.

Tanya: Ah, yes, I could definitely imagine. What were you accountable for throughout your time, throughout those 11 years?

Rach Ranton: I worked in a trade in communications which was electronic warfare, which is to intercept and analyze enemy communication and give advice on the battlefield, so you’re responsible for time-sensitive collection of intelligence.

Tanya: Can you give us an experience or when you – what’s one time that you remember specifically doing that job that stands out?

Rach Ranton: I tell you, Afghanistan was really where we got to do that the most. I was embedded with our bush masters, our mounted infantry and armored. We’d gone out to the local hospitals, so this is the first patrol when we got over there. My job is to try and get ears on the enemy so find out how they’re communicating. What are they saying? Then give advice to the commander on the ground about what I think the intention of the enemy is, and so on that very first patrol, of course, there was lots of chat on the radio about our movements, what we were doing, where we were going. We were outside the base. Where were we headed?

You’re outside the gate for the very first time, so your heart’s pumping as well. Having to try and figure out exactly what are the enemy saying about us? What are they going to do? Are they going to take any action? Then, from that, giving advice and saying this is what I think they’re doing. This is what I think we should do. This is what I think the threat level is. Doing that for the very first time was terrifying and exhilarating, and you realize the responsibility you have. When you get that call right, you can really make a difference to our safety, but if you get that call wrong, there are some really significant consequences.

Tanya: Yes, I mean, the level of stress that you must have built up, your tolerance must be enormous. What are some of the techniques or trainings that you went through to be able to perform peak performance during top moments of stress?

Rach Ranton: The military is really great at this, and there’s a range of different techniques that they use to help people perform at their peak when you are under extreme duress or really high stress. One of those techniques is simply repetition, so you go through things like with your weapon. What’s your immediate action drill if you get a stoppage? What are the actions that you take out to clear that stoppage in your weapon and to get the weapon firing again as quickly as possible? It’s one of those things you just practice it and practice it and practice it until the muscle memory is so strong that you react without needing to – your brain to think about what’s happening. You simply do the action. If I get a stoppage, I do the action, and I go through those motions. For things that are really physical, that repetition to the point where you don’t need to think about it is a technique that the military uses a lot.

For my job, that repetition factor wasn’t so much how do you overcome the stress? You really need to be understanding the situation yourself. You need to be really considered about what’s our overall mission and to keep that in the front of your mind overall. That will help you with all the decisions and all of the analytical thinking you’re trying to do and then, also, being able to know that your decision will make a big impact. Although that puts extra responsibility on you, it forces you to be really clear on how to communicate and what you think we should do. You don’t speculate. You take that in and make the decision with all that weight behind it.

Tanya: Yeah, that’s interesting. Your word and your input has a direct impact and, potentially, amazing results or devastating results. I guess the level of responsibility that you have for every word that you communicate is tremendously high.

Rach Ranton: There’s only four of us that did that job in Afghanistan on that mission. There’d be two of us on every single patrol making sure that 24/7 operations we had ears on to be able to give that advice. It really makes you realize that everyone had a role at that that’s so critical to the mission. It makes you realize that, when everybody’s performing at their peak and when everybody’s really switched on to just how critical their role is in the team succeeding, that’s when you really are at your best.

Tanya: Yeah, ownership, it really comes down to the team members that own and the leaders that also own everything that happens in their team. Even the people that are – there’s an expression: You’re as strong as your weakest link. I love that. It’s like, well, you can perform well, but if the people behind you are not doing their jobs and, in your case, that could be a life and death situation, there’s a problem. I love that idea of really just being so – owning it and having responsibility for the whole and not just your part, which leads us into something that you talked about as one of the strongest leadership lessons that you’ve learned from the Army in your brilliant TED Talk which I highly recommend people go and listen to. Can you talk about Commander’s Intent?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, absolutely. It was only maybe, I don’t know, five or six years after I got out of the Army and I’d been working in corporate that whole time that I realized just how powerful Commander’s Intent was and just how much I was using it all the time without ever really putting a label on it. It was only once I started thinking about it I went, oh, that’s what I’m doing. Every time I’m confronted with a new situation, or every time I’m working with my team, or looking for their buy-in, I’m actually using Commander’s Intent all the time. It’s a concept that pretty much works on three elements. It’s that everyone understands the mission so what we touched on briefly before. When every single person in your team knows that really big goal that you’re working towards, then they can make really great decisions along the way to be able to make sure that everything about what you’re doing is getting you towards that. Like most organizations you talk to, yeah, yeah, they’ve got a mission. They’re like, oh, yeah, we’re here to help people or whatever. That’s great, but it’s about your team members really deeply understanding what does help mean in that example.

Does it mean making it fast? Does it mean making it easy? Does it mean the customer doing it? Does it mean me doing it for the customer? What does helping really mean in that scenario? Once people have that knowledge of what those words mean, then also making sure that everybody knows so what – where is that big goal? What does it look like, and how do we keep moving towards it? That mission part is a really first critical part of Commander’s Intent. It’s clearly and concisely being able to describe the end stage. What does good look like?

The second part of that is around – the second part of Commander’s Intent is around understanding your own role. Again, what we were speaking about before, really, what is it that I do that helps the team achieve that mission? Not just owning my space but how does my space integrate with all the other players in my team? How can I make what I do be even better for them? What will happen if I fail? What will happen if I succeed to the rest of my team? Each individual having that ownership and really knowing what their role is is that individual part of Commander’s Intent.

Then the third part that brings it all together is around trust and empowerment. For Commander’s Intent to really work, it’s not enough to just know the end stage or to know what I need to do. I actually need to trust my teammates around me or the people that work for me. I need to be able to trust them to get the job done, and I need to be able to give them enough power to make really great decisions along the way without me micromanaging every element of what happens.

Tanya: Do you have a situation in your corporate life where you actually utilize this framework, and it really moved the conversation and aided and had a tremendous impact?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, definitely. A lot of my work in corporate – I’ve worked in the finance sector and in banks, big banks here in Australia. Obviously, the banking industry overall has gone through a lot of change, and we really started to think about the future of banking. That’s when I started to think about what our commander’s intentions are, and actually, this is what I’m using to try and bring my team along and to help us get a better result. We talk about the future of banking. We talk about how do customers want to access their money, their financials, and things they want to do? A lot of the change that was coming through the system was really uncomfortable. It really felt to people like it was change that was being done to them rather than change that they were a part of or could control.

When I took a step back from that, I realized that I could actually give my team a lot more control than I was. We could talk about the future of banking at our level of the organization, and although there’d be things that would come down the line to us, we could actually control a lot of what we were doing. If rather than hide what was happening from them, I just told them all the absolute truth, and we all explored what we thought would happen to banking in the future based on what our customers wanted and how the business would work. Once we started that really open and genuine conversation – so it almost started from that third element of trust to say I trust you guys to be able to tell you all the stuff that I’m hearing or for us to be able to explore all the possible outcomes that there could be with changes to the banking industry. Then my team actually came up with heaps of really creative solutions to how we could shape our business to be a better fit for when they were changes that came down the line or to be able to change our service offering to be better for customers right now. How could we test things for the organization? That attitude really moved from this is being done to me to how can I lead this change? Getting the team onboard with a lot of trust to start with and then us identifying that we wanted to do was – our mission effectively became we want to be the place where the bank tests this. That really helped.

Tanya: That’s amazing. When you’re leading your team like that, do you – how do you dissect these different sections? You actually started with trust as opposed to really the mission. Is trust the foundation above even getting clear on what the mission is and, like you said, drilling down to every word and getting very, very grounded on what does that mean, helping? Is that us doing it? Is it them doing it? Is trust the foundational component to this framework, even above and beyond mission?

Rach Ranton: I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I’m writing a book at the same time and thinking about all these different elements that come into Commander’s Intent, I mean, leadership in general. I think you’re right. That trust and empowerment and that culture in your team, if that’s not right, it doesn’t matter how good the mission is, or how good the strategy is, or how much people know about it. If they don’t feel like they have the power to be able to get stuff done and to make great decisions, then it holds you back, absolutely.

Tanya: Yeah, no. Trust is one of those fundamental things, and actually, I was on – I was speaking with a neuroscientist about the default brain state as being distrustful. That was useful when we were back in caves and the very early days where we needed to continuously assess our environment and the people to ensure our physical survival, but since our society has evolved, those very hardwired – and they hate when I use this, the neuroscientist, hardwired, because of brain plasticity. Anyways, because of that default wiring, I’ll say, people typically start in distrust. Here you are in a company where the default way of operating, unless you intentionally disrupt it, is distrust, and the foundation upon which Commander’s Intent or any type of effective leadership for that matter is trust. How do we really address trust in the corporate setting?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, I think that you’ve got to give it, right? As a leader, you can’t expect your people to trust you if you are demonstrating all the time that you don’t trust them, and it’s not enough to just say it. You’ve got to really do it. You’ve got to give them the power to make the decisions. You’ve got to get decision-making happening at the lowest level you possibly can because they’re the people that are closest to your customers. They’re the people that are going to be able to have all the current information about making decisions. So often, we strip that power away, and when we strip that power away from our people, we’re saying I don’t really trust you. I want oversight of this. I want signoff of this.

When you think about whether people do the right or wrong thing in general, what happens is most people do the right thing, but unfortunately, what we do is we build our world as if people are going to do the wrong thing. We write all these terms and conditions. We have pages and pages of legal documentation behind things. What if someone does the wrong thing? When, actually, I think it’s the flip of that. Where we need to get to is we assume that everybody does the right thing because most people do do the right thing. Then we can use all those spare reams of paper, or lawyers, or words to actually go and deal with the people that aren’t doing the right thing rather than making all these assumptions about – or rather than administering and putting all this governance and ridiculous red tape around everyday people who are going to do the right thing.

I think that’s the same whether it’s your customers or your people. As a leader, you’ve got to realize you’ve got that bias as well towards distrust, and that, actually, rather than putting a bunch of policies in place to make sure people can’t do the right thing – can’t do the wrong thing, you should come from a place where people are going to do the right thing, and I’ll worry about following up with anyone who doesn’t in the future.

Tanya: Yeah, it’s this default way of being. That’s the way our society is organized, and that’s what you’re pointing to where we tend to lean on mitigating against what could be possibly done wrong versus empowering what can be done right. That totally resonates. You mentioned that you’re writing a book. Can you tell us a little preview of what that is or what you’re working on?

Rach Ranton: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely still in drafting phase. It’s been an amazing experience. The process of writing itself has absolutely made me really reflect on things that I probably hadn’t dug deeply into before, those few moments in my life where I felt, well, wow, that decision that that person made really shifted my career. I’ve always thought that, but writing about it has made me realize, wow, it didn’t just shift my career. It shifted how I thought about myself. It shifted how others thought about me. Actually, that moment where that person helped me out or lifted my up potentially has changed the trajectory of everything about what I’ve done from that moment. Anyone out there, definitely go and write. I highly recommend it.

What I’m writing about is leadership and the lessons that I’ve learned in the Army and the lessons that I learned on the frontline that I found have actually been really applicable to all sorts of other leadership as well both in my corporate job but also in the community and in general life. Lots of people say I’m not a leader. I don’t have team, or I’m not in charge of anyone. That’s really not what leadership’s about. Every day you have an impact on all the people you interact with and all the people around you in your life and in your family, and how you choose to behave is absolutely part of your leadership and the impact you have on others. Everyone’s a leader in my view, and it’s about the things that I’ve learnt from the Army that I think can really help us to be great leaders for everyone around us.

Tanya: I can’t wait to see it and read it. There is one saying that we say at my firm, Legacy. It’s to support your point. “Leaders are ordinary people up to extraordinary things.” A lot of people mistake a title or a position of power for leadership. If you take a look at history, some of the most unbelievable leaders, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, I mean, go down that list. Nobody appointed them until people rallied behind them, and they’re like, oh, okay, yes. Ordinary people up to extraordinary things is really the foundation of leadership. I love that. Okay, great, is there anything, Rach, that we haven’t talked about that we should?

Rach Ranton: I guess probably the only thing that I’d encourage people to think about when they’re thinking about their own leadership is around authenticity. I mean, I think we’re hearing this more and more all the time about people being genuine or people being authentic leaders. I think it’s a really critical thing for you to understand who you are, to be really honest about who you are. You’re absolutely going to get the best out of your team when you can do that, and I didn’t. When I first started at the bank, I had – I was really terrified. I’d come from the Army, and I didn’t have any banking experience. I really tried to pretend to be what I thought a bank manager was so lots of formal speech. I took all the edge off my ocker accent, and I tried to be this picture of what I thought a bank manager should be.

On reflection, I could see what a barrier that put between me and my people and me and my customers. I wasn’t being me. It was only once I put that down and was much more of myself. I was way more flawed, but people were so much more willing to help me out, or forgive me for that, or to be a part of that when I wasn’t trying to pretend to be someone else.

Tanya: It’s hard work to try to pretend to be someone else.

Rach Ranton: Yes, it’s the truth.

Tanya: It’s fulltime job. Forget doing your job. Yeah, I get that. Actually, I wrote about this not too long ago that, to your point, authenticity is real. People have these things called mirror neurons in their brain that register, that mirror the same emotions that you would be feeling but in their body at maybe a lower level or a lower intensity. If you ever have that feeling where you’re in conversation with somebody and what they’re saying just something’s off; it doesn’t register, that could potentially be your mirror neurons picking up on the baloney that somebody’s trying to feed you. I mean, it’s a real thing. This idea of having two yous, one work and one personal, is also BS. That’s going out the door.

Rach, thank you so much for being on. First of all, I have a tremendous amount of respect for your life’s career and who you are in the world and, really, the power in women that you represent, and your energy comes through very, very clearly. Thank you so much for just taking the time and being on the show, and I feel very honored.

Rach Ranton: Thank you so much, Tanya. It’s been so fun talking to you, and I’ve absolutely loved it.

Tanya: Unmessable is recorded in the heart of New York City and a special thanks to all the team involved in producing the show. Visit tanyaprive.com/unmessable to find a transcript of this episode, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

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