Richard Barrett

This article follows WGCDR Jacqueline Carswell’s excellent contribution to the Forge ‘One Step to Maximising our People’s Potential’ of 15 Jul 19. Jacqueline identified the coaching basics and cited its relevance to the Australian Defence Force – to enhance each individual’s potential in order to achieve an ‘intellectual edge’.

Coaching is a growing leadership and personal enhancement process that seeks to unlock a person’s potential to maximise their own performance.[1] It is different to mentoring – which is more advice focussed, usually within a specialised professional community, service, trade, corps or mustering. Coaching aims to ask probing and challenging questions so that a person can find their own solutions to their own challenges. This process improves decision ownership and significantly increases the likelihood of sustained action, personal growth and goal achievement.

Within the Australian Defence Organisation, numerous coaching programs exist to seek to empower individuals and improve organisational outcomes. The Defence People Group (DPG) website[2] provides extensive background and resources. The Royal Australian Air Force’s Leadership Coaching Program embeds coaching within Air Force’s Adaptive Culture, citing it within the heart of Air Force’s cultural change agenda to meet operational outcomes. Air Force has placed coaching as a key component to achieve behavioural change at all levels, emphasising empowerment and resilience amongst other attributes.[3] The Royal Australian Navy’s well established coaching program aims to positively shift Navy’s culture by collaborating with leaders and encouraging them in their professional development and personal growth.[4] The Army has identified that coaching can be a powerful tool for personal development and it encourages its leaders to coach their subordinates, but it does not have a specific coaching approach or supporting program. Army does offer some selected personnel the ability to engage with civilian coaches, but it has not embraced a coaching approach in the same manner as the Navy and Air Force.

This article recommends the adoption of a cross-Defence coaching community that harnesses the existing experience and qualifications within Defence, and grow it towards a more common approach to coaching across the Department. This recommendation supports the Secretary and CDF’s intent to ‘tighten and strengthen ADF organisational alignment, and integration within the broader One Defence enterprise.’[5]

A Defence wide approach to enhancing individual potential through coaching would provide a tangible example of embracing One Defence and joint behaviours to improve ADF organisational performance. Although the Navy and Air Force are likely to retain their own coaching programs and approaches, this article suggests that the service specific programs have established an excellent baseline from which to export their successes to a broader whole-of-Defence coaching community.

In much of Defence doctrine and broader publications, the terms mentoring and coaching are used interchangeably. The extant 2011 Australian Defence Doctrine Publication (ADDP) 7.0 – Training[6], and its update currently in draft, continue to conflate the concepts, which fails to highlight the subtle but important difference in the approaches.

A mentor is used as a key resource for a mentee as a source of wisdom, experience and advice. A mentor with a similar background to the mentee is usually a critical requirement for the development of a sound mentoring relationship. On the other hand, a coach does not need to have come from the same professional background as the person being coached. In fact, it is often beneficial for a coach to not have the same experience, in order to enable the coach to offer alternative insight to that of a mentor.

A different background between the coach and the coachee provides real benefits for the coach as well as the counterpart. When coaching within one’s own professional area of expertise, the requirement to listen deeply and without judgement can be difficult and distracting. If the coach knows the environment, the key players, and the solution, waiting for the counterpart to come to that solution can be challenging. In such an environment, the coach’s body language may reveal that they have formed an opinion, which the counterpart may then seek to uncover, rather than focussing on their own option development. Even if a coach is disciplined, engaged and open, their internal dialogue of trying not to reveal the ‘answers’ could impact their deep listening. Such a relationship may actually rule out new solutions and options from emerging, and may in fact limit potential.

A Defence wide coaching scenario offers a potential solution. In environments where the workforce is a mix of services and APS such as at Defence Headquarters in Russell, Joint Operations Command, or Joint Capabilities Group it is obvious that the different communities have different experiences and cultures, but it is also clear that they have a level of professional credibility and shared understanding of life within Defence. Therefore, a cross-Defence coaching relationship can provide the counterpart with unique insights, reduced likelihood of judgement and advice, and a more independent sounding board. For the coach, it facilitates a clear path to sound coaching whilst avoiding the traps of advice and solutionising.  

A Defence wide coaching community could provide real benefits to a broad spectrum of Defence personnel. Harnessing the success of the DPG, Navy and Air Force programs, an expanded Defence coaching community of members who have coaching qualifications to support others would be a manifestation of One Defence behaviours, further aligning and synchronising the ADF.

Way Ahead:

  • Conduct a mapping activity to identify all of the ADF coaching programs
  • Identify gaps and duplications and make recommendations
  • PMKeys audit of coaching qualified personnel
  • Re-engage the Chief of Service Committee (COSC) on the nature of the ADF coaching environment and seek service alignment for a One Defence Coaching community
  • Create a One Defence coaching community, harnessing existing qualified personnel and encouraging qualification through current service providers.
  • Facilitate a One Defence coaching community, supported by the Defence People Group, closely aligned with service personnel and career management organisations.  


The development of a One Defence coaching community could expand the reach of the existing programs and empower more people within Defence to increase their own performance, goal attainment and organisational outcomes. It would be a powerful model of Defence-wide cooperation, one that acts as a tangible example of the Secretary and CDF’s intent to align missions, behaviours and values.


[1] Whitmore, J, Coaching for Performance, 5th Edition, Nicholas Brealey, 2017, p. 2. 



[4] drnet/navy/DNC/LeadershipDevelopmentWorkshops/Pages/LeadershipCoaching.aspx

[5] Joint Directive 11/2020 by The Secretary, Department of Defence and Chief of the Defence Force, Defence And Australian Defence Force Missions, 16 Apr 2020

[6] Australian Defence Doctrine Publication (ADDP) 7.0 - Training, 2011