Business Mentor: Armed service builds leaders
Q. Are there any benefits for a business owner whose employees take time off work for part-time military service?
A. Brigadier Tim Brewer, director of the Defence Employer Support Programme, replies:
Successful businesses must have good leaders. But there is increasing concern about developing enough leaders to meet New Zealand's needs and leadership has been a hot topic for the past 18 months.
Recent articles include "Leadership today" (Employment Today, June 3), "Take me to your leader" (NZ Business, July 3) and "Has anyone seen our leaders" (Weekend Herald, April 19-20, 2003).
All stress the need for confident, capable leaders in business and wonder where they are.
Arguably, this situation has arisen because formal leadership has become somewhat unfashionable. Emphasis on individualism and freedom of choice has caused mechanisms formerly providing leadership development to fall from favour. Examples are volunteer organisations, youth groups, and school prefect systems. The consequence is fewer opportunities for leadership development.
The exception is the part-time Navy and Army. The Territorial Forces have never ceased developing leaders. These sailors and soldiers live in the community, work normal jobs but, for 20 or more days a year, serve in uniform as Defence personnel.
They also serve on peace and security operations overseas alongside their full-time colleagues.
Members of the Territorial Forces receive leadership, management and problem-solving training throughout their careers. They must learn to motivate their people and solve problems under the most stressful of conditions. They have to prioritise tasks, manage time and make best use of limited resources. These skills are readily transferable to the business environment and people with armed forces experience are leaders throughout society.
But many in the business community do not appreciate the benefits of employing Territorials. Some see them as employees who provide problems rather than as a source of much-needed skills for no up-front cost. Ironically, many employers are willing to pay thousands of dollars for courses providing similar skills for their employees.
The Defence Employer Support Programme is a new Defence Force initiative aimed at fostering a co-operative relationship with employers.
Businesses tell us they want employees who have a good work ethic, strong values and a willingness to take responsibility. That's what the Territorials provide. We now need to work together to maximise the benefit to employers and to the Defence Force.
With recent changes to the Volunteers Employment Protection Act giving increased job protection to Territorials, this mutually supportive approach is essential. The employer can still decline to grant leave, especially to a key employee. The legislation provide us with a mechanism to negotiate the situation.
Peter Townsend, CEO of the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, visiting a Territorial exercise in Hokitika recently, said: "The Territorial [Forces] also need to be seen as a skills-enhancing programme for employees. Where else can you obtain NZQA units, first aid qualification, team dynamics and specialist qualifications like medicine and engineering for free?"