The Coroner's Test

Mel O'Sullivan - September 14, 2020

On my first posting I marched in to the middle of a rather tricky personnel leadership situation. It's not appropriate to go into the details but I can say that the situation required handling with delicacy, tact and understanding.

Let's just say the situation was never part of the life experience of a farm fresh cowgirl - several years of Army leadership coaching not withstanding.

Even my very best mates will tell you that tact and delicacy are attributes not natural to my character. I cry like a baby when much loved old pets die but I have to work really hard to understand group dynamics and formulate appropriate responses. Long years of trial and error (mostly error) have taught me to breathe and think before I respond. I still blunder but these days I don't worry about it so much.

When young officers graduate from Duntroon further specialization training is completed before individuals march in to their first posting. My training course was at Puckapunyal. One morning I was told "your new OC is here and has asked to meet you". Bloody hell! I hadn't even started and thought I was already about to be read the Riot Act.

I found myself sitting in the Mess in a quiet corner having a quiet chat with a very tall quietly spoken gentleman who probably knew more about what kind of person I was than I did. I spent half of the meeting desperately afraid that I would spill my coffee down my front or make some sort of idiot of myself.

Besides getting a look at me, and establishing a relationship he had a few things he wanted to achieve from the conversation.

What followed was what I consider to be a life lesson on how to handle the leadership of people in an accountable, ethical and moral manner. I call it the Coroner's Test, but for me it is all about personal morality - about looking at yourself in the mirror and respecting the person you see. About treating other people with respect and doing the right thing.

He briefed me on the details, and brought me in on what I needed to know about the situation. It was evident he was being careful to ensure that I approached the situation well informed and enabled to respond appropriately without bias. It was no place for unknowns.

I have always been well aware of my weaknesses in the tact and delicacy department. I remember actually feeling a little nauseous at the possibility of failure. After all this was no longer a training scenario and these were real people's lives and careers. We both knew I would need careful guidance to display measured and considered responses. I was bloody glad I was forewarned.

I expressed my concerns, saying something along the lines of "what if I get it wrong?" and received the response that became my yardstick in ethically tricky leadership situations. Frankly - it's got me in to more tricky situations than it has ever kept me out of, but there is only one person I have to live with every day of my life.

"Whatever you do, be sure your actions will stand up to a Coroner's inquiry or be suitable to be published in a newspaper."

It became more important to me that I could answer to my mentor than to any Coroner.

Or as Shakespeare put it in Hamlet:

"This above all, to thine own self be true, and it shall follow, as the night follows the day, (you) can not be false to any man".

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