Leadership seems to be the messianic complex of the modern era.

Whatever the ailment, leadership is the cure.

If your corporate business is struggling, it’s because you lack strong and decisive leadership. Is the congregation dwindling? Well, clearly you need more inspirational leadership. I could go on but nowhere is this demand for leadership more evident than in politics.

Australian political parties and political campaigns revolve around the leader, who has the seemingly singular ability to win or lose an election. Sure, all politics is local but the national message is built around the leader and their appeal to the voting public.

But today, I do not intend to comment on politics. I want to talk about leadership of a more selfless kind. The kind of leadership that often revolves around matters of life and death.

During my parliamentary career, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Parliamentary Defence Program, a process that allows politicians to spend a week or more with the defence forces.

Over the years, I have been on patrol in far north Queensland with an indigenous army unit, spent time with the elite SAS Regiment and worked with troops on their way to Iraq.

Last week, I had an opportunity to spend a week with cadets from the prestigious Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) – the leaders of the future.

These young men and women, from a range of different backgrounds, are learning the leadership skills that will serve our nation well for a generation or more. Many of these young leaders will progress through the army but some will not. They will find careers in business, in public service, in community organisations and in a variety of other fields.

As mothers and fathers, they will try to set a good example for their children, knowing that service to others is an important part of being a great Australian.

And having spent a week with them, I know our future is in good hands.

Like most young adults, they have an unbridled enthusiasm for life’s lighter moments. However, these cadets also take their responsibilities with a degree of diligence and seriousness that would make any parent or employer very proud.

At every turn they demonstrated respect and courtesy, not just for those of superior rank or age, but also for their peers. They were generous in their praise for the efforts of others and humble in their own achievements.

Many of them were also asked to confront their fears in pursuit of developing those enigmatic leadership skills.

Last week, among a number of tasks, we all underwent lessons with the Army’s Parachute Training School. When I say all, I really mean most.

I have no doubt that many of the one hundred plus participants were apprehensive about their first parachute jump. However, some were unable to conquer their fears and withdrew from the program virtually before it even began. Others persisted, despite their misgivings, knowing that this was just another way of silencing their inner doubt.

In the plane, the nervousness was still apparent, and under questioning, despite the confident words, one knew that the single step into the atmosphere was going to be a defining moment in many of their young lives. And so it proved to be – for those who actually made the jump.

Only seven paratroopers made the leap that day due to inclement weather conditions. I regret that I was not one of them. But what I observed afterwards reinforced my belief in the amazing potential of these ADFA cadets.

Those who managed to jump were congratulated by their colleagues as those who had done something special.
Whilst clearly the non-jumpers were disappointed for themselves, they were delighted for their friends, who had conquered their own fears. That day, I saw a generosity of spirit and camaraderie unlike any I have seen before.

It will surely not be the toughest test that these men and women will face, but their strength of character when faced with personal disappointment was inspiring to behold.

Of course, the selection process for ADFA clearly means I spent time with a special group of young adults but in so many ways these were just ordinary students who are being trained to do extraordinary things in the years ahead.

Many will be asked to make sacrifices that people like me can scarcely comprehend. Some will feature in heroic tales of skill and daring; others will make a more demure but no less important contribution to our nation.

Which brings me back to leadership. These men and women are the leaders of the future. The decisions they make will affect not only their own lives but those of their troops, their families and their fellow citizens.

If it is true that leadership is the cure for what ails our society, our future is looking very healthy indeed.

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