Defining Moments

At the end of the IMTA conference dinner, Col Carl Castro held an astonishing speech. Since I had had the pleasure during the day to listen to his presentation on the US military mental health program Battlemind that he and his team had developed, my expectations were very high. And they were met and exceeded.

Col Castro succeeded to be at the same time extremely funny and very serious, telling us a story of courage, shortcomings, heroes, death and a ghost. He made us feel his own anguish and doubt, when he was asked (Advised? Told? Ordered?) to change his research report on the mental health status of US service members in Iraq. In his speech he very subtly reminded us of what our role is as scientists working in a military context, through repeating the words of his friendly ghosts: “It’s not about us. It’s about our marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen.”

By admitting to his own shortcomings (he actually changed his report for a while), he also illustrated the importance of having good senior leadership who has the courage to support junior staff when faced with difficult situation (he changed it back again to the original version at very a crucial moment). Good leaders recognise that it is only human to put yourself first sometimes.

The New Zealand Army has developed a new leadership competence framework, where storytelling is included. As it happens, one of the partner organisations involved in the development, Winsborough, is into Appreciative Inquiry. I sincerely hope they invite Col Castro to the training as a speaker, since he certainly has lots of very interesting stories to share and does it in such an eloquent way!

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