Monash University

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Military leadership in a cross-cultural and in extremis context: a case study of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam

Version 2 2017-05-19, 03:19
Version 1 2017-02-08, 04:15
posted on 2017-05-19, 03:19 authored by Fisher, Kelly Lea
The purpose of this study is to examine proximal military leadership in a cross-cultural and an in extremis context through a historical case study of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) advisers during the Vietnam War. Ineffective leadership in an in extremis (IE) context may result in death or injury. Furthermore, culture adds to the complexity of the environment and the subsequent leadership challenges. Nonetheless, there is a dearth of empirical studies of military leadership in dangerous settings due to the danger and unpredictability of the environment for both leaders and researchers, in addition to very limited access to deploying or combat units. Moreover, scholarly studies on military leadership that address cross-cultural issues have been limited. A qualitative, inductive research design was used in this case study, which is preferred when "how" or "why" questions are being asked. Data were analysed using an inductive approach due to the scarcity of research conducted on both cross-cultural leadership and military leadership in extremis, and the themes that emerged from the data were used to confirm, extend or challenge prior studies. Interview data were obtained from three different sources, along with archival documentation. Two of the sources were contemporary, while the third source was historical. The first data set was obtained through in-depth interviews conducted by the researcher of five AA TTV veterans and two Vietnamese informants (who worked with the Training Team). The second source of interviews was obtained through the Australians-at-War (AA W) film archive project, which involved in-depth and length interviews with 37 AATTV informants in 2003. Sixteen of these interviews were randomly selected for analysis. The third source of interviews comprised 18 historical interviews of the AATTV Commanding Officers (COs) conducted in the 1970s by the then official Australian Army historian, Ian McNeill. Additionally, ten years of official diaries and reports from the AATTV Commanders, and other military documentation, were used as supporting research evidence. This study generated a considerable amount of insight into the nature of military leadership at the proximal level in a foreign setting. A total of 39 themes and 57 key findings were identified through the inductive analysis of informant interviews in Chapters 5 and 6, and explanation-generation that extended current theory was provided in Chapter 7. A model of proximal military leadership was developed from the findings that highlight the contextual influence of the Vietnam War setting. Specifically, the role of trust and two key organisational resources-training and a military ethoswere highlighted in a foreign setting, in addition to the "shadow" influence of an IE context, which had a potentially negative impact on leader well-being and efficacy and adherence to organisational goals. Importantly, this study argued that the changing terrain of military leadership requires a Janusian perspective in order to accommodate a complex and contradictory environment such as found in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The study also provided empirical support of the IEL characteristics proposed by Kolditz and an explanatory typology of IEL was developed in support of the theory and data analysis that reflected the unique and complex demands of a combatant setting. Additionally, the study expanded on prior taxonomies of effective combat leadership to develop the Global Strategic Warrior taxonomy. On the basis of the fmdings, a key aspect of this taxonomy was the importance of relations-oriented competencies in a foreign setting. This study also made several methodological contributions to the literature through its holistic approach and consideration of context. This study differentiated itself from the majority of previous military studies in a number of ways. The first point of difference was the study's approach, which incorporated theory, history, and the inductive analysis of the insights and experiences of combat leaders. Another point of difference was that the study was context-specific, unlike the contextgeneral approach found in the majority of military studies, and examined military leadership through the experiences of military leaders. The study also maintained a strong focus on the multiple contextual influences in response to calls to consider the setting when examining leadership( e.g., Bamberger, 2008; Osborn, Hunt, & Jauch, 2002). Finally, this study exemplified the use of archival data in understanding a present-day phenomenon. This was important due to the danger and difficulty associated with leadership research in extreme contexts. Lastly, the study argued that the theoretical and practical knowledge it generated about in extremis leadership (IEL), in general, and military leadership, in particular, in a cross-cultural context may be applied to a broad range of dangerous contexts in both war-time and peace settings with both military and civilian leaders. This is an increasingly important area of research in fields of industry, aerospace, the military, medicine, and transportation, among others, where hazardous work settings exist and workforces are increasingly diverse.


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Principal supervisor

Kate Hutchings

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Business and Economics


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Business and Economics

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