War hero serves up inspiration to NIBA crowd

The applause for closing speaker Ben Roberts-Smith was bigger than even the man himself, after the former SAS soldier riveted the audience with tales of teamwork under extraordinary pressure.


Best known as the most highly decorated soldier in the Commonwealth, Roberts-Smith gave his unique insight into teamwork and leadership under the most intense pressure imaginable, using his war experiences to demonstrate his take on the subject.

In a sessions sponsored by Insurance Advisernet Australia, he showed the audience that the same beliefs and values which kept he and his fellow soldiers alive could be successfully implemented in the business sector, particularly in team environments.

Using gripping examples of his time on elite counter-insurgency missions in Afghanistan, Roberts-Smith highlighted the importance of preparation and planning.

“Intent is more important than plans,” he says.

“It gives your subordinates the freedom to act. The mission is the ‘what’ and the intent is the ‘how’”.

Roberts-Smith also singled out fear of failure as the biggest killer of success and innovation.

“As a leader, acknowledging fear is one of the most important aspects,” he said. “Focus on the outcomes of your actions, as opposed to not making an attempt at all.”

Roberts-Smith described a particular situation where he believed he was never going to see his family again, and the feelings of despair it produced. “Nothing you’re doing is going right,” he said. “You can’t help the thought of, am I going to see my family again?”

His self-confessed mistake? “I focused on the potential outcome, as opposed to doing my job.”

Relating this to losing the initiative, Roberts-Smith says: “Sometimes in business and in life you’ll feel like you’re losing control of the situation. You must remain focused on the goal and detached emotionally. Decisions should never be based on emotion, they should be based on your knowledge and experience.”

“A main tenet of the military is the endless pursuit of excellence,” he added. “(However) aiming for perfection is different to being a perfectionist, who will never be happy…”

Based on his military experience and especially working at close quarters with people who are potentially relying on you for their lives, Mr Roberts-Smith, unsurprisingly, also had some compelling things to say regarding “communication”.

“Everybody in this room would have been in a team with poor communication – as a leader it is your responsibility to encourage communication. Teamwork is about trust and understanding what the common goal is. People don’t need to agree with what your goal is, but they need to understand it.”

With the audience hanging on his every word, Australia’s most highly decorated soldier closed with the offering of his personal ethos, a set of values that would sit well with any broker looking to operate according to “best practice” – in his own terms: “Integrity, empathy, humility, courage, and the endless pursuit of excellence.”

Insurance Advisernet Australia sponsor Adrian Kitchin encouraged the audience to support Mates4Mates, a charity dedicated to supporting wounded, injured or ill soldiers.