Leadership under fire

“Know the attitude you want and select for that” – these are the words of Lieutenant Colonel Rian McKinstry when it comes to selecting recruits for the NZ Defence Force with leadership potential.

In July, our Wellington Deloitte Private Club focused on leadership and, in particular, organisational leadership for SME companies.

The evening featured a panel discussion with Lieutenant Colonel Rian McKinstry from the NZ Defence Force, Peter Hughes, the State Service Commissioner and Victoria Maclennan, the Managing Director for OptimalBI.

Leadership ‘army style’

Lieutenant Colonel Rian McKinstry discussed the leadership of Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling - the founder of the Special Air Service (SAS).

“Sir David’s unfailing commitment to success and innovation lead him to reject the battlefield failures of his day. He created a new team, and a new way of working based on asymmetrical warfare. This meant going out with his team under the cover of darkness to sabotage the enemy’s planes, and in the process he created the Special Air Force.”

Stirling’s ethos and values drove him to wartime leadership and resonate with us today with the following attributes:

·       He had a relentless pursuit of excellence

·       He had humility and humour

·       He had the highest standards of discipline

·       He brokered no sense of class

Attitude is everything

The SAS know that skills and knowledge can be taught but attitude trumps everything. Their recruitment focuses only on finding the right attitude and if you have the right stuff, they will take you on and equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to become the soldier they need.

Rian said, “If you have the right attitude you are ours and we will have you.”

Today the recruitment process is shockingly simple – recruits are invited to walk. 

They receive no encouragement, tips, or explanation. After five days of walking – with very little eating and sleeping, the recruit’s attitude and the drive to succeed will be revealed.

This simple interview technique has created a team of Willie Apiatas.

A team of leaders who perform under stress

This selection process supports a culture and a team of leaders that perform in a high pressure environment. To the SAS a high pressure environment is high stakes, uncertain, has small margins, changes fast and is full of pain and discomfort.

The SAS are purposefully focussed on self-awareness and self-leadership. The expectations of each team member is high and they must be able to make the right decisions, in tough situations, with little or no outside support. So they train for pressure and nurture intra and inter personal skills.

Organisational culture

Following Rian’s presentation the panellists discussed the importance of organisational culture. 

Peter Hughes noted that in the public service, there are many levers you can use to improve an organisation but culture is the most important.  

He commented that, “For Child, Youth and Family, you want one set of organisational structures and for investment banking you want another.”

To him, culture was about behaviour and it is something that almost every leader should spend more time on.

Victoria Maclennan added that culture is driven from the top.

She said, “You need to embody the culture you want. It’s easy to change your behaviour towards the negative, so be aware of how you interact with your team.”

Improving the selection process

When it comes to hiring the right people for your SME, our panelists offered a few tips on how to improve your selection process.

According to Rian, good people make great team members.  

“No d***heads. Know your business, know the attitude you want and select for that.”

For Peter Hughes, it was stepping back, letting the regular interview process run its course and then inviting candidates for a conversation over a long cup of tea to get to know what makes them tick.

Victoria is committed to diversity across age, gender, experience and personalities but she believes you need to pay attention to the team dynamic and spend time creating and nurturing the dynamic you want.




Alexandra looks after Deloitte’s brand and culture. She has been leading projects and communications campaigns in the public and private sectors since 2012. From world peace and nuclear disarmament to internal culture change, she is an expert in empathetic and persuasive communication.