Boys will be boys? They are not boys. They are men.

Army Chief Lieutenant General David Morrison.






Last week’s emphatic video statement from Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, was as striking in its intensity as it was in its clarity.

There was no ambiguity. No grey areas. He was incandescent with anger and it showed.

This was a man who said ‘enough is enough’ and very clearly and rationally laid out his expectations about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. This is leadership. General Morrison drew a line in the sand. It’s not about his team working together in perfect harmony. It’s about treating each other with respect, like professional adults.

For far too long leaders in the Defence force, among other organisations, have turned a blind eye to poor behaviour, hauling out the usual platitudes of “it’s one bad apple”, “it’s an isolated incident” or my personal favourite, “it’s just boys being boys”. Here’s the thing – they are not boys. They are men. They are grown-ups.

I understand that they work in a highly stressful environment, for months at a time, away from loved ones. I get that.

I did too. I led a team of 18 people for a year in Antarctica. Around the clock, all day, every day, through months of darkness, for an entire year. Not once in that time did I ever have to speak to any of my men about “boys being boys”.


We treated each other with respect, regardless of age, gender, marital status, occupation, sexual persuasion or any of the myriad factors that people can use to demean and denigrate others. Not once.

It was no accident either. It was a simple understanding that as professional men and women, living in an extraordinarily stressful environment, away from our friends and families, our life was tough enough. It didn’t need to be made any tougher by our colleagues giving us grief, especially the covert, despicable ‘just joking’ type. Harmony was out and respect was in.

The goal of “harmony” is dangerous in a workplace. It pushes destructive behaviour underground, stifles robust debate and people are too scared to raise issues or concerns just in case they rock the almighty harmony boat. It’s dangerous.

I never expected my very diverse team of 18 people to all love each other. Or even to like each other for that matter. But I did expect them to show respect.

If you’re part of a team that values harmony and getting along with each other above all else, challenge yourself and others. Are there workplace issues you’re afraid to raise? What if you replaced harmony with respect? What would change? Would you and your team be better off?

Rachael Robertson is an Antarctic expedition leader, speaker and author. As a mother of 5 children she is an expert in the area of extreme leadership and extreme teams. Find her website here.