22 May 2023
Lieutenant Commander Stephen Gaisford is the commanding officer of one of the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) most frequently deployed vessels, HMAS Childers.
He falls back on the experience of a broad and eclectic career to ensure the spirit of his ship’s company stays high.
His career has spanned work as a paramedic, an Army helicopter pilot, a Holden test driver and even an Arnott’s biscuit factory worker among other roles.
He progressed critical relationships with the US military during his time, becoming the first integrated air and missile defence warfare tactics instructor, and he served as a maritime warfare officer on major fleet units in the RAN.
Throughout this journey, Lieutenant Commander Gaisford developed a series of guiding stars to lead by.
His first priority in leadership is his people. To allow a ship’s company to perform at their peak, a commanding officer must understand why they choose to serve, but also how they switch off to relax.
“Know your people. Learn what resets and rejuvenates them and listen. Some need time alone, focused family time and some just want a surf and a fish. If I can strike this balance for them, between all their commitments in life, they’ll invest in the team their work and the ship,” he said.
For Lieutenant Commander Gaisford, leadership and professionalism stems from three simple words: ‘humble, credible, and approachable’, qualities he found rare in his early career.
“I became tired of poor leadership. I wanted to be the leader I struggled to find in my career,” he said.
“I take every person as they come. I see it as core to being a leader, to help them be the best person they can be.
“In so doing, they see the value in themselves and their contribution to the team and at this at its core seeks to provide the satisfaction in their work that everyone desires.”
'I wanted to be the leader I struggled to find in my career.'
Tasked with the patrol and defence of Australia’s northern borders and waterways, Childers is one of the last of the Armidale-class patrol boats.
It is expected to be decommissioned in August next year after more than 17 years of service.
The work of a patrol boat is regularly challenging however, and respite and growth for its crew must be balanced with the challenges and expectations of the RAN.
“I balance my responsibility with the ship and our tasking with my ability to make things fun where I can. Whether that be celebrating Halloween, conducting swimming evolutions in the middle of the ocean, or allowing the team to go for a fish,” Lieutenant Commander Gaisford said.
“Finding the fun in all that we do is the key.”
Lieutenant Commander Gaisford strives to strike the right balance while instilling professionalism in his crew through honouring the traditional aspects of RAN service.
For instance, he always participates in the traditional raising and lowering of the Australian national flag and the Australian white ensign, conducted when alongside or at anchor.
“It shows pride in your commitment to serve. Ten minutes of your time before and after a busy day forces you to take a mental break, reflect on your day and honour your reason for serving,” he said.