College Chief – Pt II: Clearly One of a Kind

Caption: CCWO – CPO1 Keith Davidson with current commandant, BGen Sean Friday and the principal, Dr Harry Kowal. The CCWO has served under three different commandants and two different principals while at RMCC.

The Real Chief Keith Part II: RMC and Tomorrow’s Leaders

By 27832 OCdt (I) Pablo Cardona –  12 Squadron

Chapter 5: The Challenge of Leadership

Consider a man who spent 12 years of his life walking across the vast expanse planet Earth. Imagine exploring unending deserts, bustling metropolises, venturing from the most remote village to the tallest New York skyscraper. You have nothing but the clothes on your back. Would you survive? How would your perspective change after living amongst hundreds of different cultures? What would be the most important lesson from a walk around the world? You’d learn the only person who can read in an isolated Peruvian village is revered as much in his people as a professor at Oxford is revered in western society. You would learn that the Maasai warrior who owns 20 cows is as rich to the Maasai as any billionaire is in western world. You’d learn that if you dismiss perspective as an essential element to your survival, you would soon grow hungry.


CPO1 Davidson likes to use the real story of a 50 year old Canadian man who spent a dozen years walking around the world as an analogy to help describe what he believes is the fundamental element of leadership, perspective. He also remarks that when it comes to leadership, the “CAF really isn’t any different than any other organization in other places of the world.” The leadership requirements of a Ford executive or a Canadian politician are effectively those same elements required to be an effective CAF officer.

CPO1 Davidson draws on his wealth of experience from all aspects of his personal and professional life in which he bases his most important pieces of advice for aspiring CAF officers. “Know and trust your subordinates, understand, accept and respect the reality that those you lead, will have in most cases, a perspective that will be different than your own” and lastly, “be relentless in being the best that you can be.”

CPO1 Davidson remarks that “being a graduate of the Royal Military College of Canada may predispose it graduates with the idea that RMC has better prepared them to meet the demands of the CAF than other officer entry plans.” This may be true, however the reality is that “irrespective of your Alma Mater, the perception by those you lead as to your preparedness commences the first time you address them.” CPO1 Davidson states that the key to an officer’s successful beginning is to “view NCMs as CAF members who have significant technical expertise required in executing successful missions.” Simply stated, the interdependency of the NCM corps’ expertise and the Officer Corps’ responsibility is better served when all are viewed as equally as important to the task. CPO1 Davidson states that he is passionate on this issue and is invested in the cadets of RMCC because “you’re going to be leading men and women just like me.”

Chapter 6: The Components of Officership

When asked about the four components of the RMC of Canada ROTP, CPO1 Davidson referred to his 37 years of experience in the profession of arms in that his experiences would suggest that what RMC offers through these four components, when compared to another alternative, is highly advantageous to those NCdt/OCdt that leverage from the gifts provided to them in the form of these pillars.

Based on the MND Directive 10, the officer corps is required to be a degreed corps. According to CPO1 Davidson, education “allows you to, in the absence of orders […] apply critical thinking capabilities afforded to leaders through education to resolve complex issues and come up with reasonable solutions/outcomes.” Similarly, CPO1 Davidson notes that education is “indisputable in the context of our Canadian culture” and as the education gap closes dramatically between NCMs and officers, it is vital for officers to make the most of the educational opportunities afforded to them. Leading the educated demands highly effective leaders.

A physically fit leader is capable of thriving under the most demanding of circumstances and by itself is a significant force multiplier. CPO1 Davidson believes that for those members of the CAF that make demanding physical fitness regimes a daily part of their lives, the benefits to all greatly out way the alternative. “I get it, he states, we are not all Olympians, but there is no excuse for a CAF member who willingly chooses to limit their physical output during testing and not give everything they have to produce maximum results. Olympians break records by pushing the limits not limiting them. To him, limiting your capabilities within the context of physical fitness is a reflection of your character and is viewed by this ole Chief as less than optimal. Chief Davidson recognizes that “the physical fitness standard at RMC is well above” what other members through different entry programs have to obtain. He would advise that NCdts/OCdts walk away knowing that they attacked each aspect of the test and one more repetition was not an option. CPO1 Davidson won’t settle for less than “the person who’s going to pull out all the stops” to continuously exceed the standards for physical fitness.

At RMC, officer cadets are required to obtain a BBB language profile in French of English, order to meet the bilingualism component standard. Bilingualism is vital in an organization as diverse as the CAF. CPO1 Davidson, who struggles at maintaining his functional French profile, notes that in order for an officer to lead, he has to be an effective communicator and in the CAF that would be effectively communicating in both of our countries official languages. The benefits of the bilingualism pillar for RMC ROTP candidates and for those that our future leaders will lead cannot be overstated and as stated above, anyone who chooses to limit their ability to speak to Canadians in the language of their choosing would not be and should not be viewed positively.

With regards to the military component, CPO1 Davidson believes that “there’s some work to be done.” He acknowledges that although it’s not intuitive to an outsider, the military component is the most difficult to achieve and has been the most contentious and ever changing component of all the program’s components throughout the colleges history.

CPO1 Davidson acknowledges that each component of the RMC ROTP is essential in providing an opportunity to create great leaders. CPO1 Davidson urges all cadets to accept RMCs ROTP standards as a personal challenge and when you have given your best, accept the success and or personal failure, as opposed to limiting your capabilities for less than admirable reasons.

Chapter 7: College Chief

CPO1 Davidson works very closely with the commandant and is always “out and about” observing how the college team is executing the commandant’s orders. It didn’t take him long after his arrival at the College in 2012 to realize that his scope of responsibility was rather limited and took to expanding the CCWO duties to every wing in the college. He recalls that “shortly after he arrived, he was asked by a member of the faculty if the CCWO position was a new position/” “ That put a smile on his face” He admits that his approach to issues is somewhat unorthodox and takes pride in the fact that he doesn’t spend “all day thinking about dress regulations” and instead focuses on “finding ways to integrate into all aspects of Military College operations and ensuring that everyone is treated with compassion, respect, kindness and fairness.” He refers to himself as “the neck up” Chief , which means he is more concerned with what is going on between the ears of college team members as opposed to neck down. He is confident that the college has plenty of folks doing that business.

CPO1 Davidson frequently finds himself advising cadets who walk by his office. He admits that he has enjoyed this part of the job more than any other. One of the major issues at RMC is dealing with the stress that stems from the demand of the College. CPO1 Davidson offers very clear advice to help mitigate the stress: “quit telling yourself that this is a stressful environment.” Part of what makes RMC stressful is that people “decide that the environment is stressful.” He reminds us all of the alternative. Thousands of Canadians are paying for their own education with a bleak view of the future, prospects of no job, coupled with crippling debt” RMC cadets are fortunate to attend a school where they don’t have to worry about paying tuition or future job prospects. Cadets who perceive RMCC as less than an optimal alternative, need a little dose of reality and instead, should perceive this institutional icon as a gift from the people of Canada for which we are all grateful.

Chapter 8: The Power Brokers

As most members of the cadet wing know, the word on the street is you have issues, talk to the college chief.” As he is outside of the chain of command, CPO1 Davidson has provided sage advice to cadets experiencing difficulties at the College. However, if a cadet needs a solution to a problem, he’ll usually refer them to the chain of command because he believes that cadets deserve to have their concerns addressed and the chain of command deserves the opportunity to address them. Perhaps what allows him to give insightful advice is that CPO1 Davidson has already raised adult children. Ever one for a good analogy, CPO1 Davidson equates parenthood to a toolbox. When he helped his kids navigate the waters of young adulthood, that toolbox was virtually empty. Upon arriving at RMC, he noticed that the challenges cadets faced weren’t too different from those that his children faced. RMC cadets “struggle with their own skin, question whether they want to be here, what they want to achieve” and CPO1 Davidson, armed with a full toolbox, can help them address those burning questions. Helping cadets navigate the challenges of young adulthood has been nothing short of a rewarding experience and has allowed him to be a parent with “all kinds of tools.”

Another rewarding aspect of working with the cadet wing has been CPO1 Davidson’s exposure to the remarkable talent around the College. CPO1 Davidson has taken the time to work with the band and the sailing team. He’s witnessed extraordinary talent in both and has grown to admire them all. Of course, he always makes sure to attend varsity games and big sports events like the Carr-Harris cup. Also, he enjoys witnessing Skylarks and laments that “you aren’t doing enough skylarks.” A particular favourite of his was when his office was covered in Photo-Shopped pictures of him and Halle Berry. He keeps one of those pictures on his desk to this day.

RMC is full of “young Canadians [who are] helping [him] change [his] paradigm of how [he] views young people.” A notable example is the CWC, who CPO1 Davidson commends as being a “drill God.” When he was younger, female drill instructors were unheard of. He’s observed that most adults tend to “write off most of the youth right away” but he’s come to learn that “the youth are the power brokers around here.” Always open-minded and with an ever-changing outlook, CPO1 Davidson has come to “view the youth as the power brokers of the planet.” Instead of ignoring the youth, he’s convinced that older folks should work to empower them. RMC does have challenging standards, but CPO1 Davidson knows that “nothing good is easy” and that everyone has the capability to succeed. The opportunities offered to RMC cadets during their 4 year stay make “RMC a gift to young men and women.”

The Real Chief Keith Part I – Here