Did you get to fulfill your childhood dream? I did! How lucky am I? And you know what? I am still incredibly grateful for the experience, 18 years after retiring from the Army. I joined a Junior Leaders Battalion in 1972 ‘passing out’ into the regular Army in 1974, and then retiring in 1996.
I could talk endlessly about the adventures I had but, rather than sending you to sleep, I thought I would keep focused and share with you the leadership lessons I picked up from my experiences in the Army, and which I have taken into my second career in Social Care.
So, here are 24 leadership lessons from 24 years of serving Queen and Country, and in no particular order:
- One of my last posts on the blog was about Time Management. One of the first lessons I learned as young soldier was the importance of ‘5 minutes before’ so whenever the appointment is, make sure you are there at least 5 minutes before – its good manners and show’s respect.
- As an NCO (Non Commissioned Officer), and then as a Warrant Officer, soldiers judged me as a person and as a leader on my consistency. People need to know where they stand with you, not just today but every day. Lose the mood swings as it is self indulgent.
- Loyalty and Respect does not come from a badge of rank, it has to be earned every day. Just because you had it yesterday does not mean you have it today. To win loyalty and respect you also have to give loyalty and respect to your colleagues, and also those who work for you.
- Be the person people can count on, no matter what the situation, to be there and to get the job done. It was, and is, important to me that I am last person my Boss needs to worry about.
- Stretch yourself to the limit. It is only then you truly know what your potential is.
- Adversity truly introduces you to the person you are or the person you can be. Always face it.
- Be proud to be part of something special. If you are not proud of what you are doing then you need to leave quickly and do something else.
- Be the Best! Be the best you can be. Strive for excellence (in yourself) in everything you do.
- It is ok to be competitive. For me it was always with myself, to be better than I was yesterday. You can be the most competitive person in the world but be there to help someone else move up.
- A Positive Attitude is everything. Nobody I knew, or know, follows a negative leader. You were judged on many things in the Army but the first thing people asked was, what is his or her attitude like? Do they have a positive attitude? It is is all about moral courage.
- Get Fit! Keep Fit! I found the fitter I became the more capacity for work I had, the longer I could work even in the most difficult conditions. Fortunately, I no longer have to work for long periods in the Arctic Circle, but keeping fit is also good for mental health and physical health too.
- Care about your team. No matter how senior you think you are, your team eat before you eat, sleep before you sleep and finish work before you do.
- The best leaders do not necessarily have the best plan, but they are the best planners. Bring discipline into your work and be organised and anticipate your next problems before they happen.
- The first phrase and motto I heard as a young 16 year old was ‘Personal Pride!’ both in work and appearance. Ask, is this the best I can be? Is this the best I can do?
- The importance of humour! Don’t take yourself or the situation too seriously. See the funny side as it lightens the mood, especially in a tense or scary moment, and reassures those around you that you are in control. If the humour is self-deprecating then the better.
- Added Value to your team and your organisation. Being good at your job is a given as it is what you are paid to do! However, we were judged on bringing that bit extra to the table! So what is the added value you bring to your organisation?
- People will soon see if you are not the “real deal” if you are not honest with them. Always be straight and open so that when you and your team are really up against it they will trust you.
- It is an old (National Service) myth that you don’t volunteer for anything in the Army but this is not true. Take a step forward, volunteer, say “ yes I can do it” (even if you have never done it before – get busy finding out how). When I did this, I found it liberating, more opportunities came my way, and destiny was in my hands. I grew as a person and as a leader
- No hidden agendas. There is no time for hidden agendas, so be open with where you want or need to get to. Be straight with those around you and you will gain their trust. My only agenda now is to support the people I work for, my customers, and my organisation to be more successful. If they are successful then so am I.
- To understand what success looks like for you.
- To be able to look after yourself and to be self sufficient.
- To Prioritise. Although when asked to prioritise three urgent tasks, I must admit it was easier just to complete all three straight away. This was expected by my bosses (it still is!)
- Before you are promoted into your next position make sure you get the training and qualifications before you start – not after you have started. This was one of the differences I noticed in my second career and something I try to change for those I lead.
- Value the young – they are your future leaders. If they are good enough then they are old enough. Value your older colleagues – they have the stamina, the experience and can mentor the young. You are as young as your attitude and outlook on life.
These lessons may not be specific to the Army, and I imagine that having read these lessons they may be familiar to what you already believe in without having been a soldier?
What do you think – do they work for you?
Note: I am still involved as a volunteer for SSAFA supporting the Army on a number of projects