Have you ever started a journey and you are not sure how it will end?  On the 12th of September 1972, I boarded a specially commissioned train at Darlington Station for Kings Cross in London.  I was one of hundreds of 15 and 16-year-olds* joining the Army that day.  We were heading for various Junior Leaders Battalions. 

I hadn’t given much thought about what was waiting for me at the other end of the train journey.  Needless to say, there was a fierce looking Sergeant called Fred Green, waiting for me and he was keen to tell me that “I am going to be your mother now”.

Dettingen Barracks, Deepcut (accommodation blocks we lived in and the parade square we marched on)

During those 18 months of intense (and often brutal) training, my days started very early. After my ablutions I readied my kit and room for an early barrack room inspection, followed by a day of highly concentrated military training.  The evening was spent polishing my boots and shining the brasses on my belt.   There was a speck of polish I was trying to remove from one of the brass buckles on my belt, which was posing a problem, so I approached a Corporal and asked, “do you think the Platoon Sergeant will notice?”  His response was:  “It doesn’t matter if he does or doesn’t, you already have, it is about your self-respect”

‘All present and correct’ an example of a barrack room inspection

‘Self-Respect!’ it was the first time I had heard this term.  What the corporal said had an instant impact on me.  It challenged my thinking in all sorts of ways.  Did it matter to me?  How would I feel if I ignored what he said?  In those early weeks, I had been thinking about what kind of man I wanted to become, and this was more food for thought.   

In hindsight the Corporal had been quite subtle.  He had not shouted, instructed, or ordered me to remove the polish from my belt buckle.  Much better, he had challenged my character and how I thought of myself.  50 years later I can still clearly remember the Corporal’s challenge, it was the 4th Leadership Lesson I learned.


For me ‘self-respect’ is:

  1. Having a sense of honour and dignity about yourself
  2. Treating others well and knowing that by doing so, others will treat you well in return.
  3. Setting the highest standards for yourself and maintaining them even in the most adverse conditions.  This included having a ‘wet shave’ in the morning on exercise in the Arctic Circle or finding a stream in the evening to clean up after getting covered in mud after the first day of a mountain marathon in the Brecon Beacons. 
  4. Being the best you can be, even when you think no one is watching
  5. Setting boundaries for yourself – not falling into the trap of letting someone convince you to do something you don’t think is right.

How self-respect  has sustained my wellbeing and mental health:

  • Self Esteem – having confidence in my own abilities (and recognising my limits)
  • Reinvention.  If I don’t like something about myself, I change it. You control how you present yourself, who you are and who you become, and how you’ll evolve throughout your life. You can change aspects of yourself at any time, providing that it’ll help you reach the next version of yourself.

Related:    https://leadershipintheraw.org/2015/11/24/the-art-of-reinvention/

  • Having a sense of personal worth – knowing you are a worthy person: as a colleague, a family member, and a member of your community.  So, avoid putting yourself down
  • An appreciation for the positions you hold.  Being a good father for my daughters is incredibly important to me and something I work on every day.
  • Always try to do the right thing. That doesn’t mean you’re perfect or even a perfectionist. It means that you aim to have good habits and values to be a trustworthy person.  Living up to your values.

Related:  https://leadershipintheraw.org/2021/09/17/values-in-action/

50 years ago, stepping off the train at Brookwood station in Surrey, then being herded on to a bus for my first day in the Army, I had no idea of what I would be capable of, who I was, and what I could achieve.  I’d had a good upbringing and the best mum a boy (and a man) could wish for, however, as I was soon to find out, I was deficient in a number of areas, too long a list to go into in this article.  At the end of my 18 months in the Junior Leaders Battalion I had become self-sufficient in all aspects of my personal life (nobody has ironed my clothes in the last 50 years!) but above all I had self-respect

After 18 months training my mum didn’t recognise me when she turned up for my ‘Passing Out Parade’ – I am 4th right second row from the front.  She told me she preferred the new version of me. 

*1972 – 1972’s Education Act raised the school leaving age to 16.  September 1972 was the last time you could join the Army at 15.