Tag Archives: Learning

The Medal

I was not in the infantry or special forces – I was in the Corps of Signals but this is a bit of fiction that occurred to me after meeting, reading about and hearing some stories. You could not make up some of that stuff. Like when I was on attachment to RLI on the Moz border and one of the guys (he has a bravery decoration) described having to run for their lives up a sandy rise with rounds striking at their heels. He said, laughing about the ludicrous insanity of it “…we just ran up that hill with the rounds hitting everywhere behind us, just like a fucking movie….!” (The quote may not be EXACT but close enough).

So I created this bit of fiction – because my own basic training probably saved my life once or twice and I certainly used my signals training all my working life after leaving the army. Often the question that was asked, “Where did you learn that?”, was answered “In the Rhodesian Army, starting in 1964!” and got me some odd looks!

So here is my fiction…no reference to any person, living or dead…


“What did you get the medal for?” asked the trainee.

“I got if for paying attention” the instructor replied.

The squad were sitting around with the instructor near the end of their training – out in the sticks, mission completed and awaiting transport back to base.

“I was a recruit once,” he said “just like you guys”.

I had to learn drill, and drill and drill and drill.

Then drill with a rifle – also over and over and over.

They only taught us ONE THING about rifle handling at first – how to make safe. …and we had to clear the rifle EVERY TIME we got it from the armoury even though we KNEW the armourer would never issue a loaded rifle and we had to show it was clear on handing it back. EVERY TIME.

Then we started learning to FIRE THE RIFLE and the drills around safety and handling became more painfully repetitive. There was a chuckle from the men.

Then we had combat training and learned to use hand grenades. That was interesting – preparing the grenades, carrying them and throwing them. And learning, as you have, that they do NOT make a bang and explosion of flame and debris like a 500-pound bomb. Another chuckle.

Skirmishing and patrolling and leading and walking tail end. Setting and initiating ambushes and all those boring things called training, training, TRAINING.

The tedium and the repetitiveness, the punishments. And why did they put so much emphasis on CLEANING YOUR KIT. Why did knives and forks and mess tins have to gleam?

And then I was told I was a qualified soldier.

I reported to my unit and was treated like shit! I was treated like a recruit – like an untrained useless add-on.

After a while I was gradually accepted and given certain responsibilities – responsibilities that I still thought were a bit beneath me.

One day though, I realised I was one of the team and that I had been accepted and that I belonged.

Then we were deployed on operations and I was shit-scared. Realising that nobody was free of their private fears made mine manageable.

And when the shit hit the fan on one deployment and I had to perform – it was no longer me, it was the training. All that instinctive rifle handling and obedience to shouted commands – THAT kept me alive.

And one day they presented me with this medal and I was a bit bewildered and even vaguely embarrassed. I was not the only one on the scene and I felt that, like everyone else, I had just done what I had been trained to do.

The citation that came with the medal seemed to be about someone else and I understand why people laugh and joke about these things – it is how you deal with it.

But, you asked how I got the medal? I got it because I paid attention and when I was caught NOT paying attention I was pulled up short – punished if you will. But I DID get trained – tediously, repetitively until I could handle the weapons in the dark, understand instructions and react to commands instinctively but still use my own brains.

I became a trained soldier.

The TRAINING got the medal. The instructors earned the medal for me.

No one goes into this to be a hero and when they get called HERO they are generally confused and bewildered – because they did what they had been trained to do.

If your intention is to be a hero and get a medal you are in the wrong place – you need to be a functioning soldier first.

No matter what you do in the army – pay attention to the training and you will do it well. That is all that is required. You do your best and you do it well.

Oh, and keeping your kit clean means you do not get sick – it is as simple as that.

Glossary of terms

Rhodesian Army

(Please offer corrections if I have made errors?)

Glossary of army terms, ranks and abbreviations – some not covered here will be annotated as they appear in my recollections. Hopefully this will help with reading the anecdotes but also make the reading flow more easily.
Not covered here are the equivalent NCO ranks used in the Artillery.

Ranks
(Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs), Warrant Officers and Officers)

Private soldier

Most admin and some infantry – Private (Pte)
Commando/special forces – Trooper (Tpr)
Corps of Signals – Signalman (Smn)
Corps of Engineers – Sapper (Spr)
Rhodesia Regiment – Rifleman (Rfn)

Lance Corporal (L Cpl)
Corporal (Cpl)
Sergeant (Sgt)
Colour Sergeant/Staff Sergeant (C Sgt / S Sgt – C Sgt only used by infantry/special forces)
Warrant Officer Class Two – (WOII / WO2, Sergeant Major, SM)
Warrant Officer Class One – (WOI / WO1– addressed as Sir or referred to as Mister)
Regimental Sergeant Major – (Almost always a WOI and referred to as RSM)
Second Lieutenant – 2Lt addressed as Lieutenant or Mister (and informally referred to as a subaltern (or subbie))
Lieutenant – Lt (subaltern 2Lt & Lt were also referred to as Mister)
Captain – Capt
Major – Maj
Lieutenant Colonel – Lt Col (addressed as Colonel)
Colonel – Col
Brigadier – Brig
Major General – Maj Genl (addressed/referred to  as General)
Lieutenant General – Lt Genl (addressed/referred to  as General)
General – Genl

Terms of address
All ranks up to C Sgt or S Sgt addressed warrant officers and officers as Sir.
WOs2 addressed WOs1 and officers as Sir.
WOs 1 Addressed officers as Sir.
Officers addressed any officer who was senior to them as Sir.

Appointments
Officer Commanding – OC (would normally be the officer who commanded a sub-unit smaller than a battalion – such as a company or troop commander. He would normally be a Major but could also be a Captain).
Commanding Officer – CO (would normally be the officer who commanded a battalion strength unit and was normally a Lt Col – sometimes a Major).
Commander – Comd – (this appointment was usually the command of a Brigade or similar sized unit and although normally a Brigadier it could also be a Colonel in command.
Various Corps such as Signals and Engineers had a Lt Col Commander based at Army HQ).
The head of the army was the Commander, Rhodesian Army.
Adjutant – a staff officer appointment, the Adjutant would usually be a senior Lt or Capt who worked closely with the CO to ensure the smooth running of a unit

Unit and sub-unit abbreviations
Troop – Tp
Platoon – Pl
Company – Coy
Commando – Cdo
Squadron – Sqn
Battalion – Bn
Brigade – Bde

About instructions…

Being reasonably logical and literal in my approach to instructions I get confused when something I understand to mean one thing actually means something rather different or when part of an instruction is omitted because everyone knows that.

Let me digress for a moment to better illustrate my point:

Many years ago when I was in the military (the Corps of Signals to be precise) I was sent on a course-cum-seminar to learn how to write user manuals for soldiers. Bear in mind that these manuals had to be quite unambiguous and therefore had to be written so that an untrained or semi-trained individual could, by following the instructions, make effective use of the equipment. Effective that is because LIVES may depend on the user getting it RIGHT.

All of us had a number of years experience in the job and had previously been on instructor courses and I clearly remember that on my course we often presented the SAME LECTURE over and over only to be told several time that we had failed before we got it right.

What, you might ask, did we fail on. It was not the actual USE of the equipment once it was working it was the SETUP.

For example, we would fail because we did not TELL THE STUDENTS to connect the power source. We then failed again for not precisely describing HOW to connect the power, such as ensuring battery polarity was correct. Again we would fail – “You did not tell them to SWITCH THE EQUIPMENT ON

As you may imagine we would respond to these criticisms with a rejoinder along the lines of “…but everyone KNOWS that”. The reply would be “YOU CANNOT RELY ON THAT – LIVES MAY DEPEND ON EACH STEP BEING LOGICAL AND LITERAL AND UNAMBIGUOUS”.

An example: – think about using remote controls to programme televisions, decoders or recording devices.

At one time I found that after following –  TO THE LETTER – the instructions in my remote programming manual – and those for front panel programming –the programmes did not STICK. My younger neighbour came over one day and programmed the recorder for me. I followed each step as he went through the instructions but I noticed him doing something that I could not relate to a step in the booklet.

When I asked him about it he said he was pressing MENU at the end of each step but, when asked, he could not show me where it gave that instruction in the booklet. I then learned that to SAVE steps there is often no key marked SAVE and it may be menu or enter or something similar – and that that step – that INSTRUCTION rather – is, more often than not, omitted because the designer/inventor (not user, note) ASSUMED that EVERYONE would know to do that.

The INSTRUCTIONS just DID NOT reference how to SAVE each step.

Many user instructions exist, not only for electronic equipment, where the writer and/or developer of the item does TWO THINGS that create confusion:

1. Assumes knowledge – everyone knows THAT – on the part of the user/buyer.
2. Uses in-house jargon so that the words used in the description do not match what the user/buyer is looking at.

…anybody looking to hire an instructions writer…?

 

How to NOT mismanage your managers

This is a subject close to my heart and when I found this article in the newspaper in 1980 it immediately appealed to me. It comprehensively addresses many of the problems around Management and Leadership.

I intend coming back to it from time to time to expand on some of the points made and perhaps add the odd anecdote.

How not to mismanage your managers – (this is the original headline)(By Stephen Orpen in the Sunday Times, Business Times, September 14, 1980)

PERHAPS, UNCONSCIOUSLY, YOU ARE DOING THINGS CERTAIN TO UNDERMINE YOUR MANAGERS AND YOUR COMPANY. HERE ARE KEY STEPS TO HELP YOU AVOID THE DANGERS.

Good managers are hard to find, hard to develop and hard to keep. The modern manager sits at the centre of the maelstrom. His desk is the final destination of the briskly passing buck.
He has his job cut out just trying to keep track of what’s happening and trying to control it. Conditions that once could be relied on to remain substantially unchanged for ten years are now often transformed beyond recognition in ten months.
Every day, he is given the unwelcome opportunity of becoming an industrial hero by making decisions fraught with personal risk and responsibility.
To do all this, to enjoy doing it and to do it well requires special qualities such as courage, kindness, intelligence, judgement, nervous stability, optimism, patience, drive, perseverance, the constitution of an ox and a marked degree of masochism.
There have never been a great number of people with these qualities – and one can safely assume the shortage will continue. Consequently, it is useful to ask: “How do I make the most of what I’ve got?”
Managers have two functions: (a) to make decisions, and (b) to control people.
To make decisions, they need judgement and confidence.
The ability to make decisions is like a muscle. It develops best with regular exercise that is steadily increased. The earlier the exercise begins, the more impressive the results.
To control people, managers need both respect and self-respect. Self-respect develops from knowing what one has personally contributed to the job.
Respect is won when other people know it too. Responsibility and recognition are, therefore, the prime prerequisites of the effective manager.
You need good managers if you are going to run, not ruin, your business. Yet often the bosses who think they are most aware of this unconsciously do things that are certain to undermine their managers.
Here are some of the easiest ways to mismanage a manager:

(1)          Make him responsible for too little and force him to justify his existence at every turn.
(2)          Make him responsible for too much so he’s forever apologising for everything he’s left undone.
(3)          Never define his responsibilities. Then he can get all the blame when things go wrong and none of the praise when they turn out right.
(4)          Make him responsible without giving him authority. Put him in charge of operations over which he has no budgetary or disciplinary control. Don’t give him the power to hire staff to get the work done, nor to fire staff whose incompetence impedes progress.
(5)          Set unrealistic targets for his achievement. Now that you’ve cut the promotion budget and introduced a hefty price increase and your competitors have just launched a better product, tell your sales manager that you expect him to increase your market share by 10%/ this is guaranteed to improve his sales incentive – in selling his services elsewhere!
(6)          Assume that everything is always his fault. Call him in, look at him accusingly and treat his every remark as a damaging admission. He’ll soon be defending himself before he even discovers what he’s guilty of. Then point out, more in anger than in sorrow, that “who excuses himself accuses himself”.
(7)           Be intolerant when it really is his fault. Our own shortcomings are lovable idiosyncrasies. Those of others are intolerable incompetency. Forget that the more a manager does for you, the more he runs the risk of making a mistake.
(8)          Set out to KEEP HIM ON HIS TOES. The standard way to do this is to ask questions about trivial details at unexpected and inopportune moments. When management experts say that every manager has large areas of ignorance; that he can’t and shouldn’t know everything; that he must save time by knowing only what it is necessary for him to know so long as he knows where to find out the rest; in your mind they’re clearly talking about you, not the managers who report to you.
(9)          Give unsought assistance. Treat managers as if they were personal assistants. Mould them into extensions of yourself. Don’t stop at telling them what is to be done, give them a detailed description of how it is to be done. This destroys a manager’s capacity to think and act for himself, inhibits his learning processes and produces worse results than he could have achieved unaided.
(10)        When he does seek help, make sure he doesn’t like the help he gets. This discourages him from taking up your time – and from doing anything else. One way to close down communications is to SOLVE some problem that has worried him for weeks in five minutes OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD and wave him out with a benign smile. He now has two worries instead of one – a problem he can’t solve and a solution he can’t use.
(11)        Start doing his job for him. Brief him on a task that will involve tricky conversations with difficult people. Ring them all up just to tell them:
                “I’ve asked Joe to talk to you about so and so”. Then, when he gets round to them, they can tell him, “It’s already taken care of with the boss”. This not only makes him feel useless but it makes him look useless to the people he’s supposed to manage.
(12)        Keep checking up on him. Once he learns that you never seriously expect him to get anything done on his own, he’ll give you exactly what you expect: nothing new and nothing original.
(13)        Have cosy chats with his staff about him. This will prove that it’s better to be popular than productive. Encourage him to forego all pretence of managing and spend his time in currying favour with his staff in the hope that a few of the kindly ones will put in a good word for him with you.
(14)        Let him tell the bad news – give the good news yourself. Let each manager handle matters of firing, retiring, lateral promotions, demotions, inquisitions and admonitions. You hand out raises, promotions, bonuses and general bonhomie. Tell the managers after you have told the recipients, so that the staff will do anything for you and nothing for your supposedly chosen representatives.
(15)        Criticise a manager in front of his staff. Or, better still, ridicule him. This will show everyone that you have a sense of humour, or alternatively that you don’t mind employing buffoons. It will also give you a chance later to complain with perfect truth that all your managers are pretty useless at getting things done and that all the drive has to come from you.
(16)        Have too many levels of sub-managers. That’s how to get an organisation where everybody’s an architect and nobody lays bricks, within an atmosphere of real management democracy where everybody feels he’s as good as everybody else and spends all his time proving it.
(17)        Re-organise your managers often. Do enough of it and you’ll defeat even the most devoted apostle of order.  As your managers ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES the whole business will roll with them.
(18)        Divide and rule. If they’re worrying about blocking each other’s advancement, they’re not worrying you – nor worrying about your business.

Perhaps you are not guilty of any of these mistakes in handling your managers. But if any of them thinks you are, the effects may be just as harmful.
In any case, you’ve doubtless observed some of these shortcomings in other executives. Plain truth is the boss who allows himself to indulge in these entirely human failings, even briefly, can expect certain consequences. Some managers will turn into those pale creatures who approach you in terror and leave you with relief.
Others will become lackeys who mouth their approval before you’ve finished telling them what to approve of. Others will turn sour and silent. Others will give up the struggle altogether and go elsewhere.
Management without misery
Once you have accepted what NOT to do, the rules for success are very simple.
First, remind yourself that there are necessary limits to what the boss should do himself. The final responsibility for four main tasks must always rest with him. These are:

  1. To assemble the right managerial group,
  2. To organise the group properly,
  3. To set the right goals for it,
  4. To see that it stays on course and moves at the optimum speed.

Coping with these four crucial areas is labour enough for any man. If they’re done properly, the boss won’t need to spread his influence any further.
If they are not done properly, he won’t be able to spread his influence further, save in a totally destructive way.
The only real trouble with managers arises when, having failed to do his own task, the boss sets out to do theirs for them.
Concentrate on telling your managers what to do, not how to do it. Then trust them. Be approachable. Let them feel free to seek your advice without regarding it as an admission of failure on their part.
If your managers do fail, be charitable. The first failure was yours. You picked them. Let them feel valued; otherwise they will tend to become valueless.
When, under this wise leadership, they grow in stature and begin to stand firmly on their own feet, resist the temptation to CUT THEM DOWN TO SIZE, unless the interests of the company are truly threatened by their arrogance.
Finally, if they presume to disagree with you, don’t react like a wounded buffalo. If they are not actually insolent, they are paying you the compliment of trusting you to be fair.
To disagree with the boss is always an act requiring courage. If it requires downright insanity, then sane men will seek a better boss in a saner company.

 

Leadership – early influences

I joined the Rhodesian regular army in March 1965 straight out of National Service during which time I had attended a course at the School of Signals. My excellent results led to my attestation into the Corps of Signals.

I continued as a signalman (private soldier) for perhaps two years because I still had to complete a REGULAR signals course to qualify for trade pay and be in line for promotion.

During this time, I performed all the duties of a fully qualified operator – minus the trade pay.  Bummer!

I was fortunate as a young soldier to have served with some really good, conscientious young officers who took their leadership role seriously. They were interested in their men and would teach them about the responsibilities that may come as one’s army career progressed.

One such Officer Commanding (OC) was Lt Kim Christiansen who was OC K Troop at HQ 2 Brigade (years before the Signal Squadrons were formed).

Before the days of camouflage

On one brigade training exercise  I – still a signalman – had been given the status of detachment commander. My radio crew consisted of four soldiers, a land rover and trailer kitted out with radios, battery charging and personal kit and the task of maintaining 24-hour communications. Immediately after pulling into the brigade area and siting my vehicle I walked off to the mess – leaving the men (they had done this before after all?), to sort out the kit.

Very shortly afterwards my OC came looking for me and called me out of the other ranks mess and asked me several questions:

  • Do your men know where to sleep?
  • Do they have a duty roster?
  • Have the antennas been calculated and sited correctly?
  • Has the camouflage been done correctly?
  • Do they know their stand-to positions?
  • Do they know where to go for food? For ablutions? For toilet facilities?

My youthful reply was that they had done this before so why the fuss?

Lieutenant Christensen then firmly pointed out to me that if I aspired to be in charge I needed to understand that leadership and management had responsibilities. If I wanted respect I had to earn it and it fell to me to look out for the men and set an example in every way. While he was not nasty about it he was very definite. I remember some of my peers scoffing at him behind his back. In retrospect of course he was right and I never forgot the lesson.

This officer saw something in me that I, as an eighteen or nineteen-year-old, was not aware of. He made me understand, in the short time he was my OC, that leadership and authority is a two-way street with much responsibility attached – particularly for the leader.

He had taken the trouble to provide leadership himself (not just be the boss) and, not only that, he provided training and an example that would forever stand me in good stead.

A few other officers and senior ranks influenced me similarly over the years, perhaps seeing in me a latent ability that would only come to the fore some years later. I regret not having had more such influences.

It does not matter whether you are in the military or a civilian – the principles of managing and leading people remain the same. Perhaps with a few other considerations driving it but in my mind the most important thing for a leader is to firstly set a good example and then be consistent, be firm and fair and recognise and reward good performance. Rewards can be as subtle as a thank you – or a favourable comment on a job well done.

A bit like bringing up a child – or training a dog perhaps? Consistency and fairness also play a big part.

Misled…

I love reading and, as a child, my reading was always years ahead of my age.

As a result, I had a pretty good vocabulary from an early age.

The pitfall is that no one is teaching you, so you GET it but you do not necessarily know how to SAY it.

For years the most misleading thing in my life was that I thought MISLED was pronounced MYZILLED. I DID, really, I did but for some reason I had never been conscious of speaking it  correctly – my mental autopilot just used it I suppose but I never connected it to my READING misapprehension.

My EUREKA moment came one day when the word MISLEAD occurred in what I was reading. Of course!…the present tense of MISLED that I had heard, understood – and even spoken – so many times, while my brain had persisted with MYZILLED! I looked around guiltily for a moment, as if everyone knew my little secret!

Years later I was listening to a discussion programme and a woman told how her father had always read MISLED as MYZILLED – suddenly I was not alone.