Quite some time ago I was asked to write a short resume about my personal experience of managing people, of leadership. I wrote the genesis of this article in about 2012 and it was forgotten among my files.
In 1975 I had completed a ten-year contract in the Rhodesian Army Corps of Signals and in 1976 after a short spell in the BSA Police I transferred back to the Army and the Corps of Signals. I was reinstated in my rank of Staff Sergeant and immediately posted to the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment Signals Troop (T Troop RhACR) as 2i/c and Regimental Signals Instructor.
After a while our Captain was posted out and we were left without a Troop Commander after which I was appointed to act in that post.
The troop had only about three or four regular army members – myself and a couple of corporals and signalmen (privates). Most of the troop complement were territorials, called up for from 6 – 8 weeks at a time.
I soon found that for the regular men to try to do all the training and maintenance was going to benefit no-one. Not the regiment, the troop or the army. By stretching ourselves so thinly we could not do justice to the service required of the troop.
Up to that time it had been almost traditional in the army that territorial and national service soldiers were treated as a kind of readily available “servant” corps to take the pressure of guard and radio duties and other kinds of menial tasks, off the rest of the unit to which they were posted.
Resentment at this offhand treatment was all too evident. People felt that their training, skills and abilities were ignored by the army and that they could have been contributing more to the economy in civvy street. It would have been easy to dismiss this in a superior way – this is not civvy street, you territorials have to do this and do as you are told.
That would have been counterproductive. These intelligent men who had responsible positions in their civilian occupations were actually insulted by our treatment of them. After all, why had we trained them and why did we pay them to be there if we were not going to use the assets we had created in the most productive way possible.
I was mindful of my mandate to provide training and maintenance on the radio communications elements of the regiment. In order to do this, I needed my men to buy into my vision and step forward with their own contributions.
After investigating the background of the territorial members I found many of them had shown aptitude for, and been trained as, instructors but this training was being ignored. I then interviewed these men – among others with other skills – as they came for their call-ups. I asked them if they wanted to do more, to do what they had been specially trained for.
The initial reaction was that they wanted to be more involved but that they would not be allowed to do this work. The “established routine” would not permit it.
I assured them that they would have the full support of the Regiment and the Corps of Signals and that they would now be required to take on more of the training and day to day aspects of the troop while on call-up. The instructors would be running the courses and grading the trainees and their call-ups would be timed to start shortly before a training period. This would enable them to prepare for the course, run it and have a period of wind down and analysis.
With some trepidation but with great enthusiasm they got stuck in – and dramatically improved our effectiveness.
I kept a close eye on the work at first but soon realised – and told anyone who would listen – that great things were being achieved. Everyone learned about our miniature revolution – which it was.
In a relatively short time the accolades started to come in. I was able to successfully put people forward for promotions and this further bolstered confidence.
Now, when they arrived for call-ups, although they would rather not have been there, these men were no longer long-faced and round-shouldered. They were proud and purposeful, filled with the WE ethos. We are good at what we do; we are the best. We have an important role.
By encouraging and empowering these men, in the face of established, contrary mind-sets, these non-professional soldiers became a valuable asset to the unit and the light being shone on them reflected on me, my troop and on my corps. That, truly, is what win-win is all about.