Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Don't employ a veteran - he could suffer from PTSD

Why is it that, at the moment, whenever our troops are mentioned, it is in the context of PTSD - even in a recent BBC special about Northern Ireland.

Don't get me wrong - PTSD exists. It's real. Research might even have been able to link it so specific patterns in brain activity that are out of balance. We send our troops to some pretty nasty places and, despite the best of preparation, sometimes situations occur with which some of them can't cope. The same goes for our police force, ambulance staff, firefighters. Most of the time, our troops are not in combat - and life in the barracks can actually be pretty boring.

Yes, they deserve our respect and our understanding. It is hard to believe that there are still veterans who, after decades of suffering, have not been given a diagnosis. And those who have are quite often prescribed a whole cocktail of medication which is disabling in itself. But there is a dangerous downside to the current media coverage: it adds to a negative stereotype. First they were just uneducated, violent and potential addicts; now they are ill and need looking after. What they are not is normal human beings, like you and I.

Statistically, one in four troops returning from combat zones will develop symptoms of PTSD.
Also statistically, one in four in the general population will develop mental health symptoms at some stage in their lives.

I have seen the stage play "The Two Worlds of Charlie F.". And I have also just seen the film adaptation of "Sunshine over Leath".  The first was mesmerizing, extraordinarily well acted. (By that I mean that it was what I expected after all the many conversations I have had with people who had come extremely close to similar events. Obviously, I have never seen anything like it myself.) The latter was actually much more useful - two young soldiers who had just left the Army. They were struggling with life - but a lot of that was actually independent of their time in the Army.

They are among us. And most of them are actually pretty normal. Yes, they sometimes struggle - but for different reasons. They might not understand the hidden rules in civilian organisations. They might expect actions to be carried out. They will be irritated if after three meetings it is still not clear what ought to be achieved. But they can adjust. Having been made redundant might actually prove a much bigger trauma than a few months in a "hostile environment".

What they struggle with the most is our stereotypes and prejudices! Headlines like "Homecoming Horrors" in today's Shortlist certainly don't help.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

A Military leader is compassionate

Forget about stereotypes like someone who's just shouting or ordering people around. (That's a dedicated task - not a leadership characteristic.) Forget also any idea of people being continually forced into top performance, beyond what they can bear.

As I continue my journey through Serve to Lead, this is what I found today:

A few officers seem to possess an almost instinctive ability to find out the strengths and weaknesses of their men; but most of them must approach the task consciously and deliberately [...].
As a leader gains knowledge of his men he will always find out things about certain ones in the course of normal observation and  without any prying on his part, that will in no way seem to him admirable - in fact, things that will often seem the opposite. These will, of course, be the ordinary weaknesses of humankind which any leader must freely acknowledge to exist, must look upon with reasonable tolerance, and must never permit himself to judge narrowly and harshly. If he does misjudge such traits he will find himself building up prejudices against individual subordinates who may well  have the stuff within them that it takes to carry out their mission.
(Colonel Munson)

I had the pleasure of experiencing such a leader once. It wasn't without challenge - but it always felt fair, and I intuitively knew I could trust him. He took his time getting to know people and forming an opinion on them; and I learned a great deal from him.

I ask you: Would we not all want more of these people as leaders and managers in any organisation?
They might not all have been born to lead; but they have all developed these skills. They had  to.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The British Soldier - kindness and gentleness

It will sound a bit out of date - but I liked this so much, I had to share this. I have been teaching tonight, and it was all about the bad things we are all capable of doing, given the right - or wrong - circumstances. And here I am, browsing through a copy of Serve to Lead that has been lent to me.

This is what I found:

It might well be that by new methods of scientific destruction, the whole nature of armies may be changed. Infantry and Cavalry may vanish away and regiments and even armies in the old and honoured sense may cease to be. Then shall the British Army likewise perish and its place shall know it no more. It mattes not. Were the Army to be swept tomorrow into nothingness, it has already done enough to give it rank with the legions of ancient Rome. And it will be remembered best not for its surpassing valour and endurance, not for its countless deeds of daring and its invincible stubbornness in battle, but for its lenience in conquest and its gentleness in domination.
(Sir John Fortescue)

Everything must be read in context; and I'm sure some readers will find a flaw that has escaped my attention. Obviously, I disagree with the sentiment that it doesn't matter if the Army shrinks further or even disappears. Strategical and tactical considerations aside - it feels like a betrayal of all the great men (and women) who have upheld those principles. However, they are still among us - all those who have been made redundant and who can be so valuable to civilian organisations.

One of them recently said to me "but we're nothing special" - oh yes, you are!