In the trench with your men. Leadership – military style!

In a recent discussion on the making of a leader, I realized that as HR practitioners, we seemed to have taken on a rather textbook approach on defining leadership.

Let’s go back to basics.

I practice a rather straight-forward and simple form of leadership. It’s called “Will you shoot me from behind?”

Here’s how it came about.

Many years ago, I had to fulfill my national service by serving in the military service. During my basic training, we had a very nasty Sergeant (He’s our Section Leader). Let’s call him Sergeant John.

Being in the Infantry unit, we had to fulfill all sort of “in-humane” training programs. Or rather, it kind of seemed “in-humane” back than.

However, being Sergeant John, being our section leader, had never seemed to be a part of “team” and is often seen baking down at us and pushing us to the limits.

(Yes, I know that this is part of the training, and looking back, I can see the rationale of doing do. However, please read on)

During one of the exercises, one of my section-mate made a comment. “If this is a real war, I’ll shoot Sergeant John first before the enemy”

It was a rather extreme statement, but in all its simplicity, it simply means that, our section leader didn’t command our respect.

Over the course of the next few months, I graduated from training school, earned my strips and had men reporting in to me.

Being a part of the section of infantrymen, we had to spend time training together. Over time, the bond grew stronger.

In a very simple way, I realized that true leadership is not rocket science. It’s about having an aligned objective with your subordinates. It’s about being there and working as a single unit. It’s about the bond and togetherness.

As individuals in an infantry section, we realized that there are times where  individuals puts in a little extra for their own team mate. It’s all a part of being a single unit.

I lead my men with a very simple motto. “With one heart”. I guess for me, leadership is simple. It’s about unity and alignment, keeping your subordinates together and aligned.

On one occasion, after a military exercise, I asked my men the question. “In war, will you shoot me from behind”

The men laughed. I guess I had my answer.

Eric Wong


1 thought on “In the trench with your men. Leadership – military style!

  1. Interesting article you have here. Leadership in corporate has got its little twists and turns. I do agree to a great extend on getting your “hands dirty” , leading by example and do not make your men do things you will not do. I am a firm believer on that.

    However in my recent stint with corporate leadership, I realized that it is a finer balance between getting down and dirty together and yet keeping a sufficient distance still to keep the relationship “professional”. Getting too close to the trenches will also paint a “thinking like a man” mentality through senior management. I am speaking of this with personal experience. 2 years of middle management, stuck in the trenches with the men and barking commands from above.

    In a nutshell, what I want to say is corporate leadership is a much finer line and a harder balance than earning the men’s respect and getting results and the right “image” portrayed to senior management.

    PS – I was a platoon commander during my NS days and leadership in the military was so much easier than now.

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