Taking Command

The clear lesson this week was that the whole point of Officer training is to make you comfortable with leadership. That’s actually quite a big thing. The idea that your peers, your soldiers, those around you naturally look to you for leadership when something needs to be done or – worse – when all hell breaks loose. I personally think that very few of us are natural leaders, that leadership is something to be cultivated and is rooted in self-belief. For that reason it’s not something that many people regularly experience unless they go out of their way for it.

Mod B (the second Officer training module) has leadership opportunities by the bucket load. Most of us want to lead to some degree in our lives, whether it be planning things with our friends or being the person people look up to in the office. Now Mod B isn’t geared towards that, it looks at leadership in its most crucial, demanding and forceful nature: convincing people to follow a plan you make which could potentially lead to their deaths. We’re told that you must ‘impose your will’ when delivering your orders as an Officer. It’s an odd phrase but one that makes good sense when you think about what you are asking people to do.

So this was the training exercise I had my first real feel of Army leadership. As Officer Cadets you are essentially training for the role of Platoon Commander (a role you’d have if you joined the infantry and finished all your in-role training too). The Platoon Commander is in charge of three sections of eight or so people, it is his/her role to decide how to use these sections to take a position. This plan is then presented in comprehensive orders to all the Section Commanders and troops. This weekend, I was made Platoon Commander. I was in charge of putting together the plan for an early morning attack. This was made harder by the fact that we had just finished a night reccy of the enemy position and had to go on stag (sentry) duty in the night. So, having had a full-on day, bracing for an early start, going on stag and writing orders… getting a hour and a half for sleep would be doing phenomenally well!

Then came presenting the orders. I found it really hard to keep the momentum going in giving orders, there’s so much to them that it is easy to stop and start. The key thing is to stay confident, to be calm and clear. One of the nice touches was how a few of the guys I knew came up to spur me on after the orders were given. Everyone really does want everyone to do well and the Army training is nothing if not a team effort.

Making and delivering a plan is one thing, making it happen and staying in control is another! In getting my Platoon to the assembly point, it became clear my navigation was not up to scratch. The key thing to do is stay calm but keep a sense of urgency. During the debrief stage I was quick to confess that I didn’t put enough navigational preparation in. This was well-received in my reports as an example of taking responsibility and being honest – so always face into what went wrong on your account.

On the whole though, the attack went well. We showed a good level of aggression and pace – and the plan broadly worked. This was a huge relief because each command (or leadership) position is assessed with an official form that goes to Sandhurst. The fact that these forms are lurking in the background can change the feeling of the training and takes an element of the lightness out of it. Still, it also encourages us to share experience and feedback which is vital in getting us along that journey to real meaningful leadership.

There isn’t a journey quite like it.


OCdt Michael Goode