JOSH Talks: Lessons on Team Building from the Army

I was invited to speak in the maiden JOSH talks event held in Kolkata on Jan 14th, 2018. With and audience over 500+, it was electrifying, energetic and enthusiastic. It was a wonderful experience to feel the ‘YOUth’ bubbling with energy!!!

A number of them walked up and wanted the talk for ‘keepsake’. It’ll be uploaded on FB and YouTube. Here goes the Script.

LESSONS ON TEAM BUILDING FROM THE ARMY

Tough times don’t last. Tough People do”.

Imagine the temperatures have further fallen and is presently hovering around 0°. Cold and shivering, you are sitting in a pitch-dark night waiting, waiting and waiting some more, where a minute seems like an hour. You are soldiers sitting in an ambush waiting for the terrorist to show up. Night after night hundreds of such teams of soldiers spend, such nights in the mountainous terrain of J&K. How do these teams operate and come out winners? Let me share some Lessons from the Army on Team Building.

After 20 years of service, The Selection Board approved me to Command ‘my’ infantry unit; roughly consisting of 1,000+ men. And shortly thereafter, we were deployed to combat terrorists in J&K sector.

Let me elaborate a little, for the uninitiated, what I meant by ‘my’ infantry unit. Infantry is the foot soldiers of the Army who capture ground, something, you would have seen in the Kargil war. I was commissioned and I commanded the same unit. The men of my unit are drawn from the Seven Sister States; which we club as the North East. These men have spent their early childhood in the jungles of Arunachal, Assam Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram.

These battle-hardened soldiers unflinchingly took me under their wings. My first fledgling steps in the uniform, in Lucknow, were spent with these men and they taught me lessons of life and warfare.

We’ve a tradition in our unit. The newly commissioned officer spends his initial two months with his troops in their barracks. Spending time dining with them, wining with them, playing with them, bathing with them, staying in the barracks. I had the opportunity to know these men from very close quarters. I was into all the ‘troop’ games; football, hockey, basketball, volleyball and even handball. Being from a boarding school helped.

After a month, the first pay parade. Those days the monthly pay of the soldiers, had to be physically distributed. In walks Sep Charliwan, a wonderful center half of our football team. I proudly announce, ‘Sir, Sep Charliwan. My Company Commander, my immediate boss, asks me, “And what is his Army Number?” Huh!!!! “Sir, I don’t know?” You better know. The next month pay parade, I announce, ‘Sir, Army Number 431000539 Sep Charliwan, reporting for his pay’. And what is his shoe size? KO!!!

Know your men. Know your men better than their mothers do; and love them as much, said Fd Marshal Slim addressing his officers in the Burma Campaign. I learnt my first lesson. If you don’t know your men, you are unfit to command them. You will not earn their respect. 500 years BC Sun Tzu wrote:

‘If you know the enemy, and know yourself, You will not fear the results of a hundred battle.

If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion. None of us work in a silo. We have teams to work with. As a leader or even as a team member it is imperative that you know the team very well. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Strong camaraderie builds strong teams.

When I assumed Command, Sep Charliwan had risen in ranks and was a JCO (Junior Commissioned Officer) now. And in one of our first operations, his sub unit, was tasked to go after some reported terrorists sighted. We sat down for planning, and Sub Charliwan, very politely tells me, “Saab iska planning hum karlega, aap sirf fire support dena from ‘X’ location”. Sub Charliwan and his team move up the treacherous mountain top. He splits his team, deploys a support team to cover their move and leads from the front, to hunt the reported terrorists. Chasing terrorists in the thick of jungles, may be slightly difficult to comprehend sitting in the confines of this auditorium. Rugged mountainous terrain with thick undergrowth. The visibility is restricted to 5-10 meters. It requires extreme physical fitness, mental robustness and stamina.

They reach a small opening and find the remains of a bonfire. The ember tells them that the terrorists have a lead of an hour odd. Trained in jungle craft, they start following the trail. After a while they are hot in pursuit. The terrorists see the soldiers and start fleeing. A downhill running terrorist, with his AK 47 on his shoulder, finger pressing the trigger and spraying bullets all around. Facing these oncoming bullets. Major challenge.

Sub Charliwan comes on air and tells me, “Saab one-two”. Those of you familiar with soccer will understand the term. The fleeing terrorist hit my ambush, we exchange fire, they change their direction and run right into the waiting arms of Sub Charliwan. Three terrorists neutralized with no casualties to self. A clean operation. Thanks to the planning and of course team work. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

Lord Wellesley quipped, that The Battle of Waterloo was won in the playfields of Eton.

Well, The Battle of J&K jungles were surely won in the playfields of Lucknow.

Beware of entrance to a battle, but being in Bear’t the enemy beware of thee’. No soldier, wants to be a runners’ up in the battlefield. There are no runners up in War. I assure you, to face oncoming bullets is not a comfortable feeling at all. How do you train for that? How do you control your nerves?

Let me share some secrets.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” On hearing a shot, your muscle memory takes over. You have trained so hard, you have trained so much that without thinking you ‘Dash – Down – Crawl – Observe – Fire’. We Just Do it! The harder you train, the better you get. This training is like meditation. You train and train and then you train some more. You train hard, because you know that some day it is this training that will save your life. It is the difference between life and death. People call it ‘Deliberate Practice’. Geoff Colvin/ Anders Ericsson/ Malcolm Gladwell all spoke about it in their books. It’s an old Army Saying: ‘The more you sweat in Peace, the less you bleed in War’. Training is the difference between amateurs and professionals.

After every two and half years in field, the unit moves to a peace location. The major part of this tenure is dedicated to training. Be it firing in the field firing ranges, to other operations of war. We train and train. The competitions are designed to support this training. Best Mortar platoon, MMG detachment, best firer, and so on. The sports competitions are held to build and improve camaraderie among each other. Training as a team lies at the crux of our success.

But then Murphy’s law says, ‘Anything that can go wrong, will’. I am sure, that no one in this gathering here believes that everything could be hunky dory and all the planning and training will avert any mishap/ disaster from happening. Always remember, ‘You plan for three options and the enemy will adopt the fourth’. No plan survives contact. So, while planning, do make contingency plans but avoid over planning. We had our fair share of accidents and failures. The ability to turn a failure on its head is an acme of a leader.

In one of our operations, we suffered a fatal casualty. This was my lowest moment of my command. We were in the thick of jungles and the road head was two hours. Transporting the martyr to the road head and then to our base was a challenge. I had to make a decision. The regulations state that the ‘Last Post’ of a martyr in operational area can be sounded in situ. In that location itself. While the ‘father’ in me said, I would like to see my son.

I took a decision to fly him home, some 3,000 kms. Remember, the martyr has to be embalmed lest decay sets in. Transferring him to Delhi, and another flight to Guwahati. And move 500 kms by road from Guwahati to Aizawl. It was an administrative nightmare but worth it. As the martyr entered Aizawl, the entire town had lined up to pay homage to the soldier. The local administration, the media and the local representatives. A huge procession reached his village and the soldier was laid to rest in the church and a memorial constructed.

The accompanying JCO brought back a letter from the father of the martyr. “Sir, I thank you profusely for sending across my son. I’ll remain ever grateful to you for this act. In his letters, my son has been writing about the unit a lot. My younger son is thirteen years old, please tell me when can he enrol and join the unit to continue the half-finished task of his brother?” On receiving the letter, I sobbed.

Recently, our unit was celebrating its Golden Jubilee and I was attending the momentous occasion. To my surprise, I meet the parents of the martyr, who had traveled all the way from Mizoram. They were profuse in their gratitude and proudly introduced me to their younger son, now a soldier in the unit.

Regard your soldier’s as your children and they’ll follow you in the deepest valley. Look on them as your own beloved son and they’ll stand by you even unto death. Failure will happen. Face them and turn it around. Every adversity provides an opportunity.

The soldiers goes to Battle for ‘Naam, Namak and Nishan’.

Naam, the name of the unit, the izzat of the unit. We build a culture within our organizations where the individuals have a stake. You all have heard of the terrorist attack on Taj Mumbai on Nov 26, 2008 and read about the acts of bravery of its employees. When the chips are down, when we are facing bullets the one thing that constantly reminds us to do the right thing and why we are doing what we are doing is Naam. The izzat of the unit that you are serving.

Namak, the salt of the country they have had. A soldier cannot even think that he could do anything, anything at all that will belittle his country or countrymen. We are conditioned to think ‘Country First’. The Arthur Andersons, Enron and Satyam are issues which reflect poorly on the Country. What is the image we would like to portray of our Country? You all are the brand ambassadors of our Country. Each one of you sitting here is a soldier out of uniform. Protect your motherland. Nurture it. Nourish it. Love it and be proud of it.

Remember: ‘Koi desh perfect nahi hota, use perfect banana padta hai’.

Nishaan, the standard or the colours of the regiment. The colours goes to battle with the unit. It rallies troops around it and raises their morale. It gives each one of us an identity. To keep the ‘nishan’ flying high, always and every time. Build a legacy for others to follow. Great institutions are made with legacies. What is the legacy you are leaving behind?

Zindagi mein ek aisa junoon rakho, jiske lie apni jaan dene ke lie taiyaar ho!

You will have a rallying point and this will motivate and guide you of your actions always and every time. People call it passion. Some call it purpose. Find your purpose and you’ll find meaning and will be self-motivated to achieve it.

A soldier knows that he is the last bastion to protect his motherland. This is the ethos drilled in the rank and file, right from the officer down to the soldier. Each one of them ready to shout, ‘Yeh Dil Mange More’!

Jai Hind. Jai Hind.

Advertisements