Leadership Lessons Learned as a Soldier


Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Platoon Commander Simon

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I did my national service in Singapore for two years. In those two years, I met a very good leader during my basic military training. In basic military training, we’re enlisted as recruits and go through three months of intensive physical training and military tests. At that time, I was only 21 years old and new to the world of military training.

During my three months of training, I was mentored by a very good platoon commander named Simon. Three weeks ago, I learned from my friend that my former commander had passed away. I paid my last respects to him and reflected on the lessons I learned from him. I would be sharing those lessons in this article.

I firmly believe that good leaders, coaches and mentors help us learn new skills and find a strong and stable path to our goals.

Let’s begin.

1. Have a sense of humor in difficult moments

Keeping a clear head and staying calm in hard situations, is a challenge for many of us. One of the best ways to stay calm is also to find humor in ourselves and in our challenges. It helps us to keep cool and composed. My late commander never stops having a sense of humor. Even when we’re all tired and exhausted and struggling hard to achieve our goals, he has a joke to share with us at that very moment.

Of course, we shouldn't go to a funeral and make a joke or laugh at someone's misfortune or misery. What I'm saying is that we should have our own style of self-humour and that you should take it with you wherever you go.

The next time you feel anxious, stressed or feel like giving up, activate the humor button inside you. It’ll relax you, lighten you up, and make you energized and ready.

My late commander said, "A brave and strong warrior isn't only someone who is a tough combatant, but also someone who has the ability to laugh on the battlefield."

If you’re a leader, have a sense of humor to cheer up your team when they’re down. Never be an overly serious leader. Leadership is the art of having a balance between humor and seriousness.

2. When it Comes to Health and Fitness, Consistency is the Mantra (Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health)

Commander Simon said, “Oil your wheels regularly.” It means that taking care of your physical health requires consistent work and effort. As a soldier, I was taught to keep my fitness at its peak by self-checking my health regularly and eating only nutrient-rich foods that positively boosted my energy to endure, fight, think clearly and defend.

A good leader is a man with good mental and physical fitness. Poor health might lead to poor thinking skills and affects clarity, foresight, planning, and decision-making. Poor health affects intrapersonal and interpersonal skills which I believe are the key ingredients of good leadership.

3. Communicate Regularly - Lift The Spirits of Your Team with Positive Words and Actions

A good leader has regular conversations with his men. Commander Simon meets with us every week to talk about how we feel and how we’re developing mentally, emotionally, and physically.

He talks to us to nurture our thoughts and feelings and strengthen our spirit through motivation and appreciation.

In short, Simon showed us empathy and compassion, motivated, appreciated, affirmed, and lifted our spirits so that we were ready to go into the battleground feeling mentally and physically strong and vigilant.

Simon said, “Move your men’s hearts first in order to move their feet.” Leadership is about having good communication and ensuring that are mentally and emotionally fine.

4. Practice Good Communication skills - Raise The Intrinsic Motivation of Your Men

Simon listens carefully to the concerns of his men. He understands what they’re saying without letting his own biases, personal values and judgments, and personal interests from clouding his listening skills. He also explains his point of view clearly.

Simon said, “If a person is clear about the direction they want to go and the purpose and benefit behind their action, then they will be driven to take the actions.”

Sometimes, horrible bosses are those lousy listeners and ones with poor communication skills.

Instead of always using power to command and control a team, a leader can power up their communication skills. With good communication skills, we motivate more people who can think and act with more intellect and sense and behave less like robots who merely follow orders and commands without thinking.

A leader who has good communication skills listens attentively to the concerns of others, explains the purpose behind their actions, and raise their men's motivation by highlighting the benefit behind the desired action. Good leader can kindle the thinking abilities among their team members.

5. Reward

During basic military training, having own space and time is more joyful than money. Simon gave us an early book out and time off. It means we can go home early after training and have additional rest days.

If you’re a leader, you can reward your men with time, relaxation, and also better income and incentives. An appreciation or compliment is also a reward. The reward is simply an energy booster for your men to perform better and remain motivated.

6. Think and See in All Angles - Empower Your Men and Guide Them To Work Independently with Confidence

Simon said, “Keep many strategies in your pocket and never rigidly stick to one strategy.”

A soldier must act or execute his plan no matter what. If plan A doesn’t work, you’ve B, C, and D. Work around with any of the suitable plans and get the job done.

On rainy days we train indoors, on sunny days we train outdoors. No matter what the weather is, the training continues and doesn’t stop.

If you’re a leader, teach your men how to analyze problems and explore possible solutions. Avoiding, procrastinating or doing nothing… doesn’t work well when it comes to getting a task done. Build your team members’ self-confidence, and allow them to take the best action to solve the problem in your absence.

Micromanaging will quickly wear out a leader. Teach your team members to work independently. Give them the space and confidence to take action with their logical sense, intuition, and wisdom so that they can weather any challenging situations without each time relying on your advice and commands.

Using No Way as The Way and Having No Limitation as Limitation — Bruce Lee

7. Be Genuine and Fluid as You Discuss and Explore Solutions

I’ve come across bad leaders who already have fixed answers in their minds, and they call out for a meeting under the pretext of discussion, just to make members buy their personal idea. Soon, all the suggested solutions of the team members get dumped and the bad leaders plant a solution that is fertilized with their own personal interests.

Simon always discusses with his men and asks them their suggestions and feedback before finalizing a decision. He listens, accepts and experiments, and evaluates the ideas of his team. He is honest with his members about why he chose or did not choose a specific idea, suggestion or solution. He sees every member of his team as a potential leader and never regards himself as greater than others. He genuinely respects everyone's words.

Simon said, “I’m not neither greater nor better than you. I just arrived a bit earlier….that’s all.” His words reflect that humility is another important quality of a leader.

Good leaders are open to suggestions, respect and welcomes everyone's creativity, ideas and opinions.

I hope this is useful for you. Thank you for reading.

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A Couples & Family Therapist, Writer, Author, & Spiritual Yogi. I’m the author of the empowering personal spiritual guide book: The Cosmic Romance with Existence & The Golden Halo, a free substack newsletter that delivers enlightening stories and poems to your inbox.


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