Sunday, 3 April 2011

Every good Cowboy looks after their horse.

For a while, during the early stages of my military career, I lived by the principle of R.H.I.P - an acronym for ‘Rank Has Its Privileges’.

In a nutshell, this principle gave me the self-awarded ‘right’ to act like an idiot and abuse my position.  It meant that I had first choice of whatever was on offer over those that held a junior rank to my own.  I could walk to the front of the queue for food or whatever was available on the basis of my seniority and status.  I was clearly oblivious of the impact of my behavior; especially in-terms of my leadership profile.  My credibility as a leader must have diminished each time I pushed my way to the front.  I’d hate to think what those unfortunate people behind me must have been thinking and still shudder to this day to think that I once acted like that.  Completely bereft of emotional intelligence and completely self-absorbed.  A top-of-the-class, first-rate idiot!

I behaved like this because my peers did.  The majority of us ‘with rank’ did it.  It gave you the green light to act with impunity.  We could justify it because we’d had it done to us earlier in our careers, many, many times.  But in reality, there is no excuse or justification for such disrespectful behavior – no matter what or who you are.  In fact, the more ‘senior’ you are the lesser the argument holds up.

I’m glad to say that with changing attitudes, greater social awareness and a more comprehensive understanding of subjects such as authentic leadership and emotional intelligence; there are less incidences of this sort of behavior in today’s modern British Military, although doubtlessly in some places, with some people, it still happens from time-to-time. 
But leading with emotional intelligence is not a new phenomenon.  Quite the opposite.

In the famous ‘Art of War’ Sun Tzu (circa 6th Century BC) was reported to have been quoted as follows: 

For them to perceive the advantage of defeating the enemy, they must also have their rewards.”

Could this possibly be one of the first ever documented examples of employee reward and engagement?

Of course, there are many recordings of emotionally intelligent leadership that span the centuries but if I can indulge myself and reproduce my favorite citing it has to be this one:
It dates back to the Second World War and comes from a British General William Slim (later Field Marshall The Viscount Slim KG. GCB. GCMG. GCVO. GBE. DSO. MC and subsequently the 13th Governor General of Australia) addressing his officers following a particularly lengthy and bloody jungle battle in Burma 1942.  Slim came through the bush and saw his exhausted men still working hard post-contact with the enemy.  He noticed that some of the officers did not appear to be working as hard as many of the private soldiers and was acutely aware of how this would be viewed by the non-commissioned ‘Tommy’.
Slim knew that this apparent lack of sense of duty being displayed by some of his officers did not set the example of leadership that he knew must be portrayed at all times in congruence with the responsibility of ‘being in-charge’ of people.  Slim was said to gather his officers and say:

“I tell you, therefore, as officers, that you will neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, nor smoke, nor even sit down until you have personally seen that your men have done those things. If you will do this for them, they will follow you to the end of the world. And, if you do not, I will bust you in front of your Regiments.”

Slim clearly understood the value of the ‘Psychological Contract’.  That un-written mutual expectation that subordinate workers will go the extra mile for the leader who shows empathy, investment, care and consideration.  Provided of course, that the leader keeps their end of the bargain.  It's no wonder that Slim's private soldiers affectionately referred to him as 'Uncle Bill'.

I’ve never understood the surprised reactions displayed by people in authority when they find that their workforce is unhappy and then claim that they were unaware of the apparent problems that existed.  Having been fed this information and then to deny that there is a problem at all is even more unforgivable.  Surely to lead people effectively you must be aware of their needs and make efforts to cater for them?  

Maslow’s Hierarchy is very clear.  People need to feel that they are genuinely being appreciated for their efforts.  They are more than just human resources; they are people with hopes and dreams just like their leaders have.  It’s all too easy for leaders to forget what it is like to be taken for granted, to forget how they felt when it happened to them.  All too easy for leaders to view their workforce as mere non-human pieces of equipment that when considered, should be simply grateful for having a job in the first place.  Attitudes like this will only result in dissent and people voting with their feet when the opportunity presents itself.  

There is a saying that we have probably all heard on too many occasions, it is similar to the RHIP principle, and that is “I’m not here to be popular.”  Wrong!  An unpopular leader attracts no followership other than destructive dissent.  Unpopular leaders are not upholding their share of the contract.  Unpopular leaders aren’t leading at all.  They are simply being accompanied on their journey by passengers waiting to get off at the right stop.  Popularity in this sense is born from respect.  Respect that has developed because it has been reciprocated.

So the message is; look after and nurture your workforce, set good examples, show that you care – even if it’s just by saying ‘Thank you’ and meaning it!  Be aware of the needs of those employed to support you.  Uphold your side of the contract.  Reward and recognize your ‘Tommy’.  Feed and water your horses otherwise your journey will surely end and if your head is deep in the sand at the time then you might not even see it coming – at least not before it’s too late.

If you continue to live by the principle of R.H.I.P, you had better prepare for your vision to ‘R.I.P’.

With best wishes in all that you do,



  1. Understanding your workforce. One issue is the fact that many 'created' leaders or managers enter businesses at a relatively high level fresh from Education. Some Management Training Schemes have it right - everyone at McDonalds is expected to have done the cleaning and flipped Burgers. Everyone at Tesco's has stacked shelves but what of other companies! In the Military it is only the Parachute Reg and the Royal Marines who expect officers to complete the same physical entrance tests as the men, with the men and to a better standard!
    As a leader Roll your sleeves up and spend some time doing their jobs. "Walk in their shoes to understand them"

  2. And follow the Gordon Ramsey protocol for those unable to perform.

  3. Great article Keith!
    Carmen - MyGroovyCareer

  4. Thanks Gordon (is that really you?) and of course, you too Carmen.

    Ian, you raise an interesting point. I know that some of the Government-funded institutions such as the Police, Ambulance Services and more recently the Fire Brigade have experimented by appointing Senior Managers from the 'outside'.

    One can only imagine how credible these 'leaders' will be viewed by their respective workers.