How what leadership means to me changed over the years

I spent some time talking to one of my subordinates on leadership yesterday. Apparently I am a bad leader. (laughs). But it did made me very aware of how leadership means different things to different people, and that the position you are in actually affects your view on how a leader should be.

When I was young and innocent during my NSF times, I had almost the same concept of leadership as my subordinate, D. I was extremely passionate about the subject and was also critical of my superiors when they fail to meet my self imposed standards of how a good leader should be. This view eventually shaped how I am today, but because I was like that previously, I didn’t blame D for his views. After all, I was young once.

Leadership is a tricky issue. In the Officers creed, we talk about how that we “answer for the training, morale and discipline”. The aspect on morale is always the main thing any subordinate can complain about his superior. And indeed it is also a tricky issue to manage as a manager. I found myself facing this problem yesterday and I will write it here for recording purposes:

My unit conducted an IPPT session and I had to monitor the IPPT results of everyone in my unit. We wanted to make sure everyone passes as soon as they can. The results were typed into an excel sheet by another department and contained lots of errors. Hence I got my guy, K to help me tally the paper results with the excel sheet. We went through about 5 rounds of iterations before I complained that he should be sure before he submitted his work to me. I also told him that if it happens again, I would have to punish him. His work came with promises of how it is definitely right this time round, yet I found another mistake. Since I warned him prior, I shouldn’t back down on my word. Hence I punished him by staying back 30 minutes to help out. A minor punishment and inconvenience I would say.

But D wasn’t happy that I gave him the work and punished him. That I did not work on a collaborative basis. That I did not correct K’s work for him and sent it back. To me that didn’t matter. The mistakes that I found were corrected. It was just that we found further errors as time went by. D said that a good leader does the low level work with his men and fight the fight together.

That reminded me of when I was young. I was a PS in a Guards battalion. When my guys woke up in the morning, I was already there with them. When they were preparing for exercise, I prepared along with them. I never took off my helmet or field pack before all of them did so. I made sure I was the last to rest. During reservist, when my rifle didn’t need to be cleaned (PS doesn’t fire usually), I cleaned the GPMG with the GPMG team, and to be honest the GPMG is a difficult piece of equipment to clean. So that said, I told D that I could do my jungle warfare and still do the low level work and fight the fight together.

But he wasn’t really fair to me. Now that I am a Senior ME equivalent to an officer, I can’t be expected to do all the low level work. I still do actually. I just helped out in the designing of ebook for my unit and spent some of my weekend time on that. But there are many high level stuff that concerned me, and I have many wild ideas and vision for my department. There is not enough time to carry everything out and yet do all the low level stuff. So I do selectively. Data entry, to me is something that is not difficult, hence I won’t do it. Why waste time and effort?

Also, fight the fight seems rather stupid given our non combative roles. In fact when mistakes were discovered by other department people, I was the one who apologised and accepted responsibility. Yet they claim the need to fight the fight together. Suddenly, I remembered how I felt as an NSF and I recalled how after I grew up after ORD did I appreciate the many efforts my superiors did for me. At my NSF level, I only saw what my eyes could see. My world was only this small. Now that I am different, I realize the world was much bigger and I couldn’t be as childish anymore.

So I just said I do what I think is fair. I thought that standards should be maintained, and that given several iterations and warnings, it becomes justified for me to execute the punishment. In addition, the punishment is really a minor annoyance than an actual punishment. I still followed my principles of ensuring it is a fair deal to the best of my abilities.

But I also took offence of how D said I shouldn’t use my own standards to judge others. That arose because I said I am very sure I could have done a more meticulous job than K. But if I do not demand standards to be met, then would standards just fall over time? And it is a slippery slope really, for if such logic were to be followed, I would never need to meet expectations or do beyond what I normally do. And my boss would never have the right to expect me to be better. The entire human race might just as well become extinct.

I can’t expect that D or his peers understand me and my position. For they are still young and need some guidance. That said, I had been told that being an officer is not a popularity contest. I need to do what is right. I need to follow my principles and morals. As long as I do not treat them unjustly and no punishment is awarded without concrete reasons, then I think I am doing not too bad a job running the HR issues.

It is tough managing people. Balancing their morale issues and the discipline they need. Maintaining the standards required of a military organisation while still acknowledging that NSFs are here to serve and that I should make their lives as pleasant as possible, without all the things that bad superiors do to NSFs like in the NS Confessions page.

Nobody likes to punish people. Nobody likes to spend the time and effort thinking about how to exact fair and just punishments. But sometimes if it has to be done means it has to be done.

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