I feel very fortunate to have been entrusted by the Tasmanian Government the opportunity to develop and facilitate the Point Assist Veterans Active Recreation Program.
Having just finished our fifth event l found time to reflect on the positives I myself have gained from facilitating these events. As a fellow veteran, it is great to be working with like minded veterans, those looking to position their future self for even more amazing experiences than their current or past self.
Creating environments for people to share stories and experiences inspires and fosters growth for everyone, myself included. That desire in us all to show up and contribute to life and be a better human each and every day in whatever we choose to do. In a world still too easily impressed by quantitative measures this program promotes qualitative outcomes.. meaningful communication, wellbeing, connection to purpose and enhanced relationships to self and others, the byproducts of which can be life changing for veterans, their families and our wider communities.
Thank you everyone that has attended over the last three years for bringing a positive mindset and making these such memorable experiences.
And to Samantha Mair thank you for articulating my vision and bringing this program to life. You are the mastermind behind these experiences.
Discharging from 16 years in the regular army I didn’t have to worry about getting a new job on “civi street”. I took the skills acquired in the Special Forces and returned to Afghanistan to work at the Australian Embassy as a security contractor. It was an easy transition from Defence, some would say, hardly a transition at all. While there were a few major differences in my work before and after the ADF, there were a lot of similarities. Regardless, I enjoyed the challenge of private security contracting and spent the next six years after discharging from the army doing my best to keep people safe in complex and dangerous environments.
The uncertainty and real transition for me came in 2016, when I finished working in Afghanistan.
After 14 years of working on and off in the war troubled country, I returned to Australia with the goal of starting an adventure travel business in Tasmania. It was then I learned the real difficulties of being a small player in an industry where you have to compete for every client.
As a veteran, I was running a few hikes for former military and first responders, showcasing how beneficial the adventure and tranquility of the wilderness can be for mindset. Around this time, I was asked to speak to a group of military veterans about my experience post army. I remember answering a question about useful skills the military teach by saying; “Most of the skills the military teach us are not useful once you get out of Defence”, referring to skills like sniping, proficiency with guns and explosives and techniques for destroying an enemy.
A few years on, I now believe I answered the question poorly. At the time, I wasn’t too different to a lot of other veterans (and society for that matter); I thought that getting out of Defence I needed to be totally retrained in order to fit back into normal society.
How wrong I was.
“What skills can we take from our military service that will help us in life on civi street. What skills do the military give us that make us better people. What skills should we never stop using. What skills make us more competitive in the job market and able to live a life full of passion, purpose and meaning. A life where we constantly improve and evolve?”
If asked the question again today, my answer would be very different.
The huge list of soft skills of course – the important skills in life.
There are two main types of skills in life; Hard Skills and Soft Skills. The military teaches both.
The strip and assemble of a belt feed general purpose machine gun or the best place to position your fire support in order to effectively suppress an enemy while you overwhelm them, are hard skills. The more hard skills a soldier has, the more useful he is. Hard skills are the abilities and proficiencies that can be taught and trained. They are easy to recognise and test for competency.
The real gold dust however, lies in the soft skills we develop in the military. The behaviours, traits and non-technical abilities that relate to how we view and do things.
For most people, having the marksmanship skills to hit an enemy in the chest at 800m loses its usefulness after military service. However, work ethic, flexibility, mental toughness, tenacity, patience and problem solving are key attributes that will see you succeed at whatever you choose to pursue post service.
The Australian Special Air Service Regiment’s (SAS) selection course I completed in 1997, was at the time, the only course in the ADF not designed to teach you anything. It’s goal is purely to determine if soldiers are suitable for training, to identify those with the soft skills and attributes to become Special Forces operators. An open applicant field across all services and ranks of the ADF is evidence to the order of priority this high performing team of professional soldiers place on these skills. Senior instructors know they can teach you to shoot later but it is a lot harder to teach you a thirst to learn, to remain positive when situations look grim and display mental fortitude in times of adversity.
Likewise, in the civilian world today; it is why any human resource manager or selection panel worth their weight values these same skills when it comes to hiring new team members. They know it’s precisely these skills that will make you most successful in the workplace.
So what are the personal traits and attributes that make up those desirable soft skills?
The list is long, and examples include:
Mental and physical toughness,
Teamwork as well as the ability to work and achieve results alone, unsupervised, (having both, despite popular belief, is not common)
Risk management and the ability to accept risk, (something modern society is becoming less and less able to tolerate)
Conflict resolution and tolerance for other ideas,
Identification and management of your emotions,
Clear and concise communication, as well as listening skills,
Punctuality and time management,
Motivation and purpose,
Positivity and work ethic,
Prioritisation and problem solving,
The ability to self-evaluate yourself and your performance,
Adaptability and dependability; and
Interpersonal or people skills and empathy.
The million-dollar question is how do we improve our soft skills?
While it is easy to listen to a talk on leadership, it won’t instantly make you a good leader. Unlike hard skills that can be taught in a 40-minute lesson and cemented with practice over time; experience is the critical factor in soft skills. It is why there are thousands of highly educated yet poor leaders but also thousands of great leaders, communicators and problem solvers that have never taken a single class in it. Maybe their parents were good communicators or maybe they had a childhood sporting coach that was a great mentor. Most likely they have just learned through experience what works and what doesn’t, how to express their ideas and get the best out of people, perfecting these skills over time since they were young.
Self-awareness is key with soft skills. Identify those you already possess to a high standard so they can go down on your resumé and help you win that next promotion. Equally as important, is recognising any areas that could do with improvement. Identify the soft skill you are lacking and want to improve. Be conscious of when they are required. Research these skills and possible actions to improve them. Be aware and practice the skill then evaluate and collect feedback.
Soft skills are transferable not just throughout your career but to everything you do. Improvement should be a steady and continuous cycle, one that never ends, as these vital skills assist us to live a life full of passion, meaning and unforgettable experiences.
September 11, 2021. Twenty years since the beginning of the Afghanistan war on terror. Twenty years, to the day that I was finishing a six-month deployment to East Timor assisting the Timorese people safely hold their first Constituent Assembly elections and freely vote for representatives for each of the countries thirteen new districts.
The East Timor elections on 30 August 2001 were starting to look like they had been a success and by 11 September 2001 I was spending time cleaning my equipment ready to start my return journey back to Australia. It had been a busy four years after joining the Australian SASR in 1997. With the selection course, a year of training, the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 and now the East Timor deployment, I was looking forward to some leave and time at home with my family.
As I cleaned and packed my gear that night at our base in Balibo I declined a colleague’s offer to watch the news events unfolding in New York. Maybe it was the fact that I had been studying terror attacks for the last 4 years that I didn’t realise gravity of the situation, deciding that night that sleep was my priority given the several days of travel that lay ahead of me. It was not until a few hours later when I woke that I realised the devasting severity of what had just occurred.
The images of the people jumping to their deaths still hurts me to this day.
It was not the graphic violence I was witnessing on the live TV coverage as everyday citizens suffered at the hands of evil. It was the understanding of what it would be like to give up your life for no other reason than to take away the pain. And not the pain of natural sickness or disease, but pain deliberately and maliciously inflicted on you simply because you did not believe what someone else believed.
As a professional soldier, I am accepting of death. After experiencing my share of Afghanistan’s twenty years of recent war, the only thing I now hope is that when my time comes, I either die of old age with a whiskey in my hand, by accident living life to the fullest or by my own choice for a purpose that is bigger than me.
To be in a situation so hopeless you have no option but to end the immediate suffering is a brutality I struggle to accept.
Apart from the horror, what was also unknown on the morning of 12th September 2001 in East Timor, is that this day would mark the beginning of the 20 years of war and sacrifice that lay ahead of us.
While some of my close friends would deploy to Afghanistan just weeks later, my first deployment came the following year in 2002. In total, I would deploy to Afghanistan 5 times, some of my friends, up to 8. For what equated to multiple years of our lives and careers, we performed the duties entrusted to us by the Australian Defence Force and our Political Leaders. The epic moments from those deployments would become permanently imprinted in our brains. The sacrifices by our children and families, getting shot at, blown up and losing friends became a part of life. The acceptance of death showed the commitment we made to our country and the pursuit of the values Australia promoted. We believed in these values and still do. Some of us were so committed we stayed for the full 20 years of that fight, both in serving roles and post service to work with Australia’s public servants, keeping them safe as they advanced Australia’s national interest in Afghanistan; all the while with war raging around us.
I stand by the choices of our leaders in undertaking the mission. Our purpose and intent was moral and just. To fight oppression and help all Afghans to govern themselves free of fear.
In 2001, before the full US invasion, Richard Carlton of 60 Minutes travelled to North Eastern Afghanistan and asked an Australian citizen fighting for the Northern Alliance “Will Australian troops make an iota of difference here?”
Soberingly accurate even today this is his honest reply:
“the fight against terrorism, it’s the responsibility of all nations. And I think the Australian Government, our government in a way, should prevent injustices all over the world.”
As the war continued, we built trust with the Afghan people. As a nation, they gave their support and commitment and were willing to stand up and fight oppression with us. We fought and sacrificed alongside them, we became friends, we trusted each other. We were fighting for freedom together.
One of the things that hurts the most today is the feeling we have betrayed that trust. Thousands of allies and their families abandoned because the fight was no longer politically advantageous.
Humanity is not about helping a friend in order to get something in return.
John F Kennedy once said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
That certainly no longer seems the case under the current US Government. And sadly, it no longer seems to be the case for our country either.
While our Australian news networks share the voice of the Taliban regarding Australian soldiers committing ‘some of the worst and brutal kind of human rights violations’ our leaders are staying conveniently quiet about the fact that Afghanistan is now run by a government that made it their modus-operandi to attack civilians in order to win their war against us.
124 attacks alone in Kabul since 2017 in the form of car, truck and suicide bombs, surrendering ANA soldiers gunned down in the street, citizens dragged from their cars and homes and shot dead, people hung from Blackhawk helicopters, press being beating in Kabul and former US interpreters having their tongues cut out, while the media has the audacity to report on the “toxic culture” of our own troops.
As to why the country surrendered and fell so fast leading to the current crisis, that is a complicated question with an even more complicated answer. Ultimately the US, Australian and allied soldiers fought bravely but failed due to corruption and regional politics; the two things our militaries were not at liberty to solve.
General Sami Sadat said it well when he wrote in the New York Times that Afghan forces had fought bravely over the past two decades of war and that “we were betrayed by politics and presidents.”
With non-existent logistic, medical and offensive fire support to the Afghan National Army, the majority of Afghan soldiers decided to go home and protect their families.
On August 16 this year as the situation unravelled in Kabul, President Biden declared “American troops cannot and should not be fighting and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves.”
The statistics tell a different story.
41 Australian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014.
2,500 American service members with another almost 4,000 US contractors killed over the duration of the conflict.
66,000 Afghan national military and police killed over the last 20 years.
Clearly this was a nation willing to fight.
In my earliest days serving in Australia’s Defence Force, I learned a trademark military saying that in the end just didn’t seem to apply to Afghanistan.
“We don’t work to a time; we work to a standard”.
Equally as powerful as it turns out was the great Afghan catchcry “You may have the watches, we have the time”
The Taliban were clearly playing the long game. They knew from the outset that patience would ultimately become their greatest weapon.
I will struggle with the events surrounding the fall of Kabul for the rest of my life. We didn’t leave because we were defeated by the Taliban, we gave up because in the eyes of our leaders the mission was taking too long.
We did not invade Afghanistan as the Taliban will now tell us through Australian media. We used military force to liberate an oppressed people, to assist Afghanistan to build a country where they could have freedom. The same freedoms we enjoy.
For the last twenty years we fought for justice and convinced the Afghan people to join us in that fight. Then we walked away when it got hard.
What this means for the Afghan people is sadly more suffering. Engaging in an endless fight to protect their tribes and families. Unfortunately, not only have our governments betrayed their trust by walking away, but we have unintentionally rearmed our enemy as we did.
War can be both a thrill and horrible nightmare. It is not black and white; it exists in the grey. It requires both sacrifice and enduring commitment.
I believed in what I fought for and still do. I am proud of my service and the service of the people I fought alongside. They should be proud of their service too.
If we have the capacity, we should willingly do it again.
Never more true are the words of Australian Defence Force leader, Lt Gen David Morrison (Chief of Army 2011 – 2015 and 2016 Australian on the Year) “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”. The Taliban standard I cannot accept. As a nation we should not accept it either.
It is time to learn from our mistakes. To let values not politics guide our actions.
Because freedom and humanity will always be worth fighting for.
I yesterday read the article by Mark Willacy and Josh Robertson titled “Inside the drinking culture of the SAS”.
Since the beginning of time when nomadic families came together to form tribes for their survival and prosperity, cultures have emerged, those behaviors, values and beliefs that a group accepts, generally without thinking about them.
Waxing lyrical as to ‘the broken, arrogant culture of the SAS, a culture of elitism where the rules did not apply’, the story depicts images of wild parties artfully pieced to song lyrics of James’s ‘Getting away with it’.
To suggest that a song sung in an army boozer was an anthem condoning murder is not only presumptuous but insulting to those who risked their lives on a daily basis.
Combat is a chaotic and complex environment, one that can easily take your life if you’re not on your game. When you work, live and lead in an environment outside your control it creates stress. A beer and a song has more to do with relieving stress and surviving in the lethal chaos of war than breaking any rules.
Every time we flew into Afghanistan we didn’t know if we would be coming home again. Every time we went out the gate to face the enemy, we didn’t know if we would be back; if we would see our wives, children or families again. We were accepting that we might die for our country. The thing we were trying to ‘get away with’ was our lives
An SAS culture did exist, a culture of excellence and it was necessary. So that we could face our enemy suppressing our fear. To do our job and survive, because in a combat zone, defeat can mean you or one of your mates is dead.
To me, these lyrics signify mateship, courage and sacrifice. It represents the mates I fought with and surviving in the messed up world where we lived.
And if you watch Afghanistan on the news today you will see it’s still messed up.
Were errors in judgment made, yes. However as humans, not one of us is without flaws and one of life’s greatest lessons is learning from your experience. And I will proudly play that song on ANZAC day and toast my mates who didn’t ‘get away with it’ for the rest of my life.
While I don’t want to let my current emotion drive my comments, there is one point I want to make. Most Australians can’t comprehend what it’s like to fight a war. What it’s like to accept death and what it’s like go to war against evil.
And that’s a good thing.
So now at a time when it would be easy to stay silent, it is important to find the courage to speak. To share with people the realities of war and the fight against oppression. Without this, we can never learn from our experience and we have lost too much to not gain something.
While we went to Afghanistan to protect our citizens and western values, we were welcomed by, fought alongside and forged friendships with the Afghan people. They embraced our presence and wanted a better life for their people. We fought hard against terror and fear together.
There are a lot of diggers and Australian Veterans today feeling as though they have failed, that it was all for nothing.
I don’t think that’s the case.
While we didn’t achieve the mission in our imposed timeframe, we never failed in our commitment to help the Afghans realise freedom.
I believed in what I fought for and still do. I am proud of my service and the service of the people I fought alongside. They should be proud of their service too.
For the last twenty years we fought for the ultimate human right… freedom.
If we have the capacity, we should willingly do it again.
We should never give up the fight for justice of our fellow man.
To fight terror and make the world a better place.
Where Afghanistan goes from here will be up to the Taliban and the Afghan people. Their current and emerging leaders.
My thoughts are with them in these dark moments. I hope that they will find peace very soon.
“The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear” Aung San Suu Kyi
It has been well documented that at its most primal level our biggest human fears are fear of rejection and loneliness, fear of failure, and fear of death. Clearly, it’s the last one that has dominated our country over the last two years, so strongly in fact that it has caused us to push aside the others.
So why is it everyone so afraid of the current COVID-19 pandemic? So afraid that governments would close all borders and obstruct citizens returning home, prohibit children going to school and stop people from going to work.
It’s simple. Our leadership, media and health experts have used and spread fear in order to control the country’s population in the name of safety.
By March 2020, we all knew that COVID would kill and undoubtedly our leaders were right to pause and assess the situation before moving forward as a country. We needed to prepare for the fight against COVID. It was necessary to educate our communities, enhance our public health systems and develop vaccines. What was also needed, but sadly lacking, was to prepare our collective mindset. Given the fear of death is one of our biggest, we needed resilience and compassion for the fight. To come together as a country. Undoubtedly, our mindset should have been a key weapon in the battle against COVID.
But, instead of fighting, we decided to try and hide.
Now 18 months later, our leaders are just realising what some have known for a long time. We can’t beat COVID, and we can’t hide from it. It only needs a small undetected foot hold, and it will spread. Today, almost two years on, some states are still scared and hiding, hoping it magically goes away soon. Still our only weapons to fight COVID are lockdowns and vaccines and we know both won’t go close to saving all lives. Even if our vaccines were 100% effective now, they won’t be next year when there is a new, possibly more deadly strain.
The end result of all this hiding?
More division, hate and fear than ever before in this country.
How much has been achieved by all we have endured over the last 18 months and continue to endure today? Is the false illusion of safety worth the re-prioritisation of our country’s values? Does the transfer of responsibility for personal safety from the individual to the government make us safer in the long term? And if it does, is the improvement worth the cost to Australia’s principal value of “respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual”?
The use of fear has become so commonplace we no longer even recognise we are afraid.
Our leaders know we desire safety. “Thanks for keeping me safe Premier” we read and hear regularly. Approval ratings have never been higher while we continue to hide from COVID with quarantine’s, lockdowns and borders closures. There is open public angry at “those people putting us at risk”. All the while, our country goes deeper and deeper into debt.
All with no real plan. Just a hope. That we can save every life.
Unfortunately we cannot.
And not only can we not save every life, it also shouldn’t be our top priority. Our priority should be our countries values, beliefs, and principles. The very thing that makes us all Australian.
It’s time to fight to save our culture. Our countries soul. Because left uncontrolled, these fears will lead to regret and regret can devastate our lives.
So how do we overcome these fears?
We accept we are afraid, and we move forward.
I have had to overcome many fears in my life, including the fear of death. And never have I overcome fear by pretending I could hide from it or avoid it. I have only ever overcome fear by acknowledging it. To face it and make a truce a with it. I accept that it is a part of me, and I allow myself to live my best life with it. To keep the fear in my head and out of my heart and soul.
What we need now is to overcome the fear of death in order to be able to live. I would rather live a short life full of adventure, experience, purpose and passion than a long one void of freedom and filled with ‘what if’s’.
It’s with this in mind, I declare that I won’t let your fear control me. I will continue to live so that my encounter with death, whenever it might come, will not be accompanied by regret.
This has never been more important than in our current climate. Despite twelve weeks now spent isolated in quarantines, not being allowed to travel to see my family, my life is still good. And I continue to work to make it better.
At a time when people feel their lives are on pause; waiting for their next holiday, for lockdown to finish, or my personal favourite, to ‘get their freedom’s back’; I am continuing to live. To move forward and improve.
Recently Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated, “It’s time to give Australians their lives back. We’ve saved lives. We’ve saved livelihoods but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country” My reply to Mr Morrison, I never gave you my life and it is not yours to give back. While you have prolonged some lives you have not saved them. The only way to save a life is to make sure it is not squandered. That it is not lived in fear, trying desperately to prolong it while hiding from all danger. Dealing with our fears and accepting some risk is a natural part of life. We know we can’t live longer so it goes without saying we should try to live better. With purpose, passion and void of regret.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” Marcus Aurelius
12 months ago in France, I wrote a blog called “Courage circa 1918”. As I recently hiked the Kokoda track I was reminded of this story about Walter Brown and the traits Aussie soldiers on the track had in common with the ANZAC’s in the trenches.
While the Western Front in World War One and the hot jungles of Papua New Guinea were very different places; it was sobering to consider the similarities in the ANZAC’s that fought at each place. At the Isurava Memorial today the four words courage, endurance, mateship, and sacrifice are etched into stone and they absolutely sum up both generations of Diggers. It was these four words and the story of Corporal Charlie McCallum that kept coming back to me as I walked the track.
I first read about Charlie McCallum the night before I started the trek across Kokoda and was privileged to walk the ground he did. Charlie was a magnificent example of not just courage but also endurance, mateship, and sacrifice. His story is worth telling again, as he is a true Australian hero.
VX15241 Corporal Charlie Reginald McCallum As the battle of Isurava on the Kokoda Track and the fighting with the Japanese intensified on the 29 August 1942, the order was given for the 2/14 Infantry Battalion to withdraw. The Japanese had attacked with such ferocity, 12 Platoon, B Company became overwhelmed and to break contact from the Japanese would have certainly meant taking many casualties.
It was in these frantic moments that a wounded Corporal Charlie McCallum took the initiative and put it all on the line for his mates. Calmly standing his ground, with a Bren gun in his right hand and a Thompson sub-machine gun from a wounded friend in the other, Charlie singlehandedly defended the Platoon position against waves of advancing enemy soldiers while his mates safely withdrew.
I read that in the heat of battle, an extraordinarily calm Charles was changing magazines on the Bren gun while fighting with the Thompson and at one point the enemy got so close that a Japanese soldier pulled a piece of equipment of his belt. When his Platoon retired to safety and he himself fell back; it is said that up to 40 enemy soldiers lay in front of him on the battlefield.
Although recommended for a Victoria Cross for his courage in the face of the enemy, Charles received a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). It is said that this was only because Private Bruce Kingsbury, also from the 2/14 Battalion was awarded a VC for bravery and the higher command did not want to award two in the same battle.
Charlie McCallum’s citation reads: ‘At all times in action, McCallum was admirably calm and steady. On this occasion, his utter disregard for his own safety and his example of devotion to duty and magnificent courage was an inspiration to all our troops in the area. His gallant stand and the number of casualties he alone inflicted checked the enemy’s advance and allowed the withdrawal to proceed unhindered and without loss’. It is hard to comprehend the bravery Charlie displayed and inspired in those around him on the Track. It is also clear that the courage Charlie displayed at Isurava was not a single event. On the 8 September 1942, just one week later, at Brigade Hill, Charlie McCallum was killed in action.
Is it just me or are we now living in a society that seems to indulge itself in easy. We glamourise talent, give our kids awards just for participating, want everything to come naturally and believe a good life is one that is all just smooth sailing.
But I don’t agree. When you seek out easy, you build no immunity to hardship. You only have to watch the nightly news to see you cannot control everything, that in life hardship occurs and you need to be able to deal with it.
Hardly a day goes by when I don’t read about a struggling veteran, homeless or without purpose in life. It’s not that I don’t think their struggle isn’t real. I know full well the obstacles they have faced. Mistakes on the battlefield, injury, divorce, separation from my children and financial hardship. I’ve faced them too.
The difference? I focus on developing from a life of hardship and I simply refuse to let difficulty beat me.
Maybe its sheer stubbornness and tenacity. If I get knocked down nine times, I will get up ten. Maybe it was engrained into me during my Special Forces training with a culture of not being afraid of failure and endless hours of deliberate practice. Maybe it is my “post traumatic growth” the experts talk about. Maybe I strive to make the most out of life because I have witnessed adversity firsthand? Maybe it’s all of the above.
I know I have made mistakes that almost got me killed and I believe I have avoided death a few times. Saddling up and getting out there when you know it could kill you regardless of how good your performance is makes you accept the things outside your control. And while that includes accepting death, it also means valuing life. Fear for your life over a prolonged time period like a combat veteran does and you gain a calm awareness that allows you to fully commit to each day. You develop a drive and motivation to train, learn, gain experience and improve.
The point is,
In life, it’s not how you succeed, it’s how you fail. No matter how skilled or seasoned or resilient, life will sometimes fight you and try to defeat you. When you have setbacks or failures do not overreact. Do not let them throw you off course and destroy your optimism. Remove the emotion, step back and evaluate. Find the lesson and learn from the experience. Actively strive to improve yourself and your situation. And have fun while you do it.
To quote one of my favourite sayings: “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one” – Bruce Lee
For most new climbers their first trekking experience is bathed in expectations of epic sunsets and triumphant Instagram worthy pics at the top of the summit.
Sorry to break it to you…. while that’s fun, it’s not really what it’s about.
To set out expecting to always reach the top is like expecting to always be happy, it is unrealistic. Every good climber has not just one but a host of non-summits in his pack. If not, I would challenge them to try some bigger, harder mountains. In my 25 years of climbing mountains I’d hazard a guess that at least a quarter of my climbs have been non summits…. And many of those have been my most memorable climbs.
Because it is in these moments you are truly experiencing the power of a mountain. The mountain doesn’t care about your wishes or desires to get to the top. Whether or not you summit, the mountain still remains, as strong and steadfast as it was before you stepped onto it. It will not bend or cater to your wishes.
And sometimes you achieve your goal, sometimes you don’t.
Regardless of skill or preparation or desire, there are occasions when you simply won’t get to the top, when your best isn’t good enough on the day and although that may sound bitterly disappointing it is in these times that we are reminded of two of the great life lessons a mountain has to teach you.
It not about the destination but the journey.
It is not the events themselves but our interpretations of events that shape us.
Most people equate a non summit as failure. But we firmly disagree.
Whacking on a pack and marching to the top with ease in perfect conditions may sound like the ideal mountain experience but what this means is that we have failed to step beyond our comfort zone. We have not been challenged. We have not grown on any level. And if we are not growing we are merely surviving.
When you dare to step beyond what is predictable and certain you have the opportunity to experience something so much more. More than just a physical rite of passage, a mountain exposes your mental muscle too. How you deal with discomfort, disappointment and even joy, cannot be hidden on a mountain.
Every step is an experience…physically, mentally and emotionally, as you test your capability and witness the true power and vast beauty of nature. It can be an overwhelming experience, one every human should get to experience in their lifetime. Some are physically silenced, some are moved to tears, the cameras down as you mindfully take in what no lens could ever capture.
The mountain teaches us how to be present.
How to approach challenge.
How to deal with adversity.
To discover who you truly are and what you are capable of.
And these lessons are not learned at the top. They are learned through each and every step you take.
So step beyond, be brave and take the path less travelled.
Nothing worth doing comes easy. Lean into the experience and grow.
If you want to be your best self, you need to stretch and in stretching, you must change your relationship with failure. It is not something to be feared but something to be encouraged. Understand and accept that on the path to success you will fail, (possibly many times), but it is with these experiences you will find the exact lessons you need to take you to the next level!
“I will come again and I will conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow. But as a human, I can”
There are so many resources on leadership available, yet as a culture we still produce so many questionable leaders. From our day to day work lives to high level politicians, business people, media personalities and sporting stars there are countless examples of things going awry.
Because the secret lies in the doing not just the knowing. It is easy to stand up and tout the latest leadership buzzwords but it is another thing entirely to live them. To model what you speak and embody them in your everyday conduct.
Having spent almost 20 years of my military career in small teams from both the Special Forces and infantry combat units, I have been privileged to learn the non-negotiable skills of leadership from the best.
Combat, and I mean combat, as in the place where you can get killed by an enemy, is one of those complex, difficult environments where bad leaders won’t last. Their teams won’t unite, their orders won’t be followed and they won’t get results.
It’s challenging in the modern military to make young men risk their life fighting, to believe so strongly in a cause that they will suffer for it; so good leaders learn they must lead from the front.
So what is it that a frontline leader does differently?
1. Be Authentic It’s number one for a reason. Before you start to lead and look after others you must know who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in. When you are really ready to lead, it will be because you know yourself intimately, your own personal strengths and weaknesses. There is no place for ego. You possess a genuine humility with the ability to take full ownership of decisions and results.
2. Build Trust You exist to serve the team. When you realise that leadership is the privilege you have been given, you will make protecting the team and building its strength important to you. Know your team’s personalities and have their best interest at heart. Do these things and the team will see you as their leader without you telling them you are. Trust will occur naturally, and your influence will grow.
3. Gain Experience Be competent at the roles, tasks and jobs of the members of your team. Strive to learn every aspect of your team’s area of expertise. Be professional and remember that complacency kills. Do the small things well.
4. Create a Shared Culture Everything is shared. The values, purpose, objectives and outcomes. Members of a high performing team see themselves as a lot more than just a team. They will see their team as a family, cohort or tribe. When your team feel like they belong to a family, they will sacrifice for each other. The collective goal of the team becomes more important than the individual and as a result the team will prosper.
5. Display Personal Courage This one is simple but far from natural or easy. Set the example and lead from the front. Once you have your plan implement it and “run into the breach” as they say. Your team will follow. Do what I do, not what I say. Be brave and take ownership of the team’s mistakes while giving them the credit for their successes.
6. Be Comfortable in Chaos It is imperative for a leader to remain calm, especially when things don’t go to plan. Your team will look to you in adversity and it will be up to you to steer them out of trouble. Be flexible and work on your adaptability. It is the ability to prioritise and execute that will see your team succeed. Remaining calm will allow you to see the opportunities in unseemingly challenging situations and use them to your advantage.
7. Keep it Simple Complexity is inherent in any situation, but overcomplicated plans lead to ambiguity which leads to things going wrong. Simplicity is crucial to success. Break everything down to the lowest common denominator and ensure every member of your team understands and is fully on board with the common why.
8. Continuous Improvement Don’t rest on your laurels. Just because it worked or was the best way in the past doesn’t mean it will work or be the best way now or in the future. Never stop learning. Be open to new ideas. Evaluate every success, and more importantly, every failure, and use these to create better plans moving forward.
A frontline combat leader operates in a harsh and unforgiving environment, an environment where it would be easy to simply preach authority. But true leadership does not demand, it inspires. Create a shared purpose and build the right culture around it and your team will follow.