I lead my men by example.

“I am an officer of the Singapore Armed Forces. 

My Duty is to lead, to excel and to overcome.

I lead my men by example.
I answer for their training, morale and discipline.

I must excel in everything I do.

I serve with pride, honour and integrity.

I will overcome adversity with courage, fortitude and determination.

I dedicate my life to Singapore.”

Above is the Officer’s Creed, a pledge recited by the officers of the Singapore Armed Forces during their commissioning parade. In the 9 months of vigorous training before rising to the rank of 2nd lieutenant, cadets had to recite the Officer’s Creed daily during their water parade, before they turn in for the night. As an aspiring officer cadet, we were inculcated with three fundamental values; leadership, excellence, and tenacity.

In this blogpost, I will reflect on my leadership style during my time in the army, and evaluate the effectiveness of it. Throughout the 9 months of arduous and rigorous training, there were so many times when my fellow cadets and I were feeling so unmotivated and dejected, but yet we managed to persevere through ridiculous demands by our superiors. We only had one thing in our minds: we wanted to lead soldiers.

Reciting the Officer’s Creed daily, we were constantly reminded that the first duty of an officer is to lead by example, and that our soldier’s well-being was our responsibility. Yet during the training phase*, none of us were required to lead soldiers who were unmotivated or ill-disciplined. Sure, we took turns to uphold leadership position, but since we were all highly motivated cadets, our leadership capability was not fully tested as each of us played our roles.

*To provide context; officer cadets train amongst themselves for the full 9 months of training.

So when we were commissioned as officers, even with our expert knowledge in battle orders and technical knowledge in tank operations, we were still raw as leaders. The intense training only truly equipped us with two lines on leadership: ‘I lead my man by example. I answer for their training, morale, and discipline.’ With that mantra in mind, we were posted to our units with much anticipation.

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Finally, we were going to be commissioned as officers!

In the first month or so, as a newly commissioned officer, I was still raw to the culture in an operational combat unit. However, under the guidance of a senior officer, I quickly learnt the ropes. It was easy for me to lead the soldiers who were under my charge, simply because I held the rank of a 2nd lieutenant. The legitimate power which I was ascribed based on 9 months of training gained the respect of my soldiers, even if they did not know me personally. Soldiers I met for the first time saluted me.  While I was highly respected in my new unit, it was due to the formal power structure and the hierarchical system that was already in place within the organisation. This was not the type of leader that I had aspired to be.

Luckily for me, I was tasked to organize the National Day Parade in 2010, and this gave me the opportunity to exhibit and hone my leadership capabilities. Without exposure to formal leadership lectures and people management classes, I only had one line to guide me. I lead my men by example.

As we held rehearsals over the weekends, many soldiers held grievances and were reluctant to burn their weekends for something that they did not believe to be beneficial to them. Over the months building up to NDP2010, I believe that I exhibited signs of transformational leadership, stated as follows:

Idealised Influence: Leading by example, I was always the first person to reach the rehersal site, and the last to leave. I ensured that my soldiers were all accounted for before I left the rehearsal site. I believe that this gained the respect of my soldiers.

Individualised Consideration: In order to motivate my soldiers, which was not an easy task, I allowed them to bring along books and devices to entertain themselves during their breaks. This was a decision which I made, which was against usual guidelines. Also, I made an effort to speak to each and every soldier under my charge during each rehearsal.

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Checking in on my soldiers was something I did every rehearsal.

Inspirational Motivation: Before every rehearsal, I would gather my soldiers for a pre-rehearsal pep talk. I told them how they are doing the nation proud, by being part of the NDP which showcases the independence of Singapore. I made them feel proud of burning the weekends to be part of something big.

Intellectual Stimulation: At the end of each rehearsal, I would allow my soldiers to provide feedback and submit their complaints to me. However, I would also seek their suggestions so that the next rehearsal could be conducted in a better manner.

I was grateful for the rare opportunity to hone my leadership capabilities, and I believe that organizing NDP2010 helped me grow to be a better leader. I have learnt that good leaders emerge from circumstances which require someone to step up, and dare to be different from the others. If not for organizing the NDP, I perhaps would not be able to gain these set of skills, which certainly cannot be learnt just from books and classes.

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Organising the NDP rehearsals was certainly no mean feat.

 

Epilogue

Just a couple months back, as I was walking along the streets at Clementi, I heard a voice shout out to me,

‘Lieutenant Louis Sir! How have you been?’

Much to my surprise, it was one of my recruits under my charge when I was organizing the national day parade in 2010. I had not been addressed as sir for a long time, and it certainly made me smile. To be honest, I could not even remember the guy’s name, yet he still remembers me, and still respects me by addressing me as ‘Sir’. We exchanged a few words and a firm handshake.

‘It was nice to see you again after so long, I hope to see you in camp sometime,’ he said to me as we parted ways.

This incident truly made me felt proud. I must have done something right as a leader. Although I was not a true transformational leader to the core, I believe that I did exhibit traits of it. This made me realise that transformational leadership can indeed motivate followers, and garner their respect, for a long time to come.

I just want to be happy! The desire to attain well-being in life.

Mr. Happy

As graduation is looming around the corner, I am apprehensive of the new phase of life which I am about to embark on. Listening to friends who are already in the workforce tell me about their countless problems and all the stress that they are facing at work certainly leads to me wondering if I am able to cope with the pressures that I will inevitably face once I start working.

As a student for the bulk of the past 25 years, I mainly have just one pressure to perform well in my academics. Thus, given my innate cheerful personality, there has not been too much of a hindrance to my goal of leading a stress-free and happy life. If the constant societal pressures of needing to excel in studies are not able to put me down, then nothing at the workplace should too right? Sure, I have worked part-time jobs and internships before, and I understand the negative emotions that come along at work. However, the disregard for these emotions could be due to the fact that I still regard myself first and foremost a student, and I acknowledge that they are just short phases in my current life which will pass once I return to school.

In the third lesson, we learnt about the affective events theory, and according to it, the emotions that we experience at work will ultimately affect our job performance and satisfaction levels. While it is intuitive that the emotions at work affect how one performs and whether he is satisfied at the job, the more worrying effect is on how such emotions can spill-over to the personal life. A highly relevant issue to me is that new entrants to the workforce are more likely to experience workplace incivility (Lim & Cortina, 2005) that results in negative affect and emotions. Of course, there is no problem if the emotions experienced at work are positive, but negative emotions experienced will mean that there could be negative spill-over effects into his personal life, which possibly leads to work-family conflicts as well (Ilies, Wilson, & Wagner, 2009). Together with the many unpleasant workplace anecdotes from my friends, it seems that life as a working adult is bleak, both on and off work. As I am not ready to succumb to the negativities of work-life without a fight, I wondered if there are ways that could allow me to control emotions.

Check out this animation of Angry Birds, and how it attempts to teach little kids on how to control anger:


Perhaps we can all learn from the red angry bird, and just ‘realise that we do not have to be angry’! Together with many other experts on emotional management (and videos of how to control your emotions on YouTube), they all seem to tell the same story that you can and should constantly control your emotions. But then I thought to myself, can it really be that easy to control your emotions all the time? I sincerely doubt so! If it was really that easy, then why isn’t everyone happy all the time? Furthermore, I believe that the various emotions available to us are there for a reason, to tell us something, much like how the ‘flight or fight’ instinct is part of our human reaction.

Thus, instead of trying to constantly restrain my irrational emotions, I have decided to adopt stress-coping techniques to aid me in leading a happy life for when I enter the workforce. The reason behind the negative emotions obtained at the workplace should first be identified, before managing it with either the emotional-focused or problem-focused approach (Lazarus, 1993). If say the negative emotion is caused by a situational factor which the employee cannot change, then he should adopt the emotional-focused approach, and alter his thoughts accordingly. This allows the employee to appraise the stress encounter differently and take it to be more benign. In the case of a stress encounter where the employee can make decisions to improve the situation, then he should adopt the problem-focused approach to rectify the issue. Doing so will enable the employee to alleviate the stress implied upon him.

Learning point: Perhaps we should embrace the emotions that we experience, since they are part of how we are hard-wired to be. So long as we make the conscious efforts to understand and rationalise the causes of the emotions, we will be able to deal with our emotions more effectively, and lead a more fulfilling life.

Now, are you ready to lead a happy life?

Bibliography (Articles accessible via NUS libraries)
Ilies, R., Wilson, K. S., & Wagner, D. T. (2009). The spillover of daily job satisfaction onto employees’ family lives: The facilitating role of work-family integration. Academy of Management Journal, 87-102.

Lazarus, R. (1993). From psychological stress to the emotions: A history of changing outlooks. Annual Reviews Psychology, 1-21.

Lim, S., & Cortina, L. (2005). Interpersonal Mistreatment in the Workplace: The Interface and Impact of General Incivility and Sexual Harassment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 483-496.