Yesterday I 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.
If you reflect on the things you value most what tops the list?
For many, the bulk of their time is spent focused on material wealth and possessions but apart from an initial buzz, how memorable are they?
In comparison, think back to your last experience and notice how your senses activate.… the smallest of things you can recall in vivid detail. This is the fabric of lasting memories.
New experiences offer us the opportunity for one of the most fundamental of human needs - growth.
As we move beyond the familiarity of our comfort zone we display courage in our willingness to be a beginner.
As we face our fears we strengthen our resilience.
As we try and stumble we develop humility.
As we persevere we develop tenacity.
And as we become more comfortable with being uncomfortable we build the confidence to stretch a little further.
With every experience we discover more about ourselves… our strengths, our weaknesses, what brings us joy and what we are truly capable of.
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 I had acquired in the Special Forces and went back to Afghanistan to work at the Australian Embassy as a security contractor with my mates. It was an easy transition from Defence and to be honest, 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 adventure hikes for former military and first responders, taking them into the wilderness to show them how good the adventure and tranquility can be for their 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.” I was referring to skills like sniping, proficiency with a machine gun, blowing things up 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.
I believe there are two main types of skills in the 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, at the time I did it was the only course in the ADF not designed to teach you anything. Its 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. Knowing that anyone, from anywhere, in the ADF can apply for the SAS 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 to want to learn, to have a positive mindset when situations look grim and display mental fortitude when things get hard.
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:
The million-dollar question is how do we improve our soft skills?
While it is quite 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 footy coach that was a great leader. Most likely they have just learned through experience what works and what doesn’t, how to get the best out of people and express their ideas, perfecting these skills over time since they were young.
The common saying “you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with” is also very relevant when it comes to soft skills. If your five closest friends tell you it is OK to hit the beers until late on a Sunday night making Monday’s performance at work sub-optimal; you will think the same. This in turn will likely erode other peoples (including your managers) perception of your personal traits, dedication for one. But if your close friends and work colleagues promote focus and the value of not letting the team down, you are more likely to have two beers then head home for a good night’s rest.
Self-awareness is key with soft skills. Some you will undoubtably already have to a good standard – identify these so that 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.
A simple system of improving soft skills:
Improvement in your soft skills in life should be a steady and continuous cycle, one that never ends as they assist us in all aspects of life not just work. Good soft skills will assist us to live a purposeful life full of passion, meaning and unforgettable experiences. From the everyday moments in your family relationships, to the personal achievements and epic adventures you experience before your limited time comes to an end.
In terms of criminal activity, did you know most criminals go through a victim selection process to assess the ease with which they could overpower a victim. This is often based on nonverbal signals which victims are usually not even aware of.
Attackers fear failure so one of the most important aspects of personal safety success is the ability to make yourself a hard target. You may not be an MMA champion but let's not tell the world that.
Some practical rules:
Speak with authority if a stranger approaches and never negotiate your own security in the name of politeness. Avoid soft responses like "maybe”, "sorry” and "I’m not sure”. Instead, be firm and say "No."
Don't give them an inch or let them gain more control. Turn your “No” into a complete sentence and take charge of your personal safety.
Looking to learn more about Personal Safety. Talk to us today about our tailored Personal Safety training for individuals and workplaces today.
Whether you are in a foreign country or visiting the local shops, situational awareness is a skill worth having. Staying out of trouble is always better than knowing how to get out of trouble.
Situational awareness is the ability to observe and comprehend what’s going on in your environment and how it directly relates to you. This allows you to understand what actions to take in order to stay in control of your environment.
Being in control of your own environment is the only way to ensure your safety. Relying on others to look after you is a sure way to come unstuck.
There are 3 simple steps to improving situational awareness and ensuring your perceived reality is aligned with the actual reality:
At Point Assist we specialise in personal safety. Talk to us today for a training package to suit your needs.
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.
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”
Sir Edmund Hillary
Mt Picton, Tasmania, August 2016. 350 meters from the summit. Forced to turn back due to weather
Whether you are traveling to complex, hostile, high risk environments or an adventure travel destination in a foreign country; I recommend carrying a “Grab Bag”.
What is a grab bag?
A grab bag is that small “on the person always” bag, that you don’t go anywhere without. If everything else goes bad, you will use your grab bag to get you out of trouble. It does not leave your person. It’s in your carry on during flight and it’s the foundation set up to the environment you are in once you arrive.
During the six years I spent working in Afghanistan after I discharged from the military, my grab bag was with me every single day. If it’s important and it’s not in your pocket, its in your grab bag so if you ever have to run from danger towards safety, all the essentials are in one place and you can literally ‘grab and go’.
It needs to be easy to carry so you don’t want it any bigger than a small back pack and the following items are what we recommend it contains:
Although it may seem like overkill, remember when it comes to travel no preparation is ever wasted. A well prepared grab bag can save your life.
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.
“I’m too busy” has become the catchphrase of our modern age. Everyone is endlessly pushing, hustling and grinding and busy is now worn like a badge of honour. Whatever the dream, goal, task, “I’m too busy” is now the go-to reason for inaction. But is it really a reason or just an excuse?
We all have the same 24 hours in every day. The key is in how we choose to use it. Somewhere along the line of adulthood we seem to stop doing what we want to do in favour of what we ‘have to’ do. Gambling on the illusion that our future is somehow guaranteed, we wait, we defer, we trade now for later. Unfortunately though, later rarely comes and that thing we want to do, no matter how long we wait, never happens.
Although time is limited, it is extremely elastic and will stretch to accommodate whatever you choose to put into it. Have you noticed that every time you encounter an unexpected hurdle, a flat battery, computer malfunction, no internet access, that you somehow manage to find the time to deal with it. In these situations, the opportunity cost (what you give up) is perceived as high so instantly they move up the priority list. Why is it then we do not value our own desires and dreams just as highly?
Life is not a dress rehearsal. There are no do-over’s or second chances. So instead of just piling more ‘have to’ tasks on your never ending to-do list, take control and make you a priority. If you are overextended, this is a position you’ve choosen to be in. Everything currently occupying your time you have at some point said yes to. Step back and reassess what is important. Are you designing a life you want to live or is your life designing you?
Once you get clear on your priorities, it is amazing how much time you will find to do the things that make you feel alive. We are exchanging life for everything we do. You want to make sure you are exchanging it for things that truly matter.
Time or perceived lack of it, is not the issue. Time is simply an excuse, an avoidance technique to keep you from taking charge and changing your reality. Stop thinking about what you don’t want and start thinking about what you do. One of life’s major purposes is fulfillment so don’t be content to just let it pass you by. That book you want to write, mountain you want to climb, weight you want to lose, job you want to change, adventure you want to have…. it’s not a matter of “is there time?” but rather “is there time not to?”
The past has passed and the future is yet to arrive so embrace the only time we ever have.. right now!
The tragedy of life is not that we only have a short time on the earth. The tragedy is wasting it.