What I learnt from the Army: Lieutenant General Satish Dua (retired)
It was raining. A young man was being chased by three others. We could hear the shouts: ‘Don’t let him get away, don’t let him get away.’ One of the three dived onto the feet of the man they were chasing. They all landed in a heap in the slushy football field ground. The goal was saved. But a penalty was given.
This was a scene from a football match at the National Defence Academy. There are 72 teams; the top ones, of course, are far better than the others. But what even the weakest footballer in the Academy lacks in skill, he makes up in josh. Everyone – and I mean everyone – plays his match as if it is the World Cup final.
‘Win the match by hook or crook or don’t show me your face.’ This is the kind of rough talk in the name of motivation for every game. Why? Why is winning so important to us?
Win or die
Winning is important because in our business there are no runners-up, no silver medallists. Those who don’t win often end up dead. So, whether it is a football match or a rifle firing competition, an encounter with terrorists or battle on the LOC, soldiers will do anything to win.
The killer instinct isn’t, of course, limited just to soldiers. We see it in any professional sphere, but there is one big difference. In the Army, the winner’s instinct leads to a great sense of bonding. Knowing that your comrade will risk his life to save yours instills a profound spirit of camaraderie and a feeling of reassurance. Because for us, cooperation and synergy are a matter of life or death. If we don’t work together, we won’t win. If we don’t win, we die.
On the other hand, in the corporate world, there is cut-throat competition. While teamwork matters everywhere and everyone struggles to motivate a good team, in the world outside of the Army, generally speaking (of course, there are exceptions), everyone ultimately looks out for himself.
Imagine you are on a snow-covered mountain, at an altitude of 21,000 feet – read that again: 21,000 feet! Another 8,000 feet, and you are on top of Mount Everest, where the temperature is -30 degrees, and the icy winds are bone-biting, where you have to walk through a snow storm even though you are short of breath due to lack of oxygen. Many soldiers posted in the Kashmir and Ladakh region have to man such territories.
After a long and risky march, the soldiers are close to their objective, an enemy post, which has to be captured. Now, the commander asks for volunteers to lead the attack. The soldiers know that while everyone is equally at risk of being hit by an enemy bullet, for the three soldiers in the lead, the risks are especially high, in fact, almost certain. They could blow a foot in a hidden minefield or take a direct bullet hit. Yet, we always have more volunteers to lead than we need.
Lead from the front
A soldier believes in the cause. Productivity, profitability and incentives can motivate an individual or team to perform better, but a cause is much higher. When you work for a cause, you do not stand to benefit individually. It is a higher cause that makes a man even sacrifice his life, if required. A man is ready to put himself in harm’s way; he is ready to risk his life for a cause, not for profit.
He also has a very high sense of self-esteem. What’s unusual is that this is a collective self-esteem, a feeling of pride for being in the Army, but more directly his particular regiment and regimental traditions and history. A solider will never want to let down the name of his battalion or the flag of his regiment. Such is the level of motivation.
And finally, and ultimately – this intense motivation comes from our leadership. The Indian Army has the highest officer-man casualty ratio in the world. Our leaders lead from the front, setting a very high standard of personal example. Whether it was the Kargil War or Kashmir, our junior leaders always lead from the front. Whether it’s Captain Vikram Batra of ‘Yeh Dil Maange More’ fame or Captain Manoj Pande from Kargil, both awarded Param Veer Chakra posthumously, Major Sudhir Walia who won the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry medal, or the many, many more who laid down their lives in Kashmir or elsewhere. In which other force do you hear about so many junior leaders sacrificing their lives while leading their teams from the front?
When a man knows that winning is everything, when he is confident that his comrades will even risk their lives to save his, when collective self-esteem or regimentation links his self-esteem to a higher cause, and most of all, when his leaders lead by personal example, risking their own lives, such a man will always shine in battle.
These were the lessons I learnt from the Army. Can you learn them too?
Lieutenant General Satish Dua is a former Corps Commander in Kashmir, who retired as Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. His new book is called India’s Bravehearts. (Views expressed are personal.)
From HT Brunch, December 13, 2020
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