Kapiti News

A Jack Reacher or two will transform any office

- OPINION Paul Catmur

Some people see the Army as a noble bastion between us and those who would do us harm. Others think soldiers are old-fashioned, knucklehea­ds who are inclined to get a bit shooty when stressed. Whatever your view, the military have spent thousands of years perfecting the job of getting disparate individual­s to work purposeful­ly towards a common aim. Take away the shooting, and most of the body bags, and this is pretty similar to running a business.

During my time at a UK university, I was a “weekend warrior”, serving with the Territoria­l Army and also spending time with the regulars in Germany and the Falklands. I was talked into signing up by a mate who assured me that, as well as being fun, the Army would pay me, provide lots of cheap booze, and wouldn’t let anyone shoot at me. These were important considerat­ions for a student in those days.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how much I’d learn from the experience, both about myself, leadership, and organisati­ons in general. Here are some of the lessons I found useful:


There’s no such thing as “early” in the army, you’re either on time or late. There are some exceptions to the “be early” rule, like starting artillery barrages for example, but these are unlikely to apply in most offices.

It doesn’t matter what you do at night

Long drinking sessions were actively encouraged in our unit. There was only one rule: whatever you might have got up to the night before, you had to be on parade on time. No excuses. I’ve spent all night in the bar, changed into my uniform and gone straight (well, swaying) to the parade ground. This turned out to be excellent discipline for management “conference­s”.

The NCOs run the army

For those unfamiliar with military structures, NCO is short for NonCommiss­ioned Officer. NCOs are not particular­ly senior, but they are the ones who make things happen; the ones who stop their superiors from getting their men killed. Business examples could be the PA to the CEO, or the office manager. The good ones know everything, and everyone, and will do their utmost to stop their bosses from implementi­ng the dumbest of their ideas. Be nice to them.

Sleep when you can

If you’ve been up all night digging trenches and lugging heavy weapons around in the rain it gets pretty tiring. Consequent­ly, we learnt to grab a quick 20 minutes whenever we could. Back in civvy street, to the amusement of my co-workers, I would often have a nap under my desk if I was feeling groggy or if I wanted to be sharp for a big meeting. You may well feel like crap when you wake up, but you will always be better for it.

Training. Training. Training

Soldiers are not just cannon fodder.

Over the centuries armies have learned that the best ways of organising a large number of people to act together, is discipline, and training whether it relies on repetition or initiative. The untrained are a liability.

Never volunteer for anything

For me, I think this should be amended to “never volunteer for anything unless you’re sure you know what it is”. If people decline to tell you what they want you to volunteer for, it’s best avoided.

Guns hurt

I’ve fired many different guns (not very accurately ) but only at targets and under strict army control. The idea that untrained people should be wandering around with guns for fun is ludicrous. I’ve seen a trainee shut their eyes and unload a 9mm pistol into the ground by their feet while the instructor cowered behind them. In business, don’t over-burden people with the means to damage the organisati­on unless you’re absolutely sure they can handle it.

Any fool can be uncomforta­ble

Spending all day (and night) outdoors means you’ll generally be cold, wet, miserable, or all three. It’s up to you to boost your own morale by making yourself as comfortabl­e as you can — you get no extra marks for dying of frostbite rather than being shot. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropri­ate clothing.

Your Company Needs You!

So, if you have the chance to spend some time with the military I would recommend it, it’s another world with much to learn from. Similarly, I think it makes sense to look favourably at recruiting ex-army types if you have the chance, as a Jack Reacher or two will transform any office. It’s good to know you have someone who can handle an Uzi when the CFO comes visiting.

Paul Catmur worked in advertisin­g

across New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia, including cofounding an agency in Auckland. This series is about how to make the best

out of maybe not being the best.

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