Advising and Inspiring: What I Learned from ‘Bottom-Up Blogging’
By Capt John Bailey
I recently instigated an internal monthly blog within my Army Reserve RMP company. It began with me writing an example and publishing it. I then press-ganged others to follow suit. To begin, each month we covered a different aspect of the British Army’s ‘LEADERS’ model from the Leadership Code.
The idea was that experienced leaders would tell simple stories. We would move beyond dryly belt-feeding doctrine to our junior non-commissioned officers, instead prompting conversations directly related to what we do. Looking back it is clear this did not quite have the dramatic impact I envisaged. But it did have a slower burning effect that is worth sharing.
Perhaps, arrogantly, I had thought I had all the answers.
“…example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” Albert Einstein
The View From The Bottom
However, some seven months on a good many junior soldiers have now written entries themselves. And they have undoubtedly been the best ones.
Some wrote summaries of basic training, telling stories about what it is actually like. What it’s like now, not what it was like ten- or twenty-something years ago when I went through. They honestly described facing up to some of their fears, of realising their apprehension was unfounded.
Whatever the case, they shared the sense of achievement that comes with completing training.
Importantly, their work is full of relevant ‘top tips’ for those that follow, whilst counteracting the mythologizing of the old and bold. Similarly, a young potential officer, having only recently graduated from university, wrote a weekly blog whilst undertaking his eight week Reserve Commissioning Course at Sandhurst. Another great example of achievement. It is another great example of practical advice being shared with peers.
Others demonstrated that individuals can create opportunities themselves. One young Lance Corporal told of how, after joining the Army Reserve, she was inspired to re-visit her equestrian hobby. She is now competing for the Army Dressage Team. What she wrote is inspiring others in the Company to do more.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” John Quincy Adams, 6th US President
They are all inspiring stories, every article. They help us retain our soldiers and they help us recruit new soldiers. But far, far more than that they show what is possible and offer handrails for the next cohort. They are influential. The authors are, in their own way, leading their peers.
Who Chooses Which Advice Matters?
Perhaps most importantly, the junior contributors wrote about what they thought mattered. Not what someone else half-remembered or pre-judged as being important. They explicitly, although sometimes unknowingly, included views of leaders and leadership behaviours that made a difference to them. In this way they reflected on the behaviours contained in LEADERS acronym just as much as the earlier blog posts did. In effect, they provided the ‘ground truths’ of leadership through the eyes of the led.
Anyone who watches TV, reads, or tweets will know the British Army is coming to terms with massive strategic and cultural changes. The debate over its recent advertising campaign is a perfect example. Whatever one might think of those adverts (and only time will tell how successful they are) they at least show evidence of a wider willingness to listen to and learn from the rank and file and the community from which they come. The intent is sound – our soldiers know what is important to them.
“In order to be effective, be responsive. In order to be responsive, listen.” Sharon Weil
‘Bottom-up Blogging’, as someone unfortunately titled this way of doing things, might not suit everyone or every unit. But I would recommend it is a useful device for any leader’s tool box. Try it as a way to get young soldiers to think critically about leadership, the Army’s values and the challenges in their careers. Try it to help you better understand recruiting and retention drivers.
Most importantly, try it because your soldiers will grow because of it.
“Listen, learn … then lead.” Gen Stanley McChrystal
So, what has venturing into military-themed blogging taught me? Well, in short, if you want to have an effect, even by blogging, it is worth remembering you need to spend some time listening first.
It’s also taught me the power of letting junior leaders set the agenda. They write about what matters to them. They provide advice to their peers. They share stories that illustrate the lessons that have meant something to them.
If we want our junior leaders to advise and be inspiring to those below them, we should offer them the route to do so. Some need help to put it in writing. Most don’t. But given the opportunity, our junior leaders will know best what they need to share.