Lockdown Leadership: A Guardsman’s Perspective
By Guardsman David Griffiths
As you read these words the lockdown may well be relaxing and almost over. But when I wrote them, I was, as you probably were, in the sixth week of a lockdown that changed all our lives perhaps more than we thought it would. It led me to think about the leadership I have experienced over the past seven weeks and how it can benefit me, and us, going forward.
When we were told that we would be dispersing for and unknown period the general feeling was uncertainty and, I think, probably a little excitement. Almost two months later and we were still adjusting to an environment that was alien to many of us.
In terms of leadership, it seemed to me that this crisis may have been a time when the values and principles we hold ourselves to may have been allowed to slip. But that was not what I experienced. Instead, I want to explain what I experienced; the examples of good leadership that I have seen over the past two months, from my low perch as a Guardsman.
Leading From Home
Imagine, if you are not already, that you are at home and with your family and, perhaps most importantly, away from work. Like me, you are dispersed. The opportunity, and the temptation, to switch off is greater than ever. It would be the easiest thing in the world to pull your foot off the gas and stop leading in the same way that you would in camp.
But one thing I have not seen over the lockdown is leaders taking their foot of the gas and switching off. What I have seen is Non-Commissioned Officers, both Junior and Senior, leading not from the front but from home. They appear on the Zoom calls, smart, presentable, shaved and with all the keenness you would except in camp. We have transitioned from doing Physical Training in groups, whether section, platoon or company, and now we are expected to conduct that on our own, using our own pride as a motivation. . Again, how easy would it be to fluff it and just say you’ve done it? How easy would it be to lay in bed for another few hours instead of getting up and out the door and on a run? Easy. But our NCOs are showing that they can do it, and that we can do it as well.
The Zoom conferences are new to me, just like they probably are to you. We are conducting lessons over video. Our leaders are still teaching what is needed so that we are prepared to go out the door when called. We have had ambush and patrol lessons, quizzes on Regimental history, and the junior soldiers – some of them only a couple of weeks out of the Infantry Training Centre – are delivering their own presentations and lessons on subjects, both military and personal. The result of this new environment is junior soldiers being mentored and trained and in delivering their own lessons and their own presentations. In spite of the lockdown, and thanks to the leadership of their NCOs, they are growing both personally and professionally. They are more confident as soldiers, as men and women and, above all, the sections are working better as teams.
Leading In Public
When all this started, I was with my friends and fellow Welsh Guardsmen at Buckingham Palace, forming one of the two detachments needed for Her Majesty’s Guard. We spent every evening in front of the TV or scrolling through the news on our phones, wondering and debating what would happen. Nobody could have foreseen it turning out quite like it has.
Early in the lockdown, word came down our Chain of Command that a group of Welsh Guardsmen were to be trained as testers for the virus. I and a few others volunteered. Before long we found ourselves learning yet another new skill and working with skilled people who, before now, we may never have met. An afternoon was spent learning about the virus and its effects, learning how to don Personal Protective Equipment, and how to swab and take samples from members of the public. Members of the National Health Service were first to be tested: doctors and nurses, porters and paramedics.
We were positioned in a small hut in a large car park amongst members of the National Health Service and staff from Boots. Hands washed, aprons on, masks worn, eye pro donned and gloves fitted – we were good to go. What has struck me most during the weeks we have spent testing is how well we, and members of other regiments have adjusted to that new role, that new task. Most of us were Guardsmen, Private soldiers and not leaders, at least not in terms of rank. There we were, though, leading in public. Delivering a vital service in a way that was totally brand new to us and displaying all the discipline and professionalism that would be expected of British Soldiers. Leading by example, being role models of the kind of behaviour expected of the nation.
We had people come to the testing booths who were totally unaware of what an uncomfortable procedure it was, to get tested. I witnessed them approach the booths gingerly and instantly be calmed by the good humour and calmness of my fellow Guardsmen, instantly at ease. What my fellow soldiers did there was, to me, good leadership. They showed these members of the National Health Service, these doctors and nurses, paramedics and porters, how the British Army does things: with a sense of humour and immense calm in the face of pressure. But not only did they lead worried members of the public through their example, they led each other, with their positive attitude in a time where it is was easy to have a negative one.
This is, to me, what being a soldier is all about. We are not a mob. When the pressure mounts, we do not look out for ourselves, but look to each other, for collective calmness.
In amongst all this business it has been so easy to get sucked in by negativity in the press and fall into a negative mindset. Everything on the news seems to be bad news but when the good news comes, it seems to come with clout.
I was struck, probably as you were, by the immense leadership and humour shown by Captain Tom Moore, the D-Day veteran who has raised £30 million pounds for National Health Service charities by walking the length of his garden one hundred times, all before his one hundredth birthday. With his Second World War spirit he brought a moment of joy to a nation that was struggling to laugh and struggling to understand its present circumstances. That is a part of the leadership I have seen. Leaders showing that we can still smile and be positive.
Which brings me to clapping. People have been coming out once a week to clap for our frontline workers. To shake bells, to say hello and to catch up with people on the other side of the street. Again, showing positivity under pressure is a form of leadership. People out every week, willing themselves to be positive in times of darkness, willing themselves to see the positive side and to help each other. Whether it is helping a neighbour who cannot shop for themselves or by conducting your own small charity event, which lots of people including members of my own Regiment have done, getting up and acting with calm positivity when the pressure mounts is leadership. It is being a role model when the going gets tough. It is being there when the people to your left and right are getting nervous, so that they can look to you and gain confidence. Normally it happens in person. Now it often happens by video. However it happens leadership is about being an example when times are hard. And that is what I have seen these last few months.
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