Some Timeless Perspectives on Leadership
Submitted by 12570 Mike Kennedy
In last week’s e-Veritas, I offered some perspectives on the recent “Jeansgate” affair, accompanied by some of my own thoughts regarding the further need for leadership at RMC. This week, I would like to provide readers with a “blast from the past” that, in my view at least, would seem to suggest that many of the elements of effective military leadership are basically timeless in nature.
The words you are about to read are drawn from an address made by Major General F.F. Worthington to his officers in January 1946, shortly after he was appointed General Officer Commanding of Pacific Command. At the time, Worthington was 57 years of age, nearing retirement, and brought with him a lifetime of distinguished military service.
Born in Scotland in 1889, Worthington was an orphan by the age of 11. An adventurer by nature, as a young man he became a mercenary, fighting at various times in Nicaragua, Cuba, and Mexico. In 1915, he enlisted as a Private in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Montreal, serving first with the Black Watch and later with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps. He was commissioned in 1918, and returned home from the Great War having earned the Military Medal, the Military Cross, and bars to both. The following year, he joined the Permanent Force, and soon thereafter was posted to Montreal to organize two militia machine gun units.
“Fighting Frank”, as he was known to the troops, is best remembered as being the “Father of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps”. As a young man in the Great War, he had witnessed first-hand the introduction of tanks on the battlefield, and saw the potential of armoured vehicles as a game changer. During the interwar years, he lobbied vigorously for the creation of a mechanized army, and when the Canadian Tank School was established in 1936, Worthington was appointed as its first Commandant.
In 1940, by then a Brigadier General, Worthington was posted to England to command the 1st Army Tank Brigade, and two years later, he was given command of the 4th Armoured Division. He was relieved of his command in the spring of 1944 at the behest of Guy Simonds (who years later acknowledged that this had been a huge mistake), and returned to Canada to take command of Camp Borden. He continued to serve in uniform until his retirement in 1948, following which he served for a further ten years as a special advisor to the Minister of National Defence. Worthington died in Ottawa in 1967, at the age of 78.
The remarks that follow were originally written more than 70 years ago at a time when, only a few months earlier, Canada’s armed forces had just recently emerged from fighting in the greatest war in history. It goes without saying that it was a very different era, and the Canada of 1946 was a very different country from the land we know today. Nonetheless, I believe many of these words of wisdom ring just as true today as they did at the time Worthington first delivered them. It is also worth remembering that they come from a man who has the only kind of credentials that are of any real value in a military organization – combat credentials.
As we contemplate RMC’s present challenges the College’s future direction, I would encourage leaders at all levels to read Major General Worthington’s words of wisdom, and take them to heart as they contemplate the responsibilities of command. Note in particular points (8), (11), (14), (16) and (17) which I have highlighted in bold.
Remarks by Major General F.F. Worthington, January 1946
Upon joining a new Command, I have always made it my business to study the idiosyncrasies and characteristics of my new Commander. This, of course, took a good deal of time and a certain amount of headaches and therefore, to save you this effort, I propose to give you a thumbnail sketch of myself. You will then be able to start a foundation upon which you can make your own assessment.
- I try to lay down a clear policy and expect officers under my command to work within the framework of this policy. I am a great believer in telling a man what done, but not how to do it. If an officer has any doubt as to the best method of doing a task, I am only too glad to render him any assistance with my capabilities.
- If I set a task, I like it done with good dispatch, as I am by nature impatient and usually in a hurry.
- I have a great thirst for information and I expect to be kept informed in all matters. I want my information quickly, when it is hot, whether it be positive or negative. Note this point very carefully.
- I know that all “doers” make mistakes. If you pull a “boner”, tell me about it. I may tick you off, but will help you out of a hole. Beware if I find out about your “boner” through other channels.
- I like to talk things over with my staff and when I put a proposition before you or ask you to comment on anything I have written, I want your honest opinion and not what you think would please. Do not become a “Yes man” with me.
- I believe the man on the spot is the best judge of a local situation.
- I am inclined to blow off steam, especially to my staff. This is a safety valve, but do not disregard danger signals.
- My pet aversions are slackness in military discipline; failing to comply with orders and instructions; stupidity; officers who fail to look after their men; neglect in the care of, and abuse of, any military equipment; deception and disloyalty.
- I will not tolerate bickering among officers, departments, or services. A military organization can only function effectively if there is teamwork, mutual understanding, and full cooperation. If there are differences of opinion, I expect officers to face the facts and iron them out, or come to me.
- Any officer on my staff is the servant of the units composing the Command. His job is to assist, in every way possible, the smooth functioning of units.
- I insist on good manners and military courtesy between all ranks. Learn what I mean by this.
- I have a habit of dropping in suddenly to pay visits. When I do I like to see people at their work without interference, but expect the usual military courtesy. At such times, I expect officers or other ranks to present their problems to me.
- I do not want any staff officer glued to his desk. Do your work and get out in the fresh air for recreation. Every staff officer must pay visits to units in out-stations, get to know and rub noses with the people they deal with, hear their problems and action them.
- Orders must be very carefully prepared and thought out. No order should ever be issued that cannot be enforced or is impractical to carry out. Any order or instruction affecting personnel should, if possible, have an explanation as to the reason.
- I do not allow any senior Commanding Officer being censored by anyone other than myself.
- I believe the ideal relationship between officers and other ranks must be one of mutual confidence and respect. This can only be achieved when officers take a keen interest in the welfare and well-being of those under them, and treat them with the consideration that the situation demands.
- I believe in all ranks knowing the score as far as possible. Keep all ranks in the picture and tell the truth, unless it cannot be disclosed due to security and then state the reasons why it cannot be told. Do not practice deception. Soldiers are the salt of the earth and will stand any amount of hardship if they know the score.
- Staff officers should do their business in a practical manner. A visit is worth ten letters. A telephone call is worth five.
- I do not like staff officers to pass files to me containing matter with considerable background and cryptic minutes attached. They will prepare a brief containing the pertinent brief and flag the folios for reference. This is plain ordinary staff duties.
- I trust the above comments will be of some assistance to you whilst under my Command.