Note: Allow me to offer a few words of introduction that provide my own personal perspective on General Vance’s words of wisdom.
12570 Mike Kennedy’s Opinion: “Never Pass a Fault”
I should first of all point out that I myself only met General Vance on one occasion, for a very brief period of time, and long after he had retired from active service. Nevertheless, during that brief encounter it immediately became clear that General Vance was a soldier’s soldier, a real gentleman, and a true man of honour. Without a doubt, he was an Ex-Cadet who exemplified the best of the best of what the College was really supposed to be about. I would have dearly loved to have had the opportunity to have served under him in the Regiment, but regrettably such was not destined to be the case.
In any event, when I read the General’s remarks, and when I think about his interpretation of the true meaning of the RCR’s much-repeated slogan “Never pass a fault”, I have to conclude that he offers some concise but nonetheless excellent insights into what the art of leadership is really all about. And I would further suggest that these perspectives are just as valuable to today’s generation of cadets as they were when Vance himself was a young officer in the late 1950’s.
When those of us who have been out of the Colleges for some length of time now look back on our experiences, all of us can no doubt vividly remember being disciplined by seniors for seemingly trivial mistakes or shortcomings. (As the recipient of 133 circles and 28 drill squads, I may remember this experience more than many others !) However, what invariably made a lasting impression on us was not so much the fact of being disciplined itself, but rather, the way in which that discipline was applied.
As we all will remember very well, there were seniors who could be seemingly harsh and demanding, but who were also eminently fair, and who behaved the way they did only in order to make a point that was important. Then there was that small minority of seniors who clearly revelled in abusing their juniors for a seemingly endless number of reasons, oftentimes for no other purpose than the sheer thrill of enjoyment that came from exercising their power over others who knew nothing, and who were powerless to fight back.
Whatever fear or resentment we may have felt as young recruits at the time, as we look back today, we see all of these people for what they really were. Those in the former group were the seniors who, in time, we came to respect and admire. They were the leaders and role models who believed in the importance of what the College was there to accomplish, and who demanded just as much of themselves as they did of their recruits. They were the ones that we ourselves wanted to emulate. They were the ones we will always remember as being the real heroes of the most crucial chapter in our lives.
On the other hand, those in the latter group were, regrettably, victims of their own weaknesses. They were the individuals who, having been placed in positions of authority, were incapable of providing any real leadership for those for whom they were responsible. Whatever good they may have thought they were doing at the time, today, the only thing they are remembered for is their own inadequacies and failings. And perhaps the saddest part of that situation was, they themselves were completely unable to see it.
In other words, as General Vance suggests, leadership in any context is not about the rigid and mindless enforcement of rules, or about slavishly following regulations and policies. That’s the convenient default option for those who aren’t capable of anything better. Rather, real leadership – that elusive and exceedingly rare commodity – is the product of qualities such as honesty, loyalty, sincerity, empathy and genuine concern for others, maturity and life experience, and ultimately, the wisdom that can invariably be gained only through trial and adversity. And as General Vance also quite correctly points out, anyone who aspires to be a real leader of others must start by being a leader of himself.
I won’t offer any further perspectives on the interpretation of the phrase “Never pass a fault” as General Vance does that a lot better than I ever could. What I will say is, as a young cadet nearly forty years ago, I had the opportunity to serve under a number of officers and NCO’s who had passed through the ranks of the RCR. To be sure, they all had their imperfections, and without any doubt, some of them were real characters. Even so, in one way or another, those men all made a great impression on me. I certainly remember hearing the phrase “Never pass a fault” on a number of occasions, but it is only with the passing of time that I have come to more fully appreciate both the wisdom of those words, and the significance of the responsibility that they convey.
More than anything else, I would have to conclude that as Ex-Cadets, to “Never pass a fault” means we must be prepared to take responsibility for trying to do the right thing, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Equally important, we must be willing to face up to our own mistakes and failings, to learn what we can from them, and resolve to move forward and do better next time. In other words, as General Vance himself said to me during the one time that I met him, one has to be “man enough to admit a mistake.”
And finally, I think we should all take this opportunity to salute General Vance, and the men like him who we ourselves crossed paths with at whatever College we may have attended. They were the ones who forged our characters at a pivotal moment in our youth, and who provided the moral compass that has inspired us in our lives since that time. They were the leaders we will never forget.
Rest in peace, Sir, and thank you for your words of wisdom, and for your service to the College, to your Regiment, and to Canada.
Truth, Duty, Valour !
12570 Mike Kennedy