The foundation

My good friend The Regimental Rogue posted something from a 75+ year old British training manual that is important for all leaders ~ political, military, business, labour, institutional and social ~ to understand …


It is, in other words, the actions of the many, especially the “junior leaders,” rather than the thoughts and plans of the few, generals and the political military elites, that make for victorious armies. This notion appeared to me to be “standard operating procedure” (SOP) in the Canadian samuel_findlay_clark_portraitArmy when I joined, almost 60 years ago, and, a bit later, when I was a junior officer, a retired Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General (ret’d) SF “Finn” Clark told me* that on his watch it was army policy that the training, formal and “on the job,” and development of “first level leaders,” the lance corporals and 2nd lieutenants, (those “most junior commanders“) was the most important thing the army could do in peace. More command attention and resources were to be given, by his direction, to the various junior NCO courses and basic officer courses than to the famous Royal Military College or the Staff College. His view, as I remember the explanation, was that if the army got the “foundation” right ~ the foundation being the section and tank and platoon/troop commanders, the leaders of the smallest fighting elements ~ then everything else would follow along more or less correctly. But, if the “foundation” was weak then nothing else would the work and the whole edifice would tumble and crumble … or, if it survived it would be only by happy accident. He believed, he said, based on his post retirement experience, that the same thing applied in business and in academe.

He was right!

silver_mine_bay_water_twWe need to understand that it is the skill and initiative of the workers and first level supervisors, especially, in our municipal sewage and water works, not salk-jonasscientists and doctors, who help us to stay alive and healthy (remember Walkerton, in 2000)  into out seventies, eighties and nineties and beyond, and even when a scientist kathy-selstwith multiple graduate degrees develops a cure for e.g. polio it is the thousands of public health nurses who must “deliver” the cure to us all.

There is a growing, and regrettable tendency, in Canada, at least, to overvalue “white collar” and professional jobs and to devalue the “blue collar” (and “pink collar”) occupations. That’s wrong.  Just as the fighting spirit of an army rests, firmly, on the action and initiative of the most junior leaders and the fighting men and women in the “rank and file,” so does the ultimate success of our families, our communities and our society rest upon the work ethic and pride of the “ordinary Canadians” who collect our trash, assemble our cars, repair our plumbing, build our homes, maintain our streets and hydro lines, and care for us when we are in need. Of course we might all like our children and grandchildren to be doctors or architects or bank presidents, but we should, always, value and respect the work of the bus drivers and carpenters and dental hygienists  and parcel delivery people, too.

This applies, in spades, to the military where, in my opinion, partisan politics has, since about 1970 but especially since about 1990, forced a risk averse culture on the whole of government bureaucracy and, unfortunately on the military, too. It is this political pressure that is, partly, to blame, in my opinion, for the bloat we can see in the Canadian Forces command and control (C²) superstructure that has too many senior officers in too many headquarters supervising one another.

As Lieutenant General Clark well understood, this …

 … is the vital, firm foundation upon which all of this …

… rests, for better or for worse.

Equally, for all of Canada, this …

… is the foundation upon which all of this rests …

… again, for better or for worse.

A good, sound, universal, secular and compulsory elementary education is more important than a PhD in gender studies or, even, in microbiology. Skilled, proud, worthy plumbers matter just as much as doctors and lawyers. There is dignity in driving a truck, installing windows or working on an assembly line. A job is, indeed, still the very best form of welfare, ever, and education and training are the keys to good jobs for most people.

Finally, good citizenship can be and needs to be taught to all Canadians, not just used as a screening tool for immigrants. If we want better leaders then we must work, in our communities, to produce better citizens.


* I seem to recall that he came to give a luncheon address and, after lunch, we all gathered in the mess ante room and chatted with the “great man.” He was, as I recall, very approachable and also very interested in what we were doing. I was, equally, interested in why we were doing some of the things we did in the way we did, and I think I asked him about the “philosophy” of army training.

5 thoughts on “The foundation”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s