Slim’s ‘Courage and Other Broadcasts’ …

Posted on July 29, 2007. Filed under: Books |

The third published work by Bill Slim, contains the famous Leadership lecture he delivered at West Point plus some other broad castes he made over the radio. Incidentally the Leadership lecture used to be covered in an Army publication and was required reading for the Indian Army officers of the 1950s.

Reading this, one is astonished by the erudition coupled with the earthy good sense of this true man of letters who actually was a richly deserving Field Marshal who also became Governor General of Australia.

The lecture at West Point on Leadership begins with an apology outlining the two disadvantages he faced as he addressed the Cadets of that premier institution. He said that West Pointers could hardly be happy spending a bright morning cooped in a room listening to a foreign General give a Lecture on – off all things – Leadership!

Then he goes onto outline the Six qualities which he says are the foundation of all Leadership.

The first of these of course is Courage – which he divides into physical courage and moral courage. He says that it is easy to have physical courage for the short haul – the trick is to have it for the long marathon – specially when things are not going too well and before one has got into ones second wind. He says any one can be brave for a day but how many can go on being brave for years on end! He observes that all armies talk about fighting to the last man and last round but the Japs were the only ones who practiced it.

Moral courage he feels is more important. He says that it is doing the Right Thing no matter how uncomfortable it makes one. He illustrates by asking them if they as brand new young 2nd Lts would dare tick off a group of hardened GIs, at the risk of getting some lip, for say not saluting?

The other qualities he mentions and illustrates are Knowledge and Initiative. Knowledge is self evident and as for Initiative, he says if you sit on your back side and wait for things to happen, they sure will happen but they wont be very pleasant. Leaders are expected to act more and react less.

The last two qualities he underlines are Humour – seeing the funny in the serious – and most importantly Self abnegation. Humor he amplifies is seeing the ludicrous in the serious and most importantly includes the ability to laugh at oneself.

Self Abnegation he says is at the root of any leadership. He narrates an incident when a particular unit had not done too well and he went around to check out things. On reaching he observed that the men were pretty much in disarray but he could not see any officers. He found them behind a hut having a meal!

This last quality has been immortalized by another British Field Marshal – Lord Chetwode and is enshrined in the Indian Military Academy’s Chetwode Hall –

“The safety, honor and well being of your Country come First, Always and Every Time.

The safety, comfort and well being of the men you command, come next.

Your own safety, comfort and ease come Last, Always and Every Time”.

Nice strong, pithy riveting lecture loaded with examples and biting humour.

About Indian Soldiers, he observes that the Sikh is at best a showman, the Dogra and the Garhwali are the stolid types. The Rajput and the Jat are driven by tradition but it is only the Gurkha who laughs all the time and most at times of great danger!

He includes stuff from his vast reading – gems like “Its the stove in your kitchen that contributes to the Happiness of your home and not the TV in the parlour”

And, “A sane view of life is had only in the kitchen of a small home”.

A great book but sadly not too readily available.

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