What the Armed Forces Can Teach You

Capt. Raghu Raman has had a unique career profile spanning over 25 years. He spent eleven years as an officer in the Indian Armed Forces , followed by another eleven years in the corporate sector before joining the Government as CEO of the National Intelligence Grid. There is a lot we can learn from our soldiers. As a guest speaker at the ABFRL Awards, Capt Raman spoke to us about army life, leadership and more. Here is an excerpt.

What moved you to take up the role of a motivational speaker?

I don’t think of myself as a motivational speaker. I think of myself as a storyteller, because I believe that every leader has to be able to create a shared reality. He or she must be able to get the team aligned behind her or him with one common purpose. And this can only come when you create a story that everybody believes in. So whether it is political leaders, religious leaders, inspirational leaders or even motivational leaders for that matter, they create a narrative which enables a diverse set of people to gather around one common purpose. 

What are 3 lessons from the Armed forces that you would like youngsters to imbibe?                                    

The best way to learn from the army is to join the army, the NCC or the Territorial Army. But if one can’t do that then there are three fundamental lessons that I would like to share with you.

Lesson 1. COLLABORATION AND HUMILITY – THE SECRET INGREDIENTS

You must understand that the army is efficient because it works as a team. Either the entire section wins or the entire section loses. There is no individual gladiator in a good team. And therefore, every leader, every young person who aspires to be a leader needs to know really well how to be a follower, to be a peer in a team as well as how to take orders. Unless a young person knows that, at no level will that person be able to actually create a team or expect to give orders and expect that those orders will be obeyed. So the first lesson, I would say, is collaboration and learning with humility. 

Lesson 2. Be a generalist 

In the Army, a young cadet, a young officer or a young jawan is given a lot of different experiences. Even their careers are shaped in such a way that they will learn a particular skill and they will apply it. After two years of application, he will go back to relearn that skill and this time his learning will be much better and this cycle continues. So it is very important that you have the ability to do diverse things. Many people may think that this is the world of specialisation, I disagree. Generalists will always triumph in a world of specialisation because there is no architecture, no company, organisation where an individual who is a silo head will ever be chosen as the head of that organisation.

LESSON 3. You are only as good or as bad as your last innings

The last lesson, frankly, is that you need to take some risks. You need to take risks at attempting things that you don’t know how to do. You need to fail. And the best way to fail is to be comfortable knowing that you can get bad marks, you can get rejected in an interview, and you can maybe be fired from a certain job, not because of attitude, but judgemental errors. So don’t get into the habit of that zero error syndrome. Because that will make you scared of failures. You are only as good or as bad as your last innings. So if you take some risks and if you fail in those risks, that is fine. 

In your opinion how can someone in a corporate job contribute meaningfully to the nation?

If a person does their job well and truthfully and to the best of their capability I think they are contributing to the nation. I think we can help the army in two ways: 

Only an economically strong nation is strong in military. So if each one of us works towards this goal, and puts our shoulder towards the economy, it can be helpful. When we make our own organisations and our own teams more fluid and become better and happier places, I think we become a stronger nation. I think big changes happen with small changes. These small changes are change the direction of even a herd of elephants.

There is an old army saying that if you want to help a soldier who is fighting for the nation then we, as a nation, should be deserving of his fight. If he or she gives up their lives for us then we should be a citizen who is worthy of that life.

What are some of the things that you really enjoyed about being in the army? And what are the things that you really enjoyed about being in the corporate world?

All careers will come with their own traumas and challenges and moments of fun. It is impossible to compare one against the other because each one has its own achievement or non-achievement and its own joy and sadness. 

We all have our own challenges. So if I have a neck pain, then, to me, my challenge is bigger than the famine in Ethiopia. You have your own enclave in which you can create something that gives you joy or you can create a private hell. And that has little to do with the environment or situation.  

What is the one book that you really want to write but haven’t yet written?

There are at least two books that I want to write. 

  1. Hand Book for the Young Officer

There are things that are taught to young officers in the army that has many similarities to what a young leader needs to know. This will be a book that talks about the mental, physical and emotional challenges that a young officer will face so that the young person will be better prepared for it. 

  1. The Wisdom of Commanding Officers

This is a book about the wisdom of commanding officers (CO). Commanding officers of most armies are respectfully, affectionately called “old men”. The old man of the unit is the big boss and he is the one who controls the morale, destiny, strategy of the unit. A young officer will probably encounter seven or eight COs in his journey. So there are lessons that each of these can teach. Even if you learnt one or two lessons from every CO that you have worked with, you have a handbook of wisdom.