So when the agenda for the latest retreat arrived in my inbox, you could say I was a little surprised –we would be spending three days undertaking army leadership training and needed to bring trainers, walking boots and a waterproof! I can’t say I greeted the news with glee – after a few wobbles and weeks of procrastination, I gave myself a talking to, took a few deep breaths and accepted the invitation.
The training was hosted in part, by Lieutenant Colonel Nick MacKenzie of the Army Training Regiment in Winchester. He is a CEO equivalent although I’m not sure this does him justice as he is in charge of thousands of acres of prime real estate in Winchester, as well as hundreds of staff and overseeing the training of thousands of young men, transforming them into soldiers in just 14 weeks. Needless to say, I was impressed.
It was fascinating to hear how the army ‘does business’ and from what I could see, it’s run better than any business I know, and I have been fortunate enough to have had insights into many. It was a memorable few days of leadership presentations, team challenges, clay pigeon shooting, an Officers’ entry test, a formal dinner, obstacle courses and the most challenging of all, the high wires.
Facing fears on the high wires
When I caught sight of the high wires, the first thing I thought was, ‘How do I make my excuses?’ In front of me were lots of 13-metre tall telegraph poles, a ropes wall and flimsy looking wires. I’m not really one for heights – I have been known to squeal going up in the lift at Norton Rose (it has horrible glass walls). We were briefed in front of the wires and I can safely say I didn’t hear a single word of the instructions. Fortunately, my partner had the foresight to say, ‘Let’s just go first’. A wise move – go before the fear could really take hold. I just put one foot in front of the other, climbing to hideous heights. My saving grace was my mantra; I just kept telling myself ‘I can do this, it’s easy’. Sometimes, you just need to tell a little white lie! I was determined to make it to the top of every challenge as my pride, ego and competitive nature took hold of me. Occasionally, I looked down just to check that my partner was still holding on tightly to my safety rope – phew, I would be forever grateful!
The one exercise which really stood out to me was climbing up a telegraph pole on tiny, loose steel rods and getting to the top – only to then have to climb onto a half metre square platform above my head. I really thought I was stuck and couldn’t reach the top. My mantra was starting to fade. I’m still not sure how I managed to hoist my body up and over that platform, although I do have a fellow colleague to thank for the help.
So what did I learn?
In addition to a more positive perception of the army and the realisation that I have more courage than I give myself credit for, the three days taught me that friends (old and new) are an amazing support when you are up against it. I also learned that pushing myself out of my comfort zone is memorable; it’s fun and surely life is about having fun?
I also saw an army that was a far cry from the one so often depicted in movies – where shouting is pretty much how everything gets done. There’s clearly a PR opportunity here – I saw supportive, encouraging, emotionally intelligent soldiers and not one person raised their voice! Everyone was extraordinarily patient, incredibly generous and funnily enough, on time for everything.
It really was a unique experience and I have returned to the office clearer on my purpose, thankful to the support around me, with a little more courage to achieve it. Perhaps I can cope with the Norton Rose lift now?
Thank you to Nicky Coffin at Centred Excellence and Lieutenant Colonel Nick Mackenzie.
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