Stand Up Straight

Stand Up Straight

Major General Paul Nanson CBE
ARRSE Rating
3 Mushroom Heads
The author is the current commandant at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) where he has also established the centre for Army leadership. This book seeks to outline the British Army’s approach to leadership in a form that will be useful to non-military leaders. It seeks to condense 44 weeks for frenetic activity into 145 small pages - which is ambitious.

It is well written, and the flow is straightforward. This book does well in pulling together strands of leadership theory from multiple sources, integrating that with RMAS teaching and illustrating it with examples – often from the author’s career. These are grouped into ten headings, none of which are particularly surprising - then demands of leadership remain constant. As is the reality that no matter how good a leader you are, with a little thought and a lot of application you could be a better one. On which basis this book is worth reading. For anyone who was a cadet or instructor there this will be a pleasant canter through memory lane, and perhaps a sharp reminder of a former life. Clearly some things at RMAS have changed – singing the national anthem at 6 am and the introduction of duvets, but much has not.

There is less than I anticipated on integrity – surely the fundamental requirement of leading – and rather more that necessary on how to make a bed. There are several anecdotes from other former and current officers, which I am not sure improve the flow.

The book’s real shortcoming is that it does not adequately convey how bloody hard being a cadet at Sandhurst is, that the privilege of a Commission is won through sweat, fear of failure and tears. That officers lead soldiers effectively in extremely demanding circumstances in part because soldiers have been trained to be led in those conditions, and that the senior NCOs have previous experience of similar conditions. It takes no account of this, and, of course, officers and men have all be trained to kill and have accepted that they may die in the course of their duties. In the absence of this, which the non-military reader will not understand, I am not sure that the book is of much practical use to the self-improving manager, other than reminding him to think about how he or she leads (if they lead, rather than manage).

Which begs the question as to whether Sandhurst is the right place for civilian leaders to be seeking leadership instruction or life lessons? It is easy to forget that RMAS is the entry point for leadership; it’s output is raw leaders with some theoretical knowledge but little practical experience – and indeed several months of special to arm training ahead of them before they actually command their own platoon. If one wanted to write a book about those military leadership skills that are applicable to commerce, Sandhurst may be the wrong place to start.

This is a hard book to score. I enjoyed most of it (he author shares with the current CDS the delusion that anything with a tracks and a turret is called a tank) and it held up a bit of a mirror. It’s well written and gripping. But I don’t think it has any real insights; there are some useful catchphrases but others seem banal management speak, of the kind that you see on posters in the canteens of third rate companies.

Three mushrooms.

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