How Relevant Is Royal Marines "Servant Leadership" Beyond the Military Context?

My bold. My understanding from friends who flew or currently fly shiny AT (VC10 / Tristar / Voyager) is that the concept of rank-prioritised boarding came from requests in the 50s / 60s (from the British Army); the idea of LCpl Smith boarding the aircraft before the Colonel simply didn't pass muster. This may be urban myth, but it sounds plausible enough, and having seen (on a flight to BFSAI) an Infantry Lt Col shouting at the loadmaster because a group of troopers were sitting in better seats than he had, I can quite believe it. Said Lt Col was even more disgruntled to be put back in his box (ie you calm down or we'll consider diverting the aeroplane) by a particularly good looking girlie copilot.

My bold 2. Common misconception. The organisation doesn't simply exist to serve the pilots; it is centred around making the air mission succeed. Clearly, every aircraft (even RPAS) have a crew, and those crews make the air mission succeed; but they do not do so in isolation. If they think they do (and I've come across very few who think that way) then they're pretty bloody ignorant. If we are as pilot centric as people believe, how come our last CDS (and arguably one of the best CDS's in the last 25yrs) was a Navigator? How come our current DCDS (Mil Cap) is a 3* Engineer Officer? We've had numerous Group commanders (equates an Armd Div 2* Comd in Land-speak) who have been Navigators; I have worked for a Stn Cdr who was an Engineer Officer and another who was an Admin Officer, and I believe that Stn Cdr RAF Boulmer in Northumberland is nigh-on a shoe in for Fighter Controllers (Magic Mushroom may be able to confirm), despite having had a sizeable SAR det on his / her turf up till 2015.

Lastly, I don't think we in the RAF are alone in the 'failing to ensure that the troops eat first' stakes (no pun intended). From a fair amount of time in the Joint Environment, some of the attitudes I have heard [principally from teeth arms SO2s and SO1s] towards the troops they will tell the CO they're sooooooooo passionate about, would make your stomach churn. "Broken home white trash" from one Household Div SO1; "the kind of people whose sisters work in Mon Cherie's" from a Scots Div Major. If I heard any officer in my unit bad mouthing the blokes on the eng line or wherever like that, I'd book an appointment with the Stn Cdr and dob the twat in.

I guess where this originates is the fact that the majority of the RAF (and to a certain extent some parts of the RN, esp submarines, aviation and the Poole team) are a lot less rank-conscious than the green Army and that irritates the latter massively. They (green Army) see that Poole / Hereford team being a lot more informal than the rest of the Land Component, "but that's OK because they're hard and can carry a heavy Bergen a long way".
This raises one key question: is Mon Cherie's still running? Asking for a friend...


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
How many state school educated, sons of single parents commission into the Brigade of Guards or the Royal Armoured Corps then
Decent numbers from state schools these days, probably close to a majority for recent intakes in some units. No idea about single parents because nobody really cares.
My bold. I have; aircrew in the main, regrettably.

My bold 2. How many state school educated, sons of single parents commission into the Brigade of Guards or the Royal Armoured Corps then?
OK. We're talking on this thread about what is essentially 'Serve to Lead' - something that there is infinitely more opportunity to hammer home in the Army and Navy. I would agree it would be difficult as a Fast Jet pilot - but not impossible. Having said that, I've seen bad behaviour from more Army officers than aircrew, probably a matter of exposure but at the end of the day it wasn't common in any sphere. Not to me anyway.

As for your second bold you seem to be zeroing in on the Cavalry and Guards. I'll reserve judgement but I've seen good and bad in both. Neither are an accurate representation of the whole of the Army any more than Millwall are representative of football fans.

PS. I won't apologise to Millwall fans because 'nobody likes them and they don't care' and they also won today:wink:
In my brief time working with the RAF, my experience is that they don't do servant leadership. The concept of officers eating last seems alien to them and the announcement at Brize that officers should board first always makes me uncomfortable.
What are said officers doing while waiting to be seen eating last? Having an 'O' group or some other productive activity? If so fair enough otherwise this is the culinary equivalent of needing to be seen to 'cut about'.
This is appropo of a number of previous posts but one of the finest (to my mind) bits of officering I've seen was a LCpl getting AGAI'd for still being at his desk in a Bde HQ at 2300 without demonstrably having work to do.

I was a bit bit taken aback at first but it was explained to me that the INT Section commander had been quite clear prior to deployment that he expected no HQ type nonsense of people staying around for no good reason just because the OC / COS / Brigadier was.

The corrective action was to report to the INT WO for 5 days at 2100 and explain what work was outstanding. If there was none, then they were to do some phys and then watch an episode of "the Inbetweeners" (new back then).


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
... and never forget the Peter Pyramid, which looks at hierarchies and bureaucracy. It demonstrates that organisations, given half a chance, form organisational structures based on pyramids resting on their points!

The ultimate paradox in designing a successful leadership mechanism is trying to balance the needs of the organisation against the motivation of the individual. Making a distinction between desirable and undesirable traits in the selection of leaders is extremely difficult in practice as much depends on context. History is scattered with examples of individuals who were extremely successful in one situation, but useless in another.

Much of the issue is down to the system used to "breed" and select leaders. The problem is that such systems need to be maintained for extended periods so that there is trust and belief in the system, however the longer a system exists, the more likely it will become gamed and corrupted. Everything becomes a "Game of Thrones" in the end. The Guards and the Greenjackets/Rifles have been at this forever...!

The best solution seems to be to try and keep these systems in some form of dynamic tension, so that opposing needs can interact and reach sensible short term goals without spinning the system completely off track. You can see these opposing structures all over the military.. Officers v NCOs, Teeth Arms and Services, Army v Navy (...lets leave the juniors out for the moment!). They fight cat and dog during normal jogging, but when sh1t hits rotating surfaces, just get on with it...

Regrettably, I feel much of the balance has been lost over recent decades, and that the military is in danger of spinning off uncontrollably. Some of the factors I think are at play here are:

1. Monoculturism. Working organisms consist of many cultures and specialisations. The trick is to get them to cooperate and not compete. The military has officer and nco cultures which need to dynamically co-exist for the organism to work. Centralising and imposing order from too high a level destroys such activity. Diversity is not just for inner cities you know!
2. Too much civilianisation of military functions leading to loss of corporate knowledge and experience. I have no issue with putting people into specialist roles for extended periods, however putting an individual who is subject to a separate command chain does not work.
3. Centralisation of personnel management functions. Individuals need to be led in hierarchies. Placing selection and control functions outside that hierarchy both weakens it by depriving it of the practice of wielding authority, and empowers those who would wish to undermine it. HR breaks the two golden rules of divide and conquer and separation of power and authority. Leaders must be allowed to lead, and also to lead leaders..
4. Cult of the Amateur. For some reason, we seem to hate "experts", and try to either ignore them or get rid of them. Organisations need experts to make decisions, and need to have means and strategies to grow and retain them. Some experts may be leaders, some may not. The idea that you can do without experts and buy in expertise when you need it is generally a myth!

So to my point.. Let Royal do whatever Royal want if it works for them. They are very good at what they do and it seems to work. However, let us not necessarily assume that it will work elsewhere. Do not for example, let Royal anywhere near logistics.. Like the Rocks, they are very good at screwing stuff from their rich parents! Royal is an expensive luxury.. never forget this!

There are times when making "Military Mayonnaise" has not been a good idea. I give you the Royal Logistic Corps as a prime example! Mixing the supply and transport functions may make sense from the POV of an outsider, but the reality is far from this. They have precious little in common both in culture and expertise and placing them under a unified command structure is unlikely to prove fruitful in the long term. From my perspective, it makes as much sense as amalgamating RE and RA on the basis that they are "Not Infantry".
Great post. That should be the basic level of understanding required of anyone at Captain / ICSC level.

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