What the Army taught us

The Army was called in and they have been doing a tremendous job of disaster relief in Chennai. God bless them.


The Army as a Management School

How many of us realize that significant Management and Leadership concepts have evolved from the Army? For instance, take Operations Research. It is all about moving limited supplies in the quickest and cheapest way to multiple points, based on clear prioritization paradigms. This science matured in the battlegrounds of WW-II. Organisations are structured based on a concept that the Army calls the “teeth-to-tail” balance. As the name implies, it seeks to optimally balance the strength of fighting men and support staff. (Some of my HR friends in the industry are still struggling with it!). Of course, the HR theories involving Authority-Responsibility-Accountability have borrowed a lot from the army.
In peace-time, the army is a large bureaucratic organization. It has rules, procedures and manuals. Everyone has to respect its rituals. It sounds oxymoronic, but this is what makes them dynamic. The average soldier has barely passed 8th standard but he is continually trained according to the manuals. In military cantonments, you see signboards that remind him of priorities: “Desh ki izzat, Unit ki izzat, Apne izzat”. (Liberal translation: “Protect your Nation’s honour, your Regiment’s honour and your honour”) When the big event occurs, the sheep-like follower transforms into a tiger-leader. And this is what we saw in Chennai.

Vision & Mission Statements

The other amazing thing is about how they motivate the soldiers. It struck me suddenly, when I saw my son working on the Vision & Mission statement of the company he works for. In the private sector, we rally the employees around “Vision” and “Mission” statements. We have been taught in Business School that: a Vision statement is something like a lofty ideal, very qualitative and something which we hope to reach over a long-ish period – even a lifetime. And that: a mission statement is more like a set of things you must do now, so as to attain your vision. It is tangible, quantitative stuff with some sense of urgency.

MarchNow, in the army a lifetime is an “iffy” thing: it may even be only till tomorrow. Hence, long before the private sector invented the Vision-Mission stuff, the army had something in place: the Motto and the Battle-cry of every Regiment. It is the primaeval but deadly equivalent of Vision and Mission. Some examples will show what I mean.
The Gurkha Regiment has an inspiring Motto: “Kayar bhanda marna ramru” or, “It is better to die with Honour than live a coward!” And so is their Battle-cry: “Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali” meaning, “Victorious Goddess Kali, the Gorkhas have arrived”!
The oldest Regiment in India is the Madras Regiment*, so you can expect more earthy wisdom from them. Certainly, their motto inspires: “Swadharme Nidhanam, Shreyaha” or “The ultimate glory is doing one’s duty”. Better still is their Battle-cry – “Veera Madrasi, adi, kollu” meaning, “O brave Madrasi, Strike and Kill”! I have never seen a more explicit Mission Statement in my entire career!



After a terrible defeat in Madras, the British East India Company hired Maj. Stringer Lawrence — a battle-hardened British commander— to train English and Native recruits to fight the French. In 1748, he raised a battalion in Cuddalore (the same coastal town that was nearly submerged in the current monsoon) that later gave the French a run for the money! One of his protégés was an English clerk who transformed into a maverick soldier: his name was Maj. Gen. Robert Clive! The battalion grew into a full-fledged regiment in 1758, making it the oldest in the Indian Army.


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