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Many individuals, particularly those who need to operate optimally for sustained periods of time under extreme pressures, can do so because their culture embeds and encourages positive psychological wellbeing. How you may ask? Let me explain.
In 1991, the Royal Marines, acknowledged as one of the world's elite commando forces, inserted into Northern Iraq. Their task was humanitarian; to protect the Kurdish population from Saddam Hussein’s feared Republican Guard. This required the Royal Marines Commandos to dominate the ground, patrol into the mountains, engage with the enemy as required, and to convince the Kurds that it was safe for the Royal Marines to guide them down to the established safe havens.
Within an hour of landing into Northern Iraq, a section of eight Royal Marines Commandos were tasked by their HQ to conduct a recce to confirm the effectiveness of the security, (provided by an allied nation), of the tactically important high ground surrounding the Royal Marine’s field Headquarters. On their return, the eight were to report their findings to their senior management which, over and above assurances from senior allied commanders, would determine whether and where the unit would be inserted on mass. Each of the eight had their own jobs to do, as well as specific tasks to ensure the recce’s success.
To achieve this section broke into pairs to complete the recce tasks. These were to: liaise with the ally’s senior rank at each location (all of whom were senior to the eight Royal Marines) to gain an understanding of the current security situation and security plan; to illicit information from, and to observe the allied troops, to ensure that they were accurately implementing the brief from their senior command; to make notes of any weaknesses and concerns that they observed; and to make suggestions as to what would be required to improve these shortfalls. This task lasted over 24 hours, with the teams working throughout the night, to ensure that they had all the information their Commanding Officer would require to enable his decision-making as to whether and where the unit would be inserted on mass.
On return, the team was fully debriefed, each pair explaining their findings to a senior officer who listened intently, without interruption, who then passed the information gained to the Commanding Officer. With this trusted information of the site’s safety determined by the eight Commandos, the Commanding Officer ordered the remainder of the unit to insert.
The Royal Marines embed the psychological wellbeing of every marine at the heart of what they do, as they know this enables Royal Marines both individually and collectively to perform at their best. This approach means that:
Did this task make those eight RM Commandos feel competent as individuals and as a team? Yes. Did the senior officer and Corporal on the ground give them autonomy? Yes. Did they feel listened to and valued as they reported the information they had gained to their seniors? Yes. Did they feel they were part of something worthwhile and part of a community? Yes.
This way of working enables individuals to feel competent, autonomous, valued, listened to, supported, and part of a community, with a sense of purpose of contributing to something worthwhile, which are all crucial components of psychological wellbeing.
Looking at wellbeing in the workplace from this perspective will help organisations develop an approach to supporting wellbeing that is not focused on just managing the day to day demands of legal practice but on what steps can be taken to help staff and organisations to perform at their best.
Paul is the Co-Founder and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd; Paul gained Leadership, Management and Organisational skills through 23 years of leading, preparing and training teams within Government Services. This experience was gained whilst primarily operating under extreme pressure in some of the world’s most inhospitable and highly pressurised environments, and whilst working to time critical timelines.
Paul recognises the significance of ‘softer’ skills, such as effective communication and listening for performance and leadership development, and the need for shared values, goals and beliefs in building motivated and cohesive teams. This appreciation has enabled Paul to successfully teach, coach and mentor organisations, teams and individuals of different backgrounds and capabilities around the globe, providing salient personal and life changing guidance. Experience has taught Paul that good communication and listening skills, as well as managing pressure effectively, are key factors in optimising performance and enhancing leadership.
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