BOOK CORNER: STAND UP STRAIGHT … 10 Life Lessons from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst – Major General Paul Nanson

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RMA- Sandhurst

    Hello and welcome friends to my programme Book Corner. Today, I have for you a very interesting book titled ‘STAND UP STRAIGHT –10 Life Lessons from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst by Major General Paul Nanson. The relevant caption by the Telegraph on top of the front cover page of the book says, ‘Fight your own battles with Sandhurst’s self-help book.’

    It’s a Penguin Random House UK publication, published in 2019. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (in short the RMAS) is the place where all officers in the British Army are trained to take on the responsibility of leading their fellow soldiers. During training, all officer cadets learn to live by the Academy’s motto: ‘Serve to lead.’ Officers who have graduated from Sandhurst include big names such as Sir Antony Beevor, James Blunt, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Michael Morpurgo, astronaut Tim Peake, Heather Stanning, Nicola Wetherill, Prince William—Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry—Duke of Sussex. Even other nations choose to send their military personnel to Sandhurst for officer training because it is recognised as one of the world’s leading military training academies.

    Let me give you a brief about the author Paul Nanson before I move to the plot of the book. Paul Nanson is a British Army officer who served as Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and General Officer Commanding Recruiting and Initial Training Command. During more than thirty years in the British Army, he has served in The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan, which saw him appointed as the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for distinguished services. During his tenure at Sandhurst, he established the Centre for Army Leadership, which is one of the world’s premier centres for army military leadership.

    The book is completely based on the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (in short RMAS). RMAS came into existence because British Army officers were failing. Prior to the nineteenth century, if you had the requisite money, the connections or the right background, you could simply buy rank and command and lead men. One very far-sighted officer, General Le Marchant, decided that the British Army needed to properly train and educate young men to lead, so he built the RMAS.

   The narration doesn’t have a storyline. Stand Up Straight shares 10 simple but transformative lessons that every officer is taught during their time at the world-famous military academy. Modern and counter-intuitive, ranging from making your bed and ironing your shirt to improving resilience, emotional intelligence and grace under pressure. Stand Up Straight draws on first-hand battlefield experiences as well as Sandhurst’s key leadership principles. The title of the book ‘STAND UP STRAIGHT’ is very meaningful. It covers a number of themes. Taken literally, it’s about making yourself taller, owning your space, putting your shoulders back, and stretching your spine so that you become the optimum size you were designed to be. But it’s also about being the fullest and the best version of yourself. The book is full of sterling tips that can really improve your life.

It has 10 very interesting chapters. They are as follows:

   CHAPTER 1. THE SANDHURST WAY—The Life-Saving Magic of Tidying Up: This chapter largely deals with your daily habits. We don’t mind what habits you bring into the academy, the first five weeks are about teaching you, new habits. The Coloured sergeant checks for properly ironed clothes, all folded to the dimensions of an A4 piece of paper and how to make your bed in the Sandhurst style. It teaches you to make your best nature your second nature.

CHAPTER 2. LONG DAYS, SHORT WEEKS—The Way You Spend Your Day is the Way You Live Your Life: Without a direction to follow or a purpose to aim for, we drift aimlessly or go around in circles. In the army whether at war or in peacetime—a soldier’s day is governed by specific goals. It talks about the importance of ‘COMMAND TIME.’ It conveys that the ‘EARLY BIRD MAKES BETTER DECISIONS.’ It instructs the newcomers to ‘SET YOUR CLOCKS TO SANDHURST TIME.’ It teaches how to ‘MAKE YOUR MOUNTAINS INTO MOLEHILLS.’

CHAPTER 3. TIGHTEN YOUR CHINSTRAP (Chinstrap is a strap attached to your hat)—Get to Know Your Threshold of Failure: The first five weeks are designed to bring the cadets up to a common baseline. We will put you in positions where you will probably fail, but that’s okay because it’s here you will learn. Right or wrong, make a decision. It’s better to be doing something with momentum than sitting in a ditch like a stationary target. A nice quote in this chapter is ‘FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY, BOUNCE BACK LIKE A SPRING’ which reminds you of the famous quote of the famous boxer Muhammad ALI.

CHAPTER 4. PACK YOUR BERGEN (The bag used by the military) —You Don’t have to be a Minimalist, but it helps: The more thought you give to what goes into your bag, the better equipped you are for what lies further down the line. This sounds very basic, but you’d be surprised how many cadets don’t give sufficient thought to packing their bags and end up learning the lesson the hard way. So packing your bag is of utmost importance in the army while going to war. The A B Cs OF PACKING explained in the book are interesting. They include fine points such as ACCESSIBILITY, BALANCE, and COMPACTNESS. Then comes the seven questions. The 7 questions are used to provide a logical handrail to aid better decision-making. A point ‘THINKING OUTSIDE THE BERGEN’ the way in which we pack our Bergen can be used as an analogy for the way we live our life.  

CHAPTER 5. BELIEVE IN SOMETHING BIGGER—Learn to Harness the Power of Your Team: Wolves are the most socialised animals who thrive on collaboration, companionship, strict discipline and an established hierarchy. But it may also surprise you to discover that they are also remarkably compassionate towards one another. The weakest beta (follower) will never be left at the back of the pack to lag behind and get lost; it will also be insulated in the middle of the group, with an alpha (leader) at the front, and another alpha (often the leading alpha’s mate) at the rear. Cadets at Sandhurst are told from day one to establish their strengths and weaknesses as a platoon, for each individual brings their own skills to the table. The chapter has other interesting cues such as FINDING YOUR WAY, GIVING YOUR BEST WHILE YOU’RE FEELING YOUR WORST and HONESTY—IS THE BEST POLICY.

CHAPTER 6. DON’T GET LOST, READ YOUR MAP—How Do You React When Things Go Wrong? Life’s most valuable lessons are often learned when we leave our familiar comfort zones. Once we move into uncharted territory, we can really discover more about ourselves and grow. However, it’s only natural that in these strange places we can find ourselves lost so carry your road map with you. The book teaches you about FINDING YOUR WAY, to CHECK YOUR MORAL COMPASS. It also talks about THE ARMY LEADERSHIP CODE.

Chapter 7. TAKE A KNEE—Trust in Your Own Judgement: The chapter advises to TAKE A KNEE under special conditions. Talks of THE CONDOR MOMENT practised in Sandhurst. In a pressured conflict, it’s imperative not to let your blood rule your brain. Instead of rushing in offensively with retaliation, stand back, take stock of the situation, reset, recalibrate and then act. Often the COOLER HEADS PREVAIL. It describes the art of THINKING UNDER PRESSURE.

CHAPTER 8. TRAIN HARD, FIGHT EASY—Fail to Prepare and Prepare to Fail are the tenets on which R-M-A-S works. It trains you to OUT-THINK YOUR OPPONENT. It teaches you to take DARING INITIATIVE.

CHAPTER 9. CAST YOUR LEADERSHIP SHADOW—The Standard You Walk Past is the Standard You Accept: The chapter takes you through various case studies.

CHAPTER 10. SERVE TO LEAD—The Power of Example. AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP AND INFECTIOUS COURAGE and it talks about EMPOWERING OTHERS.

    The book has 146 pages including a short glossary. The price of the book is Rs 499. The book is full of interesting phrases and quotes. Overall it’s a light interesting book. A ground-breaking, personal development, self-help book that will help you tackle life’s everyday battles. Army profits from this book will go to support the welfare of soldiers of the British Army and their dependents. I would give the book an A grade.

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By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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