Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Soldier scholars: IQ versus EQ

If emotional intelligence was an examination subject, how many Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officers would score a distinction?

Having seen SAF officers on operational deployments on four occasions (Ops Flying Eagle (Taiwan), Ops Blue Heron I, Ops Blue Orchid I, Ops Flying Eagle 2004), I’m sure many would do fine. But a number of book smart scholar soldiers seem to lack the street smarts to make them true officers and gentlemen.

Case 1:
It was standing room only at the PBH briefing. Intent on getting his seat, a Lieutenant Colonel eyed the seated participants for a suitable victim. He found one.

Crouching over the junior officer, the LTC tapped his own shoulder epaulette and then pointed to the seat.

The junior officer got the message and vacated it promptly. Senior officers command that privilege.

Many eyes saw that incident and it became a talking point long after the war game had ended.

Case 2:
Lunch at Gombak was always a boring affair, so the branch head scholar soldier treated his branch to a meal outside the premises. He brought his staff officers to his country club where they enjoyed a hearty meal. Everyone thought they should buy a lottery ticket after that rare treat.

That single, once-in-a-blue moon occasion was brought up time and again by the scholar officer who boasted about how much he’d spent to feed his branch.

Such crass behaviour didn’t go down well with his staff officers who would rather he split the bill. It’s true what they say: there’s no free lunch.

Case 3:
Scholar officer had won an overseas prize which shares the same name as a twin turboprop transport plane. He was feted by the media but inexplicably disappeared from the estab of his service after a few years. Scholar officer had the smarts but lacked leadership. Zero charisma. Tasked with an S3 appointment during his command tour, he had to be virtually shadowed by a fellow officer as his CO felt he might drop the ball. The system wasn’t blind and the scholar soldier soon found himself on civvy street.

The incidents cited above come with real names left out intentionally.

Just as some officers poison their reputations with incompetent behaviour, there are many astute commanders who know just what it takes to earn the trust of men and women under their command.

I’ve heard at least two Singaporeans relate to me the same story of how a certain Singapore Army officer showed he cared for his men. After a demanding exercise, soldiers were taking a break when the senior Army officer swept in to speak to his men. He sat down by the longkang (drain) with the soldiers and spoke to them casually with no airs or ceremony. This made an impression with the battalion of Operationally Ready National Servicemen and reinforced the officer’s reputation as someone who cares for his soldiers.

In a citizen’s armed forces, leaders must earn the trust and respect of citizen soldiers.

Citizen soldiers (especially those who are Singaporean) are champion cynics. They will see through any theatrics from commanders who pull off PR stunts with an ulterior motive.

Being a tough commander isn’t the same as being an effective leader.

By the same reasoning, it would be a mistake to caricature a caring commander as being a softie.

Above all, it would be a colossal mistake to equate book smarts to leadership potential.

More than a handful of SAF officers have told me that the most important exam they took in their lives was the A Levels when they were 18. This is the benchmark the system uses to pick its future leaders and separate the wheat from the chaff.

They related how scholars who aced their A Levels ended up coasting through their university days – performing as well as but perhaps no better than the late bloomers who somehow botched their A Levels.

But once scholarships are minted and career endpoints charted, all these high fliers need do is watch out not to step on anyone’s toes or rock the boat too much. Creativity and innovation is needed in so far as getting the obligatory PRIDE Day submission in one’s P-file. And of course there’s the obligatory essay to the Pointer that proves one’s writing and analytical skills haven’t gone rusty.

Nobody likes a wild card in the pack. Same goes for an unpredictable maverick in a system where conformity rules. This is perhaps why most scholar soldiers seem cut from the same template: exam results which are virtual facsimiles of one another, attendance at an overseas staff college is a must, trophy girlfriends followed by marriage and kids by a certain age etc.

A contact who used to work at a particular Ministry of Defence department dealing with SAF officer matters related how he used to field cold calls from officers anxious to know whether they had been scheduled for a particular command course. You see, there’s fierce rivalry among ambitious officers to top the league table. Attendance at some courses, which are a pre-requisite for higher command, are treated as a leading indicator of the market worth of up-and-coming officers.

With their IQ applied for the right exam and charmed with an astute sense of EQ, high fliers can indeed go far.

But there are some scholar soldiers who fail the system with their absymal performance. To its credit, the system is smart enough to recognise and weed out these anomalies.

Don't we all know a couple of these flunkies?


Taiwoon said...

wow.. I am glad to find ur blog! on that note of scholars.. I remember this... the most inspirational commander col Suk singh..
I belong to 6sir and trained with his battalion. man... He is one who does not take the easy way and does what the men do.. and more! I hope there are more of officers like him. Do u have any article on him? i really hope to say a big thank you and that u are not forgotten!

Anonymous said...

My scholar officer S4 in 10 SIB threaten to write into my scholarship board to "cancel" my scholarship with a stat board. I think a certain Major Tan if I am not wrong.

Pulling such threats on post-JC NS junior officer really tarnish my impression on the SAF till this day. Clearly did not stop him from climbing up the ranks.

fazvik said...

Surely there are stories of by the bootstrap officers who have high Eq and Iq who are non scholars but through sheer handwork have made it through the upper echelons right?