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Lessons from the Special Air Service Regiment

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

*"At the core of every special forces soldier is a desire to do their best, whether someone is watching or not, and whether there is recognition or not." -SASR soldier and instructor

I heard this quote years ago, and have remembered it ever since. I absolutely love it; it challenges me to do better, and reminds me of my experience in Australian fighter squadrons. 'Good is never good enough'.

What is it about some organisations which are able to create an environment where people will do their absolute best to achieve the aim?

Salary? The SASR does pay well, but nothing like the compensation available in the corporate world.

Conditions? Yeah…nup! Anyone who has spent anytime in the military will have plenty of stories about harsh conditions and an often mediocre support system.

Largely, it is due to culture. Two aspects in particular are important:

1. The SASR has very, very high standards, and individuals are obsessed with achieving and maintaining those standards. Often high performance organisations contain very potent symbols of their culture…(think of the All Blacks rugby jersey); in the case of the SASR, it is the sandy brown beret with the winged dagger. After being presented that symbol of excellence, it serves as a permanent reminder of the standard they are required to uphold.

2. Every person is subordinate to the organisation itself. The individual is less important than the team, and the team is less important than the organisation. Individuals don’t want to let down the team. One well known and highly decorated Australian SASR member has “I shall never fail my brothers” tattooed on his chest.

So, how does this impact you in your IT startup/hedge fund/animal rescue centre?

Well, you have created a culture for your team.

It may be weak, or it may be strong. It may be toxic, or it may be positive. You may have deliberately designed it, or it may have grown in the environment you created. But be in no doubt; it exists, and it shapes the behaviour of your staff.

Smart leaders actively manage the culture in their team, their small business, their department or their multi-national organisation. Assess the culture YOU have created, and make a conscious decision to use its immense power for good.

As they say, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. (Overused, and nonsensical. But you get the idea.)

Next time, we’ll have a look at the ‘employee experience’ in the SASR through the lens of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’.

*(I wish I could attribute this quote to the author, but despite repeatedly searching YouTube over the years, I have never found it again!)

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