leadership has a price

I served for 23 years in the Canadian Army. As a young infantry officer, the concept of leadership by example was drilled into us. One event remains in my memory from almost 40 years ago.  A fellow junior officer had just joined the regiment. He had graduated from university then joined the Army and did one year of infantry officer training. At that time it was normal to send new officers to our Battle School, where recruits were trained. On graduation they would all come back to our unit. At the School, new officers had experienced, permanent-staff non-commissioned officers (NCO) for support, usually with 10 or more years of experience.

Infantry Officer Training, CFB Gagetown 1980 (I am on the right)

One day after firing practice on the range, vehicles were sent to bring the troops back to base, which was a good distance away. Each vehicle had the capacity for 18 soldiers in the back. But there were more soldiers than spaces on the vehicles. The experienced NCO counselled the young officer to just put the extra troops into the vehicles and get everyone back as soon as possible. Deferring to experience, not rank, the second lieutenant agreed.

On the way back there was an accident and soldiers were injured and one died. The officer was charged as he was the senior rank and it was his final decision to overload the vehicles. This was a regulation many of us young officers just learned, as it had not been part of our training. Not this this mattered, as it was our duty know all the regulations. The resulting court martial found the officer guilty and had severe repercussions on his career, but he was not released from service or sent to jail.

I learned that it does not matter what advice you get — as the senior rank, all decisions are your responsibility. Over the years I would have to put some NCOs into their places when they tried to browbeat me into making a decision that defied regulations. There may be times to break rules but leaders must choose these wisely. The price of being given the privilege of leadership is having ultimate responsibility for everyone under your command.

Recently in our town, the lack of leadership in our firefighting service and town administration has come to light.

Another firefighter, who resigned from Sackville Fire & Rescue in 2018 after nine years of service, says the department has a “toxic work environment.”

“I have watched Sackville Fire deteriorate over the last nine years to the point that I myself as well as others do not even want to walk in the door,” he wrote in a letter of resignation that mentions favouritism, double standards, and harassment.

He describes one incident at a departmental lobster party where a captain’s wife angrily threw dirty cutlery at a female officer while her husband and a deputy chief looked on.

“To this day, these two men are still officers and the membership was not made aware of any formal discipline against them,” he writes.

“I have many examples of conduct that was deemed as acceptable for a select few members and officers, but not the remainder of the membership.” —Wark Times 2021-04-13

I have no first-hand knowledge of this story. But if you use the military example above, then if there has been a breach of conduct, the responsibility lies with the senior person in the chain of command — period.

There have been a myriad of examples of lack of responsibility by those in positions of leadership during this current pandemic. The Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, is a case in point.

“Public health officials have been warning the Ontario government about a crushing third wave for months, but health-care workers say the government didn’t listen and its slow reactions may have cost lives.” —CBC 2021-04-17

Leadership has a price. If those in authority are not prepared to ‘fall on one’s sword‘ they cannot call themselves leaders.

certificate of military service

4 Responses to “leadership has a price”

  1. Stephen Judd

    There are many people who call themselves leaders, but only some who truly are. I think leadership can only be judged by the person’s actions – particularly, when making tough decisions and facing uncertainty, complexity, and, hence, fear.

  2. Ryan

    It’s a thing much easier said than done, and almost impossible to be a leader if you do not feel you have the support of senior members. I remember multiple times watching employees both senior and junior to me behave in unspeakable ways. In both cases I acted but nowhere close to soon enough. Deer in headlights is the only way I could describe these situations. I hope my experience now would help me make better decisions. There is something in Tyson’s famous quote that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” though. Much harder to take on leadership without the benefit of hindsight.

    • Harold Jarche

      I would also think that it’s really hard to effectively lead without any first-hand experience.


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