It is Navy’s 50th anniversary! I have been so goddamn distracted the whole day by thoughts about my short 2 years in the Navy so far. I guess it is the perfect time to describe in detail my irrational admiration of a leader that has been involved in my leadership journey. He also happens to be the one I am referring to in my previous post — the leader I truly respect despite his claim that he is not outstanding academically. Let’s just call him MDT (rank and name LOL).
I remember the first encounter with MDT, when we, as a division, were all sat in this room meeting our training officer for the first time. He got all 30+ of us to self-introduce our names, our schools, and a hobby. I think so. And then it was his turn. He went around in a circle, addressing all of us by name. He had memorised our names and matched them to our appearances even before our first meeting. Everyone in the room had heard of this happening to previous batches, but seeing him do it in front of us truly amazed me. It is difficult to even remember names of people you know (I am terrible with faces), how do you do the same for 30 strangers when you only have their 2D faces printed on a piece of paper?
I struggled a lot throughout my time in MIDS (Navy OCS). There was a lot of self-questioning and self-doubt as I trudged through the days, ending up in tears many times because I was shouldered with so much burden and frustration. This sounds really cheesy but he was a beacon of hope in the darkness; I remember a particular occasion when we had individual review sessions and I had mine. At that point, I was afraid, worried and sad. I did not know where I was heading and every day felt like a torture because I never did see myself improving. I shared my frustrations tearing up, nearly breaking down crying. He talked to me about my strengths and weaknesses, and reminded me to focus on the bigger things. He shared about how disappointed he was with their oversight (!), and how he felt that he could have been more involved with us especially when he saw that external instructors wielded such a strong influence on our day-to-day mentality. I marched back alone from OCS HQ to wing line grinning from ear-to-ear. I felt like someone truly cared about our well-being and growth amidst all those nonsensical scoldings and various instructors blowing things out of proportion. From his words, I felt like each of us mattered as an individual.
We were to submit weekly/fortnightly reflections on our leadership growth. We were to keep track of our leadership journey, write reflections and journals on how we felt we were growing. He read them all to understand our points of view and gave us personal feedback. He constantly took stock of our learning progress and showed us areas we could improve a lot more on. We were repeatedly told to look beyond all the seemingly important things — performing well in tests, or having the best physical standards. He made sure to congratulate people for passing their retests, and gave more credit to those who “finally passed after three failures” than those coasting through the tests. He likened every leadership role as an opportunity to invest in your learning experience, be it a small or large role. He saw the value in people who tried and tried despite all our individual weaknesses. Above all, he paid the most attention to our learning attitudes evident in the people he favoured the most, and I see how it materialises in the success and growth of the people he nurtured.
I remember a particular dialogue last year where we were told to share one thing that we learnt the entire year — I mentioned that it was the little things that matter. MDT walked the talk. You would never catch him with crumpled sheets, you would never catch him with an unneat appearance, you would never receive a thoughtless reply in any statement or reflection submissions. He made sure to send all of us personal messages on our birthdays even long after commissioning. He made provisions to meet us as a division even when he was definitely busy as a new CO of a ship. He never gave himself an excuse for anything; despite his age he made sure to run faster than us despite carrying a jerry can when he shouted at us countless times during X48. He was willing to sacrifice his professional image and be in disfavour of the other officers when he shouted at us again and again for our basic mistakes. Afterall, who would enjoy being hated by everyone? No officer wants to be the bad guy. If anything, he is the most under-recognised instructor/leader, and the RSN is truly lucky to have him dedicating his all to nurture batches after batches of officers. I am truly lucky to have met him as an instructor in my leadership journey and I am sure most, if not all, my division mates have benefited from his harsh training, even if they may not have the same admiration for him as I do.
Many people joke on Instagram or Facebook about how “when I grow up, I want to be like you”. MDT Sir, when I grow up, I truly want to be like you.