Motivating & retaining employees: Thoughts on leadership

Motivating & retaining employees: Thoughts on leadership

Leadership & Management

Colonel Achal

Colonel Achal

360 week ago — 5 min read

From my 27-years of experience in the army and 22 years as an entrepreneur, I have led a team in uniform and now in civilian dress. There is a lot of similarity between the two as well as some differences. In the case of soldiers and officers of the army whom I was privileged to command, they were a disciplined body and retention was never an issue. But in the civil street this is often a major issue as attitudes and expectations are different. In the army, you will accept the high command because that is the prescribed protocol. In civil life, you can change the company and get a new boss.


Management of human resources needs good leadership. ‘Man management’ as it is called in the army is different. One has to train the soldiers and officers at various levels for war. They should know their roles in different operations of war and be prepared to undertake various tasks, when and if necessary. Of course, there are some who handle the same weapon system life-long but with experience they are given additional responsibilities. For officers and soldiers, training is an essential part of life, since one does not know when war may break out. The levels of training will differ with the rank and the terrain where one is to fight the battle. Today, with insurgency and terrorists in our borders and within the country, all fighting arms are trained to operate as foot soldiers and undertake operations even against insurgents or terrorists on our borders. 


Motivation of troops is an essential part of officers’ training. Low morale is direct reflection of low motivation. Officers are constantly reminded of their need to keep the soldiers under their command highly motivated and maintain high morale to perform the tasks assigned. During my time, in field or border areas when one is facing the enemy, if one notices any soldier showing signs of worry, their immediate officer would speak to the soldier, find out what is the cause for worry and find a solution. It may even be a simple matter of not having heard from one’s spouse. In such a case, the immediate-officer would even write to the soldier’s wife asking her to write to her husband so that his morale is raised. Remember those days we did not have decent telephone lines leave alone mobile phones. This requirement may not be there today.


The leadership style when dealing with disciplined men and women in uniform is different than what is required in civilian life. It was and still is a learning experience for me after I hung my boots and became an entrepreneur. I realised that the same methods of ‘man management’ would not work in my entrepreneurial endeavour. The method to be adopted needed tweaking. But many of the leadership traits that I learnt in the army stood me in good stead when I moved to entrepreneurship. Our company’s attrition levels are low, even though we are in the services sector – providing services and care to senior citizens across many cities.


Some of my learnings in the past 22 years as an entrepreneur with regard to management of human resources is as follows: 


1. An organisation is more important than individuals. This must be stressed at every opportunity and the team should feel ownership for the company. 


2. No one is indispensable. It is always about teamwork. Yet, every member of the team has a role to play and this must be not only understood but also demonstrated.


3. Every human being is different. Never apply the same yardstick in either judging individuals or assigning them tasks to perform. Not all are endowed with talent to undertake any task.

4. Identify talent and groom them for taking more responsibilities in the company. The armed forces do this exceedingly well. 

5. If there is a need to fill a vacancy at higher levels of management, first look for such a person within the company rather than getting some one from outside. This will send a strong message to the team that “the management recognises our talent and I can rise in the hierarchy of the organisation.”

6. Appreciate good work and acknowledge it before everyone.

7. “To err is human but to forgive is divine”. In any organisation mistakes will happen. So long as the mistake is not intentional but due to error in judgment, pardon such mistakes. Even the boss makes mistakes. Important is to learn from mistakes and make them an impetus to perform better.


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Colonel Sridharan Achal

Covai Property Centre (I) P Ltd is engaged in real estate development and construction business in Coimbatore since 2001. Team Covai and Colonel are pioneers in Senior Care and...

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