(Note: You don’t have to be an ex cadet to use these lessons! Today is the 51st birthday of Jhenidah Cadet College, I dedicate this article to my Alma matre)
There has been many leadership opportunities in my life. When you are a Police Officer, you HAVE to lead your men in crisis: there is no choice. Sometimes you have to kick the door of an armed terrorist to pave the way for the raid party you are commanding, in other times you have to deal with the bureaucracy to subtly protect your group interest.
At times I thrived in those opportunities, sometimes I learned from failures. It’s more like a journey, no success is permanent, and no failure is fatal.
However, the most important lessons I learned about leadership goes long before I joined Police, it was in the evergreen campus of Jhenidah Cadet College where I studied from 1997 to 2003. Back in 2003, I served there as the College Prefect (CP) of 34th intake, a one year job to lead all 300 cadets at the age of 17.
There was, of course, opportunity cost of that responsibility as my HSC result took a severe blow. However, a hundred MBAs wouldn’t be able to teach me what I learned in that one year of CP-ship.
Today, I am sharing some of these lessons that I found handy in my professional life. By applying these, you can perform your leadership duties like a college prefect does:
Be a Prefect not a puppet:
Just because you are chosen by some higher authority in your current leadership position doesn’t mean you have to be their puppet. Your main responsibility is to serve the interest of the men you lead, NOT the ones who put you in that position. When a dilemma comes where you have to choose between your higher authority and your men, think deeply if the demand of your men is just or not. If yes, just ignore the bullshit said by the higher authority and support your men. This might cost you your leadership position but you will be a legend among your folks.
Remember what Nelson Mandela said: “The moment I lose the courage to risk it all for my people is the day I lose the right to lead them”.
So-called leadership title doesn’t worth a dime if you fail to lead your men in a just cause in fear of losing that title. What’s the point of being the leader then!
Pay your dues:
The title “College Prefect” gave me a cross- belt and a three-star shoulder badge to wear with my uniform, something a cadet would die for. It gave me the luxury to have my personal room and a place in high-table of dining hall. To understand what this is in a strict military environment like Cadet College, you can compare it with having a VIP suit in Westin or Radisson for an entire year. Not to mention, a college prefect has the honour to sit next to any VIP visiting the college, be it the PM, the army chief or a foreign ambassador. In college honour board at academic block your name will be written, you will be the part of College history forever.
The question is, is it all free? Of course not! Anything worth achieving NEVER is. I was bullied several times inside Adjutant office because some cadets broke the college discipline, I faced the wrath of my classmates because I failed to bring the permission to watch the Bangladesh-West Indies cricket match. When anything went wrong, the blame went to the college prefect first. During the pressure cooker situation of ongoing HSC exam every HSC candidate was doing their last moment preparation, whereas I had to ensure that everyone was present on time in every event. HSC exam or not, you are the College Prefect-it’s your goddamn job.
When you accept any leadership position, be prepared to pay your dues. Accept these harsh things with a smiling face and you’ll do a far better job for sure.
Keep the tiger in cage:
As the College Prefect I often asked myself, the junior class that I punished last afternoon, was it just to satisfy my ego or it was necessary for college discipline?
If the ego thingie (I call it tiger) comes too often, my friend, you are digging your own grave. We understand that leadership is sexy, but you can very well be in the receiving end if your ego forces your juniors to openly rebel against you. That’s just too bad.
Be fair to your juniors, NEVER punish a class 10 cadet in front of his juniors (class 7,8,9) just because you can. Support them when they are facing trouble, protect them from unfair treatment of higher authority by using your position. Do these things, always reply to their “salaam” with a smiling face every time they greet you and you will see them not hesitating to accompany you even in hell.
Although I used cadet college examples of juniors and punishments, the inner lessons can very well be applied to any organization.
Kiss the mirror at times:
So far I have discussed how a college prefect performs his duties to his college and cadets. However, here lies something really important which I wish somebody told me back then:
“Kiss the mirror at times.”
Which means, while performing those big duties, take care of yourself. As the leader you will be tested by fire on a daily basis. Some of your most trusted friends will betray you, Adjutant will call you because you punished the son of a VIP. When everybody is studying, you will be in principal’s office to save the back of a classmate who is caught with pornography and cigarettes. If your college authority is shameless enough (which they generally are) they will call your parents and insult them in front of you because they think you did something wrong. How the hell one’s parents are responsible for something that is done in college boundary?!
Yes, my friend, life is unfair. It is actually far worse for people like you who hold leadership positions. So, never forget to sharpen your sword on a regular basis, always lick your wounds between fights. Beyond all these spotlight and fame there exists a humane side in you which needs your affection and company. Don’t forget it. While taking care of your people, you have the responsibility to take care of yourself too!
Although Nelson Mandela was not an ex cadet, I personally find connected to him because he spent 27 years in jail (we cadets spend only 6 years though ;))
Here is what he said that sums up the greatest of leadership lessons:
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
(Currently on study leave at Tokyo Institute of technology)
It is a rare moment where College Prefects of four cadet colleges met in full uniform.
From the left: Rakib ( MCC, currently teaches in IUT), me(JCC), Zaman(FCC, a reputed banker now) and Forhan (CCC, sword of honour holder of 53 BMA Long Course, serving as a major in BD Army).The picture was taken in 2002, after the closing ceremony of inter cadet college literary and music meet at Comilla Cadet College.