I’m proofing a biography of Cyril, an independent-minded Leeds tailor turned soldier. Following the 1940 debacle in France, he spends four years in training, and is finally pitched into 8 months of continuous heavy fighting in Holland, through the Siegfried Line and into Germany.
As a sergeant he tries – but frequently fails – to convince a succession of officers that they are targets for the enemy. Epaulettes, binoculars, map cases, pistol in a holster, all the trappings of rank, mark you out as a priority target, as does standing in the middle of a group of men and pointing to where others should go.
So whenever an officer is pointlessly hit and Cyril has once again to take command of the platoon, he keeps his map case hidden and his presence discreet. But he has trained and fought alongside his men for a long time. He’s made sure they know where he is, and what he needs them to do, without a lot of shouting and fuss.
I prefer leaders who are at least audible and intelligible, but not too fulsome or demonstrative. Someone who meets adversity with patent low cunning gives more confidence that over there is the best way to go.
◊ More on Cyril’s biography later.