Early on in the involvement of NATO’s International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the Taliban realised that they were getting outgunned by a better-equipped adversary. In response they evolved their tactics to their advantage by incorporating the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Subsequently, death rates amongst ISAF soldiers spiked, largely because the majority of personnel were not equipped with the knowledge or resources to be able to detect IEDs as it had typically been a specialist role conducted by experts.
Neither were troops on the ground supplied with the medical knowledge and equipment to deal with the traumatic amputations caused by the IEDS. Unsurprisingly, there was a sudden pressing need to address the situation.
After some initial analysis, the UK contingent of ISAF concluded that what was required (or indeed practicably achievable) was not hundreds more bomb disposal experts or medics to deal with the problem; ultimately the solution lay in empowering front line troops to both detect and disrupt the IEDs but also to deal with the immediate impact of not being able to do so.
The outcome was that all UK forces deploying on Op HERRICK (as the Afghanistan operation was named) were upskilled to detect IEDs with a metal detector used in conjunction skills developed under the title Op BARMA. Large numbers of deploying troops were also upskilled to become Team Medics, with tourniquets and enhanced field dressings carried by everyone.
The result of this was that those at risk were better able to pick up on the signs of IEDs and also able to offer a convincing response in case that wasn’t enough. Unsurprisingly, the death rate came down noticeably. And not because there were suddenly more bomb disposal officers and surgeons available.
It was because the British Army had acknowledged the problem and confidently embraced the gap between ignorance and expertise, understanding that – just because an individual or team doesn’t know everything to keep it functioning – it shouldn’t learn something to combat a risk that it is exposed to.
This is an analogy that I have often reflected on since I started working in the world of mental health and wellbeing.
I will never be a psychiatrist or psychotherapist; I will never be a mental health professional that is able to treat severe mental illness. But I do know more now than I ever did in the past about how to protect my mental health and am very clear that even limited knowledge around mental health should be a pre-requisite for any leader.
When my mental health took a significant turn for the worse, I was definitely in the area of ignorance. With hindsight, I now know that – if I and people around me had been equipped with the confidence and resources, within a conducive environment – it is unlikely that I would have experienced mental illness and I could have done far more to proactively influence my own outcomes.
Having worked with a number of organisations over the last few years – and having been part of the problem for a vast part of my life as an unenlightened leader – I have seen that often what holds progress in this field is fear.
That could be a fear of opening Pandora’s Box, a fear of making things worse or simply a fear of not knowing everything. But on reflection, organisations should be far more fearful of the inaction around mental health which is typically the cause of the majority of poor mental health.
What we have sought to do at Eleos over the last few years is to reassure organisations – and specifically leaders – is that waiting for everyone to become experts in mental health is never going to happen for all sorts of reasons.
What is far more likely to have a positive impact is to give everyone – via their managers – the resources, time, space and permission to understand themselves and each other better. Developing resilience, particularly of the collective sort, is a team sport; it’s not something that can be cultivated by an app or traditional e-learning.
It takes courage and leadership at all levels to gradually grow the culture that gives everyone the ability and confidence to look after themselves and those around them.
It’s worth reinforcing that we believe that experts – counsellors, psychotherapists, psychiatrists – absolutely have their place, but if together we can achieve the collective education that enables early interventions, which promotes and protects positive mental health we may just be able to reduce our dependence on them at the very time that waiting lists have never been longer.
Find out why organisations like yours, are using Genesis to allow teams to learn together, empowering them to move away from ignorance and a little closer to expertise.
You don’t have to be an Expert to Touch Hearts and Change Lives
Team member, team leader, HR Guru or CEO: Wherever we are in the organisation, we impact many people every day. Doing so intentionally and becoming aware of the common humanity we all share just beneath the surface, enables us all to touch hearts and positively change lives.
Two decades ago, that simple idea gave International Motivational Speaker, Jim Lawless, the confidence to begin talking about the internal challenges he faced in leaving his comfort zone to live a full life. Two decades on, his Ten Rules for Taming Tigers have been used in organisations from Apple to the NHS and his ideas are published globally by Random House.
Join Jim, on the 7th of July at 1230 BST for this FREE, extra special Webinar to learn how YOU, wherever you sit in your organisation, can touch hearts and positively change lives every day.
- Exploring the impact we can each make on mental health and wellbeing at work.
- Offering a new perspective on the positive difference every person can make to others – and how to do it
- Talking about the concerns that all humans share and that drive anxiety and stress and hold us back from delivering on our ambitions
Wherever you sit in the organisation – YOU can change lives every day and this session will help you start your journey.
Written by: Olly Church, Co-Founder