The Qualities Of A Good Officer
Field Marshal William Joseph "Bill" Slim,
1st Viscount Slim,
KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC, KStJ
(6 August 1891 – 14 December 1970)
Canadian Army Journal, Vol 5, No 6, September 1951
Speech by Field Marshal Sir William Slim, GCB, GBE, DSO, MC, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, at the Sovereign's Parade at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, on 15 December 1949
Officer Cadets of The Royal Military Academy. Many of you become officers today; all of you will become officers in the near future. That means that your Sovereign has selected you to lead your fellow countrymen in battle, and than that there is no greater honour that your King and Country can do you. In return for that honour, when you go from here, you will maintain those standards of conduct which have always been the glory of the officers of the British Army. You will show the qualities of leadership which are particularly required of you at a time like this. Remember, the be-all and end-all of an officer is to be a leader. The qualities that distinguish an officer from other men are courage, initiative, will-power and knowledge. To take these qualities in turn. The kind of courage required is the courage that endures. Anybody can be brave for a little while, but the officer goes on being brave when others falter. He has a moral courage which makes him do his duty - do what is right without any thought of the consequences to himself. Initiative means that you don't sit down and wait for something to happen. If, in war, you wait for something to happen it will happen all right and it will be damned unpleasant when it does. Initiative, for the officer, means that he thinks ahead, that he is always two or three jumps ahead of the men he leads and of the enemy. Keep your brains bright and flexible. Will-power means that you will force through what you consider it to be your duty to do, against not only the opposition of the King's enemies, but against the opposition of well-meaning friends and of all the doubts and difficulties of men and nature which will assail you. Knowledge means that you have no business to be an officer unless you know how to do the job in hand better than those you lead. When you leave here you won't have finished learning. You will never finish learning. The officer is always learning. If you have these qualities of courage, initiative, will-power and knowledge you will be a leader, but you won't necessarily be a good leader, or a leader for good, and you won't have that grip you must have on men when things go wrong. When a man's heart sinks into his empty belly with fear; when ammunition doesn't come through; when there are no rations, and your air force is being shot out of the skies; when the enemy is beating the living daylight out of you - then you will want one other quality, and unless you have got it you will not be a leader. That quality is self-sacrifice, and as far as you are concerned it means simply this, that you will put first the honour and the interest of your King and Country, that next you will put the safety, the well-being and the security of the men under your command; and that last, and last all the time, you will put your own interest, your own safety and your own comfort. Then you will be a good officer. I would like you to carry away from this Parade one thought, and that is this. In the British Army there are no good battalions and no bad battalions, no good regiments and no bad regiments. There are only good and bad officers. See to it that you are good officers. And good luck to you.