RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway…

For the past two days I have been helping to run a Leadership Course aimed at Junior Ranks who are due for promotion to Corporal. 

It’s been fun and quite challenging for both the Juniors as well as myself – bringing together all my training over my time as an airman, Corporal and as a Sergeant – as well as the specific training I had when I was a personal development instructor based at RAF Cosford.

It consisted of some classroom based basic leadership theory – defining what the Service thinks leadership, management and command is, awareness of different leadership theories and most importantly an opportunity to put these theories into practise in a safe environment…

It is designed to put the Juniors through a series of activities including the standard ‘military command tasks’, low and high ropes, and to deliver a presentation on a topic – chosen from a list supplied by ourselves – with a reference to airpower.

In essence it is designed to get people who think they are ready for promotion out of their comfort zone and to learn a bit more about themselves and what sort of leaders they might be.

Fascinating stuff. And, as I say, great fun. But a challenge too.

And, as I said earlier, not just a challenge to me.

Yesterday was a tough day for some of the course members – the presentations really got them nervous. In most cases it was the first time they had had to stand up on their own and deliver a briefing or presentation on their own.  They weren’t allowed any audio-visual aids – it was all about their voice and their presence – and they couldn’t hide behind some fancy PowerPoint slides.  In one case a Senior Aircraftman crumbled before our eyes when she got up to speak, forgetting pretty much everything, and stumbling over her words, losing her way and, despite knowing the subject and responding really well to the questions we asked her gave a very poor performance…simply because she was nervous.

You see this had pushed her well out of her comfort zone.  She started to panic and crumbled. Sadly.  But in doing so, we managed her afterwards by building her up about what had gone well – and that she’d volunteered to do this course – she had, in a way, faced a fear – and hadn’t died! You know. It was a bad performance – but it was only 5 minutes over two days where she had not been as good as the rest of the time.

It’s tough to manage people emotions and tougher to manage peoples fears.  But in a way, that is the fundamental art of leadership. You are managing people’s emotions all the way.  As a leader you say and do things that have a huge affect on others feelings and emotions…and so you are responsible for helping them when they are in a bad way as a result of it.

And that was brought to sharper focus in my mind later in the afternoon when, over on the high ropes, a different girl had a panic attack whilst 15 -20 foot up.

For the last 2-3 minutes of the activity – what it was doesn’t really matter – she had not really contributed very much and had gone quite quiet.  Then as we asked them to step off the ropes to come down she burst into tears. She became paralysed by fear and was unable to move. It took up a good 3-4 minutes to get her down, by the end of which she was in a terrible state.

A total panic attack.  Her comfort zone was somewhere in Australia and she’d blasted through her stretch zone and was in full blown panic.

Immediately I took her away from the group to have a sit down and have a bit of a chat. And the flood gates opened. After 20 minutes of chat – very difficult chat for both of us – it transpired that she had a great fear of heights and in particular unstable heights, but probing by my questions revealed that she also had a huge self-esteem issues too. 

She was very negative about herself and her performance over her time int he RAF, and it took a long time to find something she had done that she was proud of. But with a few techniques that came from my NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) training I managed to get her back to a good place and a further 20 minutes later she was doing a Trust Fall. (And if you know what a trust fall is – where you stand on a platform about 4 foot off the floor, and, without any ropes or harnesses or mats, fall backwards to be caught by the rest of your team – you will know what a big deal and how scary that is…)

But it got me to thinking about fear. My fears.  I am scared of a couple of things – firstly confined dark places are not great for me, and I am a little bit needle-phobic…and then…

Then I got thinking about going out to Afghan.  I asked the girl yesterday if she’d been on a tour out there, and she said she hadn’t.  I asked her what she thought about it, and said yeah, she was scared by the thought of going – it’s a scary place and being mortared and rocketed by the Taliban doesn’t bring warm fuzzy thoughts to her mind.  But she said it was something she would accept as she had signed the dotted line when joining the RAF.

It’s something that we all have to accept.

And she’s true.  And I spent time talking to her about how we face our fears. That we have to face them or else they win.  Our fears are irrational, stupid, ridiculous. But whatever they are, they are very real. But if we don’t face them then they win.

And in facing them we grow. We get to be a better stronger person. We learn about ourselves and learn about how we are likely to respond.

So. I am scared about having to go to Afghan. I am scared I won’t be fit enough, won’t be strong enough. Scared I might be just like that girl giving the presentation or like the other on the ropes. Paralysed by fear.

What if, all of a sudden, I am involved in something and real rounds are flying. And I freeze. I am scared of myself.

But then…When I saw that girl paralysed yesterday I was scared too. And then my training kicked in. I knew to take her away from the situation and have a chat. And what to say in that chat. What questions to ask and how to ask them. And what technique to use to get her back.

And I know that I will have training before I go to Afghan. That is where I will get a chance to learn how to deal with those things happening.  It’s a bit of a cliché that you hear soldiers, marines, navy ratings and airmen say that their training kicks in and you just crack on. But yesterday showed to me that it does.

My personal  development training kicked in. She got back up and was prepared to do more and did one of the most scary things on a ropes course – the trust fall.

So I calmed myself with this knowledge.  And with the knowledge that both girls yesterday learnt a huge amount by what happened. As did I. They learnt that they need to face their fears, and if they do they will feel the better for it afterwards. They might do something they will be very proud of – and others will too. I am proud of her for the trust fall in particular. 

And I will face my fears too. I have an injection this morning, and I am going to show that bloody little needle that I am not scared of it.  I mean, everyone has injections and it’s only a tiny bit of short pain that goes after a few seconds. A sharp scratch is what they say isn’t it?

And of course, I will face my fear about going to Afghan. I will go there having had some 3 months or some of training on how to deal with many and complex situations.  It’ll be tough – the training AND the deployment, but I am sure that I will do things out there that I will be proud of. And I will do my damnedest to do things that my family and friends back here will be proud of too…


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5 thoughts on “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway…

  1. Another excellently written piece, and very thought provoking..and helpful. Thank you for writing this.

  2. emma morgan on said:

    Excellent blog and something I feel I can very much relate to.
    I always ran away from facing my fears as it was always easier, but now I am facing them I am a much stronger person, like how you say in your blog.
    Afterall with a little help we can all face our fears, its the asking for help I find tough.

    Thankyou for a great blog


  3. Great post as usual. Giving an insight into how we are scared is at least half the way to winning the battle.

  4. Laura A on said:

    Very good writing, once again.

    “They weren’t allowed any audio-visual aids – it was all about their voice and their presence – and they couldn’t hide behind some fancy PowerPoint slides.”

    This reminded me of a time at university/college, when doing my biomedical science degree. We had to give a tiny presentation to the rest of group about our respective visits to various clinical laboratories.

    One of the biggest criticisms I received from my tutors about my presentation was that I had not used ANY visual aids, no slides or anything. I’m just not very good with those and having to do a PowerPoint slide show (which we were required to do when doing presentations about our final project) is just terrible. Why can’t I just talk?

  5. Jules O on said:

    One of the most challenging times of my working life was 3 weeks at the Airmen’s Command School, Halton.

    In civvy life I do presentations, meetings and all that management stuff, but in 2003 I went to do IMLC as a mobilised Reservist, and suddenly throw in some low-rope exercises, navigational exercises and a syndicate group of regulars from a wide range of Trades and the world was suddenly a much different place!

    It brought home to me the great mix of people in the RAF, and the teamwork of that three weeks was fantastic – Engineers, Adminers, Rocks and Movers plus DS of a Copper and a Fireman – no-one fell out, no-one got left out – we were all in it together, and we got on with it.

    I look forward to hearing about your Afghan preparations – sure enough I’ll be following behind you at some point…

    I look forward to hearing about your PDT

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