Psychological Wellbeing is Pandering to the Weak, Right?

“Prioritising positive psychological wellbeing! That’s pandering to the weak, right”? This was a comment I overheard from a senior HR manager at a social gathering. “These individuals have no place in our (pressurised) business. Helping them cope? What a waste of resources.” Alas, I didn’t get the opportunity to explain that many individuals, particularly those who need to operate optimally for sustained periods of time under extreme pressures, can do so because their culture embeds and encourages positive psychological wellbeing. How? Let me explain.

In 1991, the Royal Marines, acknowledged as one of the world’s elite commando forces, inserted into Northern Iraq. Their task was humanitarian; to protect the Kurdish population from Saddam Hussein’s feared Republican Guard. This required the Royal Marines Commandos to dominate the ground, patrol into the mountains, engage with the enemy as required, and then to convince the Kurds that it was safe for the Royal Marines to guide them down to the established safe havens.

Within an hour of landing into Northern Iraq, a section of 8 Royal Marines Commandos were tasked by their HQ to conduct a recce to confirm the effectiveness of the security, provided by an allied nation, of the tactically important high ground surrounding the Royal Marine’s field Headquarters. On their return, the eight were to report their findings to their senior management which, over and above assurances from senior allied commanders, would determine whether and where the unit would be inserted on mass. Each of the eight had their own jobs to do, as typical within a tactical patrol, as well as specific tasks to ensure the recce’s success. The section was led by a Corporal (approximate age 25), with an average section age of 22, the youngest being 19. For most, this was their first real exposure to expeditionary operations.

On reaching their objective, the section broke into pairs to complete the recce tasks. These were to: liaise with the ally’s senior rank at each location (all of whom were senior to the eight Royal Marines) to gain an understanding of the current security situation and security plan; to illicit information from, and to observe the allied troops to ensure that they were accurately implementing the brief stated by their senior command; to make notes of any weaknesses and concerns that they had observed; and to make suggestions as to what would be required to improve these shortfalls. This task lasted over 24 hours, with the teams working throughout the night, checking and rechecking all their information, to ensure that they had all the information their Commanding Officer would require to enable his decision-making.

On return, the team was fully debriefed, each pair explaining their findings to a senior officer who listened intently, without interruption, who then passed the information gained to the Commanding Officer. With this trusted information of the site’s safety, the Commanding Officer ordered the remainder of the unit to insert.

A positive psychological wellbeing culture enables individuals to feel competent, autonomous, valued, listened to, supported, and part of a community, with a sense of purpose to contributing to something worthwhile. Did this task make those eight RM Commandos feel competent as individuals and as a team? Yes. Did the senior officer and Corporal on the ground give them autonomy? Yes. Did they feel listened to and valued as they reported the information they had gained to their seniors? Yes. Did they feel they were part of something worthwhile and part of a community? Yes. Is prioritising positive psychological wellbeing pandering to the weak? A waste of resources?

How often do practices trust their youngest and/or less experienced members with crucial roles in mission achievement?
How often do senior management listen so intently to employee information and prioritise it in their decision-making?
How often does a practice’s organisational systems, communications, day-to-day actions, provide the setting for employees to grow today for the future benefit of the individual and the practice rather than looking to impress the client?

How often do practices survive, let alone thrive, whatever the internal and external pressures? How often do they develop, adapt, stand the test of time? Very few, if any other organisation has managed to achieve this level of optimal performance over such a sustained period. The Royal Marines have achieved this since 1664; there is no ‘Boom and Bust’ in their’ history.

So, who benefits most from a culture that prioritises positive psychological wellbeing? Perhaps, as suggested by the Royal Marines and an increasing body of cross-field research, everyone can. Regardless of an individual’s perceived strengths or weaknesses, a culture that embeds psychological wellbeing enables everyone to perform at their best; individually, collectively, the whole organisation, which is what the client expects.

Editied version publish https://www.lawcare.org.uk/news/what-can-legal-practices-learn-from-the-royal-marines