Light Bulb Moment: David Murray on not being afraid to show you care

A key insight into the working life of Air Vice-Marshal Murray, head of the armed forces charity SSAFA

David Murray
David Murray

During the earlier part of my career in the RAF, I spent time working in places such as Bosnia and Sierra Leone, usually trying to stop warring factions killing each other or the local civilian population. Whatever I had to deal with, I always tried to remain self-disciplined, controlled and dispassionate, especially in front of my own team.

After one incident in Bosnia involving the murder of young children, I had to send one of my own team back to the UK. He had become too emotionally involved and I had lost confidence in his judgement.

Later I saw the man again and he accused me of not caring about what we had seen. I was mortified - he had completely misread me. In my desire to be professional and disciplined, I had neglected the need to show human compassion. The penny dropped - sometimes it's all right to show emotion to your team when you are dealing with upsetting things. People need to know that you care.

Each year, SSAFA deals with 50,000 cases of difficulty faced by servicemen, veterans and their families, ranging from the bereaved, the wounded or those disadvantaged by their service to our country. Sometimes I get angry about the way they have been treated, and sometimes I let my own team see that frustration. I have learnt that it's the emotion that makes you human, and that it's OK to show what motivates you to do what is right. Your team needs to know that and you need to show them - it motivates them too.

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