backgammon with dear friend, art adviser and bon vivant Fabien Fryns. Another distin- guished art industry figure once confided to me that he was much in awe of Fabien’s hair- style. He told me how it is the kind of hair that is shown to best advantage at Badrutt’s Palace. To my shame it has been many years since

I have stayed at Badrutt’s Palace, so I am hardly au courant with the trichological requirements in St Moritz, but I can confirm that Fabien’s coiffure is perfect for the Marbella Club, where for many years we played at the upper pool. One day we played from lunchtime until past midnight, and having dressed for lunch (in pastel coloured shorts and linen shirts) we made the faux pas of walking back through the grill in trousers that ended above the knee. Like men in our own Bateman cartoon we were the target of incensed glares and the subject of dark mutterings from the grill’s more tradi- tional patrons. It is not the first time that I have sat down to a game of backgammon dressed appropriately for the time of day, only to get up from the table feeling decidedly sar- torially anomalous. On one rare occasion when I actually won a tournament – largely by be- ing more sober than my opponent at half past seven in the morning – I remembered that I had to take the children to school and ended up doing the school run in my dinner jacket. The late Alan Clark, with whom I played in a tournament or two, used the acronym ACH- AB (anything can happen at backgammon) in his dairies, and these days if I sense I am about to embark on a backgammon marathon I make sure to bring a change of clothes.


Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB), formerly the Regular Commissions Board, include fitness assessments, planning exercises and ‘command tasks’: a group, dressed in boiler suits and numbered bibs, has to complete a problem such as manoeuvring a heavy object over an obstacle. The methods of the AOSB were originally bor- rowed from the Germans in the Second World War. The system is rigorous, relatively fair, and might be considered the grandfather of every corporate assessment centre you have attended. However, the traverse of fictional minefields

at Westbury is only half the picture. AOSB grants entry to the army’s officer training acad- emy at Sandhurst, but once there cadets must gain acceptance by an individual regiment. That process is much less transparent, and allows the army’s constituent units to choose their own leadership in a way that the more central- ised navy and air force find baffling. Many reg- iments seek to be meritocratic, but inevitably familial connections, the army’s original sin of social class, and the level of the candidate’s ex- isting military knowledge all play a role. Regimental selection also provides opportu-



THE BRITISH ARMY selects its future of- ficers in the grounds of a Regency house at Westbury in Wiltshire. The methods of the

nity for homophily, the tendency to bond and recruit people with similar backgrounds and experience. This is understandable, but also potentially dangerous. As Matthew Syed, the author who studies high performance writes, ‘when it comes to problem-solving or enhanc- ing innovation, groups or teams of people who think or act in exactly the same way can be det- rimental to intelligent decision-making and even to society.’ The potential unfairness of the regimental selection system was also notably underlined by an instalment of the BBC’s Sandhurst documentary in 2011, at the height of the Afghan war. A cadet bound for the Household Cavalry, traditionally the socially ‘smartest’ section of the British Army, was ac- cepted by the regiment despite his miserable performance at the academy. He was a ‘con- firmed cadet’ and had family connections. As with many British institutions, there is an elaborate internal prestige hierarchy be- tween units of the army. Where you go im- pacts not only the immediate role you will perform but also your longer-term career prospects. Eight of the last 10 chiefs of the general staff – the professional head of the army – came from the infantry. (One of those, Mike Jackson, had initially commissioned into the Intelligence Corps before transfer- ring to the Parachute Regiment.) It also means that the crucial but less ‘sexy’ bits of the army, such as logistics, do not, in general, attract the

highest quality or most ambitious officers. Once they have arrived at their unit, the new

officer’s experience of leadership is informed by the military world’s continued separation into two dispensations: the commissioned and the non-commissioned. Theoretically a new second lieutenant, in their first job as a platoon or troop commander, is in charge of their sergeant, a so- called ‘non-commissioned officer’ with around a dozen years’ experience. In practice they would do well to listen to them. The army es- chews the term but, in many ways, junior of- ficers are trainees and the sergeants the trainers. ‘Although he called me “Sir”,’ one former of-

ficer recalls of his staff sergeant, ‘I was to learn from him.’ He added that his ‘personal view is that the army is much more of a meritocracy within the ranks than the officer corps.’ Military leadership can be authoritarian, re-

flected in shouting and marching, but there are reasons for that to be the case. Authoritari- anism exists to produce social structures that can function – and function rapidly – within situations of terror, confusion or exhaustion, as occur in war. The essential paradox of military leadership, though, is that the same structures also make armies extremely resistant to change. The problem is doubly confounded by the fact that their core business, war, does not go on all the time and they never laterally hire. The top people are all lifers, and you can train for a working lifetime as a soldier without ever doing the job for real. That means when ar- mies go to war – in particular after long peri- ods of peace – they have to learn on the run. When military leadership is applied in a non-combat situation and with teams involv- ing civilian expertise, it can be clumsy. Oliver Johnson, a British doctor who worked in Sierra Leone during the 2014-15 Ebola crisis, de- scribes the British Army’s activities there as a ‘heavily-qualified success at best.’ Some things were done very well, such as logistics and scale- up of burials, but Johnson also encountered ‘an excessively militaristic style of decision-making (which made critical feedback and nuanced discussion more challenging)’. It is notable that elite special forces units tend towards a ‘fast and flat’ organisational model where deference is less pronounced than in the regular army. ‘The formal decision-making processes […] are incredibly useful during the chaos of war,’ says a former AOSB assessor, ‘but there is a tendency to follow them regardless of the situ- ation, which produces identical and unimagi- native problem-solving, and discourages inno- vation and invention.’

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