Why Carry Out Skylarks?
A few weeks back, the writer was working on something or other for e-Veritas at Panet House when a young friend dropped by to say hello. This particular individual was an Ex Cadet, I hadn’t seen or heard from him since he had graduated not that many years ago.
To say that I was delighted to see him would be a big understatement.
We quickly got the usual small talk out of the way. While we were ‘catching up’ I easily remembered his time as a cadet. 10966 Lieutenant-General Michel Maisonneuve (ret), the Academic Director of Royal Military College Saint-Jean once referred to him as“a character“. He meant it in a nice and positive way.
After his arrival at RMCC, I too remember him as a bit of a character, definitely high maintenance for some of the military wing staff. Often, I would hear his name mentioned by some of them in a frustrating tone. In short, he was often ‘in & out’ of trouble – never anything real serious but enough to push the envelope.
This gentleman Ex Cadet was freshly returned from a five month training mission in the Ukraine. I asked him if he had any words of wisdom or advice that he wished he had possessed prior to his first deployment. His response spoke of two things which he had found essential: the ability to plan and the capability to make good decisions.
My friend’s development of these two attributes started in the shape of skylarks at CMRSJ and carried on at RMCC. Regarding skylarks, he had run the full gambit of experiences and I can personally attest that at least one of his efforts did not fulfill his intent.
So why carry out skylarks?
“Skylarks are similar to real operations in several ways but it is the differences which are more telling. In a skylark everyone is a volunteer. Skylarkers are not obligated to follow your lawful commands; they choose to because they want to. If leadership were getting other people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it then a skylark is a perfect example. In a skylark the elements of planning, problem solving, absorbing input from key players, and decision-making occur naturally. These are very similar to what is encountered at an operational unit later on.”
The earnest junior officer had much more to say on the subject.
“There are two significant lessons which are learned through skylarking. The first is to harness the collective brain power of the entire team of very smart and capable people working with you. The second is exploiting failure.
During the process of a skylark an initial plan is developed. As more people are briefed on the plan and given the opportunity to provide their thoughts the plan develops from being good, to very good, to great, to outstanding.”
Obviously speaking from first-hand experience, he continued.
“A team works together, complementing each other, to develop the best possible plan. At an operational unit full decision-making potential is obtained by replicating this process and garnering the experience and wisdom of the key members of your team which are the NCOs. Skylarks naturally teach leaders to seek the input of all key players to develop the best possible plan as well as carrying that plan to fruition.”
He did make a bit of a concession.
“Not all skylarks work out exactly the way envisioned; sometimes they fail. Skylark failures ought to be looked at as an excellent tool to develop the planning and decision-making skills required for future success. The apt learner will absorb more lessons faster – better – clearer from failure than from success. Better to learn some of the simpler lessons within the context of a prank than from a CAF remedial measures or operational failure.”
With a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face, he continued.
“The “Golden Rules” of skylarks, described by one former commandant are as follows: keep it classy, keep it safe, and if you break it – you buy it. These simple guidelines allow cadets to take initiative and expand their leadership and teamwork skills, while ensuring a reasonable quality of skylark. This sort of thinking led to some of the great skylarks that are still celebrated amongst cadets and alumni today. That tradition should be upheld.”
Recalling his time as an officer-cadet:
“The value of the experiences carrying out skylarks at RMC is phenomenal and directly applicable for the next generation of CAF officers. Skylarks ought to be fostered, under appropriate senior cadet mentorship, and encouraged.”
With his ever present sly smile we wrapped up the conversation.
Post-note – my visitor on being told he may be the central figure in an article, said he preferred that I didn’t identify him. He was confident that his vintage of Ex cadets would recognize him based on the conversation.