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Posted by Lucy H on 21st Jan 2020

Maj Gen Paul Nanson Q&A

Major General Paul Nanson is the Commandant Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and has written Stand Up Straight.  

Stand Up Straight

There has been a good deal of interest in Stand Up Straight. What prompted you to write it?

I wanted to let people know about Sandhurst; what we do and why we do it. I am also proud of what we do and wanted to let people know. It was also an opportunity to dispel some of the myths – particularly who can go there. Finally, I was keen to pass on some of the lessons we learn. Are they transferable into the civilian world? You tell me!

When you were at Sandhurst as a young officer, did you ever imagine you would return as the Commandant RMAS one day?

To be honest, I was just delighted to be there. I had wanted to be a soldier since I was very young and, having failed to pass officer selection on the first attempt, was determined to do well. I never dared think I would come back as Commandant. To do so is a huge privilege.

Service personnel will find many examples they can relate to in your book. Did you deliberately try to make it accessible to non-Service personnel too?

That was the general idea. Every officer remembers her or his time at Sandhurst, and the lessons stay with us throughout our military careers. As you will read, those lesson stick with us when we have left the Army and gone on to pastures new. I think some, but not all, will resonate with civilians.

Would you like your book to be used as a self-help manual?

I would love people to feel they can pick it up and re-read parts of it if they want an alternative view or way.

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?

I don’t think there is a typical reader. I had a priest from the South of France write to tell me he enjoyed the book! This is about an alternative way of thinking through some of life’s challenges. It’s appropriate to everyone.

How do you like to unwind? Do you have time for any creative outlets? If not, what would you like to try?

At the moment I love my phys! As I say in the book, I unwind by going for a run with my music. In the future I would like to learn to play the piano again. I started when I was younger but gave it up. Big mistake!

We understand that you are due to leave the Army in 2020 – do you have any plans for more writing after that?

Never say never! Let’s see how this one goes down first.

The First Five Weeks are cited to reset the brain and create strong habits to help in future life. How did they help you and how do they continue to do so?

The first five weeks for me, and I suspect most of us, were a great leveller. Whatever your background, no matter how much previous military experience you had, we were all stripped back to the basics. We all had to get up early, tidy our rooms, clean our weapons, do drill, learn the basics of soldiering. Not only did we learn more about ourselves, but we forged amazing teams. The first five weeks taught us that we would always be stronger together. I hope I still carry that style of leadership with me today. I believe passionately about Team, and I believe every member has something to contribute. Someone in your team will know more about an issue than you. Harness that!

You talk about the principle of honesty as a strong leadership style. Can you share any examples of that? How can people use that in daily life?

I think people have the tendency to shy away from difficult decisions. Taking the easy route is about doing what is easy not necessarily what is right. Putting off an awkward discussion or failing to tell a workmate the truth about why they must do a task. Some of this is about moral courage, but mostly it is about being honest with yourself and with others.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved the Famous Five.

What book(s) would you recommend to a friend?

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

You’ve previously mentioned Sam Walker’s book The Captain Class. Which other authors are on your go-to bookshelf? Do you prefer paper books or e-books?

Legacy – Jim Kerr

Defeat into Victory – Bill Slim

Emotional Intelligence – Daniel Goleman

I have both paper and e-books. I travel a lot so use my Kindle but like to have some books on my shelf!

Who are your literary role models? Who are your real-life role models?

I think JK Rowling is a great role model. Came from nothing, had a fantastic idea and followed her dreams. And now, despite all the success and fame, she remains humble.

I have to say I have had many role models. In the early years I have to say Mum and Dad. The real role model for me in terms of joining the Army was a next-door neighbour who had served during the Second World War. As a little boy, I used to listen to his stories and wanted to be like him. In the Army I have had plenty of role models – in terms of the book, my Colour Sergeant at Sandhurst, when I was a cadet, was inspirational.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you every success with your book.

No problem, thanks for asking me.