The French Foreign Legion was founded in 1831. Their spiritual home and former training centers are in former French colonial North Africa, although they now train primarily in southern France. What made them the legendary force that they were and still are? What lessons of success can we learn from them?
Recently, twelve volunteers chose to do four weeks of basic Legion-style training in the Western Sahara desert. They were under the severe but experienced and encouraging regime of three former legionaries, Sergeant Chef Peter Hauser, Sergeant Glenn Ferguson and Corporal Richard Sutter.
Their experiences were filmed by Channel 4 TV and they can teach us a lot about motivation and success. I also spoke with Sergeant Glenn Ferguson and learned more about what motivated him and the other Legendary Legionnaires.
He joined the Legion at the age of 19. He was motivated first by fear of punishment and then by pride. He hated failing at anything and could also appreciate the pride of an elite group. One of his favorite sayings is:
“You will never be the best if you constantly have to lower the bar so that the weaker elements can come together.”
Throughout the program, the three former legionaries appeared eager for some of the volunteers to ring a bell as a symbol of their desire to leave the group. They wanted to remove the weakest elements. Legionnaires with a low level can have their fellow Legionnaires killed.
Elite groups don’t have time to tolerate the weak or the half-hearted. They only want members who are willing to put in 100% effort. They would rather have the ‘losers’ (people who are lazy and half-hearted) not join in. Another saying from Sergeant Glenn Ferguson puts it well:
“If you didn’t get to be the best, stay with the other losers”
In the modern world, where everyone should be encouraged to join everything, this seems very old-fashioned and elitist, but keep in mind that this saying does, in fact, make sense even today. It doesn’t mean you have to be the best before joining.
You just have to want to be the best. This leaves room for the less talented as long as they have the right attitude. Any weaknesses will soon leave them as they endure the pain of the Legion’s harsh training regimen.
As the Sergeant commented on his protected suffering on the television show:
“Pain is the weakness that leaves your body”
Several of the volunteers started the training as “the weak” but ended up as “the strong.” A former legionnaire commented on the show that when he joined the legion, he believed there was nothing he could do. When he left after five years, he believed he could do anything. Such belief is a key element in any success.
I was a teacher for over 30 years in London comprehensive schools. Everyone is accepted in these schools, whether they are “weak” or “strong.” Everyone is given the opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, a minority is not only “weak”; they don’t want to become ‘strong’ or they are too lazy to become ‘strong’ and they don’t want anyone else to be ‘strong’.
When these lazy and disruptive students drop out of school, the rest progress much faster and may even enjoy their education. A touch of the French Foreign Legion’s attitude towards the reluctant and disruptive could well improve our comprehensive system.
Every now and then a ‘loser’ pops up in my martial arts classes; They don’t want to work hard except for the parts that they enjoy and distract others. I don’t care about his ability or lack of it. The key factor is your attitude. Fortunately, the government does not force me to stay with these students. I can ask them to leave or give them a chance to improve.
I usually give them a chance, but if their attitude doesn’t improve, I’m happy when they leave. I don’t want the majority of the class with an enthusiastic attitude to miss out on the opportunity to focus and make rapid progress. Training with like-minded people is the fastest path to success in any company.
The French Foreign Legion doesn’t usually give sloths a second chance. They agree immediately or are quickly disciplined to accept the rules.
I was impressed by the French Foreign Legion appetizer. This took the form of 10 pull-ups before dinner. The volunteers found this difficult as most of us would.
Sergeant. Glenn Ferguson explained that this ‘appetizer’ was important in battle. It’s no use being able to travel miles on foot and then not being able to climb over a wall when you reached the battle site. Upper body strength is essential for a soldier. One of the Sergeant’s favorite sayings says:
A man who cannot pull his own body weight is a waste of oxygen
I especially liked the ‘aperitif’ exercise because it involves a daily effort at a precise moment. Any consistent daily effort produces impressive results. Running the drill before a meal or reward is also a great idea. Having an immediate reward after an action makes the action easier to perform. Daily efforts are a key factor in any success story.
Chef Sergeant Peter Hauser, who had served in the Legion’s elite Parachute Regiment around the world, taught volunteers about the Legion’s weapons and tactics.
The volunteers were in a similar territory (in the Western Sahara desert) to that in which the Legion in the 1960s was the last line of defense when the colonial Empire of France collapsed.
Simon Murray was a Legionnaire from 1960 to 1965. He described the enormous amount of equipment that a Legionnaire was required to carry:
“It’s a hard life because you have six days of rations. You were probably carrying about 40 kilos and you have 4 hand grenades; you have 200 rounds of ammunition; you have a sten pistol; you have a couple of bottles of water; you have a shovel, you have your kit. to sleep and half a tent. You are quite overwhelmed and very often you are going up and down a long, long, long time the heavy work and often the men would finish completely and collapse; and then the sergeants would kick them and move them and They started yelling at them. He may have a fever, he may have this and that. Nobody gave a damn. “
The ruthless attitude of the sergeants did not allow excuses and excuses are one of the main causes of failure in any endeavor. Sergeants like Sergeant Glenn Ferguson believed in pushing men beyond their limits. Most success stories contain this element of pushing your limits and overcoming your limitations. One of the Sergeant’s favorite sayings is:
“If you are never shown that your limits can be exceeded, you will never know how far you can go.”
Near the end of the 4 weeks, the volunteers had to do a standard eight-kilometer legionary run in 60 minutes with an ill-fitting 12-kilogram backpack on their back. They had to walk two hours to get to the start of the race after a night on guard duty. Will, one of the volunteers, had very sore ankles, but with the help of Corporal Rutter he succeeded:
“You can do it – little steps. One ahead of the other. Come on Will – one last effort – you can do it. Come on; the last little effort; you can do it; come on. Come on. Go ahead! Grit your teeth! You’re there!”
Will just did it with ten seconds to spare. He attributed his success to the help of Corporal Rutter, but the corporal attributed it to him. “If you go deep into yourself, you can do it, it is a matter of the mind, everything is in your mind.”
Again, this kind of attitude and the encouragement that goes with it leads to success and achievement. I believe that taking small steps in anything is an important factor in achieving success.
The main reason Legion recruits drop out is due to foot problems caused by frequent long marches and runs. Why do some continue while others drop out?
Bobby, one of the four remaining volunteers, gave a reason:
“Positive people seem to still be here. It shows that a smile and good character can help you get through most things.”
On their last day, the four successful volunteers faced the kepi march. The night before the march they are told the heroic story of Camerone. During the Franco-Mexican War in 1863, the Legion withdrew to a country house called Camerone, where they were surrounded by 2,000 Mexican soldiers.
When the legionaries fought to the last three men without surrendering, the Mexican captain let the three survivors go with their weapons and wounded comrades. He said:
“What can we do with men like you? You have shown so much courage.” This corpse spirit is what the volunteers in Kepi’s march would need.
Will compared Kepi’s departure to giving birth. “At that time it is very painful but then you forget all the pain and you think it would be a good idea to have or make another one.”
A former Irish legionary who appeared briefly on the television show commented that the kepi march is difficult, but it is. “If it wasn’t difficult, you wouldn’t be there. The blisters came out and then the blood came out.”
Sergeant Glenn Ferguson described the real march that was made through the Pyrenees: “180k in 3 and a half days; 18 hours a day of walking. You walk on those bloody stumps that used to be your feet. You know they are wrong because you can feel it (the The sergeant’s description was more colorful) but you keep walking and in about ten minutes your brain just shuts down and you move on. In the end, they had to cut off your boots, a lot of blood and a lot of skin. “
Finally, the three staff members and the remaining four volunteers, Bear, Bobby, Will, and Loic finished the march and reached the Atlantic Sea. Loic liked the symbolism of going through the desert and then landing in the sea. Everyone ran to the Atlantic to celebrate.
Later, the four were given the kepi blanc as a souvenir. They would not be allowed to use it, but they could keep it to remember their experience. Only real legionnaires could wear the Kepi blanc
Loic had learned that at the end of the day he could live a very simple life in a lousy bed with a cold shower and that the materialistic themes that bother us mean absolutely nothing.
Bear, the volunteer leader, commented:
“We didn’t find Beau Geste and the legion romantic myths. We only found pain, but out of that pain came pride and honor. Whatever you say against the legion, you must realize that for the people who go through it is a great advantage. a sense of pride. And the strength of the legion is that it gives people family, pride and a second chance. It builds good things through difficulties. “
The following key success lessons can be learned from this account:
Surround yourself with enthusiastic, hard-working people who want to be the best. Drive out the lazy and the reluctant.
Take daily steps to strengthen yourself in every way.
Push yourself beyond your imagined limitations
Keep smiling and stay personable.
Accept pain and difficulties as a path to strength.
Remember past achievements for yourself or others
Encourage each other and, if necessary, take small steps to reach your goals.
Do not get carried away by excuses