Life Lessons from Brigadier General William Fletcher

December 24, 2020 - Compiled by Ashley Materi, 3 Cdn Div Public Affairs

Over the span of more than 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, Brigadier General William Fletcher has learned a lot about what it means to lead and how to excel in a career with the military. The Commander of 3rd Canadian Division and Joint Task Force West shares a few of those lessons to empower soldiers to be the best they can be.

On leadership:

“I’m a lot of things, but one of my strengths as a leader is to actually listen. It doesn’t mean I always have to agree, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to influence my decision, but I am going to listen. It’s a recognition that I don’t have all the answers. Yes, I’ve been around a long time and I have opinions and experience, but I don’t have the answers. They’re not the same thing. I think sometimes people conflate experience with knowing everything, and that’s really dangerous. I recognize that I don’t know everything and I’m open to advice and I’ll try to make the best decision that I can.”


Brigadier General William Fletcher

On the implications of command:

“As a young officer, sometimes you lose sight that your decisions have some pretty significant consequences in terms of the lives of your people. That was brought into stark reality in operations for me a few times. Some decisions I made led to a soldier not coming home. That’s huge. That experience really drives my concept of what resilience is and what it means to take care of our soldiers.”

On staying humble:

“If you see me, I don’t wear my rank 24/7. I’m Bill Fletcher, regular guy. Please say hi.”

Four pieces of advice for soldiers:

Trust your gut.

“My initial reaction has been right more often than it’s been wrong. It’s always when I’ve ignored a strong feeling that I’ve ended up making a stupid decision or found myself in a bad situation. I believe that most of our folks have a tremendous moral compass and they know what right is and they know what wrong is.”

Don’t stress out about your career.

“I have never really asked for a job in my life. The two times I did, I ended up getting the exact opposite so I just stopped asking. I always got what I needed. It just worked. It worked because whatever job I was in, whether it was comfortable or uncomfortable, whether it was something I wanted or something I never saw coming, I just tried to do my best.”

Have fun.

“We often forget the benefits that come with being in the Army, and I’m not talking about pensions or medical or dental. I’m talking about camaraderie, and the fact that the stuff that we do is pretty cool. Some folks would give their eye teeth just to be able to be a soldier for a day and just to experience what we experience on a daily basis. You lose sight of that after a bunch of years going through the grind. Every once in a while, it’s good to get re-glued, take stock and look at the context of what’s going on. Remember what’s important in life and have fun with what you’re doing.”

Find balance.

“It’s easy to work a half day, and by that I mean 6 a.m. to 6 at night or later. There will always be stuff that needs to be doing.

“When I was offered command of 1st Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the one star asked: ‘If this were to happen would you take it?’ I instantly responded yes. He suggested that I ask my wife first, but I said I don’t need to. He responded: ‘Look, I’m 52 years old, divorced, with a new wife and a young baby. I’m starting life again. None of it was worth it. At the end of the day, the big green machine is going to keep ticking along and you’re going to have your family, so hopefully your relationship with them is still strong. So go ask your wife what she thinks.’

“That stuck with me. My family are the ones that will be there long after this, and they’ve sacrificed just as much as anyone else for Canada. Balance is absolutely critical. Don’t lose sight of your loved ones.”

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