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Gulf War veteran John Peters offers harrowing war tales and valuable boardroom insights

05 Dec 2016


“From flying a 25-tonne, P25-million aircraft with missiles, guns and computers to ending up as little pink bodies in the desert.” This was John Peters, a former Royal Air Force pilot and Gulf War veteran turned management consultant, summing up the moment his life changed irrevocably.

Facing eminent capture by the enemy, Peters had to decide whether to ‘go out with a bang’ (commit suicide) or fight on. It was obvious which choice he made – “I can tell you it was the best decision I made in my life”.

Peters, distinguished speaker at the SIM Professional Development Transformation Series seminar, shared these and other gritty tales in the cushy confines of the Performing Arts Theatre on 25 October.

Apart from reliving his war experiences, Peters imparted insights on how to lead a business while under pressure.

What does a Gulf War veteran have to say about business leadership? Plenty, as it turned out.

On character

In the few times that they could converse under the door, a fellow prisoner told Peters that the rest of the prisoners felt they could trust and believe in him, and he inspired hope in all of them that they could get through the ordeal.
"So I turn to you. For all your capabilities, are you the sort of character whom people trust and believe in?"

On creating the right culture to deal with uncertainty

Peters pointed out that ours is the first generation in history to be confronting global changes and problems that we’ve initiated.

In a world that’s all about uncertainty, what does a leader do? “Take people beyond their own limitations… set the atmosphere to engage people to deal with uncertainty… to succeed, having the right culture is more important than strategy”.

He also issued an invitation to reframe the problem: focus less on managing change, and more on dealing with what happens when change is thrust upon us. “True leaders solve problems that they don’t have answers for,” he said.

On being proactive

Positive thinking is a lie. This was Peters’s parting shot. Instead, he adopts a mental attitude clearly borne out of his own experiences, that he calls ‘possibility thinking’, which considers a situation in terms of the different ways it can pan out. As opposed to positive thinking, which sets up an either-or situation, possibility thinking expands the range of options in any given situation. In short, it is a call-to-action attitude that drives us to consider and plan for different eventualities.

Peters’ unconventional background and experience added immeasurably to the insights that were shared, capping off the year’s last instalment of the Transformation Series seminar in an unusually gripping yet inspiring fashion.


An enthusiastic member of the audience relishing the chance to pick Peters’s brains.

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