“I light my candle from their torches.” . . . Robert Burton.
When the twelfth century was nearing its end, a kurultai in the city of Karakorum came to its conclusion and only the formal charging of the Orkhons was left before the horde embarked on a giant sweep to the south and west.
Genghis, the Kha Khan, the Perfect Warrior, Master of Thrones and Crowns, then in full sway of his mighty power, sat on the dais facing the south in the white felt pavilion before which was planted his standard bearing the nine white Yak-tails.
On his bended knee, each of the eleven Orkhons headed by the fiery Chepe Noyon, the infallible Subotai, and the crafty experienced Muhuli awaited final direction and permission to withdraw from the Presence.
“The Tumans are ready!” The great Khan spoke. In his inflection there was no semblance of question, no hint of command, there was merely an utterance he knew to be factual and accurate.
In turn came the echo from each Orkhon. “Oh! Kha Khan! the Tuman is ready!: Oh! Kha Khan! the Tuman is ready!: the Tuman is ready! the Tuman is ready!” . . . , ending with “Oh! Kha! Khan! the horde is ready!” from the throat of the Senior Orkhon Muhuli.
How can one speak so positively of a detail when there are no written records of Genghis’ vast empire except those vaguely compiled almost centuries later and those in turn translated, retranslated, and bandied about until even the names of the compilers are not certain. Combine this with the fact that the language in which the words were uttered has disappeared from the earth and the tongue of mankind, how can one be positive as to that which is here set down? The question can be answered simply by the statement, “It could have happened essentially in no other way, for some one must always do the spade work—the training, equipment, provisioning, the building of morale, the drudgery in detail in order that the Chief of Staff, the Orkhon, or whatever may be the title of the trusted subordinate, may report, ‘Oh! Kha Khan! The horde is ready!’”
Search history and you will find despite human tendency to aggrandize unduly the great leader that each has had his Orkhons or followers who wrought, planned in detail, instructed, exercised and struggled in comparative obscurity, in order that the leader might display successfully his single talent, his new application of a principle, or his magnetic power to sway a people. Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Nelson; each had his follower or followers though you must scrutinize carefully the records to note the names, how they wrought, and how vital were their contributions to the blazoned feats of the leader. If you are unconvinced as to the value of the mighty accomplishment of the unheralded followers, read your daily paper, and reflect briefly upon the facts you know of your own knowledge. Here are some headlines: “Sinkwich Scores Six Touchdowns”; “Henry Ford Builds His 20 Millionth Automobile”; “Hitler Crashes Through Sevastopol.” As matters of fact Sinkwich only carried the ball. Omitting ten other usually unmentioned and quickly forgotten fellow-players, Sinkwich probably would have been crushed to a pulp after the first scrimmage; Henry Ford would not have known it was the 20 millionth car unless the automatic checker on the assembly line had ticked it off, and as for Hitler, he was not before Sevastopol and had never been there.
What constitutes leadership and who is a great leader? The answer is absurdly simple. Any person who has a great following is a great leader. Men have had great followings because they expounded high causes and most worthy ideals, other men have had great followings because they capitalized the greed, envy, narrowness, or fanaticism of those who were deceived or enthused by their schemes so low or vicious in character that a slang term “racket” was born to express their nature.
Long before World War II had developed to the point where Hitler’s lack of human principle was recognized throughout the democracies, I remarked to a venerable judge and philosopher, “Hitler is crazy; he denies all those factors we know to be essential to human stability, decency, and progress.”
“Hitler is a madman,” he replied. “No one but a madman would think or act as he does. No sane balanced man would advocate ideas that have been so thoroughly disproved by history; none but a madman in his utter fanaticism would be able to sway or coerce a whole people into following his dictates.” “That,” he added, “is what makes him a great leader; and make no mistake, he is a great leader... of an ignoble cause.”
Mussolini for a time was held by many thinking men of the world to be a great leader. Did he not save his people and country from the chaos of communism after World War I, and did his people not follow him? Those who did not follow were eliminated by brutal and summary methods, to be sure, but he became a great leader. He became in his own opinion a Caesar. Then he met Hitler and became a follower, later, an abject and helpless follower, and at this moment he appears to have descended to the nadir of mere “stooge” to one more ruthless, more cunning, and more mad in that he has been more successful in his diabolic plans until he dared the entire world and sent his followers venturing into Russia.
Do the great leaders—and for the moment I am thinking only of the great military and political leaders and excluding those who have led high causes of religion, science, and welfare—do they select those who assist them for their individual leadership in their respective fields? Or do they select them for their efficiency and ready followship? Hitler says he is The Leader, the only leader; he styles himself Der Fuehrer; Mussolini maintained for a long time that he was Il Duce and each demanded unquestioning loyalty, obedience, and instant compliance with his every whim and crackpot idea. Did Hitler or Mussolini select Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Badoglio, Graziano, and others because of their leadership? There is little reason to believe it when one reflects upon the fate of Roehm, Balbo, and others once they ceased to follow blindly their respective leaders.
At the Naval Academy and the Postgraduate School I have listened to lectures on the subject of leadership. The formula used in almost every lecture was the same. First came a recital of all those desirable human qualities and characteristics we hope to find in a most outstandingly superior man, then an outline of self-instruction and discipline by which one may emulate the possessor of those leader qualities, and finally the pointing with pride to the example, almost a horrible example, for rarely did the great leader named ever possess the qualities that had been listed for adoption by the neophyte. I asked one of the lecturers, an experienced capable officer of excellent judgment, how he could with a straight face cite a certain great naval figure as the demonstrator of the high qualities he urged the young officers to acquire. “Well,” he said somewhat embarrassedly, that is what I am supposed to say and I confess that I do it with my tongue in my cheek, for you and I both know from accurate history he was disobedient, ruthless and possibly questionable in other ways.” Make no mistake, the young officers to whom he lectured knew it also. Would it not be more effective to say,
Despite the fact that this great military character was unlike the picture I have drawn, he had one great idea plus drive and ambition which he employed without stint for the aggrandizement of his country, and for his own personal reasons in which burning patriotism may have been quite secondary. I recommend that you acquire and cultivate those qualities of mind and heart I have brought to your attention, and in addition, display the same initiative, foresight, and drive as the great Admiral.
That would be more in keeping with the known facts easily available to them, would recognize the human frailities of a successful leader, and tend better to urge them on the way to successful careers.
In a discussion of the general subject with an officer, an excellent student of history, a writer of ability, and a sound appraiser of men, the following query was made. Name a great leader who was at the same time a great man? After some hesitation he replied, “Robert E. Lee!” It was readily agreed that Lee met all requirements. Asked to name another, he cited Washington and then Abraham Lincoln. Without argument it was conceded that each of these two great leaders was also a great man. Asked to name one not of our own country, he was baffled and we failed after considerable reflection to rate any great foreign leader in the same high category as the three mentioned. Did this inability to consider a foreigner as favorably as our own great leaders derive from a narrow national prejudice? I do not believe so, but rather am convinced that there is something in the ideals and life of any democratic people which tends to combine great achievement with high character as contrasted with the ruthless grasping of power and prominence in countries not so fortunate.
A battleship to which I was attached as Gunnery Officer received in a draft of men a tough, two-fisted exponent of the art of boxing, veteran winner of many bouts, and a minor hero to the crew. His prowess as a fighter together with his physique and swagger brought him an enthusiastic following. Officers tacitly acknowledged that he was a leader. By gunnery assignment he was a loader, first loader in an 8-inch turret. In drill he was marvelous; an 8-inch projectile in his brawny hands was tossed around with the greatest of ease and precision. No sooner had his turret completed its firing string on the first target practice after his arrival on board than the entire turret crew headed by the turret captain stormed out to the Gunnery Officer voicing complaint and demanding his immediate removal and exile from the ship. They detailed heatedly and in concert that following the first round he stood as one transfixed, rigid, unable to think or act, from which condition he was hurriedly brushed aside, the second loader taking his place to complete a satisfactory score. They left no doubt as to their opinion of his leadership or loadership. Needless to say, his estimated leadership was gone and he soon withdrew from the ship into comparative obscurity.
About the same time a quiet slender lad with an unpronounceable Polish name, who was a 5-inch gun pointer in the broadside battery, indicated his high nervous tension at his first target practice by a nervous twitching of his facial and arm muscles. A misguided bully of his own division interpreted the display as a lack of courage and derided him in the presence of his shipmates. The young lad promptly gave him a sound beating and then did likewise for the bully’s friends and backers until he had worked over a good part of all men in the division. In the process he realized he really could fight. Before his term of enlistment was finished, he became lightweight boxing champion of the Navy, he attracted in his quiet and unostentatious way a considerable following who gave heed to his opinions and wishes and he became a first class leader in his own field of responsibility and an admirable follower of the officers with whom he served. These two minor and not unusual cases are detailed to show the difficulty of determining leadership, particularly in the early development of an individual. It is only slightly less difficult later on, as has been proved by the performance of many officers during this war who had been relegated to the classification of officers “passed over” for promotion and who have distinguished themselves by their initiative and ability to react successfully in emergencies. The degree of fellowship may however be adjudged and enhanced by observation of an individual, by study, training, and example, and by careful appraisal of his background and past performance.
One of our cruisers in the Southwest Pacific recently gave to the world an example of efficiency, heroism, and a performance which we believe to be leadership of the highest degree. By its action an enemy cruiser and destroyer were sunk and an enemy battleship so damaged that it became an easy prey shortly thereafter. The Admiral in command of the task force, the commanding officer, and all senior officers in the control station were killed except a lieutenant commander who assumed command, completed the action, and successfully led the force back to its base. For this grand display of skill, courage, and leadership, he was commended, awarded a Medal of Honor, promoted, and he merited all that and more. Let us look, however, a little deeper into the exploit. Shortly after he assumed command, because he was the senior survivor in control, he apprised the Damage Control Officer of the situation, for that officer as well as the Gunnery Officer was senior in rank to him. It is reported that the Damage Control Officer replied, “I am having a hell of a time keeping the ship from sinking. If you need me let me know.” Without the skill, courage, and selflessness of that officer and of the Gunnery Officer the outcome might well have been of far different character. Had the Damage Control Officer displayed what is commonly looked upon as vigorous leadership he would have hied himself to the bridge, assumed command, and relegated the lieutenant commander to his own former duty below decks. Was it leadership in the one case and lack of that quality in the other? Ah, no! It was high quality leadership in each case if you insist upon that term but I maintain it was more, it was followship of the highest quality that comes from training, courage, devotion to duty, and high character. I see no distinction in the performance of any one of the three officers except that the spotlight burned more fiercely upon that admirable young officer on the battered bridge.
What are the tried and proved methods by which followers of the foregoing kind are produced and from among whom come the leaders in times of great stress? Careful selection in the beginning followed by education, training, and more training; in our schools for men and officers ashore and afloat. Add to that the inspiration which comes from love of country and devotion to a righteous cause and such officers will bear the torches when the candle needs lighting.
With characteristic American enthusiasm we have reached out in the last decade or two in our Navy for the new word "Leadership"; we have overemphasized it and raised it to the heights; we talk of it glibly as a commodity which can be manufactured, appraised accurately in fitness reports and developed by lectures; discovered by psychoanalysis. It is the magic word that works wonders with Selection Boards even when it has no more basis in fact than a blustering voice and an uncontrolled aptitude for exhibitionism. That which we term leadership now was formerly called by the various designations, "military efficiency," "officer-like qualities," "aptitude for command," "professional skill," and to a lesser degree, judgment, force, and initiative. In trying to develop each recruit, midshipman, and junior officer into a leader we aim at a state where all are leaders and there are no followers except the hopeless and dumb who are incapable of absorbing the principles we allege to set before them. Without capable, intelligent, loyal followers there would be no torches from which the great leader could light the candle of his talent to illuminate the way to success.
There is no desire to decry leadership but only to give to fellowship of a highly trained order its full due and to recognize that nature has a way of providing leadership during times of crises. In this present world conflagration our good fortune holds as in the past.
Nature does not, however, provide fellowship of the kind we desire. It must be taught, developed, and inspired in all men and officers. Where all are leaders there is friction, envy, conflict within the organization, dispersal of effort, and probable failure. A great follower finds in life something he holds more important than himself for which he is willing to struggle, make sacrifices, and surrender even life itself. Only the rare great leader who is also a great man can see on his horizon anything more than his boundless ambition and a ruthless craving for power to rule other men.
Let us maintain high standards of efficiency, character, and devotion to a cause. Let us talk and think less of leadership, cease striving for miracle workers, and lean more heavily upon proved, sturdy ability that comes from sound knowledge and experience rather than haphazard intuition, and finally let us trust that the great leader will come from among those who have been trained to be followers of high order. In the past this method has never failed us and we may have the added reassurance that in this country of ours and arising out of our ideals, government, and way of life we have, when needed, produced the great leader who was at the same time to a marked degree a great man and a great soul.