I was just lucky,” began Ensign George Gay of Torpedo Squadron Eight. “I’ve never understood why I was the only one that came back, but I want to be sure the men that didn’t come back get the credit for the work they did. They followed Commander Waldron without batting an eye.”
The sole survivor of the heroic Hornet group later concluded: “I know that if I had it to do all over again, I’d follow him through exactly the same thing. We did things he wanted us to do, not because he was our boss, but because we felt that if we did the things he wanted us to do, it was the right thing to do."*
This tribute to Navy leadership is significant because, among other reasons, it leads to an all-important question: What does a leader do, that his men will follow him to the end because it is “the right thing to do”? When the correct answer has been found and explained, it should go a long way to solving a major problem of human relations. The correct answer will come, when it does, from studying not only the lives of successful leaders in every sphere, but the teachings of psychologists and sociologists as well.
A peculiar problem faces the Navy leader. It is unique for many reasons, all of which are inherent in the contrast between the mission of the Navy and the objectives of business, professional, and all other kinds of organizations. The factor which does the most, however, to make the Naval leader’s problem so difficult is this: The ultimate goal of everything he says or does is victory in combat. In combat, a ribbon is a bauble and the threat of punishment a phantom when compared with what the command may have to face in water, fire, and steel. To induce his men to accept such trials deliberately, unquestioningly, and instantly, the Naval officer has to inspire them with a devotion that before entering the service they have only to a limited degree acquired. The most the leader in industry asks of his employees may be a little overtime effort, a small pay reduction, the postponement of an annual vacation until things quiet down. The most the Naval leader asks of his men may be their lives.
Another fact that adds complexity to leadership in the Navy is that subordinates in uniform, unlike the members of a club, society, or athletic team, may not select their leaders. -Nor, with the exception of a few fortunate commanders, may the Navy leader pick his followers. Officers and the men are brought together, to live, to work, to fight, on the authority of the Chief of Naval Personnel: none of them has anything to say about it. Their relationships are determined by naval regulations and the laws of the land. The officers must lead; their men must follow.
Furthermore, until he reaches the rank that provides him with a separate mess and a personal staff, the officer can not possibly long conceal his little foibles and petty weaknesses. He is in constant and intimate contact with his men. They know him, within a week after he reports aboard, far better than he can ever know them. When he presents his orders for final endorsement, he has joined a living entity, each member of which has only one new name and face to add to his personal and unofficial roster. The new mess treasurer or navigator has hundreds.
Not the least significant is another handicap facing the Naval leader—his dual status. He is a leader, and all his men look to him for guidance in nearly everything that affects them: their food, their sleep, the jobs they do and the way they do them—sometimes a word from him controls the very air they breathe. On the other hand, and at the same time, he himself is also a follower. His senior places absolute dependence on him to accomplish whatever he or the situation demands. And nothing must betray that trust. Thus, as if his leadership problems were not enough, he also has to do what his superior has ordered. His responsibility for his men is inescapable; only his responsibility for the mission takes precedence.
This dual role often leads to complications —for him. His own seniors in these cases see but one factor in the complication; his juniors see only the other. He can not, for example, promote that outstanding machinist’s mate second: BuPers would indicate no vacancy in that rate. He can not reward him, like a bank clerk, with a bonus: Bu- SandA would issue a checkage. The long- suffering engineer officer may not be able even to grant his man a special liberty: the executive officer has canceled liberty to prepare for a military inspection. This kind of dilemma is typical of the trials that beset a Naval leader.
On the other hand, the U.S. Navy leader does have a particular advantage enjoyed by no other in the world. This advantage is made up of several different factors, all of which will contribute to making him an effective leader if he will only try to understand them, to learn them, and to use them. On these principles he can base his minimum performance of duty as a leader. And if he adds to them the strength of a firm character, the glow of an honest personality, and the use of a few tested techniques, he will become respected and loved: he will be followed.
The greatest asset a Navy leader has is his prestige. This is a common word, so common that its true meaning has become somewhat obscured. The prestige enjoyed by a Navy leader, however, is not just an obscure abstraction. Suppose for a minute that you have begun to suffer a slice in your golf game. Your wife, who has never broken a hundred, suggests you try moving your right foot back a bit. Having dismissed her advice politely but firmly, you struggle on. The club professional, however, having watched your painful progress up the right-hand rough of the last hole, later asks if you have ever tried moving your right foot back a bit. So you do; your slice disappears. Your wife would have to beat you badly and consistently before you would accept her suggestions. You may never have seen the professional play even one round, but his position as an expert and a teacher carries with it a definite prestige. You take his advice instantly; you thank him when it works.
An officer bears at all times, under all circumstances, a prestige that is actually overwhelming. His suggestions as well as his orders are obeyed almost automatically by those junior to him in the Navy hierarchy. No matter what his background, how much he knows, or how he expresses himself, his prestige as an officer adds such weight to his words that his men accept them without question or hesitation. Furthermore, his prestige is instantly recognized. His uniform and insignia, the places he sleeps and eats, the gangway he uses—all are signs that advertise it unmistakably.
The second factor in the advantages of a Navy leader is the legal authority of his commission. In it the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces requires all members of the service junior to the leader to carry out his orders. This authority is more fully specified in the Articles for the Government of the Navy; and Bureau manuals, fleet instructions, ship’s orders, and dozens of other directives explaining it are promulgated and published to all hands. These regulations have the force of law; they are the Law as far as the Navy is concerned. The leader knows it, and his men know it. Thus if his prestige should happen to fail him in an extreme situation, his legal authority reinforces almost any action he may have to take.
The Navy leader is assisted by a third factor which is peculiar to the service. It is not of itself an asset, however, and it was mentioned before as a handicap. This factor is the leader’s intimacy with those he leads. It can work against him; it can prove invaluable; but on board any Navy vessel, it can not be escaped. If his mind is slow or his character uncertain, the leader’s men will take notice, and his influence over them will suffer immeasurably. On the other hand, by working and fighting with his men for many hours a day, every day, the division officer has an unequalled opportunity to show them just what a real leader can be and what a real team can accomplish. The Chief of Naval Operations, for example, may show the greatest loyalty to the Navy in his support of new pay legislation, but the men in the M Division of the Blue Beetle will probably not hear about it. The Assistant Engineer Officer, however, they see constantly every day. When he prevents an injustice to Fireman Jones by his appropriate comment at Captain’s Mast, the whole division will be talking about it an hour later. The effect of the division officer’s intimacy with his men is impossible to exaggerate.
Because of his influence over every aspect of their daily lives, his close relationship with his men can serve to alter their entire existence. The junior partner of the State Street Trust has some control over his clerks for only forty hours a week. If they have to do without a noon meal on Tuesday; if their houses burn down; or if they decide they would rather write advertising copy than record checks, there is little their boss can or will do about it. If the division officer, on the other hand, learns that his men’s dinners are being served late or cold, or that their bedding is still being aired with a sea blowing up, or that Fireman Jones wants to strike for teleman, the Navy leader can do something about it. Being so close to his men, he finds out these things; being responsible for his men, he takes the initiative to act.
Thus his prestige, his legal authority, and his intimate relationship with his subordinates all make the Navy leader’s job less difficult than the nature of his ultimate mission might imply. In addition to those three, moreover, he has at his disposal the greatest advantage of all—the heritage of sound leadership practices as developed in the Navy over a remarkably long and brilliant period. Long before the word “psychology” acquired its present significance, Naval leadership was psychologically valid. It had to be, to compile the record it now enjoys. Today’s officer, as beneficiary of the traditions and techniques that have made this record possible, has available a readymade system of leadership that has proved itself time and time again. And today’s psychology has provided additional tools which the leader can use, in supplementing the practices developed in the past, to improve his own leadership still more.
Before this discussion is continued, however, one point must be made clear. While avoiding the many semantic pitfalls lying in the path of any attempt to define “leadership,” it might be well to indicate briefly the sense in which the oft-abused word will appear for the remainder of this paper. A Naval Academy civilian consultant, the University of Maryland’s psychologist Dr. Fillmore Sanford, has stressed the fact that leadership is what you do, not what you are. Describing “leadership” as the effect of the leader on the behavior of his men, he draws the logical conclusion that leadership is doing what each situation calls for. This approach to leadership will, once and for all, prevent us from trying to draw up lists of “leadership qualities”; it should prompt us to analysis of typical situations in which leadership is practiced and to observation of the techniques the leader in each case employs.
Even the most superficial analysis of varied leadership techniques indicates their close connection to the process by which the leaders themselves became leaders. The number-one man in any group imaginable has gained his position in one of three ways: he has been elected, self-chosen, or appointed. A closer analysis of leadership techniques shows why the method of selection exerts such an important influence on the principles the leader chooses to employ. Consider first the elected leader, with the politician as a good example.
Because of his dependence on the votes which alone will carry him into office and keep him there, the politician’s first concern is actually not telling people what to do; but rather must he first find out what they themselves want to do. Exercising the greatest tact and diplomacy, he must be highly sensitive to the thoughts and emotions of his constituents. Far from saying what they should think, he merely puts into words the opinions and desires they already have. Then they say, “That is just what I was thinking.” This, of course, leads them to believe—egotists that we all are—that he is a clever, noble fellow; they elect and re-elect him with enthusiasm. As long as he is smart enough to agree with the majority, the majority will keep him in office.
His most effective device is compromise, and he is therefore usually successful at reconciling groups of people who, in fundamental agreement on a major issue, are nevertheless at odds about a detail. For this reason, this method is useful in administration. The leading chief in a deck division, for example, shows evidence that he is fed up with the trash in his part of the ship left by some men from another division. His division officer finds out from the chief his story—what he wants—and then talks with the division officer of the offending men. From him he learns his story—what he wants —and then decides what to do. His method in this case is that of the politician, and is usually employed by elected leaders more than other methods. It is the psychological method of persuasion.
With elected leaders still in mind, look once more at the politician. Sometimes he has the courage and the strength and the wisdom to become a statesman. Not satisfied merely to go along with the crowd, he sees a solution which has not even occurred to the voters. Sustained by his own superior knowledge and experience, he confidently makes up his own mind; then he acts. If all goes well, his judgment will come to inspire faith from his followers, and he will march on from one triumph to another. He can not always be right, but his aggressiveness and his eagerness to accept responsibility will in time come to dominate his group. His methods are called, psychologically, dominant.
Obviously, any single leader does not always use the persuasive method only, nor does another decide once and for all that for him the dominant approach is best. It does seem certain, however, that most elected leaders usually persuade rather than dominate the people on whose good will they so heavily depend. At times, one method will work well and the other would be ruinous. The nature of the situation determines the choice.
Quite different from the elected leader is the man who has pulled himself up to the peak entirely by his own efforts. This self-chosen leader cares little for what his group thinks of him. Ignoring himself and his followers, he keeps his eyes on his goal. It actually may be purely selfish or wholly altruistic; but he is determined to achieve his mission, and that to him is all that matters. It seems apparent that he may not take any pains to learn what his followers want: he will not need to. His superior abilities, his self- confidence, and his utter devotion to the cause all prompt him to lead primarily by dominance. Eddie Rickenbacker’s influence over the other survivors on the raft and General StilwelPs conduct of the memorable retreat in the Burma campaign are typical instances of this kind of leadership.
Both these methods are effective; they produce good results even when organization and training are lacking. You can, no doubt, remember many boyhood situations in which one member of the gang was always the leader, and the rest followed him without question. Psychological studies of pre-school children (no “indoctrination”) have shown that some young leaders control their playmates by artful diplomacy and suggestion, and others lead by physical force and bullying. For the sake of convenience, let us classify these persuasive and dominant methods as personal leadership techniques.
Now we must consider the third kind of leader, the one who is appointed. Instantly we can see the large gap between him and the other two, who use personal methods. There is nothing personal at all in the selection of the appointed leader. He may or may not personally want the job; his followers may or may not personally want him to have it. But because both he and they are members of the same organization, their relationship can be and is dictated by the organization itself. The fact that neither the leader nor the group he leads has anything to say about it has implications we are just now beginning to realize. For the appointed leader, first of all, governs his every word and act, indeed his every thought, according to the demands of the institution that appointed him. His leadership practices are always based on what can be labeled the institutional method.
We should all afford the time to investigate the institutional method, for it is of prime significance to officers in the Navy. They may not have fully realized that they are institutional leaders, but it is so. It has remained for the social psychologist to point out that fact and to tell us what an institution is and how it got that way. It is obvious that by understanding the principles upon which all institutions rest, people can become better leaders when they take their places in that kind of social structure. And the Navy is about the best example of a sociological institution that can be found.
To understand sociological institutions better, imagine you are walking along a city sidewalk. As you come to a corner and wait to cross, you find yourself with other people who are also halted at the traffic signal. The fact that you are all there at that particular time is due to pure chance. One of the women is killing time before a dentist’s appointment; three are going shopping; and two are hurrying to a meeting of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Of the men, five are impatient to arrange business deals, and a sixth is doing a personal errand. You yourself, let us say, are on your way to attend Mass. Each of you is dressed according to his own taste, and, within the local traffic regulations, each of you will cross the street in his own way. All of you, then, have met by sheer coincidence. You have your own reasons for being at that place at that instant. None of you knows what the others are doing, or going to do, and none of you cares.
As soon as the signal changes, you all go your various ways; you yourself cross the street and enter the church. Here you meet an even greater maze of strange faces than you had seen on the street corner. Although you may not know a single person inside the church, you feel at once, however, that you belong. Everyone here has the same purpose as yours; belief in the same ideals and a common method of worship have brought you into the same place at the same time to do the same things.
Raising your eyes to the altar, you notice the brightly colored vestments of the priest. You do not have to open your-prayerbook to know that they are worn at times of feast. They mark the wearer as playing a definite role in a definite procedure. Furthermore, you know exactly what he is going to say and do, and years of training and practice have also made you certain of what is expected of you as well. As the various parts of the Mass unfold, the entire congregation rises, kneels, stands or sits in strict conformity with the age-old ritual.
Even this simple example of the difference between the church and the sidewalk serves to point out most of the characteristics of an institution. Like the Church, all institutions have been established to satisfy human needs and to allay human fears. That word “human” is essential, for artificial though they may at times appear, institutions all have common features that are based on human nature. The family, the school, the Church, and the Navy are institutions of varying degrees of organization, formality, and complexity. The Day family, in Life With Father, is different in many respects from a backwoods household; the Roman Catholic Church is not exactly like the Unitarian; and the LCI’s routine varies from the fleet carrier’s. But all institutions have underlying mechanisms that are practically identical. And all institutions were founded to accomplish a definite objective, like raising children, instructing them, or protecting them from all enemies.
One of the most significant features of an institution is its ideology. The ideology includes the history of an institution, its philosophy, its purposes, its code. The people on the street corner had no such common background; the congregation had a very extensive one. The history is studied by the members until it becomes a part of their common inspiration. The philosophy may be simply “keeping up with the Joneses,” or it may find expression in the Navy officer’s traditional care for his men; it is, however, reflected in everything the members do. The code may range from the Ivy League’s “three gentlemanly C’s and a D” to the noble “Duty, Honor, Country,” but it is respected by all. An ideology invariably contains the belief in the righteousness of the aims of the institution, in its permanence, in its success, and in its superiority to other similar institutions. These beliefs are usually successful in making the members feel that the institution itself is a reality greater than any of its members, even greater than all of them together.
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will.
Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy, but Peace!
No one on the spur of the moment thinks up an ideology like that of the United States Marine Corps partially shown above; it develops over a long period of time and experience. It is used to explain to outsiders and non-believers the reasons for the conduct of the members. The members of the institution themselves act on it automatically, usually not even thinking of what it is that influences them to make sacrifices for the cause and the institution they are fighting for. The players on the football team are not warned before each play to “do or die for dear old Rutgers,” nor does the sailor necessarily repeat his ideology in times of danger or doubt. But the ideology is always working on his subconscious mind, and it influences his minor acts as well as his superhuman feats.
To form such a strong emotional compulsion in a man that he will give up his life, the Navy’s ideology must exploit all the psychological tendencies which can be of help. Furthermore, this ideology is effective, for the tests to which it has been subject in time of war would once and for all have swept away any of it that might be useless. It was not an artificial ideology that made the late Lieutenant Commander John T. Shea write, in his well-known last letter to his five-year old son:
Fighting for the defense of our country, ideals, home, and honor is an honor and a duty which your daddy has to do before he can come home to settle down with you and Mother. . . .
Closely allied to the ideology of an institution is its wealth of customs and traditions. Not all the rules for conduct have been codified into official writing; many have become unwritten law, handed down orally from elder to younger member. It is extremely doubtful, for example, that any of the younger sons in a Victorian family required written instructions to address the head of the household as “Sir,” and yet the practice was almost universal. This means of address still persists in many a school; it survives not by the headmaster’s edict, but simply through custom. The customs and traditions of the Navy are many and they are taught to every officer. Suffice it here to add that removing the cap in the wardroom, the sick bay, and in the crew’s mess when the men are eating, is a gesture of compliance with custom only.
Many of the customs of an institution, and indeed much of its ideology, pertain to a fourth characteristic common to them all. Like all institutional practices, this one also is based on human nature—in this case, man’s emotions. Inherent in all institutions, particularly in the more elaborate and highly organized kinds, are ceremonies and rituals. A ceremony, the outward sign of participation in an institution, provides a common outlet for the release of emotional tensions. The Church surrounds the principal emotional events of life—baptism, marriage, worship, and death—with rituals that permit the overflow of emotion into action. Schools may hold impressive baccalaureate services on the Sunday before the seniors graduate, and certainly the actual ceremonies for presenting diplomas are designed with at least one eye on their emotional effect.
In the Navy, the value and the need of ceremony are well recognized. Commissioning exercises, the presentation of awards, the announcement of promotions, and the relief of the commanding officer are always accompanied by formal display. The dead are buried in a rite that is as moving as it is distinctive. The routine of “Colors” varies with the size and the mission of the ship, but even the smallest unit of the splinter fleet has her special ritual at 0800 and again as the sun goes down.
The opposite of the ceremony is the next characteristic of the institution to be noted— the taboo. The most important element in this means of social control is that for its enforcement it depends upon some deep- seated sentiment or fear within the individual make-up. Something like a superstition, it is always in the nature of a prohibition. Rituals and ceremonies are things that members shall do; taboos are made of many “shalt not’s.” They are universally applied to officials of the institution. The persons of the chiefs of primitive tribes, for example, are usually protected by taboos. Most civilized people today recognize the personal taboo which isolates the man wearing priestly robes. In our armed forces, this same kind of personal taboo provides that disrespect toward the President, the Vice President, members of Congress, or a superior officer may be punished as a court-martial sees fit.
In the Navy, the death penalty is prescribed for assaulting or willfully disobeying a superior officer if the taboo has been broken in time of war. If the awful phrase “the United States then being in a state of war” does not apply, any penalty save death may be imposed for these offenses. In practice, of course, such penalties are seldom invoked. The taboos, however, are embodied in the code and laws of the institution to help create an abhorrence of the act they forbid. Because this abhorrence is based on a human and universal sentiment, the taboo is effective. Offenses against it are rare indeed.
A civilian clerk who assaults his supervisor may be punished by a discharge or, at most, a small fine or jail sentence. In the Navy, the act warrants death, and the taboo is justified. For the officer subject to the blows of the men will have lost his ability to demand respect, and the ship or division he commands will therefore be unable to fulfill a dangerous or difficult job. The same civilian worker can also quit without legal penalty, but the sailor may be put to death or otherwise severely punished for a similar offense. Without such a taboo, military institutions would fall apart at the very time they are needed most, when faced with danger or the trials of a long cruise or campaign.
Another institutional characteristic is the fact that membership in it is openly and widely displayed. The Church has its distinctive robes and ministerial garb; college students graduate in caps and gowns, wear class rings and the old school tie. Fraternal societies have their pins and badges, and military institutions, of course, have their uniforms. The uniform, according to the sociologist, is a symbol which gives to the members of the institution a sense of the group’s reality. Military uniforms promote group solidarity and loyalty; they give their wearers an increase in individual pride by proving their identification with the institution. As witness of their importance was the consensus of the wartime Navy on the proposed new enlisted men’s outfits which “looked like the clothes worn by gas station attendants,” and which the Navy Department wisely did not urge upon its men. The new United States Air Force did its best to win from Congress approval of a distinctive uniform, and of course no one has ever seen a shabby Marine!
One psychological reason for the distinctive marks of institutional membership is the fact that the member of the lowest grade feels a sense of vicarious importance from wearing the same vestments as his distinguished leaders. Insignia serve more or less the same purpose, also providing a cement through which the individual member identifies himself with the glorious past and the present accomplishments of the unit to which he belongs. The ribbons and the stars accompanying the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Citation thus have a basis that is psychologically sound.
The external sign of the real, internal strength of an institution is the way its members observe its code, its rituals, its taboos—their conforming behavior. If the members of the congregation which celebrated Mass all come to church regularly, take their full part in all the activities, and actually practice what they hear preached, that church is strong indeed. Similarly, the excellence of a ship is often judged by the manner in which the visitor or inspecting officer is piped aboard or by the way the men wear their uniforms. Thus conformity is a fundamental feature of an institution.
The attitude of conformity is characterized by a sincere belief in the ideology and a willingness to act accordingly. It is indicated by respect for proper authority and the desire to follow to the letter all orders and even suggestions. The prestige of the leader is protected by the members, for they know that if this prestige were questioned, their own—connected intimately with that of the leader—would also suffer. Any injury to the institution is an injury to its members. Consequently, members in a strong institution try to punish violators of the code either directly or in other ways. Conformity is easy, for all of us have been conditioned to conformity since childhood in our family, school, social life, and work. Remember how miserable you used to be when all the other boys were wearing knickers and your mother made you go to the party in short pants?
Because non-conformity is so undesirable in institutions, it is easy to understand why they are all ultra-conservative. It takes decades and even centuries to establish an institution and to indoctrinate its members. All members must know their common background; all members must comply. A naval officer who has for seventeen years learned to trust the look-out and the eyes of the O.O.D. is not going to place full confidence in radar without slight misgivings at least.
Many of the features of an institution contribute to one of its most significant aspects—the respect and deference shown the leader by the members. Let the head of the family, the school principal, the priest, or the Chief of Naval Operations speak, and there is usually but small delay in executing his request. The law was written to bring this about. The ideology states the need for it. The traditions are based on this respect; the customs enhance it; the taboos prevent its deterioration.
The last characteristic of an institution which we shall discuss here brings us directly back to leadership. The leaders of an institution are appointed. They invariably have membership within the group, but they are neither elected nor do they push their way to the top. They therefore do not rely primarily upon persuasion, as does the elected leader, nor do they attempt or need to dominate their groups completely, as must the self- chosen. They are appointed from within the institution by senior members of the institution; they are going to lead only members of the institution. They must first of all use institutional methods in their leadership.
It was largely ignorance of the sociological factors involved in institutional society that caused what few leadership failures there were in the armed forces during World War II. The little indoctrination there was time for could not go into reasons, psychological reasons. Officer-candidates were told what to do; the why was left unmentioned. It is, to be sure, not customary in military organizations to explain the necessity for carrying out any specific instructions. On the other hand, if the psychological reasons for some of the rules could have been brought out, there would not have been, in the years immediately following, the number of disgruntled ex-servicemen writing letters and speaking out about “officers’ privileges,” “the caste system,” and the general “We were robbed.”
For example, somewhere in the brief indoctrination course given to many young men just prior or subsequent to receiving their first commissions, there was probably at least a mention of shipboard routine. The alert student officer learned that Navy vessels hold quarters for muster, usually early in the forenoon watch. This fact was not stressed; most of the students probably missed it completely. So it is small wonder that such a large proportion of ships, as these officers went out to the fleet month after month, failed to hold even the most cursory military formations. Commanding officers who simply carried out the Navy institutional pattern were therefore misunderstood.
And yet assembling the off-duty sections at a set time each day is typical of institutional ceremonies or practices. Such a procedure not only allows the assignment of work to be made expeditiously and simplifies other administrative details, but it also has a sound psychological basis quite apart from its practicality. A chief boatswain’s mate would never admit it, but appearing at a definite time each day in a clean uniform and seeing with him two-thirds or three- quarters of the ship’s company all together at once, with his officers lined up and the familiar routine being carried out—all this brings home to each man the full significance of his own importance and his relation to his shipmates and to the ship itself. If, as is the custom on some ships, these exercises are held right after “colors” have been made, the ritual has an added significance.
Navy ceremonies are not the blind compliance with out-of-date tradition that many laymen think they are. Based on a real need deep within the human animal, they provide a satisfaction that the chief boatswain’s mate himself could not describe and probably does not even know to exist. The nature of man changes little, and slowly. The same ideals, the same aspirations, the same fears, and indeed the same symbols which caught the hearts and minds of man two thousand years ago are still potent today.
Now it is true, unflattering though it may be, that the Navy’s belief that “No man is indispensable” is a realistic one. If the fleet commander-in-chief, the commanding officer, the division officer, or the number- three loader on the port five-inch 38 in the forward mount is transferred or killed, there must be someone else to take over—right now. Unless there were some system for the performance of his duties, the newcomer would flounder around for months while trying to evolve his own.
Even if every Navy officer were fortunate enough to possess the sterling worth of a King, a Nimitz, a Sam Dealey, there would still have to be a standard way of getting things done. And, of course, men like these are unfortunately not to be found within every Navy uniform. Therefore the Navy, and all other institutions, must have a system of leadership, a system that permits frequent changes of leaders without destroying the effectiveness of the groups they lead. The position of the leader, as distinguished from the personality occupying it, must have sufficient prestige and authority so that anyone who has been selected and trained for the position can fill it. If the Navy had not heeded this truth, imagine the confusion that would have resulted when literally thousands of farmers, schoolmasters, and perfume salesmen were plopped down into leadership billets in World War II!
Many of these ex-civilians undoubtedly could, in time, have learned to discharge their Naval leadership responsibilities in ways other than those so definitely prescribed by Navy policy and official directives. But the smart ones realized that it has ever been the part of wisdom to imitate the Romans when you are in Rome, and to follow the Navy’s rules when playing the Navy’s game.
There will always be a few, however, who feel that they do not need the legal props and the traditional deference customarily accorded an officer. “I don’t go for all that folderol,” they say. “I’m a good enough guy, or I know my business so well, that other officers may have to be stuffed shirts, but not me!” What these self-confident young men do not realize, while they may be right as far as they have gone (although a stuffed shirt is the last person to make a good leader), is the unhappy fact that their successors may not be so forceful or so persuasive as they. If the men in the division are used to one kind of personal leadership exclusively, they are going to pose untold problems for the new division officer who may just not have it in his make-up to use the same kind.
If, on the other hand, the men have been in contact Over a period of years with a dozen officers who conducted themselves more or less in the same way, they will have but little adjusting to do when the thirteenth takes over. He will have little idiosyncrasies, to be sure, but in the main he will act much like his predecessors. He will thus not only be assuring his men and his ship of good leadership; he will also be guaranteeing the Navy what it must have in the continuity of such leadership. The marked individualists may— although it is extremely unlikely—be effective leaders themselves, but they cause irreparable damage to most other officers and to all Navy men.
It became apparent to everybody in World War II that people who, disregarding the “regular” way, try to lead purely by the force of their personalities, have a rocky time in formal institutions like the Navy. A single example will be indicative of the consequences of giving personal methods full sway over institutional practices. One Navy commanding officer, about five years ago, enjoying the force of his own dominance, used to take great delight in throwing the book away—far away. At a birthday party given him by the command, one of the crew sang the Old Man’s favorite song, and another had baked a tremendous cake, artistically embroidered with a frosting “Happy Birthday, Boss.”
Each of these contributions made a great hit with the officer. To show his appreciation, and to prove once and for all what a good fellow he was, he announced aloud that the singer—a radioman, first class—and the cake maker—a baker first—would be promoted in the morning to chiefs. In vain did the executive officer later try to dissuade his skipper, pointing out that neither rate was open, that each of the men had had only a short time in rate, and that the whole affair would certainly be disallowed by Bu- Pers. Even the fact that the singer had just completed a Summary Court sentence had no effect: “Rate those men as I told you to or your usefulness with this command will cease, as of now.”
The sharp dive in morale resulting from this latest evidence of “leadership” was deeply felt by all the people involved. All the enlisted men who heard about it began to wonder why they should try to fulfill the requirements for promotion if a chorus of “Wabash Moon” or an hour in the bakeshop were all that was needed. The executive officer began to wonder why he should wade through BuPers advancement-in-rating directives if they were to be ignored. And the men who were promoted (losing their rates some five months later after the inevitable BuPers disapproval came through) were hardly pleased with the consequent checkage in their pay and the loss of the money they had spent on new uniforms.
We need dwell no longer on the officer who leads, or attempts to lead, purely by the personal methods of persuasion or dominance. “But,” the objection may be, “the officer who acts only according to the book, always a ‘cold fish’ and never showing he is human, who is always thinking only of making his number—he is little likely to provide the dynamic spark so often demanded. He can keep himself, and possibly his men, out of trouble, but who wants him around and in command when the shooting starts?”
And there is the leadership question: Can the institutional leader, knowing and following all the rules in the book, also show the spark of inspiration that will ignite the flame of greatness smouldering in his men? So now it remains to ponder the effectiveness of the leader who, the skeptics insist, resembles not so much a flesh-and-blood human being as a machine.
This is actually not so serious a problem, for Man, even the starchiest flag officer of the old school, is not a machine. The admiral with some thirty-odd years of service has the same emotions, the same foibles, the same instincts as the rawest seaman; he simply has them under better control. But they will show themselves, from time to time, usually to the delight of his subordinates. Admiral King’s remark upon being given the Navy’s highest post: “They had a tough job to be done and sent for the biggest blankety-blank they could find” is proof that he certainly is not an automaton. Indeed there are few men so devoid of imagination or personality, or with such perfect self-control, that their deepest feelings are forever interred in a file of regulations and official reports.
Psychologists point out that even in the theater, when actors are speaking the lines they have memorized and rehearsed, the human element surmounts the mechanical routine in all but the most wooden scenes. It is a rare performance indeed that does not contain some sign of initiative and individuality. In the most thrilling moments, the script serves not as the rigid prescription for the final form, but merely as the foundation upon which the cast can build. We are not robots. No two men are identical; and no one man will ever act the same way— exactly the same way—twice.
It is certain that the leader who acts within the institutional limits of his position and stops there will achieve only mediocrity. In times of peace he becomes a martinet; in times of war, a do-nothing. Concerned only with what the book says, he will lack the imagination to plan for a contingency not in the book and the initiative to act when it occurs. He may never do anything wrong, but he probably will not do anything much better than merely adequate.
Therefore, although the Navy leader must always heed the institutional requirements for Navy leadership, he simply can not be satisfied to go no farther. There is a vast area well within the limits of institutional propriety where the personal methods of persuasion and dominance may. be employed. If the Navy is to enjoy the most effective leadership, its officers can not afford to neglect this fertile part of the leadership field.
It may not therefore be too presumptious, in concluding, to suggest another “Hint for Junior Officers”:
Navy leadership is institutional leadership. Know the Navy, as an institution. If regulations require the publication of the Articles for the Government of the Navy every quarter, publish them. If there is a prescribed way for wearing ribbons, follow it. If BuPers states that men are to be examined in certain subjects for promotion, examine them. And if you have thought of a way of filing correspondence better than is called for by the Navy Filing Manual, of a snappier manner of saluting the colors or greeting the O.O.D. than is customary, stop just a minute to think before you begin exercising your own improvements; you are just one man, and the Navy is not a one-man show. While you are making yourself a leader who is loved as well as respected, you can not neglect the dignity and prestige—the institutional aspects—of your position.
The authority of your position and the continuity of this authority are more important to the Navy than the personal popularity or success of any one officer. Dependence on institutional leadership alone, however, indicates failure of leadership. With mass wartime forces made up of small, trained nucleus crews of regulars, responsible for millions of hastily conscripted civilians, inspirational personal leadership of the highest order is called for.
Therefore, although you can not neglect such institutional factors as the Navy’s traditional prestige, ceremonies, and other formalities, you should remember that they are psychological tools and not objectives.
To every leadership problem you meet, you can, while following the prescribed “Navy way,” still apply the personal methods of persuasion and dominance. It is only in this manner that you can influence your men to bring to their tasks the enthusiasm and the extra ounce of spontaneous effort that so often spell the difference between failure and success for the whole command.
The wonders of science have made Navy material second to none. The result of combining the personal with the institutional method of leadership will be the scientific approach to the problem of human relations rather than the sentimental one. Such a scientific approach is necessary if the Navy is to continue to enjoy the teamwork of its personnel. And this team is always made up of leaders who do not have to turn around to be sure they are being followed, and of men who follow, not because they have been told to, but because they are convinced it is “the right thing to do.”
*Capt. Walter Karig and Comdr. Eric Purdon, Battle Report Pacific War: Middle Phase (New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1947), p. 44. By permission.