Of all the many factors that go into producing success in a naval battle, the most important is the leadership of the commander.
Regardless of the old shibboleth, leaders are not born—they are developed. Some people have more aptitude than others; but no man becomes a great leader unless he develops within himself the traits necessary to a leader. The easiest way to find what those traits are and learn how to acquire them is by studying the leaders who have gone before.
Great leaders have much in common. Each of them had a goal, an objective they wanted to achieve. Usually naval leaders aspired to win honor and success for their country. Each of them worked hard to achieve a high degree of professionalism. Each tried to become the best naval officer among his peers. Each learned thoroughly all the elements of his profession. They knew the capability and limitations of the equipment they used—not superficially but thoroughly. They learned how to communicate with their fellowmen, and to inspire their associates with the zeal and enthusiasm they themselves possessed. They realized that not only must they be highly skilled professionals, but so must all under their command.
They demanded high performance of their subordinates and trained their crews so that they were eager, enthusiastic, and, above all, skilled in the performance of their tasks. They recognized that no matter how great a leader a man might be, no man could lead a rabble or poorly trained subordinates to success. Well trained units can win naval actions without a great leader, but a great leader cannot be successful without trained, willing followers. Most of them studied their predecessors to emulate the characteristics of those who were successful and to avoid the traits of the unsuccessful.
Great leaders were not perfect. Each had his faults. These too should be recognized and shunned.
The Vincent Astor Foundation and the Naval Institute have created a unique opportunity and incentive for young officers to consider deeply the subject of naval leadership. In so doing they will not only compete for substantial rewards, but they cannot fail to benefit in the furtherance of their careers.