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Both Beowulf and Admiral James B. Stockdale proved proud warriors can achieve more as team players. Stock- dale’s tireless optimism and ingenuity—both in the cockpit and in North Vietnamese POW camps—made him an effective team leader.
Amid the thunder of gunfire and the screech of missiles, academic debates on management and leadership are irrelevant. In battle, ethical questions are resolved promptly and permanently. It is here the key to military leadership is found.
To establish what a leader needs to be, one must turn to history and, if possible, eyewitness accounts. History reveals that an effective leader is a team player. He is concerned with the welfare of his subordinates, contemporaries, and superiors, and he must feel his concern is recipro
cated. In today’s Navy, ironically, the young leader’s training and career path emphasize individual development and not team play.
Out of the mists of ancient Greece and of old England rise two epic figures: one self-seeking, the other benevolent, and both tragic for different reasons. The II- liad’s vainglorious Achilles displays a classic, self-seeking arrogance by withdrawing from the Trojan War because he lost a war prize. A slave girl is taken from Achilles by his superior, King Agamemnon, and a sordid quarrel ensues. Achilles’ absence drives the Greeks to the brink of defeat; the army is demoralized. Even his closest companions see their leader as “. . . warping a noble nature to ignoble ends.”1
In contrast is the Anglo-Saxon version of Beowulf. Throughout the poem, Beo
the safety and welfare of his men. ^ a fire-breathing dragon threatens his P pie, Beowulf sallies out with 12 9orn?ajr. ions. Upon reaching the dragon’s j Beowulf insists the men remain behijj and attacks alone. The melee goes ba •’ however, and all but one of the men 1 ^ Side by side, Beowulf and his ally s^' the dragon. Nevertheless, the fierce c° -s bat takes its toll on old Beowulf, and he ^ mortally wounded. Beowulf’s kingd° ^ shocked; his people’s mourning P found: ..
“This was the manner of the mou ing of the men of the Geats, -r
sharers in the feast, the fall of 1 lord: m*s
they said that he was of all the w° kings ,-a-
the gentlest of men, and the most & cious,
. .. 19»f
lhe kindest to his people, the keenest for fame.”2
Moving forward several centuries to enaissance Italy, we meet the unsurpassed philosopher of pragmatic leader- v 'P’ Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machia- p . whose work on power politics, The ^lnce’ addresses a variety of methods tl,6 Pr'nce can use to attain power. Yet n6re *s one factor which the prince must Q to retain power: “I will conclude t| y by saying that the good will of the °Ple is vital to the prince; otherwise he S* bc helpless in times of adversity.”3 anHS,t,'tute “combat” for “adversity,” va leader” for “prince,” and the rele- Calney >s apparent. Even in a philosophi- le ,|treat'se proposing that a successful er have no concern for the morality of e product, the “good will” of the peo- e is vital. To Machiavelli, the needs of e team are crucial.
C()s first-hand accounts of battle be- CQrrie m°re numerous and explicit, the Ijj CePt °f teamwork becomes clearer. In £S classic study On War, Karl von ausewitz depicts the battlefield:
As we approach, the thunder of the cannon becoming plainer and plainer ' ■ ■ a shell strikes amongst the crowd
- • • we begin to feel we are no longer Perfectly at ease and collected; even Pe bravest is at least to some degree
To add to all of this, compassion strikes the beating heart with pity at e sight of the maimed and fallen, th ^oung soldier cannot reach any of ese different strata of danger with- cut feeling that the light of reason 0es not move here in the same me- IUrn- • . . Indeed, he must be a very extraordinary man who, under these |ntpressions for the first time, does not Se the power of making any instan- aneous decisions.”4
(j ^tming up its findings, the official “Th ' report Combat Exhaustion stated: c0mjjre *s no such thing as getting used to at- ■ . . Each moment of combat bre ?Ses 3 strain so great that men will sity3 d°Wn in direct relation to the inten- Psy durat'on °f their exposure . . . asC latric casualties are as inevitable v^hot and shrapnel wounds in
ofCh°mbat tasks the soldier to the limits radejS endurance. It destroys his com- hjs iS’ b*s body, his mind, and, perhaps, \vhat The effective leader must grasp of. ePs the warrior going in the face > challenge.
S. Leti''ed TI. S. Army Brigadier General
■ A. Marshal wrote in his book Men
Against Fire that it is not the concern for one’s country that keeps the soldier going in this “place of terror.” Rather: “Whenever one surveys the forces of a battlefield it is to see that fear is general among men, but to observe further that men are commonly loath that their fear will be expressed in specific acts which their comrades will recognize as cowardice. . . . When a soldier is . . .known to the men who are around him, he . . . has reason to fear losing the one thing he is likely to value more than life, his reputation as a man among men.”6 This concept is supported by personal accounts of battle, like the following from Studs Terkel’s oral history of World War II, The Good War:
“The only thing that kept you going was your faith in your buddies. It wasn’t just a case of friendship. I never heard of self-inflicted wounds out there [Pacific, 1944]. Fellows from other services said they saw this in Europe. Oh there were plenty of times I wished l had a million dollar wound. Like maybe shooting a toe
“Combat tasks the soldier to the limits of his endurance. It destroys his comrades, his body, his mind, and perhaps, his life. The effective leader must grasp what keeps the warrior going in the face of this challenge.”
off. What was worse than death was the indignation of your buddies. You couldn't let ’em down. It was stronger than flag or country.”7
Thus a leader must penetrate this close-knit group in order to discharge his duties effectively. He must establish himself as one of the men, and face the trials of war alongside his men. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel refined this theme of leadership in the North African desert during World War II. Rommel was always in the thick of battle because, according to the field marshal,
“The commander in chief must have contact with his troops. He must be able to think with them. The soldier must have confidence in him. In this connection there is one cardinal principle to remember: one must never simulate a feeling for the troops which
in fact one does not have. The ordinary soldier has a surprisingly good nose for what is genuine and what is fake.”8
The leader also must be intimately concerned with the welfare of his men. During World War II, Lord Field Marshal William Slim turned around the Fourteenth British Army after it had been mauled by the Imperial Japanese Army in Burma. He impressed upon this demoralized army that victory was possible, that the Japanese were not invincible. His tack was simple and effective:
“I learnt . . . that one did not need to be an orator to be effective. Two things were necessary: first, to know what you were talking about, and second and most important, to believe in yourself. I found that if one kept the bulk of one’s talk to the material things that men were interested in; food, pay, leave, beer, mail, and the progress of operations, it was safe to end on a higher note—the spiritual foundations—and I always did.”9
Not only is this feeling of care and brotherhood crucial to the troops, it is just as important to the leader. Admiral James B. Stockdale courageously led American prisoners of war during the Vietnam War and later wrote: “There was also love for the fellow prisoners at Alcatraz. The most meaningful citation I’ve ever received came from a ‘chain message’ that each of the other guys planned and swished out on sequence at the bucket scrub on the morning of September 9, 1968, the third anniversary of my shoot- down: ‘Here’s to CAG for three great years. We love you. We are with you to the end.’ ”‘°
From the Dark Ages to Vietnam, the key to sound leadership has been to establish trust between leader and followers. Nevertheless, today’s Navy does not emphasize trust and teamwork among ship’s company. On the contrary, current policy on all levels encourages an individualistic, cover-one’s-stem approach to leadership.
The young officer’s introduction to the individualistic approach is in the volumes of the Personnel Qualification System (PQS), which, laudably, attempts to force the young officer to obtain basic knowledge of all a ship’s major components and systems. In practice, the junior officer (JO) finds himself pursuing the goal alone and in direct competition with his contemporaries. In many wardrooms, a status, board lists the numbers of points the JO and his mates have scored. In addition, the PQS normally deals with sub-
lngs / October 1985
► The young officer must be the one
jects outside of the officer’s primary duty. Therefore, factors crucial to his career advancement have little, if anything, to do with the day-to-day running of his division and little, or nothing, to do with his men.
The all-powerful fitness report serves to further isolate the young officer from his division and contemporaries by placing them in direct competition—blatantly in the rating boxes and implicitly throughout the entire report. Of course, competition is essential to some extent, but current practice has exalted the ranking of officers when, in reality, the rankings have little basis. Statistically, rankings are false—90% of the officers are in the top 10%—and often ignore the idiosyncrasies of the various jobs. Moreover, the report stresses management functions, such as equipment maintenance and material management, and ignores team performance.
Another area where the loner mentality is encouraged is in the assignment of primary duties and watch stations. Upon reporting to the ship, the JO is given a division for several months, but then is abruptly moved to a new primary duty before establishing any expertise or a productive relationship with the division.
Seniors play a primary role in encouraging the loner mentality. During tactical battle problems, I have witnessed a commanding officer (CO) watch his right- hand man, the tactical action officer, allow, in effect, the ship to sink. The CO can be more effective an adversary of the tactical action officer than a Soviet “Backfire” bomber. The same relationship often occurs on ships’ bridges. Again, the CO is in competition with his right-hand man, the officer of the deck (OOD). Here the OOD’s primary concern lies not in the safety of the ship but in answering the CO’s questions. Instead of two people ensuring the safety of the ship, both are covering their sterns.
Unfortunately, as the emphasis on team play and benevolent leadership fades, the need increases because of the nature both of today’s sailor and modem warfare.
The operators of the Navy’s complex equipment are highly trained and skilled professionals. In 1982, 85% of enlistees were high school graduates, many of whom were college material. These people are extremely bright, capable, well- trained, and experienced. To establish a productive leadership relationship requires, at least, mutual respect.
Considering the nature of modern warfare, team playing and mutual respect become even more important. Army General George S. Patton, the hardest of hard-nosed leaders, said, “Wars may be fought with weapons but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow, and of the man who leads that gains victory.”11
Patton’s statement is even more telling today. Since World War II, a technological revolution in naval warfare has occurred, and should continue. New weapons have been introduced which
. . Today’s Navy does not emphasize trust and teamwork among ship’s company. On the contrary, current policy on all levels encourages an individualistic, cover-one’s-stern approach to leadership.”
drastically affect all major warfare areas.
It is imperative that the Navy learn the lessons of history and place the proper emphasis on developing leaders who recognize the importance of the team. My recommendations address three basic areas: (1) institutions that must be corrected, (2) what the senior or commanding officer can do, and (3) actions the young officer can take.
First, the Navy must:
- Revise current fitness report formats to encourage development of team-building skills. This can be accomplished by requiring comments in the remarks section on junior officer teamwork, both in the division and among ship’s company, and by eliminating comparisons of officers. If the comparisons can be made reasonably within the command then it should be the reporting senior’s prerogative to include a comment in the remarks section.
- Revise JO assignment procedures to allow for qualification time after reporting to a new assignment. This would allow the young officer to attain the basic PQS knowledge without having to worry right away about leading others.
Second, commanding officers play a vital role in the development of young leaders, molding virtually the entire command atmosphere. In so doing, the CO must create an environment where the team comes first, specifically:
- When the JO is assigned a division, the CO must define what is expected of the JO, stress that he build a team, and then ensure his success.
- Create an environment where all officers of the command work together to attain results, stressing the importance of cooperation between all departments and divisions.
- Encourage the learning process; do not discourage questions. Too often imp         ' tant questions are left unasked because men are intimidated. Sometimes queS" tions are out of line, but fortunately vve are at peace, and training and learning &e both possible and imperative.
- Be conscious of interwardroom relations. If negative relationships develop’ act quickly to extinguish or redirect theiu-
- Strongly encourage participation >n social and sporting events. Lord Arthur Wellesley Wellington believed Waterlo° was won on the playing fields of Eton- Team sports build both body and morale- Sea duty is a rigorous, time-consumin? vocation, so these events should r>L scheduled so they do not preclude imp°r tant time at home. Then make social an sporting events mandatory.
Third, the junior officer must take the lead in establishing a division team, an •
- Reject the spiteful criticism that occur* in the wardroom. The JO must respect hi* division or no one else will.
- The young officer must convince t members of his division that he sincere ; cares about them, and can do so by Se ting to know them individually. .
- The young officer must stand up f°r n division personnel both when they sU ceed, and when they fail. In so doing- n must be tactful and honorable, not 1° and disrespectful.
praises or reprimands the division as required.
The lessons of history are clear: Fro Beowulf to Admiral Stockdale, in bade- teamwork is crucial. The effective lead will create that team.
'Homer, The Iliad, translated by E. V. R'cu 1 more, MD: Penguin Classics, 1950), p. 270.
Beowulf, translated by Charles Kennedy (BalU1" MD: Penguin Classics, 1967), p. 100. n|C|
Machiavelli, The Prince, translated by Donno (Bantam Books, 1966), p. 41. .. 
Karl von Clausewitz, On War, quoted in Ba*' , Liddell Hart, The Sword and the Pen (New ^ NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976), PP-
John Keegan, The Face of Battle (New York.
The Viking Press, 1976) p. 329.
Keegan, op cit. p. 72. Stul)s
E. B. (Sledgehammer) Sledge quoted if 0n Terkel, The Good War (New York, NY: PaIlt Books, Random House, 1984), p. 60. -(j jn
sErwin Rommel, “The Rommel Papers.’’ 9u0l,«jew Desmond Young, Rommel, the Desert Fox ( York, NY: Harper Brothers, 1950), p. 232-
Field Marshal Lord Slim, Defeat Into Victory don, England: Cassel, 1956), p. 25. ,qew
Jim and Sybil Stockdale, In Love and V/ar York, NY: Harper and Row, 1984), p. 285- "George S. Patton quoted in John Bartlett, e miliar Quotations (Boston, MA: Little Bro"n Co., 1968), p. 791.