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Traditional naval leadership—from long before the day of Farragut at Mobile Bay through the most recent combat flight operations in the Med— often imposes unique demands under high-risk conditions. The leader’s faith—in himself, in his people, and in his cause—must be unshakable.
As a young midshipman, David Porter was assigned to the USS Constellation in 1798. Finding conditions harsh and his superiors demanding, Porter complained to his captain, Thomas Truxtun, who replied:
“Swear at you? Damn it, sir—
every time I do that you go a' ...
the ladder of promotion! As()ll up first lieutenant’s blowing y ^ he every day, why, sir, ’tis b®ca yoU loves you and would not *> ^b-
grow up a conceited young c Go . . . and let us have no whining.”1
Proceedings / Sep*el
P^minern' ff-t0 become one of the most Navy. . 0 ‘lcers in the early American durinu ti,S ,?a^ta'n tbe frigate Essex °n what t^ar *812, he took his ship connic, nCame tbe longest voyage of CaPtured ~-Urm®- tbe emise, the Essex
slngIe-han°,rJank 25 enemy vessels—
crippling the British
stroyedV'Tuy~~~beforc she was de‘
°ld teach^ 3 ar8er British force. Like his resPonsik|r’f~apta'n ^ruxtun» Porter was One of ,hC or a nitmber of midshipmen, gut. he ?m Was l-lavid Glasgow Farra- FarranutV,00’ learned his lessons well, and led th eii^me tbe Navy’s first admiral Cleans 6 7n'0n fleet to victory at New ragut’s v3n Mobile Bay. One of Far- His name°Un^ beutenants idolized him. later, as, Was George Dewey, and years Manj]a j? ‘aced a Spanish squadron off Hat w’ , ewey would ask himself— In s,U(j . Admiral Farragut do?
°Ur great b'story we tend to isolate UrnPh, f0eaders in their moments of tri- °f expcrjp^etl'n® l*13* eat'h was a product get thatnee and example. We also fort'll pa„csey set their examples, not only day CQntln books, but through day-to- deek, W'tb others; on the quarter- bridge . wardroom, and on the Placecj lnce ‘ts inception, the Navy has leaders we,resP°nsibility for training its to irnagi,,1 ds leaders. It is not difficult tree- by Cu3 k‘nd professional family It's ]jn^sw, 'eh every officer could find etice of uWltb tbe Past, tracing the experi-
-«s an UnSen'ors. In turn, every officer aey ,^a(Written responsibility to a leg- v,,ho f,aas been passed down by those For mo ^°ne before.
acV has tban two centuries, this leg- lraditi0neen tbe source of a leadership b°Wever "J.lbe Navy. In recent years, ers, has h IS tra<diti°n, like so many oth- ’I'e causeCtjn *arScly obscured. Whatever 'n n'°ral ? tb'S trend—a general decline natn \y S rength, the impact of the Viet-
ar’ 0r the failure of American 1 e result has been a renewed
Applicants f Produc'n8 better leaders. arc sergg S or officer training programs f"re beinnetl f°r loudership potential be- °!ficer c ^ accePted. Midshipmen and !be suh;„anc*'dates are indoctrinated on Prac;bject and
given the opportunity to
i *i • o
'Pent jnneir skills in a training environ- Pccted to , 6 ^eet’ new officers are ex- ‘)Cc°rdinsfr0W as Baders and are graded grarns an / 2 bc Navy has instituted pro- [elatiogs • l30*'0’65 designed to improve tvel. y arnon8 its personnel at every ’bing s(jj. ’ despite these efforts, some- r^'P in Seerns to be missing. Leader- [0rm Sos most inspirational form—the ead jn c® * by officers who may one day ornbat—remains elusive.
This does not imply that the Navy’s leadership policies are ineffective. Rather, the failure rests with the emphasis and trust we have placed in these policies and programs. Instead of accepting them as adjuncts to naval leadership, designed to help us cope with new problems, we have embraced them as leadership itself. For some, programs intended as tools to assist the leader have become substitutes for competent leadership, and a mere understanding of what a leader is and does has replaced the faith from which a leader’s strength must spring. The result is a hollow “contemporary” leadership, lacking any real heritage.
Much of contemporary leadership theory is directed at individuals, recognizing their problems and counseling them. Many of the Navy’s programs are actually services—educational, financial, and social—where emphasis is placed on meeting individual needs in hopes of improving overall performance. These are valuable of course, but officers who rely on them exclusively to get the most out of their men are only pandering to personal interests. Under such a philosophy, leaders must change their style as the demands and moods of their followers change—always seeking the path of least resistance in relations with subordinates.
Proponents of contemporary leadership theories argue that their methods are the logical response to the “me-generation,” which is now entering the work force. They claim that a legacy of traditional leadership, while it makes good history, cannot meet the demands of a modem Navy, which draws its people from a modem society. American youth, they say, has been raised in a permissive, “what’s-in-it-for-me” culture. Since the Navy must compete with the private sector to obtain and retain personnel, proponents argue that the Navy must use recruiting methods which are prevalent in the private sector and that are more compatible with the majority of potential sailors. Hence, we see recruiting methods promising travel and free education rather than calling for selfless service to one’s country. These contemporary leaders ask, “How can a leader use a traditional approach—one that appeals to unselfishness—if his followers’ motives are purely selfish?”
This argument is faulty in two respects. First, the Navy has rarely appealed to a sense of service or altruism in its search for recruits. During the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, as naval traditions were taking root, the lure of prize money attracted crewmen and filled ships. In fact, since the best hands flocked to the more profitable privateers,
the Navy was seriously undermanned. In the Civil War, it was necessary to promise a bonus or months of advance pay to new men. And up through the end of the 19th Century, many U. S. sailors were not Americans at all, but simply foreigners signed on during the course of a voyage. Thus, crews of clean-cut youth with the stars and stripes in their eyes are not prerequisites for successful traditional leadership.
Second, the motivations of the followers should not determine the style of leadership. During the 18th Century, enlightened British officers, Horatio Nelson among them, gained loyalty and confidence from their crews, beyond anything they could have extorted with the whip. Many men in these crews were being held against their will in conditions that would have tried the most dedicated sailor. John Paul Jones gave the Navy its first victories by inspiring the obedience of inexperienced, disagreeable seamen. True leadership obtains cooperation by overcoming selfish interests, not by manipulating them.
Naval officers have often dealt with difficult followers in the past. Why then discard their proven methods? The answer is that contemporary leadership is not merely a new style, but an entirely new officer-enlisted relationship.
The relationship between an officer and his division cannot be compared to that of an executive and his laborers. Sailors are not employees, yet there are those who would consider them as such. While the line between the wardroom and the mess-deck is clearer and more rigidly drawn than that between the white-collar and blue-collar worlds, officers and their troops, by the nature of their profession, must be closer than their civilian counterparts. Generally, workers and their bosses have little in common except their employer. Navy men—all Navy men— are equally entitled to call themselves warriors and mariners, for they share the same hardships and sacrifices. Even in a profitable civilian organization, there exists some counterproductive work between management and labor. Navy men are mutually dependent upon one another for success and survival. Lastly, in the business world, failure is perceived differently at different levels, whereas in the Navy, enemy gunfire and the elements draw no class distinctions.
Historically, the authority exercised by officers over their crews would be unacceptable to their civilian counterparts. Yet in this rigid system, naval officers, possessing absolute authority over men raised in a democratic society— essentially taught to question power and
protect their freedom—have obtained loyalty and obedience inconceivable to civilians. The reason for this lies with the officer’s respect for the sailor, not only as an individual, but as a comrade. The word implies common goals, a mutual understanding of the importance of the mission, and the knowledge that every man, regardless of rank or rate, can be counted on. It is not a word one hears often in the corporate community.
Navy Lieutenant Neil L. Golightly describes the characteristics of leadership in an “incorporated” Navy:
“[Leaders] often dispose themselves to be least abrasive to popular fashions and standards, both for survival and acceptance. This phenomenon has been perhaps most noticeable in the decades since the Korean War. Leadership of this type is not based on unswerving obedience and confidence in the leader. It depends, rather, on cajolery and reward, as in the fragile agreements between labor and management in civilian industries.” 
Thus, the enlisted man has been redefined as an employee and the officer has been translated into a “boss.” All of the difficulties of the officer-enlisted relationship remain, but the intangibles, those things that made it something more than a working relationship, are sacrificed. Creating a businesslike atmosphere in the Navy seems ironic in light of the advertised claim: “It’s not just a job.” If this soft leadership is partly a result of a failure to educate—Lieutenant Golightly’s contention—the remainder of the blame must rest with every officer for abandoning tradition in favor of the quick fix. In doing so we have ignored Winston Churchill’s warning that “Fortune is rightly malignant to those who break with the customs of the past.”
Naturally, the Navy must not become a static organization. It must grow as the nation it protects grows. The civil rights movement is an example of the kind of change in which the military must participate. At the same time, every officer should be able to distinguish true growth from the mere trend. In a throw-away society, theories about leadership, motivation, and responsibility come and go like fad diets. Managers in industry may feel free to experiment with such theories. In the service, however, the stakes are too high. Just as the country is obligated to treat the changing of the political guard in Washington as a simple change- of-command, so must the Navy treat the transient characteristics of society, such as permissiveness and self-centeredness. Why is the Navy, which has survived
all manner of change in the political and popular climate, succumbing to contemporary leadership forces now? In following its corporate counterparts in business and industry, the Navy has gone outside of its professional family in search of solutions. What it has found are psychologists, sociologists, and management experts. Their work is based largely on observation and experiment, rarely on experience, and is typically civilian- oriented. The argument is that the Navy resembles a corporation in many respects. In money and material matters, this may be a good analogy, but to extend such an argument to include personnel is to ignore the unique demands made by the military upon its people, the high-risk environments of sea and air in which those people work and live, and the goals to which they should be committed.
One of the reforms instituted by the Navy in response to the leadership crisis was a systematic plan to teach leadership fundamentals. This plan is similar to management courses in which junior executives are briefed on techniques and then sent to their departments. In this case, the potential officer is taught the principles of leadership, the traits which a leader must strive to obtain, and how to respond to situations from a position of authority. This is groundwork instruction. But the practice of contemporary leadership accepts a groundwork understanding of leadership as leadership itself. Without delving into the question of whether such a nebulous subject can truly be understood, it must be noted that learning any subject does not necessarily make one capable of applying it. To argue that time in the classroom and a few years of experience will make the junior officer a leader is similar to telling an accomplished draftsman that he is now an artist.
Just as the talent that distinguishes the artist from the draftsman cannot be taught as much as nurtured, so it is with leadership. The key element here is faith. Faith in oneself, in one’s men, and in the cause. It is from these that the leader draws strength. Without this strength, the foundation which supports the dozens of traits, principles, and styles of the leader is weakened. Roy Hattersley writes of Horatio Nelson’s powerful leadership:
“Nelson’s unshakable belief in himself and his sailors which he transmitted somehow to the fleet—certainly produced reserves of daring and determination that might not have been drawn out by a less self-confident leader. Because Nelson was inspired he had the ability to inspire others.”
Faith, in the religious sense, eLg with the family. Children are taug 0f beliefs and traditions that form Pa their family heritage. They, in tlin!'jngs herit a responsibility to pass such t on to their children. Naval officers’ ^ are part of a family. This family a,s^ ^ a genealogy, a set of traditions, aa -s. liefs. When officers accept their con ^ sions, they accept a responsibi 1 maintain these and pass them on t0^.gS. juniors. They owe this to their pr sional forebears. ^|jSh
How then does the Navy rees a ^ faith in the practice of leadership-^ ^ answer lies in reestablishing a se ^ tradition within the officer corps- ^ temporary leadership places muc ^st phasis on the decisions office^s , 0f make concerning style: what ^oSt leaders they will be, what traits afeteraci important to them, how they will i ^ with their men. These decisions ^ cause them to forget the meaning first, most important decision: t e ^ sion to take their commission in ^ place. All officers—the leaders a^gra| managers, the engineers and the .re artists, regardless of community a first and foremost officers. We a ^ jo- long tradition of leadership to 0 ward for guidance. gests
Admiral James B. Stockdale s ^g, that officers, as part of their gopbf should be required to read ph>
(Plato, Aristotle, and Kant) and gp(i calls ultimate situation literature Conrad’s Typhoon and Herman jgr, ville’s Billy Budd, for example) *° stand traditional concepts of dungVjl sacrifice. To these might be ad ® jStory biography and extensive nava ^ jn rather than the broad surveys |aCed most classes. Emphasis should^ ®^j0l)al on naval history as part of the be heritage, and such courses s t>ii taught in conjunction with le leadership and management. ujp is
The Navy’s tradition of *ea j sjnipW long, and it runs deep, but it is n° |t is a series of self-contained evel^j,at haS always growing—building °n gt the
gone before. It must be able to demands of today’s Navy but c0fltiflue forgetting its roots. If we are to this tradition, we must give UP n(j reconcepts of what leadership lS establish our links with the Pas p
‘Nathan Miller, The United Suites ^ ^
Heritage/U. S. Naval Institute. 197/1. ^acl1
Neil L. Golightly, "The Classical M Leadership,” Proceedings, June 19 ’ -cw
Roy Hattersley, Nelson (Saturday c .
1974), p. 213. .
James B. Stockdale, “Moral Leaders ip* ings, September 1980, p. 87.
Proceedings / Sep*el