I have found no better example of “what leadership looks like” for a young naval officer than Patrick O’Brian’s brave, cheerful, and indefatigable Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey. Although the fictional Captain Aubrey demonstrates many outstanding qualities, I have been most gratified by the surfeit of practical leadership lessons for me as a surface warfare officer at the division officer level. Captain Aubrey impressed on his young officers the timeless naval leadership principles that warfighting is first, effective discipline is essential, and a “happy” ship is the only good fighting ship.
‘Warfighting First’ Must Be More Than Slogan
The Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO’s) “Sailing Directions” challenges us to put warfighting first. Above all, our responsibility as leaders is to prepare our sailors to succeed in battle. Captain Aubrey, for example, stresses the importance of battle preparations to a newly reporting first lieutenant when he exclaims, “Some people like their deck to look like a ball-room: so do I, but it must be a fighting ball-room.”1
1. Patrick O’Brian, HMS Surprise (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994), 240.
2. Patrick O’Brian, The Far Side of the World (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 110.
3. Patrick O’Brian, Treason’s Harbour (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 124.
4. Patrick O’Brian, Master and Commander (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), 108.
5. Patrick O’Brian, The Ionian Mission (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 67.