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Admirals, by Andrew Lambert
I’ve just finished reading Admirals, by Andrew Lambert.
It’s a fascinating read, making a revisionist case for the most important admirals in British history. Out go Drake, Nelson and Jellicoe. In come James II, Geoffrey Hornby and Andrew Cunningham. It is a tour d’horizon of the makings of the modern Royal Navy, but very much in the “Great Men” mould.
However, aside from the history, it got me thinking about leadership. Lambert essentially divides the 11 admirals he bios into 2 schools:
- The effective managers: These admirals built comprehensive rulebooks, emphasised discipline, following orders and subordination and controlled their fleets and subordinates tightly. Success was achieved by everyone knowing their role and executing it on command.
- The inspirational leaders: These men trained and practiced with their subordinates until everyone understood the broader objectives, and the tactics that were to be used as a fleet or squadron. But once battle came, the admirals encouraged initiative and daring.
Lambert doesn’t say that one is more effective than the other, but he does say that the good admirals learnt elements of both schools. The inspirational leaders needed to learn attention to detail and good communication (Admiral Beatty’s failure to master this cost 3 battlecruisers and over 3,000 lives at Jutland), while the managers had to remember that subordinates need to feel respected and that their contributions are valued (Jervis was particularly deficient in this regard).
And so in business. A closely-managing strategy can work, provided that team members feel valued. A hands-off style only functions if all team members understand the broad strategy that the team is trying to achieve.
Whether you’re interested in the management lessons or just the history, it’s a fascinating book.