Leadership is . . .

Leadership is Getting Things Done with Good Manners and Common Sense!  ~Commander Stephen Mackay, Royal Navy (Retired)

Leadership is one of the most used (abused?) words in business, and I venture to say, one of the least understood.  A Google search using the word “Leadership” comes up with 456 million hits and articles and books on leadership abound, many topping the best seller lists in the business category. And the search for understanding of just what leadership is, and how to develop it, continues at a frenetic pace, based on the belief that with more leadership come better outcomes. Through the recent behaviour of senior banking officers in the global banks around the world we have seen (and felt in our pocketbooks)  the impact poor leadership can have on the world. Everywhere governments, businesses and the general public are looking for leadership.

One of the more interesting approaches to defining and developing leadership has recently been a comprehensive study on the Royal Navy Way of Leadership carried out by Professor Andrew St. George.  Andrew spent three years exploring the Royal Navy methods of leadership development from the inside out.  He went on nuclear submarine voyages, participated in Navy training and “boot camp”, spoke with the top brass and the enlisted men and women, and followed the leadership training approaches from raw recruit induction to  strategic planning at the war college.

Royal Navy leadershipThe result is a concise handbook, The Royal Navy Way of Leadership, which has been recently published by a division of Random House Publishing and will be issued to all Naval officers and senior rate managers as the new Navy “leadership bible”.

One of the lesson’s gleaned from my brief discussions with Andrew St. George and retired Royal Navy Commander Stephen Mackay at a recent seminar, is that leadership is best developed and sustained when the culture is strong and has a heritage (written and unwritten) of requiring and honouring leadership.  And perhaps the strongest element of a culture of leadership is the unwritten, or informal culture.

Within the Royal Navy many of the lessons of leadership and actual leadership mentoring takes place through stories (the Navy calls them “dits”) and peer pressure, as well as actual training exercises that require real leadership for the solution.  Imagine being shut into a large sealed cube with a dozen others and suddenly water starts streaming in from the bottom and slowly filling up the tank.  The only solution for survival is leadership!

I actually like the Royal Navy’s definition of leadership:

Getting things done with good manners and common sense!

And business executives think leadership is giving a great powerpoint presentation!

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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2 Responses to Leadership is . . .

  1. Raunak says:

    John, love the line “based on the belief that with more leadership come better outcomes”
    I define leadership as the ability to drive a team towards accomplishing a common objective while simultaneously realizing individual aspirations of every member of the team. Unfortunately, several modern day “leaders” work towards achieving their own goals at the expense of those who they “lead”.
    While devising project management architecture, I would list down what every member of my team wished to gain from the project. This could range from learning a new programming language to developing soft business skills. During project execution we would regularly review this list to ensure that individual aspirations do not get neglected in pursuit of what the client desired. This ensured high levels of motivation throughout the project completion period.
    Completion of a project thus meant not only accomplishing what the client demanded but also fulfilling team members’ aspirations.


    • Raunak: Good to hear from you. I like this comment about individual goals as well as the overall project outcome. I will use this concept in one of my future blogs. Hope all is well and take care.


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