Leadership Lessons from the Royal Navy

Andrew St George (2013) writes that “This branch of the British armed services consciously fosters cheerfulness and nourishes its collective memory. Business executives should take note.”

“Britain’s Royal Navy is a disciplined command-and-control organization that moves across 140 million square miles of the world’s oceans. Although few environments are tougher than a ship or submarine, I’ve been struck, while conducting research on the Royal Navy, by the extent to which these engines of war run on “soft” leadership skills. For officers leading small teams in constrained quarters, there’s no substitute for cheerfulness and effective storytelling. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that naval training is predicated on the notion that when two groups with equal resources attempt the same thing, the successful group will be the one whose leaders better understand how to use the softer skills to maintain effort and motivate.

I believe that the same principle holds true for business. In this article, I hope to translate for business leaders – like the ones I’ve gotten to know throughout my career as a business-school professor and communications adviser – some of what I learned while writing the Royal Navy’s first new leadership handbook since 1963. That handbook,1 published last year, is based on research of unprecedented length and breadth, as well as my own direct observation of officer training and life at sea.

Among the many softer leadership skills important to the Royal Navy, I highlight here the aforementioned cheerfulness and storytelling, which to me were both unexpected and broadly applicable. While the means of applying these lessons will, of course, differ by organization and individual, reflecting on them should stimulate fresh thinking by senior executives about the relationship between soft management skills and superior performance.”

Read the rest of the article at: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/leadership_lessons_from_the_royal_navy


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