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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 14-May-08


Wednesday 14-May-08

Nelson's Way

I recently. read a book by this name which told the story of Admiral, Lord Nelson's life whilst extracting some key lessons about leadership. By all accounts he was an extraordinary chap, loved by his crews and hero-worshiped across Britain. He died a perfect hero's death, courageously leading a victorious charge into a superior enemy force and was buried in a huge state funeral. The national grief has only been echoed in modern times at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Nelson's status was no accident: he was a relentless self-publicist and loved the adulation of others. He was also well aware of his personal heroic brand and was prepared to do what was needed, including volunteering for dangerous work from his early teens and leading the charge in hand-to-hand fighting when boarding enemy ships.

Entering the navy at 12, he studied hard to learn the ropes and was made a lieutenant at 17. The navy was a meritocracy, unlike the army where you could buy a commission. At sea, there is no-one to cover-up and compensate for incompetence and the threat of mutiny could be very real -- a fact that the Admiralty took note of and frequently removed officers who were in over their heads.

Made a captain at 21, he was fair and firm with his sailors. He had the common touch but would not hesitate to hang serious wrongdoers from the yardarm. He had an excellent memory about people and would remember names, family circumstances and so on, and could meet common sailors years later and easily enquire after their children's progress.

He was a stickler for detail and would scrutinise purchases and complain furiously is anything was below expectations. As a result his ships were always well-provisioned, a fact he well knew was a key contributor towards sustaining a fit and motivated crew.

He was never shy of criticising his superiors and was probably very difficult to manage, but he delivered the goods and his judgement was respected.

He valued competence and assembled an elite 'band of brothers', a group of captains on whom he could absolutely depend. They planned together and Nelson saw himself as a 'first among equals' more than an all-knowing leader.

He had a fatal flaw, which came in the shape of Lady Hamilton, a former whore who married the much older Lord. The strange threesome set up together and scandalised polite society. Yet the call of heroism eventually won and he died his hero's death at Trafalgar in 1805.

His inspirational legacy lives today and the Royal Navy still teach recruits the lessons he taught them over 200 years ago.

I walk through Trafalgar Square every day on the way to work and sometimes stop to look up at his effigy atop the famous column and perhaps wouldn't be surprised if it waved back. Through his courage, determination and sacrifice he became immortal. I think he would be happy to know this.

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