Nelson, Trafalgar and the Paradox Between Control and Delegation
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On the morning of the twenty-first of October 1805, in the waters between Cape Trafalgar in Spain and Cape Spartel in Africa, 27 ships of the line from the British Mediterranean squadron confronted Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve and the 33 vessels of the Combined Fleet of France and Spain. By the end of the day Nelson was dead and de Villeneuve, was a prisoner. Worse, seventeen of de Villeneuve's first-rate battleships were in the hands of his enemy. Thus Nelson's long-sought battle of annihilation had produced an overwhelming tactical victory which assured British strategic domination over the oceans of the world, a domination which lasted until the eve of the Second World War.
Objective and Purpose of the Study
The objective of this paper is, in accordance with Grant's Resource-Based Theory of Competitive Advantage (Pellicelli, 2007), to apply contemporary techniques of strategic analysis to the historical evidence by examining the political, strategic, and cultural contextual variables related to the direction and operations of the British Navy in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This necessitates an examination of the internal and external environments, the identification of key success factors involved in the achievement of naval supremacy, the transformation of resources into distinctive competencies, and hence the competitive advantages enjoyed by the Royal Navy, and other elements which ultimately facilitated the victory at Trafalgar.
The purpose of the study is to respond to the following questions:
- Following his battles at Copenhagen, Toulon, the Nile, and many others, Nelson enjoyed unprecedented renown and the unparalleled luminosity of his reputation continues to this day. But his exploits weren't singular. Since the beginning of the Thirty Years War in 1618 until the death of Nelson, the English produced a series of maritime notables such as Monck, Blake, Drake, Anson, Rodney, Jervis, Howe, Hood, and Collingwood. Some of these individuals achieved levels of strategic success that were never realized by Nelson. Is it possible to understand this phenomenon of successive emergent leaders in terms of current thought?
- During the period under consideration, admirals and captains operated in conditions where contact with the Admiralty was infrequent and there were significant delays in communication. The directives received by commanders on departure, and from time to time at sea, were very detailed, and sanctions for non-compliance could be severe and even fatal. But in order to achieve their strategic goals, the Admiralty Sea Lords delegated a considerable amount of authority, and autonomy of action, to fleet admirals and even to individual captains. This implies that the deployed officers had developed the necessary capacity to act independently. What were the factors that permitted and encouraged the paradoxical co-existence of central control and deployed autonomy?
- Without trivialising the horror and real human losses produced by war-at-sea, are the distinctive competencies and leadership approaches identified in this paper applicable to contemporary private enterprise?
Evolution of the External Environment
The period of time under review marks the transition of Western Europe from the end of the Renaissance Era to what is arguably the onset of the Modern Era (Mostert, 2007), where four Western European states vied for maritime supremacy. These were England, Holland, France and Spain. In political terms it encompassed, during the Age of Enlightenment, the decline of absolute monarchical authority towards a responsible form of government, limits on executive power, and the establishment of the concept of individual liberty. This was epitomized by the writings of John Locke who saw government as the instrument of free and rational men, "For Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others which cannot be when there is no law." (Padfield, 2005, p.4) These changes were more evident at an earlier time in England and Holland than in France and Spain. The advantage conferred on England by the restraint of monarchical authority had become obvious to a French minister during the War of the American Revolution: "The English have to some degree regenerated their navy while ours has been used up... Join that to the diminution of our financial means.... that inconvenience is common, no doubt, also to England, but her constitution gives her in that regard advantages which our monarchical forms do not give us." (Padfield, 2005, p.11)
Even the French philosophe Montesquieu called England "The freest country in the world... And I call it free because the sovereign, whose person is controlled and limited, is unable to inflict any harm on anyone." (Padfield, 2005, p.6)
In fact, individual liberty and parliamentary supremacy derived from merchant government, as exemplified first by the Venetians and later by the Dutch Republic and finally, by the English constitutional monarchy. For the English, it was the combination of the landowning and aristocratic interests, whose involvement in commercial enterprise relied on property rights and enforceable contract law. To be economically viable over time, these rights had to be immune from interference by the sovereign authority.
Further, it was Parliament's assertion of control over the national finances and particularly the long-term financing of national debt by the Bank of England that facilitated the growth of Mercantilism. (Padfield, 2005) For the mercantile nations, wealth came from trade and trade relied on the sea. Except for highly profitable luxury items, transportation by animal was hugely inefficient: a horse would eat the equivalent value of wheat transported in a voyage of just twenty miles. Therefore bulk transport relied on navigable rivers and great waters. (Herman, 2004)
Merchant vessels required protection and this is why economic rivalry led to the quest for maritime supremacy. (Padfield, 2005) This provided the essentially economic motivation for the conflicts between the English and the Spanish in the sixteenth century, between the English and the Dutch in the seventeenth century, and between the English and the French in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
At the social level, the emergence of Protestantism, whose creed was based on a person's direct contact with God, which previously required the use of ecclesiastical intermediaries, encouraged individual responsibility. And if God did His work through the individual, then each person was responsible for helping others. This approach was encouraged by the humanitarianism of the English Methodist movement. England's support for the Protestant Dutch led to the attempted invasion by the Catholic Spanish in the form of the Armada which aimed to embark the Duke of Parma's troops in Flanders. After attritive engagements with the defending English, unfavourable winds blew the Spanish into the North Sea and their ships were later destroyed on their way home off Ireland by a gale.
Key Success Factors
Given the changing conditions in the external environment, which factors were the keys to success in the search for naval supremacy?
Technology was a key success factor although it evolved slowly during this period and the English ships were for the most part less sophisticated than their Spanish or French counterparts. It was France which displayed the most inventive maritime genius and French and Spanish ships were generally bigger, faster and more buoyant. (Herman, 2004)
Access to shipbuilding material resources was a constant strategic preoccupation. For example, a 74 gun first-rate ship could take two thousand oak trees to build. Masts were fashioned from first-growth pine trees, primarily from the Baltic and North America.
The relative size of merchant and fishing fleets was another key factor because these provided manning pools for the navy. In contrast with the Dutch, who had extensive fishing and mercantile manpower reserves, the relative dearth of qualified seamen was a problem which continually plagued the French and Spanish navies. (Herman, 2004) Lord North put it succinctly when he said in 1770, "Everybody knows that our fleets cannot be fitted out except when trade is at home or just coming home, because sailors are at no other time to be had." (Marcus, 1961, p.355) It wasn't until the middle of the nineteenth century that English seamen were recruited for continuous service and so the authorities relied on enlistment bonuses and the notorious press gangs to supply the needed manpower. (Marcus, 1961)
Finally, morale and discipline were key success factors. Superior ship-handling and rate-of-fire were prerequisites of success in battle. To facilitate this, discipline, conferring the ability to react rapidly to instructions, was essential. Moreover, morale, by aiding cohesion and teamwork, produced of a higher rate of fire, and quick reaction times in obeying ship-handling instructions, which often meant the difference between victory and defeat.
Evolution of the Internal Environment
Regarding technology, the English did however innovate in key areas. The most important innovations were in the artillery arts where the English produced high-quality cast iron cannon that was more cost-effective than the more expensive bronze used by their enemies.
Later they developed the carronade, which was a large-bore, short range cannon which was devastatingly effective in close combat between ships.
They were also quick to introduce the coppering of hulls which increased speed, lengthened at-sea endurance, and improved ship-handling and manoeuvrability. (Herman, 2004)
In addition, the superior English shipbuilding capacity and secure sources of supply, meant that the Royal Navy could rely on the sheer number of ships, and rather than introducing technical innovation on its own, according to the naval historian Edward Brenton, the fleet could be constantly improved by copying its enemies. (Mostert, 2007)
Probably the most important determinant of English naval strategic capacity was in human resource utilisation with the emergence of professionalism in the officer corps. In early seventeenth century England at least, this competence was lacking. Neither did the professional knowledge nor did the sense of honour of navy captains impress their superiors. In fact, in 1630 Mervyn, the Channel Fleet commander complained of his captains not knowing how to command nor how to obey. His request to grant John Mennes command of a ship was made apparently so that he would have at least one captain "who had passed his abc". (Oppenheim, 1894, p.480)
Charles I's imposition of a nation-wide tax in support of the navy, the so-called 'ship money', while ultimately a source of his undoing and execution, went a long way to ensure the payment of naval wages on a regular basis and this permitted the hiring of dedicated full-time officers. Previously, the navy had attracted 'gentlemen adventurers' and entrepreneurs, who sought to profit from 'prizes' - captured enemy merchant and combatant ships - and even from hauling cargo aboard navy ships.
According to Arthur Herman, from now on "breeding, education, experience and 'interest', meaning political connections, all helped an aspiring navy officer - but nothing helped so much as success in battle." (Herman, 2004, p.242) In addition, a new class of officers emerged who had risen from the ship's ranks, particularly that of Ship's Master, who was responsible for ship handling and navigation. These were called 'tarpaulin officers' after the oilcloth they were accustomed to wearing on-deck while in foul weather.
In many cases these officers brought a closeness and an affinity for their rank-and-file seamen that could be missing from more gentlemanly brethren officers.
The Restoration brought the return of a higher proportion of gentlemanly officers, but now the requirement for sea service overrode connections, and commands were handed out based on recognized ability. (Herman, 2004)
Being wealthy meant a high-born captain had the means to better provide for his crew and ship. However, this social ranking did not exempt him from comprehensive midshipman training. "It taught him how to navigate and how to command, but it also forced him to haul the sails, man the guns, spread his hammock and share the same hardships (except flogging) as his future crew. 'When a gentleman hath learnt how to obey', the Marquis of Halifax wrote in 1693, 'he will grow very much fitter to command'" (Herman, 2004, p.242)
For increased professionalism to have a positive and enduring effect, it appears that operational primacy, or a corporate structure focused on operations, was necessary. In other words there was little to be gained from well-trained and experienced officers if they were not to be given operational authority and a deciding role in policy matters.
In Tudor times the post of Admiral was traditionally administrative and command was restricted to the husbanding of the resources required by the fleet. In addition, there was a significant judicial component where Admiralty courts were responsible for settling seafaring disputes. These were quite lucrative because the Lord Admiral was entitled to a share of the proceeds from salvage, wrecks and prizes. Admiral's posts were therefore the subject of political competition and connections at court counted for more than combat experience. Effective operational command, much as would have been the case in land armies, was then in the hands of the King or delegated to some great noble. It was Henry VIII who first recognized the need to supplant the soldier commander by the sailor-captain and this was the cornerstone of the development of a professionally directed and controlled navy.
However, the practise of appointing land-based army commanders as Generals-at-Sea, notably Popham and Blake, continued into the Restoration. (Marcus, 1961)
As for English shipboard morale and discipline, much has been made, in many cases correctly so, of deplorable living conditions on navy ships. While conditions were at times much worse than contemporary standards, they were certainly comparable with conditions in the merchant fleet or with privateers. Indeed G.J. Marcus states that for Elizabethan merchant freebooters, "Hard tack, salt junk and stinking water or sour beer was their lot on many an outward voyage." (Marcus, 1961, p.73)
Especially from the mid-eighteenth century on, navy leadership developed an increasing degree of humanitarianism and not infrequent episodes of religious zeal. (Horsfield, 1980)
The causes of the Great Mutiny of 1796 had more to do with low-pay (sailors having not seen a raise since the reign of Charles II), cruel treatment by certain officers and the endemic skimming of food rations by ship's pursers, purser's positions being so profitable that they were eagerly sought, (Oppenheim 1961) than to systemic mistreatment of sailors. (Mostert, 2007) An example of the poor quality of rations was described by William Thompson, in a pamphlet entitled The Royal Navy Man's Advocate from 1757. It states that seamen in the King's Ships made buttons for their Jackets and Trowsers with the Cheese they were served with, having preferred it, by reason of its tough and durable quality to buttons made of common metal. (Marcus, 1961)
Discipline was in the Royal Navy was harsh, but again not unlike military discipline on land, where flogging and corporal punishment were common. English navy discipline occurred on three levels. The petty officers would hurry men to their posts by striking miscreants with a knotted rope, this was known as 'starting'. The degree of provocation required to initiate punishment and the severity varied greatly with individuals and many of the lower ranking officers were much more tyrannical than their ship captains. Captains dispensed summary justice with penalties up to twenty-four lashes, although several different charges for the same incident could result in considerably more than the prescribed limit. More serious cases were referred to court-martial by the Admiral commanding. Eventually, the Admiralty prescribed the offenses and punishments according to the King's Regulations and Admiralty instructions, first published in 1731. This meant rather than being completely the individual Admiral's prerogative, there was now a uniform disciplinary code of the fleets. (Marcus, 1961) Twenty-five of the infractions were under pain of death and many of these applied to captains and officers, primarily to take away their right to question orders in the presence of the enemy. (Note the bias towards control).
Proven cowardice, negligence or disaffection resulted in the death sentence. Even Admirals were subject to the Articles of War, Admiral Byng being shot on the quarterdeck for cowardice after an uninspired pursuit of the French at Port Mahon. (Herman, 2004) Crews could and did make their dissatisfaction over undue punishment by individuals known to the Admiral and as most Captains were responsible for manning their ships, a reputation as a martinet was to be avoided. In general then, English navy discipline was swift and hard, but rarely arbitrary.
There is also some evidence that leniency or irresolution could be problematic. Seamen understood well that their dangerous und unpredictable working conditions required cohesion and collective effort, the hallmarks of discipline, in order to survive. Offenders had to be dealt with immediately and directly. Indeed, it could be said that, because the notorious Captain Bligh, of the Mutiny on the Bounty, was incapable of properly disciplining his petty officers, in particular the ringleader of the mutiny Mr. Christian, that this led to Bligh's continual cursing and unprovoked threatening of the crew, and not his later reputation for overly harsh discipline, which undermined his hold on the ship. (Herman, 2004)
According to Grant's Resource-Based Theory of Competitive Advantage, it is an enterprise's comparative effectiveness in using the capacities and resources available that establishes a competitive advantage. The combination of the resources available and an enterprise's distinctive competencies facilitates the competitive advantage.
To sustain the advantage over time, the strategy, or the combination of resources and competencies required for success, must be evaluated for four characteristics: durability, that is to say the strategy does not quickly become obsolete; transparency, meaning the difficulty in for a competitor to determine how to imitate the successful combination; transferability, or the relative difficulty for a competitor to adopt or obtain the components of the strategy; and reproducibility, ability of a competitor to develop the necessary strategic resources and competencies on their own. (Pellicelli, 2007) Further, the strategic capacity of an organisation is the result of the resources that exist and the competencies developed to exploit them. (Johnsson, Whittington, Scholes & Fréry, 2011)
Leaving aside the relative size of the mercantile and fishing fleets, the evaluation of which is beyond the scope of this study, but which nonetheless represented a resource advantage for the English, it is evident that the Royal Navy was able to attain distinctive competencies in the areas of professionalization of the officer corps, operational primacy and in the maintenance of shipboard morale and discipline and these competencies facilitated English naval dominance throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The Royal Navy was able to dominate, albeit with occasional lapses, notably against De Ruyter and the Dutch at the Medway and against De Graves and the French at the Chesapeake, over a period of more than three centuries, and the enemy were never able to replicate theses three distinctive competencies.
Moreover, these distinctive competencies provided the basis for the enduring competitive advantage enjoyed by the Royal Navy over its rivals.
To understand why and how the professionalization of the officers of Royal Navy evolved into a distinctive competence, it is important to recognize that although English society was as highly stratified, the naval officer class could be described as for the most part coming from the gentry, with the notable exception of the tarpaulin officers, as opposed to those from their major opponents, who were mainly aristocrats. Noel Mostert explains the essential difference on the quarterdeck - the place from which officers commanded the ship - in this manner:
In an age where society was rigidly classified by class, the quarter deck of a man-of-war was principally drawn from the upper levels, though not entirely so.
In France and Spain officers had almost exclusively meant the aristocracy. In Britain it meant gentry more than aristocracy. And gentry itself was a wide swath that fetched up many diverse corners of gentle-born society.
Nelson's background, although possessing high social connections, was nevertheless that of a remote and modest country parsonage. Officers naturally included many from the aristocracy including the royal family, as well as from all the professional classes; from business and commerce and, of course, from the navy itself, from those bearing a family tradition of generations of naval service. They also came from the merchant marine, whose social standing was lower than that of the navy.
But the quarterdeck also occasionally drew officers from its lower deck, from the working class. That was testament to an outlook that saw naval requirements as the priority above all else." (Mostert, 2007, p.79)
Accounts of low-born persons achieving rank in the Royal Navy abound; the father of William Bligh was the son of a custom's clerk, and Bligh, in spite of his leadership issues, became an accomplished navigator. He reached the Dutch colony of Timor after forty-eight days, four thousand miles away through the uncharted Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, after being cast-off in a longboat with a few loyalists, subsequent to the mutiny on the Bounty. (Herman, 2004)
The father of Thomas Pasco, Nelson's Lieutenant of Signals at Trafalgar, who became a rear admiral, was a Plymouth dockyard worker. Justinian Nutt, who was a wardroom servant on Anson's globe-spanning voyage, afterward reached Post Captain. (Herman, 2004)
The most exceptional account of upward mobility must surely be that of John Parkins: this pilot seaman commanded the brig Endeavor as a lieutenant and the frigates Turk and Arab as a post-captain. He was remarkable not only because he spent his entire career in the West-Indies, without ever setting foot in England, but more so because he was black, and the son of a slave. (Herman, 2004)
The elevation of mere seamen who possessed the required ability and character to command was unthinkable in the French or Spanish navies.
Thomas Cochrane, Lord Dundonald, the most brilliant Frigate commander from the Napoleonic era (Herman, 2004), and nephew of Admiral Alexander Cochrane, encountered such a 'tarpaulin officer' on his first ship when he came across the first lieutenant 'dressed in the garb of a seaman, with marlin-spike slung around his neck, and a lump of grease in his hand, and was busily engaged in setting up the rigging.' (Mostert, 2007, p.79)
Even well-born candidates or 'midshipmen' were required to the thoroughly versed and capable of performing in all aspects of the operation of the ship before being considered for promotion.
This according to a contemporary document:
You are by this time fully acquainted, not only with the names, but the use and direction of every rope in the ship, and have long since, to use the seaman's term 'paid your footing' in each top; for it is in the tops, and on the mast heads, that you must qualify yourself thoroughly to understand the duties of a working seaman; a knowledge absolutely necessary to make yourself respectable as an officer in their eyes... unless the seaman thinks that you are equally acquainted with his minor duties, that in the case of emergency you can take his place on the yard, or assist him in knotting a shroud, or splicing a cable, he would be apt to think lightly of your other qualifications, valuable as they really are, because he finds you deficient in those which more immediately come within the sphere of his own comprehension. (Mostert, 2007, p.80)
And this essential hands-on experience typically began at a very young age: the renowned Edward Hawke, whose victory at Quiberon Bay is still celebrated annually with a toast in every officer's mess in the Royal Navy, was enlisted as a volunteer by warrant aboard the 20 gun sloop Seahorse at the age of fifteen; Nelson went aboard his uncle's ship Raisonnable at age twelve; and Sidney Smith, who defied Napoleon at Acre, was thirteen when he joined the navy. In fact, English naval officers generally entered the navy at a much earlier age than the equivalent officer cadets in the army. (Mostert, 2007)
It was Drake who, in Elizabethan times, stated that gentlemen must "haul and draw with the mariner and the mariner with the gentleman." (Herman, 2004, p.120) This meant that English ships were at that time not only more efficient than their Spanish equivalents, but that they were also cleaner. Midshipman training moulded the young gentleman into a mariner. It was the Marquis of Halifax who stated that it was true at-sea experience which made the gentleman 'smelleth as much of pitch and tar as those there were swaddled in a sail cloth' and that that this conferred 'an influence and an authority, infinitely superior to that which the mere seaman can ever pretend to.' (Herman, 2004, p.242) In the Royal Navy you could succeed on talent alone and it was the only Western European institution during those times which approached being a meritocracy. (Herman, 2004)
As an example, the well-bred George Rodney was told when he applied for a Post-Captain position, that in place of the support of a Prime Minister (which he was capable of arranging), it was preferable to have the endorsement of an Admiral on the Board of Admiralty.
And Hawke, who had weak political connections, was due to be promoted from commodore to 'rear admiral without distinction of squadron' - a euphemism for half-pay retirement, but King George intervened, having seen Hawke's intrepid battle dispatches. This emphasis for promotion and selection based on operational success continued down to the petty officer ranks. As for promotion to captain, the revered George Anson, who had been promoted to First Sea Lord because of his combat record, advised his admirals that "if they would have a fleet to depend on, that they should promote the lieutenants to command whose ships have been successfully engaged upon equal terms with the enemy." Herman, 2004)
This then was the decisive advantage conferred on the Royal Navy by its experienced cadre of seasoned professional officers. No rival navy could compare in this regard.
The second distinctive competence established by the Royal Navy was operational primacy. At the time of the English civil war, the officers, men and non-combatants of the navy were servants of parliament. Control was by committee who in turn appointed various commissioners of the navy and customs. This put in place a system of institutionalized theft and jobbery in the administrative branches which, although personal gain was accepted in public life at the time and despite several attempts at reform, continued after the subsequent reorganization right up to Nelson's time. (Oppenheim, 1894)
Nonetheless, the establishment of the Navy Board, which now had overall responsibility for the navy and which reported to the Lord Admiral, was decisive. This provided the navy with a corporate body focused exclusively on operational primacy and this ensured a competitive advantage that was never replicated by any other enemy navy.
For here it was the operational commanders, each an experienced seaman, who were given considerable autonomy in dealing with their specific administrative duties, and at the same time operational commanders were placed in charge of the support functions. At the time, the Navy Board's warehouses, dockyards, and hospitals formed the largest industrial complex in the world. (Herman, 2004) This corps of seasoned administrators and admirals were able over time to re-generate themselves by promoting young seaworthy and promising officers who shared one overriding trait: operational primacy, meaning that operational experience and success in battle were the ultimate measure of command skills.
The dynamic of promoting meritorious and successful combat veterans to positions of operational authority created a feedback loop where they in turn mentored and promoted their protégés. There was an additional pecuniary interest: admirals wanted young and aggressive captains in their squadrons because the admirals got a one eighth of all the prizes taken under their authority. (Padfield, 2005)
Richard Howe, son of an Irish peer and victor of the Glorious First of June, served nearly sixty years at sea under the three most important visionaries: Anson, Vernon, and Hawke. According to John Horsfield:
In the formation of a tradition of British naval leadership, Anson was a key figure in the encouragement of rising talent. In selecting officers he always depended on personal knowledge he had gained as an active seaman.
Under his regime Augustus Keppel, Sir Charles Saunders, Howe and Philip Saumarez were all rapidly promoted. Saunders, Saumarez and Keppel had been with him on his round-the-world expedition.
Having been with Anson on that voyage was a great advantage in an officer's career." (Horsfield, 1980, p.32)
Keppel, and the great Admiral Rodney, who reclaimed English domination over the French at the Battle of the Saints, served under Hawke. Nelson had learned Hawke's aggressive approach as a lieutenant from his captain, Robert Locker, and he later served under the accomplished Hood and Sir John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent. In fact, it was Nelson who was instrumental in assuring victory when Jervis earned his earldom at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. (Herman, 2004)
That day Jervis faced twenty-seven Spanish ships of the line with his fifteen battleships, and as his lookout counted off to him twenty, then twenty-five then twenty-seven enemy ships of the line, Jervis famously said "Enough, sir, no more of that: the die is cast and if there are fifty sail I will go through them." (Padfield 2005, p.121)
St. Vincent earned a shattering victory that day, including the taking of four prizes. Also in the battle were Nelson's future commander at Copenhagen, Parker, and captains who would later join Nelson at Trafalgar: Miller, Collingwood, Saumarez and Troubridge.
These and the other captains in Nelson's Mediterranean squadron at the battle of Trafalgar were the so-called 'Band of Brothers'. Several went on to enjoy illustrious careers. Saumarez became chief of the Baltic squadron. Collingwood, whose Royal Sovereign was the first to engage the French line at Trafalgar, became commander of the Mediterranean squadron. William Hoste later bested a French squadron at Lissa where he famously unfurled the signal 'Remember Nelson'. And Nelson's captain on the Victory, Hardy, commanded various squadrons in the Atlantic and went on to become First Lord of the Admiralty. (Herman, 2004)
Under the Duc de Choiseul, from 1763 to 1771 France's navy had been considerably strengthened and the education of naval officers was made painstaking and thorough. Their study of tactics was superior to the British. (Marcus, 1961) But the French arguably lacked the ability to put their seasoned officers in positions of operational control and this was a critical shortcoming. Perhaps the most egregious example was Napoleon's plan, imposed on De Villeneuve, to combine the French Mediterranean and Spanish fleets with the blockaded Brest squadron by means of a ruse which included sailing to the West Indies in order to draw off the English blockading squadrons and Nelson's Mediterranean force. Then, supposedly, De Villeneuve would double back and unite with the newly liberated ships to descend on the Channel in support of a French invasion force destined for England. Napoleon, a genius who excelled at combining his disparate land forces at a decisive point, failed to grasp that "The Sea, however did not bend to human wished or imperial command, as rulers since King Canute had found. As a result naval warfare and sea power had always demanded a delicate combination of organization ad discipline on the one hand, and free and independent judgement on the other. Few navies or societies could manage it." (Herman, 2004, p.377) For Napoleon, the result was the disaster of Trafalgar and the end of his dream of conquering England.
According to the Value Discipline approach of Day and Reibstein, three factors denote market leaders: operational excellence, wherein the enterprise makes the most effective use of resources to achieve objectives; response to needs, meaning that decision-making is delegated to those who are most aware of operational requirements; and superior performance, or the ability of the organisation to rapidly innovate, to accept new ideas, and to continuously improve operations. (Pellicelli, 2007)
It is clear that through the Royal Navy's practice of emphasising the primacy of naval operations and the nominating of experienced admirals to oversee the Admiralty, the Navy Board, and the associated support functions, operational excellence was the result.
Further, by means of mentoring and selection based on the proven abilities of individual captains and admirals (professionalism of the officer corps), the capacity for operational excellence was maintained over time. Because the senior administrators had confidence in their deployed commanders, they were able to delegate authority to them, and thus the fleet admirals had a certain latitude to be aggressive and innovative.
The third distinctive competence relates to the superior morale and discipline of English crews. Better morale and discipline gave the Royal Navy the advantage of a higher rate of fire and better ship-handling and seamanship. From the historical evidence, there appears to be a correlation between morale and discipline although it is difficult to ascertain whether or not a causative relationship exists between the two.
Another factor is the quality of leadership and the relatively close relationship between the officers and seamen. Here the positive effects on the morale of the rank and file due to their officer's professionalism and competence are evident. Life at sea in the navy was dangerous even in peacetime; in fact most casualties were due to 'the dangers of the sea' as opposed to enemy action.
"But their dangerous life also taught them the importance of discipline and teamwork, the cumulative effort that every ship needs to survive it's voyage." (Herman, 2004, p.27)
In the Royal Navy, sailors had good reason to have confidence in the hands-on experience and competence of their leaders. An example is this description of the abilities of Captain Edward Pellew from a midshipman who had served with him:
Wherever there was exertion required aloft, to preserve a sail or a mast, the captain was foremost in the work, apparently as a mere matter of amusement, and there was not a man on the ship that could equal him in personal activity. He appeared to play among the elements in the hardest storms. I remember once, in close-reefing the main topsail, the captain had given his orders from the quarter-deck and sent us aloft.
On gaining the topsail yard, the most active and daring of our party hesitated to go upon it, as the sail was flapping violently, making it a service of great danger; but a voice was heard from the extreme end of the yard, calling upon us to save the sail, which would otherwise beat to pieces.
A man said 'Why, that's the captain! How the _ did he get there?'
He had followed us up, and, clambering over the backs of the sailors, had reached the topmast head, above the yard (the horizontal beam they had a problem going out upon,) and thence descended by the lift (the rope which descended from above to the far end of the yard), - a feat not easy to be explained to landsmen, but which will be allowed by seamen to demand great hardihood and address." (Marcus, 1961, p.354)
It is not surprising that Pellew went on to become an admiral and commander of the Mediterranean fleet. (Mostert, 2007)
The fact that naval officers were either prepared to do physical work along with the lower ranks or had personal knowledge and experience regarding the tasks at hand must have contributed to the 'shipboard egalitarianism' described by Arthur Herman.
In addition, and contrary to the social stratification seen elsewhere in English society, the majority of navy officers felt it important to cultivate ties with the lower ranks and these ties could last a lifetime.
This element of filial feeling also encompassed captains and admirals, as exemplified by Nelson when he wrote, in describing his captains, "They are my children" (Horsfield, 1980, p.13). Anson and Hawke, who shared the qualities of combat success and also of assisting the careers of their subordinate officers, were known for taking a personal interest in the well-being of former crew members as well. (Herman, 2004) Similarly, Howe, St. Vincent and Nelson saw their sailors as individuals and not merely as cannon fodder. Nelson in particular was singled out for his "uncommon attention to the personal comforts and welfare of the men under his command. (Horsfield, 1980, p.68) So loved was Nelson, that there was almost a mutiny on board the Victory when, due to the flagship's heavy damage in the battle of Trafalgar, the possibility was raised of returning Nelson's body to England using another ship.
As seaman James Bayley recalled: "We told the Captain as we had brought him (Nelson) out, we would bring him home." (Herman, 2004, p.396)
Nelson's death illustrates another aspect underlying the close relationship between officers and seamen: shared danger. It was the custom of all navies at the time for senior officers to stand, during combat, on the ship's quarterdeck, which was one of the areas on the ship most exposed to enemy fire. "Only a ship's captain was completely exposed to fire from every direction. Only he stood rock-still to give his own men the image of calm authority, of courage under fire, even as iron death sped in across the gunwales. On a sailing man-of-war, it was the captain, not his sailors, who ran the first and highest risk of dying." (Herman, 2004, p.339)
At Trafalgar, as the Victory, with Nelson aboard, approached the enemy line, she endured a hail of shot. This was especially dangerous for the unprotected men on the upper decks. Within minutes, Nelson, who was standing on the quarterdeck with his captain, Hardy, and Jon Scott, his Public Secretary, saw Scott cut in two by a cannonball and Hardy had a buckle of his shoe torn off by a splinter. Then a double-headed shot took out eight marines at once and another destroyed the steering wheel that was right beside Nelson and Hardy. After checking that Hardy was alright, Nelson told him 'This is too warm work to last for long.' (Lambert, 2004, p.301) He was right. Victory had now reached a position where she could unleash her huge port side carronade and fire her fifty gun broadside into the unprotected stern of De Villeneuve's flagship, Beaucentaure. This devastating opening fusillade from the Victory killed or wounded 200 of Beaucentaure's crew and the ship was crippled, although minutes later a bullet went through Nelson's chest and he was mortally wounded. (Lambert, 2004) Nelson and Hardy's example of calm courage was not at all unusual on that day. Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood had been given charge of the second division, which was also tasked, along with Nelson's column, to pierce the enemy's line. Both Nelson and Collingwood had their flagships leading their formations, so that their intentions would be obvious to those following. This according to Arthur Herman: "Collingwood's Royal Sovereign was the first to engage the French line and came under fire from half a dozen ships at once. Collingwood ordered his men to lie down as they approached - although he, of course, remained standing on the quarterdeck, as calm and imperturbable as ever." (Herman, 2004, p.389) At the end of the day, fully one quarter of the English captains were either dead or wounded.
Good discipline and high morale found expression in the operational effectiveness of the Royal Navy. An officer who was known to have an exceptionally 'smart' ship was Captain Patrick Campbell of the frigate Unité:
"In the Unité, so ready was very individual to his station, and so confident was the first lieutenant of everyone's abilities and exertion, that, instead of saying, hoist away this, that and the other, sail, he had only to say two words - 'make sail' - and in a few moments the ship from appearance as a naked tree would be as a cloud, in so short a time that a landsman would hardly credit his own sight, was he to be a spectator" (Marcus, 1961, p.355)
The supreme confidence displayed by their officers also infected the rank and file English seamen. They were accustomed to winning, having more battle experience, more time at sea, and better training. (Horsfield, 1980) Their morale was also positively affected by the perception that they represented a moral force over their enemies. English exceptionalism, rooted in notions of protestantism and individual liberty, provided a powerful sense of superiority over their largely Catholic and autocratic enemies. This exceptionalism was combined with the validation of the Royal Navy's pre-eminent role as defender of the English homeland, liberties and commerce. This was why it was the Channel Fleet that always had priority in British naval strategy. As Prime Minister Pitt put it in 1770, "The first great and acknowledged object of naval defence in the country, is to maintain such a superior naval force at home, that even the united fleets of France and Spain may never be masters of the Channel..." (Marcus, 1961, p.422)
The 'wooden walls' of Royal Navy ships were essential to frustrate any designs of invasion. As John Jervis, the Earl St. Vincent, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, put it: "I do not say the French will not come; I only say they will not come by sea." (Padfield, 2005, p.249)
In concluding the analysis portion of this paper, the external threats and opportunities faced by the Royal Navy would include the emergence of new French and Spanish ship designs, especially the French '74', as an threat. An opportunity was to be found in the global expansion of overseas trade.
This gave the Royal Navy an advantage over their enemies in terms of the relatively large available pool of English (and other) trained merchant seamen, even though at times this required impressments and other coercive measures.
The French recruiting system was theoretically superior, calling for all mariners to provide one year in three of naval service, but chronic under manning of French ships was the norm, and manpower shortages in the French navy were never successfully resolved. (Padfield, 2005)
The biggest threat faced by the navy was, predictably, peaceful neighbors. Budget cuts meant that heavy ships would rot away in reserve, rather than being replaced. For example, just three years before the outbreak of the American revolution and while the French were in the midst of a massive naval rearmament, the British Prime minister made this incredibly complacent remark to the sitting First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, "This is the time, if there ever was a time, for a judicious and reasonable economy." (Marcus, 1961, p.422) As a result, the Royal Navy was not prepared to deal at the same time with supplying and supporting British forces in North America and to cope with French naval intervention in support of the rebels. The results were disastrous for the British Empire (Padfield, 2005)
As for internal weaknesses, corruption in the support functions was an ongoing problem:
Leaving the eighteenth century out of consideration, it was said that at the beginning of this one (nineteenth) the annual public loss from fraud and embezzlement ran into millions, a sum which may well have almost drawn the shades of Mansell and hundreds of other pettifogging seventeenth-century navy thieves back to earth. I take the great difference to have been that at the later date, whether from higher principle or want of opportunity, the combatant branches of the service were honest, the theft and jobbery being confined to the admiralty, navy board and dockyard establishments. (Oppenheim, 1894, p.481)
The internal strengths were the distinctive competencies outlined above: professionalism of the officer corps, operational primacy and superior morale and discipline. These three factors allowed the Royal Navy to maximise the use of resources in order to achieve a lasting maritime supremacy. At the same time, there is evidence that these factors are inextricably linked to the resolution of the three research questions proposed above.
The Question of Emergent Leadership
The first question seeks to understand if there are identifiable historical factors related to the emergence, over time, of a series of competent and successful leaders.
A response to this question necessitates an understanding of currently accepted concepts of management and leadership. According to Peter G. Northouse, "leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal" (Northouse, 2010, p.3) Leadership involves influence, and in the absence of influence, leadership does not exist. (Northouse, 2010) On the other hand, Northouse indicates that management can be seen as the efficient use of resources, through the coordination of activities, towards a stated goal. Thus, both leadership and management involve the use of influence to attain goals. In addition, individuals can use their official position to influence others in an organisation. This is referred to as assigned leadership. Other persons achieve influence through their effect on other group members and this is the source of emergent leadership. (Northouse, 2010). The Canadian Forces formalize the distinction between assigned and emergent leadership by the use of the term 'command', where 'command' involves the purposefully delegated use of authority over individuals, facilities and resources in order to achieve a particular authorized mission. (Leadership, 2005) This construct of command, as a form of assigned leadership authority, co-exists in conjunction with leadership, based on personal attributes and competencies, and also with the management function, to fulfil the role of commander. For the purposes of this document, the term leader involves the combination, as described by the Canadian Forces, of command (or authority, in the civilian context), leadership and management. (Leadership, 2005) Consequently, use of the word leadership implies a competence that co-exists with command (or authority), and also with management, in the makeup of a leader. This interpretation is supported by the work of Rost (1991), who saw leadership as a multidirectional (leader-follower) influence relationship whereas management is unidirectional and transactional. (Northouse, 2010) Early research involved the search for leadership traits, such as intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability, that were possessed by individuals which then permitted them to be good leaders.
This view was supplanted by Katz (1955), who suggested three personal skills (technical, human and conceptual), as opposed to solely innate characteristics, that allowed leaders to accomplish their goals. (Northouse, 2010)
Furthermore, these leadership skills could be acquired: thus it was possible to develop leaders. Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding et al (2000) developed a skills model based on the theory that individual attributes can become competencies which then affect leadership outcomes. The attributes are: general cognitive ability, or intelligence; crystallized cognitive ability, or intelligence gained through experience; motivation, which includes willingness to take responsibility; willingness to dominate; commitment to the social well-being of the organization; and personality, which includes curiosity, tolerance of ambiguity and openness. The resulting competencies are: problem-solving skills; social judgement skills; and knowledge. Problem-solving skills are the creative ability to identify and deal with organizational problems. (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding et al, 2000) These skills are directly related to knowledge: "Leaders with knowledge know much about the products, the tasks, people, organization and all the different ways these elements are related to each other. A knowledgeable leader has many mental structures with which to organize the facts of organizational life." (Northouse, 2010, pp.47-48)
Acquired skills provide expertise and this, along with knowledge, provides the ability for a leader to use problem-solving skills in order to identify solutions to complex problems. The leadership outcomes of the skills model are effective problem-solving and performance.
The Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding et al (2000) model contains five components which determine effective problem-solving: competencies, individual attributes, leadership outcomes, career experiences and environmental influences.
Leader development is enhanced by challenging work assignments, mentoring, training and also by hands-on experience. (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding et al, 2000)
This implies that the emergence of leaders is dependent not only on the requisite personal traits and the acquired competencies of the individual, but also on the contextual variables which permit the individual to realize these potentialities.
Figure 1 Skills Model of Leadership
Source: Adapted from "Leadership Skills for a Changing World: Solving Complex Social Problems" by M.D. Mumford, S.J. Zaccaro, F.D. Harding, T.O. Jacobs and E.A. Fleishman, 2000 Leadership Quarterly 11(1), 23.
Peter Northouse summarizes this developmental model by stating the following: 'So the skills and knowledge of leaders are shaped by their career experiences as they address increasingly complex problems in the organization. This notion of developing leadership skills is unique and quite different from other leadership perspectives.' (Northouse, 2010, p.51)
In the case of the Royal Navy, in accordance with the developmental model, and given the historical outcomes, conditions permitting the effective development of leadership competencies must have been in place, which must have in turn facilitated the emergence of a series successful leaders.
Here a correlation is apparent between the distinctive competencies of operational primacy and the development of a professional officer corps, which led to dominance at the strategic level; and the leadership competencies of problem-solving skills, social judgement skills and knowledge, which appeared in the successive emergent leaders.
In other words, because of operational primacy, skilled and experienced officers were promoted to positions of increasing operational authority and they in turn mentored and selected for promotion junior officers who had demonstrated the necessary individual attributes, and these young officers, over time, developed the necessary competencies that complemented their individual attributes. This led to a highly skilled and knowledgeable professional officer corps who were capable of delivering consistent performance.
Thus it is quite reasonable to infer that the distinctive competencies of operational primacy and professionalism in the officer corps of the Royal Navy were essential to promote emergent leadership. Another aspect of contemporary leadership theory which is relevant to the production of successful leaders in the Royal Navy is the style approach to leadership. According to Northouse:
"The style approach is strikingly different from the traits and skills approaches because the style approach focuses on what leaders do rather than who they are. It suggests that leaders engage in two primary types of behaviours: task behaviours and relationship behaviours. How leaders combine these two types of behaviours to influence others is the central focus of the style approach." (Northouse, 2010, p.86)
Transformational leadership relies on relationship behaviours between leaders and followers, whereas transactional leadership is concerned with the execution of tasks. Boies and Howell (2009), state that the transactional leader relies on two basic techniques to ensure task execution: "The transactional leader can be classified as either using 'contingent reward' or as 'managing by exception.' Active 'managing by exception' leaders establish standards in advance, monitor followers performance, and act when a problem occurs." (Boies & Howell, 2009, p.218)
Transformational leaders go beyond the transactional, authority-driven approach exemplified by the so-called 'classical leadership style'. This style involves autocratic decision-making and a controlling supervisory role where the followers are assumed to be basically unwilling participants who need to be coerced into cooperating. (Long, 2006)
In contrast, transformational leaders seek congruence and complementarities between their objectives and those of their followers. This according to Boies and Howell (2009):
Indeed transformational leadership is based on affective and emotional arousal of followers (eg. Gardner and Ayioli, 1998). By showing individualized consideration as well as providing inspirational motivation, transformational leaders may increase their followers emotional response and attachment to the leader and the team." (Boies & Howell, 2009, p.220)
Olsen, Kjellevold, Eid & Johnsen (2006) characterized the differences between the transactional and tranformational leaders as follows:
"Burns, (1978) described the transformational leader as a morally mature agent who focuses on developing the moral maturity, values and ideals of his or her subordinates and strengthening their commitment to serve the well-being of others, their organization and society beyond self-interest. This differs from the transactional leader who emphasizes control over subordinates by the use of corrective transactions (contingency theory) aimed at fulfilling the personal needs of subordinates in exchange for specific work effort. (Olsen, Kjellevold, Eid & Johnsen, 2006, p.S38)
The morally mature aspect of transformational leadership is described in contemporary terms by Canadian military theorists as a 'miltary ethos' in which leader integrity and support of member well-being and commitment are critical to mission success. (Leadership, 2005)
Four leadership behaviours in particular are regarded as transformational: idealized influence, or charisma, where followers identify with the leader as role-model; inspirational motivation, meaning the nurturing of self-confidence and pride on the part of followers; intellectual stimulation, or the ability to promote follower's independent thought; and individual consideration, where the leader interacts individually with followers. (Bradley & Charbonneau, 2004)
This account by Herman regarding the emergence of Nelson is replete with transformational imagery:
The emergence of Horatio Nelson as military commander marks a key event in the evolution of the modern British navy. Indeed, it may be the key event.
As a revolutionary tactician, as brilliant fleet officer, as charismatic and supportive colleague, as man and legend; no other man has had so great an impact on the navy and it's place in modern history, even today. (Herman, 2004, p.360)
Every one of the emergent leaders in the Royal Navy displayed these characteristics to varying degrees and so they were clearly transformational leaders. This is not at all surprising given the obvious futility of transactional exchanges in the mayhem of battle. Here Colonel Thomas A. Colditz, head of the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY., describes the logic of transformational leadership in combat:
One of the characteristics of life-or-death situations is that transactional elements don't have much value. For example, it doesn't do any good to offer a bonus to an employee or a medal to a soldier if the perception is that they might not be around long enough to enjoy that reward, and likewise, it makes no sense to threaten someone with punishment in a circumstance where the potential outcomes are worse than any punishment you might be able to levy. So the beauty of studying leadership in dangerous contexts is that most of the transactional elements are stripped away and what you're left with is pure transformational leadership. (Rush, 2009, p.15)
Colonel Colditz goes on to qualify the reciprocity of transformational leadership:
In dangerous contexts trust is extremely important if the leader is to have any influence on followers, and good data from combat environments about the basis of trust in those settings shows that far and away the most important determinant of trust in a dangerous or crisis setting is competence. (Rush, 2009, p.15)
According to Larsson et al (2006), the processes involved in the development of transformational leaders are not well understood and have not been the subject of extensive research. This means that while it should not be possible to exactly identify the variables which would account for the emergent leadership in the Royal Navy, the evidence, especially the hands-on experience of young officers, supports a developmental model. (Larsson et al, 2006)
And most contemporary military strategists continue to stress developmental leadership models. For example,
Davis cites the existence of concurrent threat environments which require matching leader competencies formed by 'a viable leader development program'. (Davis, 2011, p.47)
For the U.S. military, the 'three pillars of leader development' are training, education and education. (Davis, 2011, p.47) In the Canadian military, the professional development pillars are experience, training , education and self-development. The Canadian framework of leader development elements includes the following competencies which accord roughly with the skills model: expertise; cognitive capacities, social capacities, change capacities and professional ideology. Professional ideology is defined as "an internalized ethos of values, beliefs, integrity, authenticity and reliability being present as a military leader understands, practises and lives the military ethos." (Edwards, Bentley & Walker, 2006, p.11)
The skills necessary to establish trust based on the competence of leaders in life-or-death situations, which are inherently ambiguous and uncertain, cannot be easily taught. In addition to the transfer of skills through training and development, it is necessary is to establish, what Col. Colditz identifies as, the transfer of 'leader identity'. (Rush, 2009, p.15) In Canadian terms, leader identity encompasses professional ideology. As seen (among others) from Anson to Hawke, from Hawke to Jervis, and from Jervis to Nelson, it was this transfer of leader identity which formed the basis of emergent leadership in the Royal Navy. Further, it was the distinctive competencies of operational primacy and professionalism which facilitated this transfer.
In fact, the Royal Navy had established what by Rear Admiral Joseph Kilkenny of the U.S. Navy's Naval Education and Training Command calls a 'leadership continuum'. (Harris, 2000, p.53) This approach develops competencies and allows leadership skills to emerge early on, and throughout, sailor's careers. In the Royal Navy it was the nurturing on the part of senior officers and their 'interest' in the development of junior midshipmen which allowed these promising young officers to acquire, through operational experience, the competencies required of an emergent leader.
Again, according to current Canadian Forces doctrine, these competencies would be a combination of command skills, management skills and transformational leadership skills. (Leadership, 2005)
To summarize, it was the operational primacy and officer professionalism in the Royal Navy which allowed the identification and development of transformational leadership and also the transfer of leader identity to occur.
Central Control Versus Delegation of Authority
Regarding the paradox between centralized control and delegated autonomy, it is important to establish that, at least according to the historical evidence, the two constructs are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it appears that where the centralized authority transmits a clear vision of methods to be used and the results that are expected, and there is a high level of trust in the subordinate hierarchy, then operational authority and flexibility can be successfully delegated.
For example, Admiral Byng followed his tactical instructions, which dictated that he maintain his squadron's formation, to the letter; but this did not excuse him from execution because he failed to use his delegated authority to pursue and destroy the enemy. In this case the Admiralty was looking for him to follow their controlling operational standards and at the same time to use his delegated authority to make on the spot decisions which accorded with the Admiralty's vision of aggressively engaging the enemy. Clearly, Byng had not properly internalized the transfer of leader identity in the form, derived from Anson and Hawke, of 'bold action, taking the initiative, hard close combat' (Herman, 2004, p.281).
On the other hand, Nelson, under the tutelage of Locker, himself a Hawke disciple, had early on recognized and internalized leader identity. At the battle of Cape St. Vincent, Jervis signalled a turn to starboard, but Nelson observed that the Spanish would be away before the English squadron could complete the manoeuvre, so he decided to turn to larboard and headed alone directly, and contrary to orders, toward the centre of the Spanish line. This disrupted the Spanish evolution and allowed Jervis to come up and annihilate them. Instead of being reprimanded, Nelson was later praised by Jervis because, in spite of flagrantly breaking sailing discipline, Nelson had, on his own authority, made the right decision and had shown the aggression which Jervis himself wished.
The example of Nelson at the Cape St. Vincent shows that delegation is facilitated by transfer of leader identity, which is an integral part of transformational leadership.
Nelson utilized leader identity transfer later in his career and, assisted by means of demonstrating his competence, applied the four transformational behaviours described earlier (idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and in particular by individualized consideration and a 'caring ethos'). This allowed Nelson to 'motivate followers to perform and identify with organisational goals and interests'. (Sarros, 2008, p.146) In so doing he established a reciprocal trust relationship with his followers. He called his approach 'the Nelson Touch' which one of his Captains, Berry, described:
With the masterly ideas of their Admiral on the subject of naval tactics every one of the captains of his squadron was most thoroughly acquainted: and upon surveying the situations of the enemy they could ascertain with precision what were the ideas and intentions of their commander, without the aid of any further instructions. (Horsfield, 1980, p.69)
Nelson himself wrote, "When I came to explain it to them , the Nelson Touch, it was like an electric shock. Some shed tears, all approved." (Herman, 2004, p.384) With the trust and insight that Nelson achieved with his captains, he could rely on a captain to make independent decisions, 'perhaps in a more advantageous manner than if he could have followed my orders.' (Herman, 2004, p.382) As Herman put it,
His confidence and trust in his captains sprang from the other crucial lesson he had learned, one every British admiral, from Vernon to Hawke to Rodney and Howe, had made part of the navy tradition. A commander's subordinates had to understand not just what he was planning to do but why. (Herman, 2004, p.357)
Evidence of this type of trust relationship can be seen in each of the successful Royal navy commanders. For example, Hawke "had a fine grasp of tactical thought and had a habit of constant discussion of tactical and other matters with subordinate officers." (Horsfield, 1980, p.33) The propensity to bring subordinates into the commander's confidence by means of communicating one's vision and strategy is effectively the transfer of leader identity. This is a key enabler of delegation, or what contemporary military theorist Ivan Yardley calls 'non-directive control':
Through careful communications, context is shared and direction is given in terms of 'effects' which are required and why they are relevant within the overall programme. The interlinking of effects allows the actor within the evolving context to analyse the situation and refer to the task in relation to an order of priority. The 'non-directive control' method encourages the individual to think for himself/herself within the parameters of the shared context. This methodology replaces linear planning methods, with an effects-based approach which develops situational awareness and a rapid action cycle, the combined effect of which is of out-thinking and out-manoeuvring the opponent. (Yardley, 2009, p.14)
By means of non-directive control, leaders delegate decision making to their subordinates with the confidence that, based on the transfer of leader identity, the subordinate will make an independent decision which is congruent with the leader's intent. Krager and Wenzl (1997) characterize an enhanced transfer of leader identity as "shared mental models" which consist of "shared knowledge about a team and its objectives, as well as common information about team roles, behaviour patterns and interaction patterns." (Boies & Howell, 2009, p.218)
In effect, the leader is using delegation and communication to produce multiple satisfactory outcomes which are beyond his personal ability to achieve alone. This can be considered as a 'force-multiplier' in the leader's effectiveness.
Perhaps the ultimate recognition of Nelson's transformational leadership and delegation skills came from his opponent De Villeneuve, "To any other nation, the loss of Nelson would have been irreparable, but in the British fleet off Cadiz, every Captain was a Nelson." (Herman, 2004, p.396)
Another essential component both transformational leadership and delegation, the necessary building of trust, was evidenced by the ability of Royal Navy leaders to demonstrate a caring ethos and to establish individual consideration for their subordinates.
Howe, Jervis and Nelson and Collingwood treated sailors as individuals, made efforts to learn their names, and sought relief for hard-luck cases, while Hawke was recognized for his humanitarianism. (Horsfield, 1980)
Even in Elizabethan times Captain Christopher Myngs, who had come up through the ranks himself, developed a reputation looking after his men. (Herman, 2004)
Nelson, in particular, was known for his attention to sailor's needs, "...his care extended to all ranks, and contemporaries commented on his uncommon attention to the personal comforts and welfare of the men under his command." (Horsfeld, 1980, p.68) And this according to Andrew Lambert: " The human dimension of fleet command was equally important to Nelson. His concern for his juniors, together with his anxiety to reward good service and promote the best men, made him the favorite admiral of every brave officer." (Lambert, 2004, p.289)
Even the unexpressive Sir Richard Howe, 'Black Dick', whom Fanny Nelson described as "the most silent man I ever knew" (Herman, 2004, p.338) had gotten to know his men by name and was known for looking after their needs, and so it was not surprising that it was he who was selected by the men to look into and to report to the Admiralty on their grievances during Great Mutiny. (Herman, 2004)
The reciprocal obligation of the commander to care for the needs of subordinates exists in the modern British Army and is known as 'Servant Leadership'. (Yardley, 2009, p.15)
To summarize, the historical evidence of shows that strict operational standards can co-exist with effective delegation and empowerment. Specifically, it was operational primacy and hands-on experience, which provided competencies; professionalism in leader development which produced transformational leaders capable generating trust and of transferring leader identity, which provided confidence; and finally individual consideration and support which provided caring. These, then, are the three pre-requisites of delegation and empowerment: competence, confidence and caring.
Applicability to Current Civilian Contexts
As to whether the findings of this study are relevant in contemporary society, for the military at least, the answer appears to be affirmative. Today the distinctive competence of operational primacy or 'operational focus', which takes primacy over all other activities, is a cornerstone of Canadian military doctrine.
Indeed, in Canada every officer appointed Chief of the Defence Staff since 1980 has had hands-on operational background: in the case of army officers, as a tank or infantry commander; all naval officers appointed CDS have commanded a ship; and all Air Force officers promoted to command the Canadian Forces have been fighter pilots.
Another cornerstone of Canadian military policy is the selection and development of transformational leaders at all levels in the Canadian military, or in other words, the establishment of a leadership continuum (Edwards, Bentley & Walker, 2006).
Leader consideration and support of subordinates (servant leadership in the British context), including the "recognition of the importance of followers, both in terms of their perceptions and needs" (Mau & Wooley, 2006 p.55) is another important component of the integrated leadership framework of the Canadian Forces.
Finally, for the U.S. Army, "a viable leader development program" is required to equip forces with competencies which can deal with today's "complex, ambiguous and multithreat operating conditions." (Davis, 2011, p.47)
Considering that these current military doctrines have been developed for 'in extremis' or life and death situations, are these applicable in less stressful civilian contexts? It appears to be so. The world is increasingly complex and ambiguous, which implies increased risk. Military strategies which address these tendencies, particularly leader development continuums and the establishment of trust-based servant leadership should be worthwhile.
This view is supported by Ivan Yardley's study of British military officers who had crossed over into civilian management positions. He concluded that the interviewees continued to use, with success, the servant leadership techniques of personal responsibility, commitment and involvement in their civilian contexts. Further, the study established that leadership style, values and trust were co-related to the creation of a risk-taking mentality in an organisation. (Yardley, 2009) This necessitates and validates transformational leadership and delegation. One survey comment evokes the relevance today of Nelson, who exemplified these qualities, and the confidence Nelson must have felt in his captains as he watched the ships of his squadron disappear into the smoke of battle.
According to the respondent, "I don't think you could actually have a management style, a leadership style, involving empowerment if you didn't fundamentally feel that people were going to do the right thing when they went out of your sight." (Yardley, 2009, p.16)
As for the civilian sector, the evidence suggests that large companies with extensive deployed operations, that is to say 'brick and mortar' mass market retailers, for example, supermarkets, are realizing that they face an bifurcated and fragmented market where buying decisions are increasingly driven by price comparisons. (Melnick, 2011) This implies a need for individual pricing flexibility and innovation at store level. At the same time, due the amount and detail of data reporting now available, senior management seek to control costs with a more homogenous, centralized and standardized offering. Clearly then, an analogous paradox between central control and deployed autonomy exists today.
Is it not then entirely possible for these companies that operational primacy, professionalism, and transformational leadership development are valid components of a strategy which would aim to achieve a decisive advantage in today's competitive environment?
Operational primacy will provide efficiency and cost control. To enable operational primacy, professionalism in store operations is necessary. Therefore all senior operating executives should be required to have hands-on store management experience. In congruence with modern military establishments, only individuals with extensive operational background should aspire to lead the organisation.
This will ensure that a leader development continuum is established where promising junior leaders receive mentoring and support, in turn being evaluated, (including feedback from subordinates) and selected for promotion based in large part on demonstrated transformational 'servant' leadership behaviours, such as caring and individual consideration. Transformational leadership and identity transfer will be facilitated by the adoption of a strong corporate culture which embraces societal values.
According to James C. Sarros (2008) transformational leadership and organisational culture are key determinants of innovation. (Sarros, 2008) And innovation will mark the necessary shift for retailers, as dictated by market fragmentation and price commoditization, from mass market to mass customization.
Thus, for these intrepid retailers, applying the lessons from the Royal Navy, including the development of innovation and empowerment at store level, which, aided by centralized customer relation management tools, offers intriguing possibilities to achieve lasting supremacy in the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers.
Certains des liens ci-dessous conduisent à un site d'une entité non assujettie à la Loi sur les langues officielles. L'information sur ce site est disponible dans la langue du site.
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