Vice-Admiral Sir Adrian Johns KCB CBE DL
Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command (2005–8)
Governor and Commander-in-Chief Gibraltar (2009–13)
President of the Navy Records Society
I recall only too well the impact of the Practical Leadership Tests we suffered as young officers at Dartmouth. We thought then that leadership was all about self-projection, generating a sense of urgency and taking care of the team. But we soon learned that real leadership came into play when things went wrong. How many times do we hear today that failure is the result of a lack of leadership? Often perhaps, but that may be a simplistic conclusion and there are two truisms worth bearing in mind: no plan survives first contact with the enemy; and everything in war is simple but the simplest things are often the most difficult to achieve.
This collection of essays sprang out of a conference held at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in 2011 and provides an illuminating insight into naval leadership during a period of significant historical turbulence. Those in command at sea at that time enjoyed very limited communications and intelligence that often extended not much further than the visual horizon. Leaders had to rely on their own raw initiative and judgement in a very different way from today’s commanders in this globally networked world.
But while in practical terms leadership may be exercised rather differently today, the insights offered in these essays point to enduring themes and a better understanding of a complex subject.
I am delighted that this collection is dedicated to the memory of Professor Colin White, sadly departed but an old friend and an inspiring naval historian. He would have approved!