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Leadership in the Royal Navy Essay Sample

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Leadership in the Royal Navy Essay Sample


The sea – and the land which surrounds it – is the natural home of the Naval Service. The Royal Navy (RN) operates on it, under it, above it or uses it to manoeuvre, ready to go ashore for a variety of government-directed purposes: from fighting wars, counter piracy, counter narcotics, exclusive economic zone protection, to providing humanitarian aid. It must be able to do this worldwide and largely self-supporting. It is both a challenging and hazardous environment, which from the outset requires both deep professional understanding and the highest qualities of leadership; it aims to be the best and must demand the most from its people.

The RN develops its people through experience and training to excel. In particular it develops essential requirements of leadership and teamwork. The RN also has a set of core values and standards that are inculcated into their people. These attributes of Courage, Commitment, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity and Loyalty define the Service. They represent a key element of the moral contract to their people, and although only recently articulated, naval people over the generations would recognise them.

Taken together, leadership, teamwork and the values and standards drive their people to achieve the exceptional. This has contributed greatly to the success of the RN in over 550 years. Leadership is a critical life skill, both in the military and in the commercial world. (Second Sea Lord, 2012). Leadership skills have now been universally recognised as a key ingredient – some would say the key ingredient – in management. A good manager is now by definition a leader. Equally, a good leader will also be a manager. (Adair, 2007). How do you become such a leader? Is it possible to develop your own abilities as a leader? This essay will first look at how Leadership is defined by well know academics like Yuki and Burns. It will then lead on to Northouse and his different views of leadership followed by the RN’s 6 Core Values and 12 Qualities of Leadership. Finally there will be a conclusion where I will review my findings on leadership.

Definition of Leadership

The concept of leadership itself is difficult to define since it can mean different things to different people in different situations. Over the years leadership has been defined by several academics. Leadership is ‘the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives’ Gary Yukl (2006).

Burns (1978) states that leadership is a mobilization process by individuals with certain motives, values and access to resources in a context of competition and conflict in the pursuit of goals. While Inkson & Kolb (2002) defined Leadership as identifying purpose, establishing direction, gaining commitment, and motivation others toward success. My own personal definition of Leadership is ‘a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an aim/goal’. This definition is similar to Northouse’s (2012) definition — Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.

Leaders carry out this process by applying their leadership knowledge and skills. (Jago, 1982) described this as Process Leadership, however, we know that we have traits that can influence our actions. (Jago, 1982) called this Trait Leadership in that it was once common to believe that leaders were
born rather than made. These two leadership types are shown in the chart below (Northouse, 2012, p7):

Traits of Leadership

Trait theories argue that effective leaders share a number of common personality characteristics, or “traits.” There are many traits of Leadership ranging from personality, courage, and enthusiasm to reliability but this essay will look at Northouse’s 5 Traits of Leadership. Northouse (2012) said that there were 5 major traits of leadership. These were: Intelligence, Self-Confidence, Determination, Integrity and Sociability.


Intelligence or intellectual ability is positively related to leadership. Based on their analysis of a series of recent studies on intelligence and various indices of leadership, Zaccaro et al. (2004) found support for the finding that leaders tend to have higher intelligence than non leaders. Having strong verbal ability, perceptual ability, and reasoning appears to make one a better leader. Although it is good to be bright, the research also indicates that a leader’s intellectual ability should not differ too much from that of the subordinates. If the leader’s IQ is very different from that of the followers, it can have a counterproductive impact on leadership. Leaders with higher abilities may have difficulty communicating with followers because they are preoccupied or because their ideas are too advanced for their followers to accept.


Self-confidence is the fundamental basis from which leadership grows. Self-confidence is the ability to be certain about one’s competencies and skills. It includes a sense of self-esteem and self-assurance and the belief that one can make a difference. Leadership involves influencing others, and self-confidence allows the leader to feel assured that his or her attempts to influence others are appropriate and right (Northouse 2012)


Many leaders also exhibit determination. Determination is the desire to get the job done and includes characteristics such as initiative, persistence, dominance, and drive. People with determination are willing to assert themselves, are proactive, and have the capacity to persevere in the face of obstacles. Being determined includes showing dominance at times and in situations where followers need to be directed.


Integrity is another of the important leadership traits. This is the quality that makes people trust you and trust is essential in all human relationships – professional or private. ‘Integrity’ means both personal wholeness and adherence to values outside yourself – especially goodness and truth.


A final trait that is important for leaders is sociability. Sociability is a leader’s inclination to seek out pleasant social relationships. Leaders who show sociability are friendly, outgoing, courteous, tactful, and diplomatic. They are sensitive to others’ needs and show concern for their well-being. Social leaders have good interpersonal skills and create cooperative relationships with their followers.

The Royal Navy’s Core Values

Similar to Northouse’s 5 major leadership traits the RN have their own 6 Core Values. Core Values are defined as those things which we believe are the most important aspects of who we are and how we treat others. In workplace leadership, our core beliefs about people and how we treat them will impact how we manage them day to day. (Sporleder, 2009). In 2007 the Navy’s Second Sea Lord, approved and endorsed a set of core values and standards for the Naval Service. These were Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect for Other, Integrity and Loyalty. They are explained below in more detail.


Selfless personal commitment is the foundation of naval service and enables us to demonstrate a sense of authority and purpose. We must be prepared to serve whenever and wherever we are required, and to do our very best at all times. This means that we accept that we will be expected to put the needs of the mission, and our team, ahead of our own interests.

Commitment to each other, to the task in hand, to the unit or ship, and to the overall intent of command is vital. It defines not only what an individual does, but also how he or she goes about fulfilling their role. It is important that the leader demonstrate a personal commitment to his or her people, to match that of the individual. Commitment is a moral quality with highly practical results.


Courage creates the strength on which fighting spirit, that essential element which turns a fighting force into a winning force, depends. We must have the physical courage to carry on with our task regardless of danger and discomfort, and the moral courage always to do what we know is right.

Courage is an essential core value and informs all the others. Physical and moral courage are the foundation on which bravery, fighting spirit and success are built. Moral courage is of particular significance: it is the ability and willingness to do what is right even though it may be an unpopular course of action; it allows individuals to learn by admitting their mistakes and by accepting responsibility for their actions.


The Naval Service must be a disciplined service if it is to be effective. We must therefore obey all lawful orders from our superiors. Self-discipline is fundamental; being able to discipline ourselves will earn us the respect and trust of others, and equip us to cope with the difficult, individual decisions we will have to make during our service.

Discipline ensures an environment in which orders are carried out, even under the worst conditions. The fate of a mission and the lives of those who may be thousands of miles away depend on good discipline and on the knowledge that people have done what they should, when they should. In periods of extreme and imminent danger, good discipline can counter fear; along with loyalty and trust of others, discipline can help hold together a team. Self-discipline is one of the most important virtues in the Royal Navy, and tends to be more evident when the conditions are extreme: it derives from a sense not only of professional commitment but from a readiness to put the needs of others and the mission ahead of self-interest.

Respect for Others

Each one of us has the exceptional responsibility of bearing arms, either collectively as part of a unit or individually, and when necessary of using controlled force. In addition, we will sometimes have to live and work under extremely difficult conditions. In such circumstances, it is particularly important that we show the greatest respect, tolerance, understanding and compassion for others, regardless of their personal background; leadership and teamwork depend on it, and we have the fundamental right to expect to be treated with the same degree of respect and dignity by all with whom we serve.

Respect for Others operates up and down the chain of command, and between peers in a community. Royal Navy personnel treat one another with decency and fairness, and acknowledge each individual’s contribution to the main effort. The need for high standards of dignity, compassion and self-control increases as the operating circumstances become more demanding. In operational environments, individuals cannot choose the company they keep; conditions may be cramped or dangerous; and there may be no respite or comfort for extended periods. Integrity

Integrity is that quality of an individual’s character that encompasses honesty, sincerity, reliability and unselfishness. It is an essential requirement of both leadership and comradeship. Unless we maintain our integrity, others will not trust us and teamwork will suffer. Putting this integrity into practice sometimes requires us to show moral courage, because our decisions may not always be popular. This is not always easy; however, doing the right thing will always earn respect.

Integrity is conveyed and tested with every decision and every action; there is always a choice to do the right thing or not. Of course, in a complex and difficult situation there may be a range of options where the ‘least worst’ is the right course of action. Integrity exudes from character in all dealings with others and with other organisations. It is indicated by qualities such as dependability, punctuality, truthfulness and openness. It is not only essential for the leader of a group to have high integrity; it is vital for the group itself to value and reinforce integrity in individuals and, more widely, in the group and organisation.


The Nation, the Naval Service and those with whom we serve rely on our commitment, dedication and support. We must therefore be loyal to our leaders, those that we lead, our team, and our duty. Pass this test and we will never let others down. Loyalty encompasses allegiance and commitment. It works in many directions: up and down the chain of command, and to ships, units or branches. Loyalty is earned through commitment, self-sacrifice, professional ability, courage and integrity. Those in positions of authority must openly support the policy or strategy set out by higher authority, even if they may personally (rather than professionally) disagree with it; this is not always easy to achieve, but it is nonetheless essential in order to maintain morale and discipline. Good leaders understand the difficulties that can arise here, and the best find ways of overcoming them by demonstrating their professional and moral standing.

Twelve Leadership Qualities

There are twelve core leadership qualities that the RN says every leader must have. These twelve qualities are leadership behaviours that work. They do not come naturally to everyone, but all great leaders have these in some measure, or understand that they need to be demonstrated at the appropriate time.

Capacity for Judgement and Decision Making

The ability to judge, decide and convey that decision succinctly and persuasively depends on high levels of thoughtfulness and intellect, and on the ability to decide and to act fast. Timely decisions are vital in all contexts, but never more so than when a situation is uncertain or changing rapidly, so both clarity and speed are key elements in a rounded capacity for making and conveying decisions. Planning effectively, assessing risks and then making judgements in a timely manner – the speed must match the context – is a combination of professional knowledge, confidence and clear thinking. Cheerfulness

No one follows a pessimist and a sense of humour is part of Royal Navy ethos. Particularly in circumstances that are adverse, uncertain or frustrating, both general cheerfulness and specific humour can be of immense benefit to morale. A gloomy or a cheerful view of a situation is a conscious choice, even if the circumstances lie beyond the control of individuals: in extreme weather, difficult operational conditions or during periods of uncertainty in programmes, cheerfulness is a vital asset.

Clarity and Vision

The key aim of any leader is clarity of intent so that people know where they stand and ‘what the boss wants and means’. For this, the leader must be clear about his or her vision of how things will be. The leader must then give clear and unambiguous guidance on areas that are theirs to decide and sort out any logjams of confusion. The technique needs to be tailored to the circumstances; what may be appropriate for the commander of a maritime group where there is daily separation from subordinate commanders may not work in an MOD job. In essence, this principle can be summed up as ‘know your people’ in order to make yourself clear to them.

Communications skills

Great leaders communicate in all ways: by the way they stand, speak, write and work. However, great leaders are also great listeners and observers; these two skills are vital in communications. To be able to see and hear clearly what is going on – practically and emotionally – and to distil and convey that understanding to others is a rare skill. Good communications skills combine practical and emotional intelligence.


Confidence in others and in oneself is a key element of leadership. Confidence in others derives from trust built up through personal knowledge, professional competence and good working relationships. The Royal Navy has a well-developed system of delegation and training to foster confidence and trust up and down the command chain. In addition to the confidence that men and women in the Royal Navy have between each other, confidence in one’s own abilities is essential for good leadership.

Humanity and Humility

The other leadership qualities cannot display themselves without this quality. Another term for this is ‘emotional intelligence’ or the ability to gauge the effect of one’s own personality – and those of others – on any situation. It encompasses understanding, good manners and respect for others; also tolerance of difference in manner and opinion. At close quarters, a clear understanding of why one person is bold while another may be hesitant is of great value in leadership.


Being innovative, creative, resourceful, agile and sometimes lateral rather than direct are qualities that are of vital importance in all three management areas: daily operations, tactical execution and strategic planning. All conflict is by definition uncertain and fast-paced; people who can embrace rapidly changing environments, rules of engagement and different forms of threat and new forms of warfare will be at a premium. Innovation here is vital, as a truly creative leader can manage change, bring fresh insights, take risks and encourage others to do likewise.


Integrity and trustworthiness are important moral standards. They are conveyed and tested with every decision and every action; there is always a choice to do the right thing or not. Of course, in a complex and difficult situation there may be a range of options where the ‘least worst’ is the right course of action. Integrity exudes from character in all dealings with others and with other organisations. It is indicated by qualities such as dependability, punctuality, truthfulness and openness. It is not only essential for the leader of a group to have high integrity; it is vital for the group itself to value and reinforce integrity in individuals and, more widely, in the group and organisation.

Moral and Physical Courage

Moral courage is a rare quality, and essential for leadership. Moral courage is the ability to speak clearly and truthfully, sometimes counter to prevailing wisdom or against the momentum of a decision or plan. Moral courage tends to become stronger with use, as people become more confident about themselves and about the real benefits of doing the right thing. Royal Navy ethos here is of great significance, as moral courage tends to be candid and plain in expression: so trust and respect for others are paramount. Many branches foster moral courage by having a ‘no fault’ or ‘no blame’ culture, or by cultivating an ethos in which no question is too small or too stupid. Physical courage can be developed in any individual, learned and copied from others; it is based on trust in others, a professional assessment of risk, and the commitment to get things done.

Professional Knowledge

All other leadership qualities depend on this foundation. In any situation at sea, in the air, on land, whether executing, planning or persuading, almost everything depends on the quality and credibility of an individual’s professional knowledge. Intelligence here is vital. It may well be that he or she does not have an intimate knowledge of the situation, but there will be nonetheless a professional judgement that comes from knowing exactly what is being asked of the team, and what will be the effect on the team of the command decision. Professional knowledge of course encompasses knowledge of people, politics, tactics and strategy as well as a narrower technical knowledge.

High professional standards are essential for present efficiency and future success. The Royal Navy trains, coaches and mentors individuals to high levels of professional excellence throughout their careers; promotion and advancement in the Royal Navy depends on passing professional exams or courses and by competitive selection. In those respects the Royal Navy is a professional meritocracy. High levels of delegation and trust encourage individuals to learn, to assume responsibility and to instruct others both formally and informally. Professional standards are therefore central to how the Royal Navy operates.


Most great leaders have stamina, both physical and moral, which makes them highly resilient as individuals. They tend not to give up, they tend not to worry about minor setbacks, and they tend not to be intimidated by uncertain or fast-moving situations. There is no doubt that physical stamina is highly important in all branches of the Royal Navy; it enables individuals to remain physically and intellectually alert for long periods, to recover quickly from tough operations, and to sustain demanding schedules over long periods. Leaders may be ‘first up’ and ‘last down’, particularly when conditions require them to find space for thinking and planning, but in a more protracted operation the good leader will pace himself or herself to retain the necessary reserves.


The ability to trust and be trusted as an individual, a team or a unit, is fundamental to good leadership and to good comradeship. Trust works at many levels: up and down the chain of command, and between peers. High levels of trust are required in dangerous operational environments or in difficult training programmes. Trust can take many forms: emotional, moral, intellectual, professional and practical. The desired aim is to be able to trust someone 100% for 100% of the time.


The traits approach gives rise to questions: whether leaders are born or made; and whether leadership is an art or science. Since the beginning of the 20th century, people have been interested in the research of leadership. ’Leadership is widely regarded as a central determinant of organizational performance’ Fulop & Linstead (1999). The trait approach is ‘the most basic approach to understanding leadership focused on the notion of trait, that is, the assumption that good leadership resides in the innate abilities of certain individuals who are considered to be born leaders usually ‘great men of history such as Churchill, Gandhi, etc’ Fulop & Linstead (1999). The negative side of trait theories is that it also involves the assumption that it is not possible to develop leaders through training (Fulop & Linstead, 1999) In the RN, ethos and leadership together provide a number of principles for action. Leadership can be taught, learned and improved through practice by anyone prepared to make the effort. In that regard, it is no different from any other professional skill required in the RN.

It is beyond doubt a skill – or more properly, a set of skills – learned more easily than taught. Leadership encompasses the cognitive skills, the personal and moral qualities, and the behaviour and military ethos required by commanders to inspire the commitment of others. Leadership is fundamental among the core maritime skills and is developed throughout a career in the RN. Leadership exists at all levels, from simple managerial tasks to complex strategic and political planning: the qualities are the same but expressed differently according to the context. Leaders are both born and made: that is, leadership is a combination of inclination and experience, and the product of teaching and learning. Leadership is not a dark art; it can be learned through personal experience and the experience of others, from thinking about the principles involved, and from asking questions and listening to others.

Even if there are certain inborn qualities that make one a good leader, these natural talents need encouragement and development. A person is not born with self-confidence. Self-confidence is developed, honesty and integrity are a matter of personal choice, motivation to lead comes from within the individual, and the professional knowledge can be acquired. While cognitive ability has its origin partly in genes, it still needs to be developed. None of these ingredients are acquired overnight. The Navy needs good leadership to be successful, as the objectives can only be achieved when they get the best from their teams. This requires the ability to motivate yourself, inspire others and make tough decisions efficiently (Second Sea Lord, 2012).


Adair, J. (2007) Develop Your Leadership Skills Kogan Page

Burns, J. M. (1978) Leadership Harper and Row

Fulop, L, Linstead, S. (1999) Management – A Critical Text. Macmillan Press

Inkson, K, Kolb, D. (2002) Management Perspectives for New Zealand (3rd Edition). Prentice-Hall

Jago, A.G. (1982) Leadership: Perspectives in Theory and Research. Management Science, 28 (3)

Northouse, P.G. (2012) Leadership: Theory and Practise (6th Edition). Sage Publications. Inc

St George, A. Way of leadership Preface

Second Sea Lord. (2012) Royal Navy Publication. Fleet Reprographics

Second Sea Lord. (2012) BR 3 – Naval Personnel Management (Oct 2012 Edition) Fleet Reprographics

Sporleder, J. (2009) Leadership in the Workplace (online). Available from: http://blogs.payscale.com/compensation/2009/05/leadership-in-the-workplace.html (Accessed 3rd December 2012)

Yuki, G. (2006) Leadership in Organisations (6th Edition). Prentice-Hall

Zaccaro, S. J., Kemp, C., & Bader, P. (2004). Leader traits and attributes. The nature of leadership. Sage Publications, Inc.

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