Have you ever wondered what kind of stories will live on about you long after you’re gone? It’s no wonder that the stories bound into volumes of textbooks, historical reports, and biographical sketches demonstrate the character of the person they are written about. This past weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of strolling around the quaint little town of Fredericksburg, Texas- the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. After spending four years traveling up and down Nimitz Highway while serving in Hawaii, it was a real treat to attend a fundraising banquet at the Nimitz Hotel which houses the Nimitz Museum and is collocated with the National Museum of the Pacific War- both of which detail Fleet Admiral Nimitz’s enormous contributions to the success of the U.S. military in World War II.
At his death, Nimitz was the last surviving Fleet Admiral in the United States Navy (a 5-Star Flag Officer), and he certainly had a stellar career and left an amazing legacy for Naval Officers to emulate. During the course of the evening, our guest speaker shared a story about Nimitz that I found particularly memorable.
While commanding a destroyer, Nimitz ordered that all officers were to train those that served below them because he expected junior officers to be able to serve in the next higher capacity at a moment’s notice. Therefore, instead of the senior officer being responsible for standing on the bridge of the ship and delivering orders, he made that the responsibility of the most junior ensign. One day, a young ensign was at the helm of Nimitz’s destroyer and was giving the orders to bring the ship into port. While maintaining a rate of speed that was far too fast, the young ensign dropped the anchor away- and it proceeded to drag the speeding ship about, tearing nearly 500 feet of anchor chain through the hull of the ship. During all of the chaos and panic, Nimitz never interjected. He watched quietly as the ensign gave order after shaky order to right the ship, and only once the ensign had accomplished that feat did Nimitz utter a word. The ensign, fully expecting the most painful experience of his short Naval career, righted himself to address the Admiral. Nimitz did not yell. He did not punish. He simply asked the ensign if he knew what he had done wrong. The young officer replied, “Yes Sir. I came in too fast”. Nimitz left it at that.
Monday Morning Perspective
“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”-Chinese Proverb
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” -William Arthur Ward
Nimitz was a great leader for many reasons, but the story above teaches us that leaders are required to achieve two outcomes when presented with a teaching opportunity. The first thing Nimitz knew is that experience is the best teacher. He allowed the ensign to fix his own mistake, knowing full well that he’d be unlikely to ever make that mistake again. Secondly, Nimitz knew that if he jumped down the young officer’s throat for his mistake, that he would have molded that ensign to be fearful of failure instead of confident in his abilities to take proactive measures.
We may not be commanding naval destroyers during a time of war, but great lessons in leadership transcend the environment in which they are created. Before you attempt to correct the mistake of another individual- your subordinate, your peer, your spouse, or your child- think back to the ensign. Be careful to ensure that the message you are delivering actually results in the growth you want to see. If it won’t, take a note from the life of Admiral Nimitz. His legacy is certainly one we can all learn from.
Have a wonderful week!
© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.