The Old Navy Way

Life lessons from the book of naval leadership.

Growing up in our Navy family, we learned from our father (Frank B. Herold, Naval Academy Class of 1935) that there were three ways of doing anything: the right way, the wrong way and “the Navy way.” More precisely, he could have said “the old Navy way.”

Honor, integrity, reputation, chivalry and acceptance of responsibility that calls for leadership — this was the old Navy way in our household.

The other day a little bit of the old Navy way arrived in a package containing a small blue book that Dad had acquired during the late 1930s while serving on the U.S.S. Crowninshield. Sent by my brother, who found it while rummaging through our late father’s many boxes of stuff, the book, published in 1924 by the Naval Institute at Annapolis, is titled Naval Leadership (With Some Hints to Junior Officers and Others).

Leadership and management: Today these subjects support several industries, the entire Harvard Business School and are hashed over every year in thousands of workshops.

Complicated theories on leadership and management abound: Lewin’s leadership style; Vroom and Yetton’s Normative Model; House’s Path-Goal Theory of Leadership; Fiedler’s Least Preferred Co-worker (LPC) Theory; Cognitive Resource Theory; Strategic Contingencies Theory; Transactional Leadership; Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory; Transformational Leadership; Bass’ Transformational Leadership Theory; Burns’ Transformational Leadership Theory; Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Participation Inventory; Servant Leadership Theory; Management Theory X and Theory Y; Autocratic Management; Conflict Management Style; Democratic Management Style; and let’s not leave out the ever-popular Participative Management Style.

Theories galore — ever so arcane, ever so esoteric. Reading this book, I’m inclined to think that modern life sometimes confuses complexity for wisdom. Judge for yourself: Here, from Naval Leadership, I offer a few gems from a time when life was far simpler.

• “…basically men have not changed, nor has the art of handling and making men changed. The principles applied in the leadership of a Paul Jones or a Perry are at your feet ready to be picked up.”

• “It is up to you and me and the rest of us so to handle the average American boy who enlists in the Navy that he will respect us, admire and like us, and compliment us most by wishing to imitate us. We can do this by leadership.”

• “In the last analysis leadership is merely the practical application of psychology.”

• “Sympathy, mutual understanding, friendliness, the quality of what is commonly called being ‘human’ of a ‘regular fellow’ — call it what you will — is a very necessary attribute to the naval officer. … An officer who lacks the common trait of human sympathy and fails to respond to the feelings of his men; their likes, dislikes, pleasures, hopes and disappointments, will never succeed in drawing his men to him.”

• “The comic instinct is one peculiar to mankind. It is a powerful instinct, closely akin to humor, and when accompanied by hearty laughter, it may dominate all other instincts. It varies greatly among races and nationalities. It is very strongly developed in the American and British; very slightly developed and rarely expressed in the German.”

• “It seems a pity that whistling is not permitted aboard ship because of the possibility that its being mistaken for the Boatswain’s pipe, which is not always so indicative of good cheer as the spontaneous whistle of the happy, carefree individual. There is no sweeter music to a captain than the cheerful whistling of his crew. It carries the ‘psychological’ message to him that all is well with his men.”

• “…a snob is not a gentleman.”

• “Loyalty down begets loyalty up.”

• “Practice simplicity. Be human. The officer who affects a holier-than-thou expression, and who assumes an attitude of austerity and aloofness that… few can penetrate, will never get spontaneous cooperation and enthusiasm from enlisted men.”

• “Strength of character consists of two things, power of will and power of self restraint. Measure a man by the strength of the feeling he subdues, not by the power of those which subdue him.”

• “Tact is the lubricating oil of human relationships. The tactful man knows how to deal with his fellowmen. In our service today there is many an officer of experience and ability whose military usefulness is seriously marred because of this lack of tact.”

• “And last, but by no means the least in importance of the many sided characteristics that an officer should embody, he must have that all saving sense of humor and sense of proportion. We all avoid the killjoy, the pessimist … the man who can neither see nor take a joke, the man who seems to smile as unwillingly as most cry. A naval officer, more than men in any other profession, must be able to see and laugh at the humor, the comic, and the absurdities that fate in general and Navy life in particular are so filled with.”

As perhaps America’s most tradition-bound institution, the new Navy, like the old Navy, is culturally wired with the suspicion that the esoteric and arcane don’t necessarily add up to wisdom.

After every Navy football game, the Brigade of Midshipman sing “Navy Blue and Gold” then shout out “BEAT ARMY!” To make this point about wisdom, they might consider following up by waving a copy of this precious little blue book while shouting out “AND BEAT HARVARD, TOO!”

In conjunction with the Lilac Festival, May 10-16 is Navy Week in Spokane. Watch sailors from the U.S.S. Constitution marching in the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade on May 15 in their circa 1813 uniforms. Earlier in the day, at noon in Riverfront Park, the rock band Passage — made up of Navy Region Northwest sailors — will perform. Check out for details.

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

Through June 20
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About The Author

Robert Herold

Robert Herold is a retired professor of public administration and political science at both Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University. Robert Herold's collection of Inlander columns dating back to 1995, Robert's Rules, is available at Auntie's.