Historic Leadership Lessons

Seventy-five years ago this week, the United States Navy was engaged in heated battle with Japanese forces for control of the Pacific Ocean.  It is no exaggeration to suggest that the outcome of the World War II rested on this battle.  In the heat of the action was USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55), the lone battleship available for duty in the South Pacific.  During the action in the South Pacific NORTH CAROLINA, known as “The Showboat,” fought valiantly for months, expending ammunition in battle at the rate of 17 rounds per minute while surviving a torpedo strike that took five lives.  Her performance -- and that of her crew -- was a linchpin to ultimate victory in the Pacific Theater.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s.  My Naval Reserve unit is aboard the ship to perform an annual Navy-required inspection on the NORTH CAROLINA, long retired and now berthed  on the Cape Fear River as a museum ship in  beautiful Wilmington, NC.   As we make our way around the ship, our senses -- sight, sound, touch and smell -- are alive with the magnitude of what that ship and her crew accomplished.  

Here we see the location where damage control teams fought valiantly after a torpedo ripped a 32’ x 18’ hole at the waterline.  

There we see the Combat Information Center where Admiral Willis Lee exercised the leadership imperatives of Command, Control and Communication.

And now we step through a hatch to the Chiefs’ office, the heartbeat of the ship, where senior enlisted leaders handled the essential leadership tasks of coaching, motivating and managing the inevitable conflicts of hundreds of young sailors.

As we inspected engineering spaces still scented with fuel and cosmoline, we discussed and analyzed the challenges that the ship’s leaders faced.  How had they come together as a team?  What environment and culture did the leaders establish? How could we use the lessons from BB-55 in our roles as leaders in the 21st Century Navy?  It was a day filled with wonder, admiration... and with leadership lessons I will not forget.  

The U. S. military has used experiential “staff rides” like this one as a part of leadership development since the early 1900s.  At The Iron Project we realize that classroom learning has its place, but we are certain that hours of slideshows are not effective ways to study leadership.  We believe that lessons stick best when they are coupled with memorable and enjoyable experiences that excite all our senses and our desire to put lessons into action.  That’s when leadership becomes “ironclad”.  

Teams bond during our Ironclad Experiences as they explore and analyze historic leadership challenges while creating models and metaphors for their own challenges. The Iron Project's faculty help guide your team through the history of a site and connect the decisions made there to your primary training objective.

Contact The Iron Project when you’re ready to develop a memorable Ironclad Leadership Experience for your team.

“Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I will learn.” - Benjamin Franklin, 1750

Rob Cannon