Friday, April 13, 2007

Admiral Lord Nelson

April 13, 2007, Observation:

This week I just finished reading a most interesting book entitled, Nelson's Trafalgar, written by Roy Adkins.  Years ago Jo Anne and I were in London and visited Trafalgar Square. In Trafalgar Square we saw the country's memorial to the most inspiring leader the British Navy ever had. Nelson's column, erected in 1840, stands 170ft high and is crowned with a statue of Nelson on the top. 

At the time of our visit to Trafalgar Square we knew nothing of Admiral Lord Nelson or the Battle of Trafalgar. Although my curiosity was piqued then regarding Lord Nelson, I did nothing about it until several weeks ago when Jo Anne and I were in Costco.  The minute we get into Costco I head for the tables that have the books on them, and lo and behold there was a paperback copy of Nelson's Trafalgar.  I convinced Jo Anne I needed it badly and she humored me by letting me buy it.

Reading this book has been a sobering, but at the same time, an inspiring experience.  The author has quoted extensively from the journals of the captains and seamen; there were 17,000 British sailors who fought in this bloody and horrific sea battle -- the last major sea battle fought by wooden ships with sails.  The blood and carnage is a bit difficult to read about, but at the same time it heightens one's appreciation of sea life and war in the early 1800s and the courage of those involved.  I will share with you two significant things I have learned from Admiral Lord Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar that have impressed themselves upon my mind and heart.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on October 21, 1805, off the coast of Spain near the large Spanish city of Cadiz, and at a point near the coast called Trafalgar.  Napoleon had his French army poised on the coast of France ready to cross the English Channel and invade England.  He couldn't do this however, unless he knew that he had destroyed the British Navy and could cross the Channel unmolested.  The French and Spanish were allies and had a vast combined fleet of French and Spanish warships that was much larger than anything that Great Britain could put together at the time.  France and Spain had the ships and the manpower but they didn't have Admiral Lord Nelson. 

The British Navy had been blockading the harbor at Cadiz for months, but finally the combined French and Spanish fleet was able to escape which led to the showdown at Trafalgar.  The leaders of the British Empire knew that if the British fleet was defeated by the French and Spanish that a French invasion would be inevitable. Admiral Lord Nelson, the Admiral of the British fleet, was given the assignment by his government and King to destroy the French and Spanish Armada.  Nelson was a brilliant tactician and had gained vast knowledge of how to successfully conduct a sea battle between wooden ships with sails.  He had been wounded in a previous engagement, losing one of his arms and an eye, and never again experienced robust health.  Much of his life was spent at sea where he had also suffered from scurvy and other diseases incident to sea life in those days. He was only 5'4" tall but seemed so much bigger in the eyes of those he led.

The first thing that has impressed me about Admiral Lord Nelson was his style of leadership.  After the British fleet had defeated and destroyed most of the combined French and Spanish fleet, the Admiral of the combined fleet, a Frenchman, said that the British won the Battle of Trafalgar because the captain of every British ship was a Lord Nelson.  This was true!  Lord Nelson had trained his captains to be very independent and self sufficient.  As they went into the battle against the combined fleet his order was for his captains not to look to him or the flagship Victory to tell them what to do in the heat of battle.  They knew he had trained them how to fight the battle once it began, and they were to be creative and use common sense as the battle unfolded.  Thankfully for Great Britain this is what they did, because early on in the battle, Lord Nelson was mortally wounded and died.  Most of the captains did not know he had perished until the battle was over and the combined fleet was conquered.  On the other hand, the French and Spanish captains looked to their leader and flagship for direction as to what to do once the battle commenced.  There was so much confusion, noise, death and destruction once the battle began, it was impossible to communicate from ship to ship and the British captains gained control quickly. 

Never threatened by those about him, but wanting to create great leaders that could "win the battle" without him micromanaging them, Lord Nelson was a great and effective teacher and leader of men.  This seems to me to be such a significant principle of leadership. Moses tried to teach this principle to his successor, Joshua, when Joshua was but a young man. 
"And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him [Moses], and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp...and the spirit rested upon them... and they prophesied in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!"  [Numbers 11:25-29] [emphasis added] I believe any successful organization that endures the test of time must have this style of leadership -- the Church certainly does.  

As I have read this book I have also been impressed with the word and concept of "duty."  Just before the English engaged the combined fleet, Nelson signaled from the flagship Victory the one and only message his captains and seamen would receive from him before and during the battle -"England expects that every man will do his duty."  When this message was received it had an electrifying effect among the men on the ships.  Seemingly, the desire in the heart of most of the British sailors that day was to do his duty come what may.  Severely wounded men and officers remained at their posts doing their duty until victory had been gained and their beloved England saved. In fact, Nelson's final famous words (as related by Victory's Surgeon, William Beatty, who was with Nelson when he died) were "Thank God I have done my duty." According to Beatty, he repeated these words several times until he became unable to speak.  To do their "duty" seems to have been at the heart of all that was important to Admiral Lord Nelson and his men.  Doing their duty, they saved England from Napoleon's armies and ultimate domination of the Western world as we now know it by the Dictator-Emperor. Nelson's style of leadership and devotion to duty could be the foundation upon which any successful life or organization is built.


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