August 2013 Archives

Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command by Adm. James Stavridis, USN. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. 2008. ISBN: 978-1-59114-849-4.

You should never judge a book by its cover...or its title. Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command by Admiral James Stavridis is a relatively quick, easy read about the lessons he learned while in command of the USS Barry when he was a Commander. Although the Barry was a destroyer, the book is about leadership and very little, if any, is specific to those leading a destroyer. Admiral Stavridis details the joys, problems, pains, rewards, and challenges of being a commanding officer at sea in the US Navy.

Command in the Navy is a wonderful thing. Whether it is of a ship, a squadron, a unit, or even a reserve command, provides tremendous rewards but also entails risks. Admiral Stavridis discusses both of these facets of command. He expresses his concerns when some inspections and exercises do not seem to be going well only to then detail the out brief in which his ship broke records for excellence. He brings home the point that his success as a commanding officer, as a leader, was truly in the hands of his subordinates. He could not personally ensure his ship pass every inspection or perform well during each exercise--he had to rely on his crew, their training, and their motivation.

One of the most interesting leadership characteristics I found on the book was the humility and humanity exhibited by then Commander Stavridis. He was faced with some difficult decisions and he could have strictly followed the book in meting out punishment but he didn't. He gave each case the attention it deserved, took into account all of the circumstances, was ready to give second chances, exhibited sympathy, took into account the good of the Navy, and yet still maintained standards.

There are lessons for all leaders in this book and his methods obviously work. Then Commander Stavridis recently retired as a three star Admiral and is now Dean at the Fletcher School. My only regret is that I did not read this book earlier.

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