What I Learned From 1944

Like many I have been consumed by articles attempting to predict how 2017 will turn out.


have to admit that I’ve not normally been so slavish to these articles but with Brexit and the election of Trump it has seemed more pressing. 

In January 2016 I accepted a full-time role with Highlands as Managing Director for Europe and Senior Vice President of Marketing for the group. This has resulted in quite a few trans-Atlantic trips.   

My beautiful daughter (26 years old and a Senior Account Manager at J. Walter Thompson in London) dreamt up a Christmas present for me. She created “Flight Kits,” each containing a book, a puzzle, some sweets (candy) and a gin and tonic additive. 

The first Flight Kit contained The Royal Navy Officers’ Pocket-Book, first published in 1944 to help train new officers. Given the timing I presume there was a definite need to provide quick and accessible guidance to young men being thrust into challenging and unforgiving environments. 

I wasn’t sure what I would get out of the book at first but thought it would be quite fun to have a read. As I worked through the pages my interest levels grew. 

Many businesspeople are obsessed with learning and adopting new leadership and management techniques form the latest business guru that will transform their careers and the fortunes of their companies. 

Well this book from 1944, which contained learnings from hundreds of years of what was the most powerful navy of its time was truly insightful. Here are some of the quotes that really struck a chord with me. 

  • Never forget that the Ratings have few rights but they have the right to a good Officer. 
  • Do not despise advice tendered to you by your subordinates. 
  • Never be afraid to ask questions. Bluff is a trait of the bad Officer. 
  • Do not harshly deal with a man solely for the sake of making an example of him. 
  • Loyalty can start only from the top and grow downwards. 
  • Do not risk giving…a hint of criticism of higher authority. 
  • How well you did things in your last ship is of no consequence. 
  • Should a man come to you for advice do not let the matter drop or be forgotten. 
  • There is a quality called tact, a very misused word in many ways, without which no Officer can succeed. 
  • Look ahead; do not wait until something goes wrong. 
  • …it is not possible to write a handbook on how to be an Officer and a leader. We have each to find out for ourselves the best use we can make of those particular qualities possessed by each of us in varying degrees. 

35,000 feet over the Atlantic, gin and tonic at the ready and I was enthralled by this book. OK the language is a bit outdated, and women didn’t seem to exist however I was intrigued by the relevance in today’s world. 

So, I will keep an eye on those predictions for 2017 but equally I take on the learnings from this handbook from 1944 and try and become a better and more effective leader; for me, for the people I work with and the clients I serve. 



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