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Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.

Vol. 10, No. 7
www.stuffofheroes.com
(626) 350-1500 ext 102

©1998, 2014 William A. Cohen, PhD 

Focus on the Mission

Recently I watched a re-run of the second of Herman Wouk’s epic novels, War and Remembrance, on television. I had both read the book and seen the series on television many years ago. It is a tale worth re-reading or re-viewing and has some major lessons regarding duty before self.

Wouk’s story was that of a navy family during World War II. A prior book, Winds of War chronicled their experiences just prior to the war. Robert Mitchum played the lead as Victor “Pug” Henry, a career naval officer in the mini-series of both books. Prior to the war Henry was a naval attaché in Berlin. Because of his unique skill in judgment and an ability to deal with others, he performed top level confidential services for President Roosevelt all over Europe. In doing so, he deferred his own personal ambitions to attain command of a battleship. Not only was command of such a ship the sinecure of a successful navy career, but a requirement for further promotion in the Navy. However, in performing these diplomatic duties, he concentrated on the mission he was given and put duty before self. In late 1941, he was finally released from these non-seagoing obligations. They gave Henry command of the battleship Virginia, which was assigned to the Pacific fleet.

Pug Henry arrived in Hawaii to take command only hours after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. His battleship, the U.S.S. Virginia, had been sunk. Now, Henry was to be assigned as chief of staff to the commanding admiral in the Pacific. It is a sure route to quick promotion to admiral. However, Henry has two sons. One is a naval aviator, the other an officer on a submarine. After Pearl Harbor, the one son’s submarine is missing, and is presumed lost. Henry asks the chief of personnel for the Pacific fleet, an Annapolis classmate, to change his orders so that he be given command of any fighting ship. Henry’s grief over the apparent loss of his son and his request for a change of assignment is Henry’s only lapse of duty in Wouk’s story. Henry is given command of a cruiser, which is still a major ship, but smaller than a battleship. In battle, Henry fights well. However, his ship is sunk despite his skillful handling.

Now Henry’s abilities as a naval commander are as sought after as his diplomatic talents. Admiral Nimitz requests Henry for a major naval command. It means promotion to admiral. However, before the assignment can be made, he is called to see the President. President Roosevelt explains that there is much concern that Stalin will make a separate peace with Hitler. Roosevelt’s senior military representative in Moscow feels that Henry can make a difference because of the previous contacts he established in the Soviet Union. Henry instantly agrees to request new orders and go to Moscow, although it means deferring his opportunity for promotion to admiral.

After successfully completing this assignment, the President again needs Henry for a stateside job having to do with the war effort. He knows that accepting this assignment will once again have a negative impact on his career. Although disappointed, again Henry concentrates on the overall mission. He volunteers for what the President wants him to do immediately. Eventually, Henry gets a major combat command. At the end of the book, he not only is an admiral, but wears the three stars of a vice admiral.

Now Henry’s abilities as a naval commander are as sought after as his diplomatic talents. Admiral Nimitz requests Henry for a major naval command. It means promotion to admiral. However, before the assignment can be made, he is called to see the President. President Roosevelt explains that there is much concern that Stalin will make a separate peace with Hitler. Roosevelt’s senior military representative in Moscow feels that Henry can make a difference because of the previous contacts he established in the Soviet Union. Henry instantly agrees to request new orders and go to Moscow, although it means deferring his opportunity for promotion to admiral.

After successfully completing this assignment, the President again needs Henry for a stateside job having to do with the war effort. He knows that accepting this assignment will once again have a negative impact on his career. Although disappointed, again Henry concentrates on the overall mission. He volunteers for what the President wants him to do immediately. Eventually, Henry gets a major combat command. At the end of the book, he not only is an admiral, but wears the three stars of a vice admiral.

What is so important about this account of a fictional naval officer? The importance is that except for the single incident where Henry is overcome by emotion at the apparent death of his son, Henry is 100% focused on the overall mission to win the war above any personal advantages to himself.

In this fictional story, Henry eventually becomes an admiral. In real life, I have known many like Henry who gave up numerous opportunities for advancement for the good of the mission. Some were eventually promoted to the top ranks in their profession. Of course, not all leaders who focus on mission reach the top. However, when leaders didn’t go as far as they might have in their careers, it was usually not because they focused on the mission and put duty before self, but for some other reason, either personal or situational. In all cases, those that focused on the mission . . . that put duty before self . . . had the total respect of those they led, and were far better leaders because of their choice.

THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS:
Whatever luck I had, I made. I was never a natural athlete, but I paid my dues in sweat and concentration and took the time necessary to learn karate and become world champion.” 
– Chuck Norris

 

Recent Linked Articles by Dr. Cohen not Published in the Journal of Leadership Applications:

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