Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > every man in the fleet knows what to do except the commanding admiral

every man in the fleet knows what to do except the commanding admiral

These words were written by Ian Fleming for his creation M to utter in conversation with 007 and they convey an important leadership principle.

On first reading it may seem wrong that the leader doesn’t know what they are doing, but the phrase is probably rooted in Fleming’s military background. He was briefly at Sandhurst in the mid twenties and then joined the Naval Reserve where he served through World War Two in military intelligence from where he drew much inspiration for the James Bond stories.

We tend to look to the leader for direction; they have the vision and point the way. People follow the leader so surely the leader has to know what to do, don’t they? Well yes, but there is a subtle point to the words that Fleming gave M to speak and whilst it is based on military theory from many years ago it encapsulates the essence of leadership as it should be applied in any organisation.

Try it from this angle. The leader has prepared all of his team through training, briefing and equipping them so that they can do their job. They are well set to be able to handle everything in their area of responsibility’ thus: “Every man in the fleet knows what to do.” That does not imply a rigidity, far from it, for the training and briefing allow for flexibility and permit each individual to react to circumstances; the know what to do regardless of what they encounter.

The leader on the other hand is free to steer and direct their team as needs dictate. They have time to plan, to observe, to lead, to adjust. To say that they are the only one that doesn’t know what to do doesn’t question their competence or ability, it is about them being free to lead.

Perhaps the most significant aspect is about delegation. The leader has delegated responsibility and made sure that their people understand what is expected of them, and that delegation allows the leader space and time to use effectively rather than being bogged down in the minutia of management.

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