The Cruel Sea is the name of a fantastic Australian band headed up by Tex Perkins.
It’s also the name of a novel by Nicholas Monsarrat that was first published in 1951.
This cruel sea is the story of the Battle of the Atlantic, which was fought between Britain and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It tells of an ocean, two ships—HMS Compass Rose and HMS Saltash Castle—and a handful of men. The men are the heroes. The villains are the sea, the circumstances and the imperative to act with a cruel resolve in an effort to survive.
Most of us, and I include myself here, cannot imagine the hardship, the high stress and the constant strain.
The protagonist is Keith Lockhart, a relatively inexperienced officer who must learn to become expert in the most unforgiving of environments. His captain is George Ericson, who is charged with the responsibility of keeping convoys safe with a team of novices, amateur sailors and boys.
At first, Lockhart perceives Ericson to be shambling, absent and ineffectual. Too often, Lockhart tells himself, he as a junior officer is left alone to make executive decisions, unsupported, in an unfamiliar environment.
The penny drops for Lockhart, however, in the mid-Atlantic. When the real work begins of protecting merchant vessels from submarine attack, Ericson is present all the time.
When everything is at stake, Ericson becomes calmer, clearer, ever alert, in control.
In this he is assisted by Lockhart who learnt much about the work of leadership when nothing really was at stake. By managing alone Lockhart was practising to be a leader.
I remember reading this story as a boy and thinking about these men. I was hugely impressed with the need for leaders to become more compact, more focused and quieter when under pressure. As a model of leadership, it has stayed with me ever since.
But dynamic and troubling times do not just require a constant expert presence. So now I add to my list of what makes for a good leader.
Think of these ten points as a guide to leadership in the time of coronavirus:
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