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Nimitz by E.B. Potter

Chester Nimitz

The basic characteristics of good managers and good management techniques do not change whether inside or outside of the military. I acknowledge disagreement with my belief that  business leaders and military leader share common characteristics. Nimitz’s Strategic Leadership During World War II by Com. David Jerabek

Admiral Chester Nimitz was an exemplary leader in the US Navy during World War II. I’ve found no book focusing on the character of Nimitz, and he left no memoirs, believing he said that writing history was the task of the historian. I prefer to think Nimitz left no memoirs because he wanted no record of his negative thoughts about his subordinates and superiors. Being loyal to his team was one of the core principles of his management style that he lived rather than taught. The authoritative biography of Nimitz is by E. B. Potter, titled simply Nimitz. Potter’s work is thick with details about the wartime campaigns and other people’s thoughts and thin on character analysis of his subject. Nimitz was not a person to tell stories easily transcribed into a biography.

Potter’s sketch of Nimitz’s journey to his ultimate goal of Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) reveals four principles of a management style that Nimitz put into practice.

Chester Nimitz’s Management Principles

Have an ultimate goal in mind, and be flexible on how you arrive at it.

Nimitz told his son Chet before World War II that he wanted to become the Chief of Naval Operations. He could have accelerated his progress to that goal by accepting the position of Commander-in-chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, offered to him by President Roosevelt. He declined the offer for reasons of empathy and tactics. Nimitz told his son Chet that accepting would garner too much ill-will from officers with higher rank than his and when the Pacific war began the officer in charge would be blamed regardless of the merits. Roosevelt named Nimitz the Commander-in-chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet ten days after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He replaced Admiral Kimmel who had accepted the post that Nimitz had declined.

Elect to manage people over managing technology.

Nimitz’s mind easily grasped technology and its impacts on war. He understood that proven technologies can decide a war and should find easy access into an organization. He introduced the diesel engine to the US Navy that made Fleet Submarine operations possible during World War II. He expected every Naval commander and sailor to be competent with the technology at hand and to exercise common sense when using it. Nimitz’s Pacific Typhoon 18 December 1944 Letter However, when given a choice in postings, he rejected the Bureau of Ordnance and chose the Bureau of Navigation (today the Bureau of Naval Personnel) that manages training and naval personnel issues.

Know everyone in your industry without prejudice and scheme.

Leaders such as Gen. Douglas McArthur made a practice of appearing so important that people expected to come to him. Nimitz made a practice of going to or at least getting to know as many Naval personnel as he could. With the approach of World War II, Roosevelt and Admiral King depended on Nimitz’s knowledge of naval personnel to fill the growing ranks of officers and specialists required for the war effort. Roosevelt and King used Nimitz’s unbiased and detailed knowledge to find the right person for the right job.

Never ridicule or undermine a subordinate and be a buffer between them and your superiors.

Admiral Nimitz fought World War II directing the talents of great warriors with bad reputations such a “Bull” Halsey, “Terrible” Turner, and “Howling Mad” Smith. His boss, Admiral King was a very difficult person to work with. Nevertheless, Nimitz could conduct civil meetings even with Gen. Douglas McArthur, who got President Truman’s goat. After Admiral Halsey committed an egregious blunder by leaving the Leyte Gulf landing forces exposed to Japanese battleships, Nimitz refrained from public criticism of his subordinate, while Chief of Naval Operations Admiral King did not spare his criticism of Halsey in public and print. Nimitz never published his memoirs, leaving me to conclude that he carried his opinions about his team into death.

In summary these are Chester Nimitz’s core principles of management that he practiced in life:

  • Have a long-term goal but be flexible on how you arrive at it;
  • Manage people, not things to rise to the top;
  • Recognize people as resources, not competitors; and
  • Be loyal to your team, always.

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