Any leader who was brought in to turn around a failing organization remembers the looks on the faces of his/her new team members that first day on the job. Scared of the prospect of layoffs, some poorly concealed their fear; others had thinly veiled anger. A sense of nervous exhaustion permeated the air. For turnaround leaders, those initial team meetings have no margin for error – setting the right tone is critical.
On December 7, 1941, the United States awoke to the news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. In a matter of minutes, the ships anchored along Battleship Row were smashed and burning; three lay on the harbor floor. Most of the Navy and Army Air Force’s planes were destroyed. Additionally, 2,403 servicemen and civilians were killed, and 1,178 were wounded. The Commander-in-Chief, US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Husband Kimmel, was stunned as he watched the attack unfold from his lawn.
Ten days later, President Franklin Roosevelt selected Rear Admiral Chester Nimitz to replace Kimmel. Nimitz departed for Pearl Harbor immediately. After taking command, his first order of business was summoning his senior staff officers. The men in the conference room were riddled with guilt. Nimitz understood, later remarking, “These were all fine men, but they had just undergone a terrible shock, and it was my first duty to restore morale and salvage these fine officers for future use, and this I proceeded to do.” To them he said, “We’ve taken a whale of a wallop, but I have no doubt of the ultimate outcome.” One of the officers in the meeting later remembered, “In a very few minutes speaking softly, Admiral Nimitz convinced all hands of his ability to lead us out of this.”
Over time, Nimitz built relationships with his senior leaders. He toured the facilities at Pearl Harbor and spoke with the construction workers laboring feverishly to repair extensive damage from the attack. He personally inspected the Yorktown, which had been mauled during the Battle of the Coral Sea and gave the engineers three days to make it seaworthy. Working around the clock, repair crews and logisticians got the critical work done in time for Yorktown to be available for the upcoming Battle of Midway.
As Nimitz worked to both rebuild and transform the Pacific Fleet, he also had to navigate complicated and thorny relationships with his superior, Admiral Ernest J. King, and his fellow theater commander, General Douglas MacArthur, along with a host of Allied leaders — all of whom had ideas about what the winning strategy looked like. His task was to forge horizontal and vertical alignment around his leader’s intent in a complex organization operating in a rapidly changing environment. His success is a testament to Nimitz’s character. His example is a masterclass in transformational leadership.
There is no better way gain inspiration from Nimitz’s leadership than to walk in his footsteps. At Battlefield Leadership’s Pacific War program, you will travel to Nimitz’s birthplace in Fredericksburg, Texas, to what was his grandfather’s hotel, now a part of the National Museum of the Pacific War. You will examine every aspect of his professional development that set the stage for his command of the Pacific Fleet — or you can journey to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to see the Arizona at rest and experience what Nimitz rebuilt in the harrowing days after the attack. Join us and be transformed.
We will see you on the battlefield.
Through our unique programs, leaders from Fortune 500 companies, government entities and higher education institutions learn how to overcome these challenges and transform their organizations, positioning them for future successes. Find out how Battlefield Leadership can help your team by emailing email@example.com or by calling 864.386.9637.