With just about the lowest amount of fanfare possible, my new book Leadership Lessons from the Age of Fighting Sail was released this month. I have been so busy with my duties at Life Leadership that I was able to give exactly zero thought to the launch and promotion of this book. My efforts in that direction will probably involve nothing more than this blog post.
Therefore, since this is the only crack I'm taking at shamelessly promoting my own work, I thought it might be appropriate to give just a little background into how the book came into existence.
Over ten years ago I received a piece of junk mail that actually caught my eye. I have no idea why it came to me, or why it grabbed my attention, but there I stood in my kitchen amid the normal frenzied paper-pitching that takes place when sorting the mail into piles of bills, more bills, junk, and more junk. It was a mass market catalogue of various books for sale. Toward the center was a section featuring the novels of Patrick O'Brian, the English novelist who by that time had received worldwide acclaim for his "Aubrey-Maturin" series of historical fictions. His popularity, however, had not until that point reached me. I had never even heard of him. But the descriptions of the books, the many testimonials by avid readers, and the wonderful paintings of ships at sea and in pitched battles among tumultuous waves (painted, I later learned, by Geoff Hunt), made me decide to order the first book in the series and give it a read.
I was blown away (sorry, my love for puns is well known to all three of my fans).
Master and Commander, the first book in a series of twenty, was singularly excellent. Geographically precise, historically accurate, botanically and medically expert, and nautically steeped, the biggest draw was the depth and reality of the main characters. I quickly fell deep into the classic genre of the "buddy story." As I continued to read through the remaining twenty volumes over the next many years (intentionally going slowly to deepen the enjoyment), I would often find myself between books wondering what those characters were doing at the moment! They seemed so real as to be existing somewhere simultaneous to me.
And just like that my interest in a particular period of history (the span from the Spanish Armada in 1588 to roughly the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815) was born. As a result, I began reading extensively on the history of the period and the details of wooden, square-rigged sailing ships, and soon discovered that O'Brian was a master historian as well as a novelist. The settings, events, and environment captured in his novels were intimidatingly accurate. In my reading of the straight history books of the period, I was exposed to colorful real-life figures and immense examples of the leadership principles I teach every day in my work, applied against a most interesting backdrop. It wasn't long before I began highlighting these examples in a manuscript of my own.
I raced through the creation of nine or ten chapters during the course of about the first two years. But as it often does, life intervened with other responsibilities and distractions, and soon work on the project slowed first to a crawl, and then to a stop. The book was dead in a drawer (or, more accurately, a Word file).
From time to time I would dust it off (open the file on my laptop) and begin once again with the greatest of intentions to finish a work that had begun amidst fire and passion. But the embers wouldn't rekindle and eventually, I gave up. In my mind, as I wrote other books, started companies, and built businesses, my little pet project all but died stillborn.
Recently, however, I determined to resurrect it, quickly discovering that a work once laid aside is not the easiest thing to pick back up again. I wrestled and wrestled, stopped and wrote another book, and then made one final push to bring this one back to life. The difficulty stemmed from the massive amount of research required in order to write almost every sentence. I quickly gained respect for writers of history. And slowly but surely, my love of the subject matter refueled my determination to extract the image I'd always had of the finished product out of my head and affix it to the page. Chapters were rewritten, some were discarded, examples were rearranged, and by the end, I was becoming as proud of this work as any I'd done before. The characters had come back to life, the battles rang again in my ears, and the wind and waves spoke to me all over again.
It is my sincerest hope that they will do the same for the reader.
This book, tougher than all my others to create, is now out there for you to experience. May it bring you as much joy in the reading as it ultimately did me in the writing. I know, that in putting together these true illustrations of incredible leadership examples, that in the process I also became a better leader. I hope that you do, as well. (I have posted the Preface below)
You’re cold. The salty wind bites right through your thick wool coat, and even finds its way past your waist coat. You hold your hat firmly to your head and squint at the gray horizon, thinking that your eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. The deck pitches beneath you but you barely notice, and your ears picking up the sound of the wind in the rigging subconsciously tell you that everything is trimmed just as you like. The ship, the sails, the weapons below deck, the wind, the waves, navigation, stores, it’s all part of your natural environment, it’s all a matter of course for you. You manage them all with the cool proficiency that comes only with years of experience.
You know, however, that there is way more to victory than proficient management. You know this well. As you stare at the bodies swarming up the ratlines and around the myriad of obstacles on deck, you think of the crew. It’s the men, and the leadership they follow, that makes all the difference. As if on cue with your thoughts, one of them breaks the silence and stands at attention in front of you, rain dripping from his whiskers. “Orders, sir?”
You are in command. Your job is so challenging, so complex, so never-ending that most people could never come close to understanding the load you carry. You are thrust into impossible situations with little time and usually even less information upon which to make a decision. And you are entirely responsible for the outcomes, good or bad. You will be subject to critical analysis and scrutiny from people not engaged in the heat of the moment, not under the pressure of responsibility, and not in your boots. They will pick you apart and be quick to judge every little thing you do. But that’s leadership, you think. It’s what you love.
“Orders, sir?” the man repeats, and you detect a measure of impatience or panic in his voice. He needs your decision, and he needs it now. Everyone aboard is waiting for it, counting on it, depending on it to be right. And as always, there is no time to lose.
You make your choice, and pray that it’s right. Then you do all in your power to make it right, knowing that there is no turning back. In sum, you do what is expected of you; what you expect from yourself – you lead!