One of the aspects that is most appealing about our beloved series is the way it makes the personalities of a past era accessible and real. The character of Jack Aubrey is complex and flawed, but at the end of the day he represents a type of man that is hard to find in the modern world: driven by honor, duty and responsibility, willing to do what must be done in service to his country. It’s not that the ideals of honor, duty and responsibility are outdated; rather, they’ve changed, and Jack Aubrey’s interpretation of them likely has little place in this time. Still, his utter conviction and dedication is inspiring and somehow comforting, even through the pages of the novels he inhabits.
More than anything, Jack is a great leader, and leadership at least can be adapted to any era. The following article examines Jack’s actions in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World from the perspective of leadership, explaining how the tactics that made him inspiring in the past can still be inspiring today. Personally, I think all the comments apply doubly to Jack as he’s written in the series, especially because we have much more time to observe his style and watch him learn from his mistakes.
Clarity of purpose
Jack has a single-minded focus on his purpose. All of his decisions are held up against the goal of his enterprise and his plans are developed with the goal in mind. This is an essential leadership characteristic. Jack adapts his plans to achieve his goal, and adopts new and innovative approaches in its pursuit.
Jack gives less experienced officers the chance to lead tasks, sections and areas. On occasions these tasks are at a level above that which would normally be expected of the officer’s rank.
Keeps an overview
While he is quite at home in the detail of any task, and is an expert in seamanship, gunnery, etc, Jack Aubrey keeps himself in a position where he can retain the overview. He makes sure that those with any specific responsibility keep him informed.
Regularly circulating around all areas under his control, Jack keeps himself well informed and uses his time in each area to praise and encourage his crew.
Builds team spirit
Jack brings his officers together on formal and social occasions. He shares his goals with them, explains his thinking & decisions and wins their support. And he has fun without going so far as to lose control or respect.
Jack questions others to get the information he needs, and to understand their thinking. When he has weighed up the options and their consequences he selects the course of action that is most in keeping with his goal. He is willing to take very tough decisions if they serve the goals or the greater good; even to lose individual crew members in the process.
Jack sets standards, reinforces them and then raises them. He expects everybody to work to the standards laid down. He praises and recognises those who achieve this, and rewards those who go beyond the minimum standard expected. He also disciplines those who fall below the standard.
Trains & coaches others
Jack ensures that there is an ongoing training programme for officers and crew. He himself coaches and encourages individuals, even when they are some ranks lower than him.
When others are indecisive, Jack takes control of situations and gives clear direction. Again, his decisions are based on his higher-level goals. He then coaches the indecisive officers themselves, to develop their capability and judgement.
Jack shows, and engenders, pride in his crew and in his command.
Shares his thinking
The ship’s surgeon is a friend of Jack’s and is not a serving officer. Jack shares his anxieties with him, rather than with those he is responsible for leading. In front of officers and crew he shows strength of character, albeit with sensitivity.
When small achievements are made along the way, Jack creates and encourages celebrations for officers and crew.
Jack addresses his officers and crew to explain the purpose of their enterprise, especially before battle. His speeches create belief and commitment, and something worthwhile to aspire towards.
Courtesy of Learn To Be A Leader.
Image: The Cutting-Out of the French Corvette La Chevrette 21st July 1801 by Philip James de Loutherbourg. Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons. Used because the main officer looks mighty leader-y.
Incidentally, do you agree with me that Jack is more a man of the past than a man of the present? I just can’t picture someone like Jack existing in the modern era. I’ve always seen Jack as the past and Stephen as the future, for some reason…