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  • The Royal Navy, History and the Study of Leadership

    Richard Harding

    Chapter from the book: Guimerá A. & Harding R. 2017. Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World: The Age of Reform and Revolution, 1700–1850.


    This introductory chapter explores why leadership has not featured more as a central component in early British naval history beyond standard narrative and operational history. It explains how the new naval history of the second half of the twentieth century has striven to understand the complex systems for naval success and its relations to ever more powerful weaponry both of which have shaped leadership’s very parameters. As a historical phenomenon leadership looks set to command more attention. The late eighteenth century British command superiority most likely lies in reasons that may require more focus on leadership’s social function. Still many questions remain about the importance of operational experience and its impact on success or failure of diverse operations. All actors in any given scenario – on sea or land – need consideration as British society during the period covered in this book was so connected to leadership of the Navy. Assumptions about the innate leadership capability of individuals, of the significance of personal attributes are also shared by other navies (beyond Britain) as institutional beliefs. Networks supported the British navy – operational, political, institutional and social– from which ongoing naval capability grew and from which its norms of behaviour were shaped. Popular acclaim for the leader as hero has shaped the public’s view at the expense of some understanding of the inherent complexity of leadership dilemmas. So it is across different periods, this paper argues we can only understand how naval leadership functions when seen across many historical periods and nations.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Harding, R. 2017. The Royal Navy, History and the Study of Leadership. In: Guimerá A. & Harding R (eds.), Naval Leadership in the Atlantic World. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book2.b

    This is an Open Access chapter distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).

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    Published on March 30, 2017