Long Walks, Horseshoes, and Train Rides: Leadership Lessons from Admiral Nimitz

march, 2020

26mar6:00 pm8:00 pmLong Walks, Horseshoes, and Train Rides: Leadership Lessons from Admiral Nimitz6:00 pm - 8:00 pm Event Organized By: Business Agility - Washington DC

Event Details

This meetup will be virtual only!! 🙂

Here’s a link to the zoom room.

From today’s perspective, Admiral Nimitz was a slacker. At critical moments, he took time, to go on walks, play horseshoes, and ride the train instead of fly. And yet, he was responsible for one of the world’s largest commands, the Pacific Ocean Areas, in World War II. What can we learn from him?

Admiral Chester Nimitz was successful while embracing a leadership approach that is unusual today. While leading the Pacific Theater of Operations and commanding the Pacific Fleet during World War II, he leveraged a series of techniques that are as relevant today as they are uncommon. I’ll describe these in detail, explain why they were effective, and offer suggestions for how you can employ them in your organization.

Broad Experience: Nimitz held a wide variety of positions throughout his career. This gave him deep knowledge in specific areas. It also taught him to value expertise and respect the limits of his own knowledge. He used that respect to delegate effectively. At the same time, the diversity of his own experiences allowed him to look at challenges and opportunities in new and creative ways. David Epstein has discussed the value of this in his book, Range. I’ll explain how Nimitz’ career reflects those ideas.

Commitment to Growth: Nimitz fostered the development of his organizations throughout his career, whether they were on small boats in the Philippines, large cruisers in China, or a fleet making its way across the Pacific. He found ways to connect his subordinates together to build resilient networks that not only communicated new information, but effectively changed behavior. Damon Centola has hit on the essence of this in his book, How Behavior Spreads.

Skilled Use of Slack: Nimitz deliberately created slack and downtime within his schedule. He went on long walks with subordinates. He played horseshoes on a regular basis. He took slower, more relaxing transportation. This was deliberate. Nimitz created sufficient space between him and everyday problems so that he could synthesize all available information and act on it strategically. Tom DeMarco’s book, Slack, describes the importance of this. I’ll explain how it played out for Nimitz.

Respect for People: Nimitz understood that the key to an effective, learning organization was its people and he showed them the necessary respect. In the words of Amy Edmondson, Nimitz created an atmosphere of psychological safety, where opinions could be shared frankly, and the best acted upon. I’ll relate her work, and her book, The Fearless Organization, to Nimitz’s approach.

Trent Hone is a Fellow at Excella and an award-winning naval historian. He works with organizations to improve their art of practice, increase effectiveness, and accelerate learning. He has helped dozens of government and commercial teams around the world in Asia, Oceania, Europe, and North America. Trent regularly writes and speaks about organizational learning, Agile methods, and naval history. His latest book, Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945, was published in June 2018 and earned him the Naval Institute’s Author of the Year Award. He has also been awarded the U.S. Naval War College’s Edward S. Miller Prize and the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Ernest M. Eller Prize. He has presented at the Annual Agile Conference, Lean Agile US, Lean Agile Scotland, the Society of Military History’s Annual Meeting, the McMullen Naval History Symposium, and other conferences. He’s passionate about Lean, Agile, and Organizational Learning.


(Thursday) 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm