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Book Review: Nelson’s Way- Lessons from the Great Commander

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I had this kind of book in mind when I started the Leadership Issues blog. Nelson’s Way deconstructs the life story of a renowned leader, looking with a keen eye at lessons for our daily lives.

The authors avoid the temptation to praise everything Nelson did and say “you should do this”. Instead, we get a warts-and-all look at Nelson’s life, from his great victories to his dubious dabbling in Neapolitan politics – and compare our own style of leadership with his.

Particularly good are the (quite searching) questions at the end of each chapter, as well as modern reflections on Nelson’s style from leaders in the military, business and academia.

Nelson’s Way does a great job at helping you understand the complicated naval world of the late 1700s and early 1800s. This is no mean feat, and the two authors’ strong interest in naval history no doubt helps this. (I’ve found that the more familiar people are with a topic, the more clearly they can explain it, without getting bogged down in unneccessary details – if they’re good communicators.)

While the book follows Nelson’s career chronologically, it’s also arranged thematically, with plenty of reiteration and exploration of key concepts. One key theme that comes up repeatedly is Nelson’s “frontline” style of leadership. He was acutely aware of the PR value of his actions, as well as being a glutton for glory.

The book asks a question: are you the “frontline” hero type of leader that Nelson was? Or are you a quiet, in-the-background kind of leader? There’s no right answer, and this book helps you understand the issues around either option.

While many people separate leadership and management, Nelson’s Way shows that one person can very successfully combine the two. He performed glorious feats which inspired a nation; he also made sure there was enough fresh lemon juice for his men.

If you want to combine a rollicking naval story with some searching questions for yourself, check out Nelson’s Way.

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