The animation at the right depicts the culmination of an illustrious career. Obviously, it was not a happy ending. Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon, Knight Commander of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath and Commander in Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet, secured his place in history by giving an ill-considered order and then refusing to have it questioned. His stubbornness cost 358 lives (including Tryon himself), one battleship sunk, a second damaged and the loss of his reputation.
Much has been said about George Tryon’s charm of manner, and the rest of it, but in truth he was, at any rate when officially engaged, a very brusque and dictatorial man. Unfortunately he was a ‘viewy’ man too, a man of theories…
(A description of Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon, from a July 1893 article in Society Journal Talk via Wikipedia)
On June 22, 1893, Vice Admiral Tryon ordered the eleven ships under his command to steam in two columns towards the shore. The two columns were to turn inward, reversing their direction of travel and proceed out back out to sea. However, insufficient space was left between the two columns for them to safely execute the turn. An officer questioned the spacing and was sent packing. When the officer leading the column opposite Tryon’s, anticipating the impending disaster, was slow to begin the turn, the signal “What are you waiting for?” was sent. This public reprimand yielded compliance with the order and the debacle was set in motion. Only when the collision was both imminent and unavoidable did Tryon attempt to alter course. The lead ships of the two columns, Victoria and Camperdown, collided, causing Victoria to sink with the loss of over half her crew.
Prior to the collision, George Tryon’s career had been spotless. He had risen steadily through the ranks and been knighted for his service. Most ironically, he was a progressive leader and extremely active in promoting initiative in his subordinates. Unfortunately, his surly manner toward those same subordinates led to their being terrified of him.
In “Gods and Mortals, Part 1”, I outlined the importance of collaborative design over attempting to dictate. The point of this little history lesson is that actions speak louder than words. Giving lip service to collaboration and challenging your assumptions is not enough. You must actually be open to suggestions and questions, welcoming them as an opportunity to teach and learn. The more skillful you are, the less likely people are to challenge you. The less likely people are to challenge you, the more likely you are to need that challenge. The last thing you need is to discourage those who may keep you from wrecking your career.