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December 23, 2019 Last updated: January 14, 2020

Podcast #571: The Voyage of Character

Good character is hard to define in the abstract, but easy to identify when it’s embodied in the lives of great individuals. In order to illuminate what worthy character looks like, my guest today has written a book which consists of profiles of 10 of history’s most notable admirals, marking out both their inspiring and flawed qualities, as well as how these qualities intersected with their ability to lead. His name is Admiral James Stavridis, he served as the commander of US Southern Command, US European Command, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and is now the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. On today’s show, the admiral talks about many of the figures in his latest book, Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character, including Themistocles, Sir Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson, and Chester Nimitz. We take a look at what these individuals did well, what they did poorly, and how their characteristics, decisions, qualities, and overall moral compass impacted their leadership and influence. 

Show Highlights

  • The difference between leadership and character (and why they’re often erroneously used interchangeably) 
  • The complex reality of human nature, and how we can learn even from failures of character and leadership
  • Who was Themistocles? What can we learn from him?
  • What about ancient Chinese commander Zheng He?
  • Sir Francis Drake’s decisiveness 
  • Why Horatio Nelson was perhaps the greatest admiral of all time 
  • What we can learn from the academic Alfred Thayer Mahan 
  • Why was Chester Nimitz the “admiral’s admiral”?
  • Grace Hopper and the power of intellectual curiosity 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

Sailing true north James stavridis book cover

Connect With Admiral James Stavridis

Admiral Stavridis on Twitter

Admiral Stavridis’ website

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