Considered one of the “Fathers of the American Navy,” John Paul Jones was the kind of guy you’d want as captain of your flagship — especially in a war you’re not supposed to win.
Born in Scotland in 1747, Jones began his career as a seaman at the tender age of 13 traveling to the West Indies and to North America regularly. The experience Jones gained at sea helped to shape the young man, both personally and professionally — but in particular it shaped his capabilities as a leader. One such experience took place on a voyage on the cargo ship, John, in 1768 when both the ship’s captain and a ranking mate suddenly died of yellow fever. The young John Paul Jones managed to navigate the ship back to a safe port and from that point was named master of the ship and its crew.
Jones’ ability to lead in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges would serve him well in the years to come when he would sail under the new American flag during the Revolutionary War. Upon relocating to North America at the onset of the American Revolution, Jones sided with the Colonists and received a commission as a first lieutenant in the Continental Navy on Dec. 7, 1775. Perhaps a glimpse of the kind of leader John Paul Jones would prove to be could have been garnered from his attitude when at the time he boldly proclaimed, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way.”
One of the most important battles of that war which was won by the Continental Navy, and which struck a debilitating blow felt throughout the far superior British Navy, was led by John Paul Jones — and it was his leadership, defiant attitude and grit in the face of adversity during this battle which have immortalized Jones in the annals of American history. Here is a brief description taken from a History.com blog titled, “John Paul Jones Sets Out To Raid British Ships:”
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“On April 10, 1778, Commander John Paul Jones and his crew of 140 men aboard the USS Ranger set sail from the naval port at Brest, France, and head toward the Irish Sea to begin raids on British warships. This was the first mission of its kind during the Revolutionary War. In September 1779, Jones fought one of the fiercest battles in naval history when he led the USS Bonhomme Richard frigate, named for Benjamin Franklin, in an engagement with the 50-gun British warship HMS Serapis. After the Bonhomme Richard was struck, it began taking on water and caught fire. When the British captain of the Serapis ordered Jones to surrender, he famously replied, ‘I have not yet begun to fight!’ A few hours later, the captain and crew of the Serapis admitted defeat and Jones took command of the British ship.”
“I have not yet begun to fight!” Talk about attitude and grit.
As business owners, managers and leaders in the 21st century, we may not face such life-threatening challenges as John Paul Jones did during the Revolutionary War, but the ever-changing landscape of the global marketplace can seem, at times, like a battlefield. Despite the growing economy, many business owners currently find themselves fighting for their professional lives.
Leadership in business is a difficult task and responsibility — regardless of whether we’re leading in an economic downturn or boom. Each circumstance poses its own unique set of challenges which can threaten the ship. The important thing to remember is that your crew depends on you as their leader to get them through it. It was Jones’ leadership which made possible the many victories he and his crew claimed for the fledgling new republic — even when the odds were stacked against them.
Like Jones, your attitude and grit as a leader set the tone for your team and infuse your crew with the character of success. This defiant leadership attitude in the face of adversity found in true leaders will not only guide your organization to victory when facing the battles of the business arena, but it will define the overall attitude of your organization for years to come — much like the United States Navy we know today, which takes its “never die” attitude from one of its founding fathers, John Paul Jones.
You may be facing challenges in your business which seem insurmountable. The odds may be stacked against you, and your competitors may be calling for you to surrender. How will you respond in such adversity? Will you raise the white flag and give in? Or will you respond like John Paul Jones responded against the Serapis, rally your crew with a sense of purpose and resolve, and shout, “I have not yet begun to fight!”
Remember who ended up winning that battle.