During the most famous sea battle of the American Revolution, when John Paul Jones uttered his famous words— “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!”—things weren’t looking good for him and his ship.
After being fired upon repeatedly by two British ships, most of his own ship’s cannons had been destroyed and roughly half the crew was dead or wounded. Fires lit up the ship, threatening to explode the supply of gunpowder.
In light of the situation, his words were particularly courageous. Most important, they helped focus his crew on the goal. The truth was, the morale of the men was in worse shape than the ship.
Even before the sea battle began, his crew was feeling homesick and unprepared to fight. Some of his officers were even insubordinate. They’d been worn down by Jones’ strict disciplinary style of. No trust existed between him and his crew—or between him and the other ship captains. The crew’s only motivation was that they would win a portion of the value of any ships they captured.
Even more demoralizing was the fact that five of the seven ships in Jones’ squadron abandoned him just as he began to engage the enemy.
Another leader might have run.
But Jones, fully aware of what motivated his crew, led through a combination of hope and fear.
He led from the quarterdeck—a raised position that was exposed to enemy fire. He even took command of one of the cannons where enemy fire was often directed.
Through his actions and his fearless cry, he reminded the crew that he was with them.
— Adapted from If You Will Lead, Doug Moran.
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