— Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
One who made a difference
When I was in the US Navy nuclear submarine service, one larger-than-life person loomed over everything – Admiral Hyman G. Rickover.
Rickover was the person who led the development of naval nuclear propulsion and its operations for three decades as director of the US Naval Reactors office.
He was intimately involved in every detail and was the driving force that made nuclear propulsion under the sea possible and remarkably safe. His presence was felt everywhere, and his fingerprints were on everything.
And I mean everything. He hand-picked the people who worked in the program, authored content in many of the nuclear technical manuals and was aboard every new nuclear submarine for sea trials.
I never met Rickover but came close on several occasions. I knew many who did meet him, and they all had a remarkable story to tell. His antics were legendary for putting people in awkward and stressful situations.
He frequently seated people in a chair with shorter legs in the front, causing the person to slide off the chair continually. Sometimes he would blow cigar smoke in the person’s face to see how they would react.
One of my favorite stories came from a friend of mine. Rickover looked him in the eye and demanded that he do something to “piss me off.” My friend grabbed a model of a nuclear submarine that was on his desk and smashed it, breaking it into pieces. It worked. He said Rickover was furious and then congratulated him for taking decisive action.
At one point, I almost had my opportunity to meet Rickover. I was selected to be a crew member aboard Rickover’s research submarine, the NR-1. It was the smallest atomic submarine ever built with a ten-man crew.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime, except it required extending my time in the Navy by two more years. It was more than I was willing to commit to at the time, so I reluctantly gave up the opportunity.
Nuclear submarines and the technology that makes it possible are a domain we take for granted in our modern world. However, I can share that speaking from my own experience of living, working, and sleeping on a nuclear submarine for over three years, it is a technical and engineering marvel almost beyond comprehension.
There were so many moments when I would stand in awe at where I was and the sophistication and quality of engineering that surrounded me.
You may question whether Rickover’s motives and accomplishments rise to the level of ensuring the future of the human race, but I think they do. I can’t speak freely about what we did there, but I believe if we had not been there doing the work we did, the world would look completely different than it does today.
There was no question in my mind that Rickover was operating from a deeper place and purpose than most leaders. You could sense and feel it in everything throughout my years of training and living and working aboard the submarine.
It was a culture where excellence and high performance were expected 24/7+ and a place where the impossible was routine.
The inner path is the way forward
In my experience, the inner leader journey is a path that will naturally align you with living for the future in a way that benefits everyone. It’s not that comfort and success are no longer important. It’s that they are no longer at the core of our being in how we choose to live and work.
When we enhance our ability to look and listen within, we access greater awareness and creative power to shape our world and be a force for good. In Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, Jaworski calls it Stage IV leadership.
At the heart of this kind of leadership is a capacity to access tacit knowledge that can guide and prepare us for the futures we must create. This becomes the basis for choosing to make a difference in the world and not just our comfort or success.
Clearly, there is an urgent need for more of this type of leadership in the world today.
I hope you enjoyed knowing a little more about Admiral Rickover, nuclear submarines, and the inner leader journey. I’d love to hear any thoughts or reactions you may have.
To your forward thinking life & success!
Bill Fox, Author, and Founder at Space Beyond Boundaries and Forward Thinking Workplaces.