Military Book Reviews

Saltwater Leadership Second Edition

Saltwater Leadership Second Edition: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer by Rear admiral (RADM) Robert O. Wray Jr. USN (Ret), Vice admiral (VADM) John B. Mustin USN, RADM Theodore P. S. LeClair USN, Commander (CDR) Andrew K. Ledford USN, PhD (Naval Institute Press, June 15, 2021, 232 pages)

Saltwater Leadership, Second Edition is about leadership in the maritime environment. The unforgiving, dynamic, and unconquerable nature of the sea requires direct leadership, often with very little margin of error. The unique and common nature of professional life on the sea applies not only to junior naval leaders but also officer and enlisted leaders from the Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. Based on decades of leadership experiences, Saltwater Leadership covers a wide variety of topics, including basic junior officer leadership, taking care of people, providing forceful backup, leadership and culture, and professional competence.

Leadership can be daunting with heroes casting a big shadow and the study of leadership can be overwhelming. Libraries contain leadership books that address academic theories that apply to businesses. But how many are designed specifically for junior officer leaders in the sea services?

In a slim, pocket-sized book authored by Rear admiral (RADM) Robert O. Wray Jr. USN (Ret), Vice admiral (VADM) John B. Mustin USN, RADM Theodore P. S. LeClair USN, and Commander (CDR) Andrew K. Ledford USN, PhD, Saltwater Leadership captures the collective wisdom of their 100-plus years of successful naval service concisely. It is based on their surveys of 380 other senior leaders and their review of thousands of pages of leadership books. True to the aim of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Blue & Gold Professional Library, the book is an inside job for naval leaders by naval leaders.

Readers can practically smell the ocean as they glean solid lessons from trusted seafaring hands. The book addresses six important questions:

(1) What is leadership?

(2) What’s the difference between leadership and management?

(3) Why is leadership important?

(4) Is leadership innate or learned?

(5) How does one become a leader?

(6) Why another book on leadership?

The authors define leadership by curating lists from credible sources; military and civilian. They also compare the lists to identify six leadership themes:

(1) knowing your job

(2) taking care of your people

(3) delegation and follow up

(4) loyalty to the team and cause

(5) being an honorable person of character

(6) setting goals and helping others achieve.

For brevity, I offer a nautical mnemonic, C.-S.C.A.P.E., which rearranges and further summarizes these themes: Competence, Selflessness, Character, Achievement, Principle, Empowerment.


Saltwater Leadership is a portable short course on leadership by three navy admirals and a Navy Sea, Air, and Land team member (Navy SEAL). They distill practical advice to become a successful leader in the navy and marine corps. The authors contend, leadership matters, leadership can be defined, and leadership can be learned. This book summarizes important leadership theories, moving through the essentials to provide succinct scholarly background.

The book comprises anecdotes, advice, and valuable lessons learned from tried-and-true naval leaders serving underway and abroad in every clime and place. Notable chapters address taking care of people, culture, and becoming the leader you want to be. The authors challenge readers to apply the book’s lessons, rather than merely turning its pages. They include tools to plan and record goals, as well as an action plan. The book reminds readers of the importance of S.P.O.M.: study, practice, observation, and mentorship.

This book is ideal for busy junior officers and students. You can read this book easily while standing in line, between classes, or during duty. I highly recommend this book to all junior officers, officer candidates, and midshipmen.

Lieutenant Colonel Dillon Fishman, J.D., LL.M., Ph.D. (ABD), USMCR, is a judge advocate completing a doctorate in leadership studies by researching posttraumatic growth of military leaders who received the Purple Heart. All views are personal and do not reflect the position or endorsement of the Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps, or any other entity or agency.

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