Hyman G. Rickover (1900–1986) was an admiral in the U.S. Navy. He directed the original development of naval nuclear propulsion and controlled its operations for three decades as director of the U.S. Naval Reactors office. In addition, he oversaw the development of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the world’s first commercial pressurized water reactor used for generating electricity. Rickover is also one of four people who have been awarded two Congressional Gold Medals.
He personally — and thoroughly — interviewed each candidate for every position on his staff. His first two questions suggest the the thrust and flavor of his leadership style.
“What do you do in your spare time.” After the response, “Why do you have any free time?”
Apparently Rickover could make General George S. Patton seem like Elmer Fudd.
I am deeply grateful to the AZ Quotes website for sharing the Rickover quotations that follow.
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Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous impatience.
Responsibility is a unique concept… You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you… If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.
The man in charge must concern himself with details. If he does not consider them important, neither will his subordinates.
What it takes to do a job will not be learned from management courses. It is principally a matter of experience, the proper attitude, and common sense — none of which can be taught in a classroom… Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.
Be ever questioning. Ignorance is not bliss. It is oblivion. You don’t go to heaven if you die dumb. Become better informed. Lean from others’ mistakes. You could not live long enough to make them all yourself.
Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous impatience. Once implemented they can be easily overturned or subverted through apathy or lack of follow-up, so a continuous effort is required.
Success teaches us nothing; only failure teaches.
Responsibility is a unique concept. It can only reside and inhere in a single individual. You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you. You may disclaim it, but you cannot divest yourself of it. If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.
I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. Admittedly, one man by himself cannot do the job. However, one man can make a difference. We must live for the future of the human race, and not for our own comfort or success.
Optimism and stupidity are nearly synonymous.
Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one’s arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.
Trying to make things work in government is sometimes like trying to sew a button on a custard pie.
A system under which it takes three men to check what one is doing is not control; it is systematic strangulation.
I have the charisma of the chipmunk. I never have thought I was smart. I thought the people I dealt with were dumb.
All new ideas begin in a non-conforming mind that questions some tenet of the conventional wisdom.
The Devil is in the details, but so is salvation.
Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done
Free discussion requires an atmosphere unembarrassed by any suggestion of authority or even respect.
To doubt one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. Don’t defend past actions; what is right today may be wrong tomorrow. Don’t be consistent; consistency is the refuge of fools.
I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendents – those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age. Our greatest responsibility, as parents and as citizens, is to give America’s youngsters the best possible education. We need the best teachers and enough of them to prepare our young people for a future immeasurably more complex than the present, and calling for ever larger numbers of competent and highly trained men and women.
When doing a job — any job — one must feel that he owns it, and act as though he will remain in that job forever.
More than ambition, more than ability, it is rules that limit contribution; rules are the lowest common denominator of human behavior. They are a substitute for rational thought.
It is a human inclination to hope things will work out, despite evidence or doubt to the contrary. A successful manager must resist this temptation.
Any one detail, followed through to its source, will usually reveal the general state of readiness of the whole organization.
We bury the men who do the nation’s creative work under layers of administrators and mountains of memoranda. We shrivel creativity by endless frustrations.
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To learn more about the Admiral Rickover’s life and work, please click here.