Nuts & Bolts of Leadership: Admiral RL Pereira’s Speech

Admiral Ronald Lynsdale Pereira PVSM AVSM (1923-1993) was the 10th Chief of the Naval Staff of Indian Navy (Mar 1979 – Feb 1982). ‘Ronnie’ as he was fondly known in the navy remains one of the most admired and iconic leaders, widely respected and remembered across the three services. Today, 25th May 2019, we celebrate his 96th birth anniversary. Reproducing below, script of one of his epic speeches from the early 90s, delivered in his inimitable style.

Admiral RL Pereira, PVSM AVSM (picture from Indian Navy archives)

The speech by itself is a fulsome workshop in military leadership, timeless in its essence. I am simply hosting it as a small tribute to the admiral. My only wish is to make it easy for future generations to access this gem – a lighthouse of hope in the eternal churn of man, machine & mission.

Here goes:


“Can you hear me at the back?

Yes or No?

You can, good.

If you can’t hear me at the back at any time and you want to, just make a shindig up there and raise your hand….otherwise go to sleep and don’t snore.

Gentlemen……when I was first asked to speak to you on this aspect of leadership, I was a little reticent, because, I have been on the side-lines, out of touch, for 10 years almost…come February 82 it will be 10 years…and I think there has been a complete change; and changes always come…in the ethos of the service. I also felt that to start this off, it would probably be better to have someone more au fait (French: having good or detailed knowledge of)   with the problems of leadership or the aspects of leadership…. to kick you off on this workshop.

Indeed the very word ‘workshop’ was not something I was used to when I left; there was a gentlemanly term called ‘seminar’ which has now become a ‘workshop’;  but I believe the reason for that is, that you can throw a bl**dy spanner in the works at any time and no S*B does anything and then you get down to hammer and tongs and try and sort out the bl**dy problem, it becomes a workshop…well, that’s ok!

And so I have taken this on, finally, because NHQ said “take it on” and it was kind of them to ask me, taking it on….put my foot into it as I have on several occasions…uh, not with the best results.

The navy to me, my whole active life has been in the navy and I haven’t got a single regret…though I have had hell of lot of bloody arguments in those lovely 39 odd years that I’d spent….and its always been a part of my life, and so as I have been sidelined, I will continue to watch with considerable interest what is happening. And in watching, you talk to the sailors, who you were privileged to serve with, and with many of the young officers who after their third whiskey are kind enough to tell me where I can jump off and that’s exactly as you want. And what I have sadly heard, hasn’t really encouraged me…and so, I hope, I am wrong.

I am today throwing out just a few thoughts that I have always believed to be the core, the nub…of what we call leadership, and what I term as ‘leadership and credibility’ – because one cannot go without the other- to me they are synonymous terms, because, leadership without credibility is really a whitened sepulchre of pseudo leadership. It has no use, it has no body and really, it doesn’t achieve anything but money in someone’s bl**dy hip pocket and that’s no damn leadership at all.

What really is Leadership? In my limited scope as I see it, it is the welding together, mentally and physically, of that most diverse creation called human beings for the achievement of an aim, often different, which if achieved, doesn’t always bring credit to the individual but brings credit to the organisation, the unit, the service. That credit can spill over unto the individual, but it happens as a peripheral function and not as a primary function. The more difficult the aim, the greater is the achievement and greater the credit to the organisation. Obviously in doing this, you have to have a ‘leader’ or ‘leaders’, working out the paths, motivating human beings to cross the obstacles, finding the alternate sources around hurdles and at all times, carrying their men with them, inspiring them in the confidence, the belief and the determination that they will, indeed they must, achieve success. Now that type and degree of leadership falls squarely on all of you because that is perhaps your primary function in a service. To lead in peace and war and to try and keep failures down to zero or to a very very small percentage.

Now I talked of leadership and credibility- if your men do not believe in you, if your young officer does not believe in you and sees in you a devious human being, which many of us sadly are, a devious human being not interested in his men, not terribly interested in his profession for profession’s sake; but interested primarily in himself, to hell with the others; how then does he lead men? And I don’t refer to the ‘genius’ because they are very rare birds, I refer to the common run of the mill officer like you and I who has to lead men…who has to teach, to mould, to look after with all the genuineness at his command those under him, those in his team, those to whom he is responsible. These tasks cannot be achieved, he cannot lead without integrity or credibility and it is my view that it is imperative in fact that credibility has to be the primary ingredient of leadership, if you deserve any success in that area.

I am sure that people sitting there, who are saying “Admiral you are a stupid son of a b**ch, you are out of touch, totally! How the bloody hell does anyone know what my little aim is in my little computer, that I am looking after myself, I am a smooth guy, I can get over it. What the hell you talking about men knowing this, men knowing that ….cock! you are out of date.” Ok, let me say this to you- In today’s environment, whether its in a corporate office, whether it’s in industry, whether it’s in the navy, you as an Executive or a HOD are continuously analysed, dissected, bl**dy micro-analysed by those in the lower echelons of command below you- the good old petty officer, the Chief, the leading seaman, the AB and the OD...and he watches you as closely as possible, he watches every facet of your life, the way you dress, the way you handle him, your professional acumen, and he takes it down to the mess decks and there at the mess table, he moulds you with the other boys, he discusses it and gradually, block by block or as you probably say now.. chip by bl**dy chip, he forms your character, he decides what sort of guy you are, whether you are worth following or not and I believe that is the best portrait of the true ‘You’. You cannot kid a lot of human beings all working on the same net; you can kid the boss, you can kid the boss’s wife, but you can’t kid the whole bl**dy lot.

Now, I think therefore that your team will only be led or will follow you if they believe in you- a belief that is deep and analytical and the bedrock of your future success. Let me give a little example of this- Ron Pereira is the Executive officer of the cruiser. The Standing Orders lay down beautifully in that lovely book, bound and covered in rexine, blue rexine, standing orders and falana falana…. Ships company, men on-board can only take one pack of cigarettes every-day and two on the weekends. Ron Pereira happens to say, “Well you know, my wife smoke’s too and I also have an elder daughter…and she smokes too….and so I say, what the hell dammit….I am not (smugly)…I know there’s  a rule….but, I have got discretion wound up”. I say to Kutty, the good old wine steward – “Kutty, a carton of cigarettes, old boy, in my briefcase” Pick it up, walk over to the sides, smart salute…gone.

Kutty goes down to the mess decks and says “Funny no, the bl**dy standing orders, Commander takes a pack and a whole bloody carton of cigarettes home.” Ten days later, Ordinary Seamen Bloggins is brought up as a defaulter- caught with three packs of cigarette on the weekend instead of two. He comes up in front of the Commander’s table, Commander looks at him, charge is read out, the LPM says he caught him; the Commander tears him up into little bits “Bloody standing orders are there, what the hell are you doing?” 14 days No. 11 (Punishment) and the little man walks away, but what is he really saying? He really says in his mind “You bl**dy b***ard, you son of a b**ch! I know because the mess decks tells me you took a bl**dy carton of cigarettes every two days, because I am caught with one pack extra, this is what you do?”. You just wrecked your bl**dy credibility and if you think you can lead men like that, you are bl**dy fooling yourself which is about the worst thing you can do ever. You can fool a lot of other people, but don’t fool yourself. You have no ability, men will not follow you. In a tight situation, they will say that “he has one rule in a book and he follows another- don’t follow him.” That I think is something you got to remember- credibility in your bl**dy heart, to yourself and to your men.

Now let me come to a little point- credibility really, I think, gives you what I sincerely believe to be an enormous advantage and it is really a very simple factor by which you should live, nonetheless, once your credibility is established, men accept a lot more from you than others however demanding and tough you may be.

Now let me dwell just a little on, what I term for no better expression, is what I term as willingness to learn…is a factor I think you might mull over on this workshop. Life is really a series of lessons and no man is wiser than his experience- you are therefore always learning and more so from your senior sailors. As young officers that you come in and have senior sailors that you are dealing with and you are supposed to be leading with much more service than you and vast experience. Fine practical  technicians who will have no tract with you if you try and impose yourself on them, devoid as you are as a young officer with no experience. Therefore, I say particularly to the young officer, you have to be very careful at this stage. Indeed, I think the best way to do this is to keep your mouth tightly shut, ears and eyes open and glean from your men their experience by working with them- physically and sometimes mentally and they will respect you for it. Only then, when you have gained that experience and you as a young officer perhaps have a better academic background, better analytical mind, that they will come over to you, they will accept you and they will respect you. Don’t try and push them around.

I think a great thing is example in this. I was once on Brahmaputra in 1974 and we were exercising with the Air Force on the East coast…yeah…and it was hard enough to get the Air Force to fly over the bl**dy sea…every airman think he is going to die there and then will be drowned….so it took a little bit of effort to get them out ….thank God I had a good bunch of ex-NDA boys…and on that NDA net, we got them to come out and exercise with the Petyas and I was on the Brahmaputra and I had asked some of the Air Force boys to come on-board to see how we control aircraft….they did, spent two days with us…on the first day, everything went well and they were very very impressed. When we were doing the second day’s exercises from 9 O’clock….at quarter past 8, I went up to the bridge to see if everything was alright. Just about then, the CRT on the bridge on the Brahmaputra blew and I had no CRT. There is a chap I am particularly fond of and respect greatly for his professional ability…someone called Prakash Gour….I think he is retired from the service today. Prakash was then a young Commander.

I called him up and said “Prakash hey! the bloody CRT is gone. What do we do?”.

He said “Sir, I will change it”.

“Don’t be a S*B, I have got 25 minutes to have it working, can you do it?”

“Yeah, I will do it”, called up the Chief ELR, packed up his bl**dy sleeves, pulled out a bl**dy screw driver …got a couple of Mechie learnies….Prakash Gour took out that CRT, changed it…in 25 min it was working. You could see the gleam in his bl**dy Chief’s eyes saying, “my boss knows a thing or two boy” and I am sure that Prakash Gour was very high in the esteem of his men…and I saw him work a great deal like that and I was particularly fond of him. He never said no to anything…very competent….and so he led, very well.

I come to two factors, called Authority and Delegation. You have authority in the service because you wear an epaulette at least so REGS IN tells you…you were born with authority into the navy. Never would you make a greater mistake than to swing authority and rank without thought or without reason….It would be like treading on a banana skin, you will fall flat on your bl**dy face. This is happening today all around us sadly, you see it in the politician, you see it in bureaucracy, you see it in the policemen ….swinging authority without thought or reason….really for just filling his bl**dy hip pocket and there’s nothing you seem to do about it…..but it has to if it continues…produce an explosion the likes of which you should be very sorry about. So when in the service, you cannot do this.

I find an excellent test…you know with authority, you pipe up the bl**dy duty watch, you get people to clean up the deck….the old man’s coming for a party and the bl**dy duty watch has just cleaned it…the officers have buggered up the quarterdeck…oh clean that again! They are human beings dammit, they want to know why…what the bl**dy hell are you doing? I found when I had to use authority, there was an excellent test that helped me to know right from wrong. In this area of authority and order and I had three simple questions:

  1. Is it necessary to give this bl**dy order?….
  2. Is it fair and reasonable?….and lastly…
  3.  Would I accept it under the current circumstances?  

And if the answer to that is ‘Yes’, then you are OK….if the answer to it is ‘No’, don’t give that bl**dy order; find another answer to it. Finally remember that when you do give orders, they apply to you as they apply to men. You can’t ask your men to work outside normal hours while you sit on your backside in the wardroom reading the latest Femina …get off your backside and be with your men. They are human beings like you. Therefore, you have to be with them and must be around. They are closed up 24 hours for an exercise, you got to be somewhere around there ….you cant hit your bunk, buddy. The tendency that is coming too much…and I see it in the Army which I am very close to. I see men running 6:30 AM in the morning, not an NCO not a bl**dy officer…I see men exercising, no officers around. I see JCOs that are so pot-bellied…this in an infantry service, it doesn’t augur well for the fighting qualities ultimately of that unit when the chips are down and I am very surprised to see it.

If you have the authority, it is absolutely essential that you delegate it because it is not humanly possible to carry all authority in yourself. And by delegating it, you are really establishing confidence in the lower echelons of command…in that little Petty officer, in the Sub if you are a Lieutenant Commander or Lieutenant…let him do it. Because when you do not delegate authority, you are really undermining yourself; as it establishes your lack of confidence in a team that you are trying to bl**dy lead…you are saying “I don’t believe in you but I am trying to lead you.” Its contradictory, it therefore shakes the team’s credibility in you…it merely breaks up everything that you are trying to establish and it literally breaks you. So you must delegate it.

Finally, if you delegate it ….you have to have that guts in you and the spunk in you to stand by your men…too many of us look the other way…you got to stand by your men. I will give you one little example of someone you don’t even know. There was a gentleman called Commander Colin McGready, he was commanding Rana way back in 1950s. They were just going out for a beautiful cruise, three R’s …Delhi…two other ships….six of us were going to the Mediterranean for six..five months… to work with the Mediterranean fleet and in fact to make a film, strangely about the Battle of the bl**dy River Plate. The Admiral then at the time was a chap called St John Tyrrwhitt who was not all pleased with Lord Louie having engineered Delhi to go and make this film which was being made by his son-in-law. Nonetheless, we left Bombay….we were doing a formation Foxtrot I think…and Rana hit Rajput who was the leader. Sum and substance was, that, Colin McGready was court-martialed. He was an up and coming Commander. Court-martial was started of, everyone was very very concerned because they were rather fond of Colin McGready…he looked very fine and was a leader of men. Court martial started and it hardly got underway and he said that “I want to get into the box and make a statement” ….they say hold it hold it hold it…I want to get into the box and I want to make a statement. Got into the box and he said that I do not wish this court-martial to go on because I have been accused of negligence causing…..{tape cut}…they said look old boy …..what did your navigator say to you when you were pulling out?  What did the officer of the watch say…they said listen, listen Colin for a bit and he said “Sir” … “I don’t even remember what the Navigator said to me nor the officer of the watch, I was on the bridge, I was in total command and so it doesn’t really matter what they say…the mistake was a 100% mine.”

Colin McGready was found guilty, docked one-year seniority …never made Captain. What it did for the navy and what it did….he stood 10 feet tall in the light of his peers…and the juniors looked at him and said, what a guy…and he was! He stayed in the navy for about four years, after that, everyone just wanted to serve Colin McGready. That I think is supporting someone when you are the boss and not squirming out like a worm and pointing a finger at someone else.

I just have two more points….one is – involvement in the team. We are all human beings, we all have an ego….I like to be told “well done old boy, you did a nice job”. I want to find out what is really….what is the appreciation if at all of my contribution to the team. In my days, you had guys down in a magazine humping up six-inch shells. We didn’t have any bl**dy air-conditioner. It was a 110…105… 99 in a magazine, six chaps were closed up there for 10 hours…12 hours in a bl**dy exercise. They were part of a team and if you didn’t have the sense to go down and say “Well done bete”…they didn’t know why they were there, someone had to tell them that they were doing a nice job even if it was hot like hell…they had to be there for the exercise. That involvement of everyone and an appreciation of what they do was essential. I always tell that little story of that brilliant Captain on the bridge…in the days when we had guns and not missiles; who was the finest tactician you could wish for… but if …..Cook(S) jammed the bl**dy hoist down below in loading a round…that brilliant Captain couldn’t do a thing, he was paralytic as the gun which couldn’t fire. So the Cook(S) and the brilliant Captain had a certain equation… and therefore every human being is important…every human being likes to be told of that importance- it does his ego good. There is no Christian and non bl**dy Christian, there is no Harijan and Brahmin in the servicethere are no inferiors and bl**dy superiors, we are equal though we have a ranking and a separate code of conduct and you must remember that, …..it’s vitally important.

I think as I see it today….I was brought up in a peculiar …not a peculiar I think… it was a very good environment. When I went to the DivO (Divisional Officer) for further Captain and requestmen table….he never asked the man, he looked at me and said “Pereira, where does he come from” …..sir….has he got his own house? Yes sir. How many children has he got? Totally, I thought, irrelevant questions that the old man was just trying to find out …does this stupid drivel spend any time with his men? Does he give men the opportunity to know him and does he know his men?

We are basically very reticent people as Indians. I have, some time with the Royal Navy for about 2 years. They are so vastly different. A matlow will come up to you in the Royal Navy and tell you that his wife is sleeping with someone else and she’s a b**ch….we best don’t do things like that. If I have a personal problem, I keep it right inside my heart. I don’t like to discuss it. If I have to get it off my heart, I will discuss it with someone that I have some trust…someone I know. How the hell does a man know you if you don’t give him that opportunity? How does he form his opinions…if he is a loud mouth and discusses it in the wardroom….will he listen to me? Will he counsel me correctly? Will he help me? You have to give your man that opportunity to know you and as you are getting to know him. So you got to be with him, in work and play. I don’t know if the passion boat still runs its 4:30 …where everyone gets in the boat..off..and the good old OODs live there as friend, philosopher and guide. In my days I was not allowed to do that as a young Sub-Lieutenant. I had to sit on the bl**dy bollard on the foxle and get to know my bl**dy men and if the CO found I didn’t know them, he would just kick me off the backside and say “you will keep shift for the next thirty bl**dy days…so I had to know my men and my men had to get to know me. And it was a very fine and worthy cause.

Well Gentleman I could waffle for hours but I wouldn’t waffle any more…I just say this, I think…you have to think about this….you have just been through what I believe, at least reading the papers, that’s the only way I get my jams, of the most traumatic experience …which I think will haunt and will continue to haunt this navy for years together – that one bloody individual can pull out everything we have built…criminal!…for personal gain, for no other reason as I see it….to destroy everything that we built… brick upon brick, to pull it down….because I must be satisfied…

There are gentleman sitting here or may not I hope, but there could be, saying, you silly bugger that’s the only way to get things sorted out….that’s about the last way to get them sorted out… Because then you will destroy the very structure around you and it would destroy you and surely as God made out…..don’t ever forget it. What has been built for 44 years, its gone crashing down like a pack of cards…you got to start again…..its hard, sweaty ….and to see a service pull down like that, to me is the most criminal thing in the world. And I know I am old and I have values maybe a little different,…its terrible. I think you got to mull over this very carefully because it could get you in what I can describe as the SH*T. You would be in deep trouble.

I just like to close this by reading, I have a chum…he has a company in the corporate sector. When he joined it 10 years ago…there was one product, 10 crores. And he said on his first speech on joining this company that I hope I can get it to 100 crores in 10 years. I told you what he said because I believe he was a born leader. What he said was just this…I will read out these few lines… “Your Company has long recognised as a basic truth that people, not products deliver results…people! not products, deliver results. I have seen the outstanding results of your company in the year under review and in the seven years that is gone by…..this was 7 years after he took over and he had a turnover of 87 crore…and in the seven years that have gone by, to the single most important asset that we possess, people, who work for and with us. They possess vital virtues, they have pride in themselves and in the company…they contribute to and nurture the company’s culture of character and competence. They share a vision for the future and are committed to the company’s mission, philosophy and principles. They accept that each right entails a concomitant responsibility and have…given more to the organisation than they have taken from it and you couldn’t have achieved these results without that philosophy being believed in a company.

Ours is a relationship, not borne solely out of commercial necessity but one built upon the solid foundation of mutual trust and an uncommon commitment to a common purpose, with creation and sharing of …..I believe success is a product of unremitting attention to purpose and an unwavering commitment to values. A group of ordinary people, working for and with this company, delivering extraordinary results year after year perhaps demonstrates the validity of this statement.

Now gentlemen, I waffled very long ….if you have any questions, I would take them on. The ruder, the more forthright – I would like it….because I don’t write your bloody 475 so I can’t call you a basket or a tactless guy…so you don’t have to worry, so whatever you want to ask, shoot!

Thank you, gentlemen, very much indeed!


Credits: My sincere gratitude to Vice Admiral Suresh Bangara for helping me trace the script of this speech.

Read More:

  1. Wikipedia page on Admiral RL Pereira.
  2. Video of this speech by Adm RL Pereira on YouTube
  3. The Unforgettable Ronnie Pereira‘, a tribute by @sunbyanyname.
  4. Remembering Ronnie‘, a tribute by Unni Kartha (via www.salute.co.in).
  5. ‘With Pride & Honour – Biography of Admiral RL Pereira PVSM AVSM’, a book by Cdr Anup Thomas (hardcover 2019 Amazon link here). The author gracefully requested all credits for the book to be placed with Indian Navy. Nothing less can be expected from those who have researched Ronnie’s life.

9 thoughts on “Nuts & Bolts of Leadership: Admiral RL Pereira’s Speech

  1. Excellent speech ..earning respect is more important than exercising authority
    . So much to learn from it

  2. I think knowing your men has to be taken to another level in this modern era of digitalisation. We of course can’t expect men or officers to devote their time beyond office hours especially in hectic schedule of travelling and meeting personal requirements. Nonetheless, the art of getting along with your men in limited time and yes by going all way out when at sea needs to be hacked smartly. Young officers need serious grooming in their first and second appointment so they are not carried away by disgruntled officers and commanders need to ensure that by maintaining this aspect in their priorities

  3. I was the Convenor/Coordinator of the Navy Week Committee appointed by Vice Admiral SM Nanda, FO C-in-C (W) in 1969. The then Capt RL Pereira was responsible for organising ‘Beating Retreat’ at the gateway. At lunch time, I thought I’ll just hop over to see that all was well. To my utter surprise, I found Capt Pereira was dusting the chairs and he had removed his stripes. Apparently the contractor’s party had disappeared. I volunteered promptly to takeover but Ronnie said that I will not be able to complete the work within the next two hours because I was a slow coach and he politely said you BO! I promptly rushed to Taj Mahal Hotel where we had great influence and managed to get a cleaning party of four who were straight away taken to the site. I told Ronnie to handover charge as he would be much slower than the party of four! Ronnie smiled and said OK. You’ve won.

  4. Admiral Ronnie is a legendary Leader of Men in Uniform. My association with him was in NDA where he was the dreadful DepCom!

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