How to Learn From Mistakes—A Tragic Leadership Lesson

Hood, 17 March 1924.
Hood, 17 March 1924

In this post, we reflect on one of the greatest sea battles of World War II and the lasting legacy of HMS Hood. It’s a story of tragedy and cover-ups, and a lesson for all leaders today.

In wartime, learning from mistakes saves lives. In peacetime, learning from mistakes rescues projects, innovates, invents, and changes the fortunes of people and business.

A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. – Roy H. Williams

The story of HMS Hood may not be well-known. It’s a story of human tragedy, and it’s a tragic lesson in leadership where pride was more important than honesty.

HMS Hood was the last battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy. Commissioned in 1920, Hood saw active service in World War 2 and was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck on 24th May 1941.

1,415 men died.

Sinking HMS Hood

When war broke in 1939, Hood was a convoy escort in the North Atlantic. In 1941, she was ordered to pursue the Bismarck.

At 05:52 on 24th May, Hood engaged Bismarck and the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Denmark Straight. Eight minutes later, a shell from the Bismarck, hit Hood and penetrated the ship’s armour plating, striking the aft magazine. This was catastrophic; the ship exploded and was sunk within 3 minutes.

There were 3 survivors.

Learning from Mistakes

Following the sinking of Hood, politicians and military leaders finally questioned the value of the battleship. Regardless of their enormous fire-power and protection, battleships were vulnerable to smaller ordnance, aircraft, and torpedoes.

Learning from mistakes was supposedly of paramount importance to the Admiralty and British Government. They wanted to know why the pride of the British fleet sunk so quickly, but they also wanted to know who was to blame.

However, by largely ignoring the facts, they failed to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley
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