Royal Navy Leadership Lessons

Being a storyteller is a core skill for any teacher, particularly primary teachers I would argue. You have to be good at spinning a tale to illustrate a point and bring it to life, even if the story isn’t true.

For any leader though, you have to be a storyteller and spinning a dit (as the armed forces would say) is the most powerful tool in their toolkit. Dits have a direct influence on operational effectiveness.

Stories can be used to make something more intelligible at a classroom lesson level and are vital to contextualising hard to reach concepts.

But they are also needed in the virtual staffroom, real staffroom and training session because they bind people together and help us understand how to progress and improve.

Without a story, meetings can be stale and flat. The same applies to any learning situation too. Dits basically oxygenate a scenario by enlivening and exemplifying.

Andrew St. George (2012) makes this point in his book Royal Navy Way of Leadership. He says that leadership information and stories are exchanged between tiers of management, generations, practices (branches), and social groups in order to foster its culture. Dits can be on any aspect of Naval Life from life on board to runs ashore to everyday life at sea.

A dit could mean telling a tale whereby that tale grows with each telling or they can relate some really key intelligence where it is important not to stretch and distort a tale out of shape. They serve an important professional function (King, 2004).

Andrew St. George refers to the professional value of dits in this article. He points out,

A bust of a long-dead founder in a company’s entrance hall is no substitute for the way the Royal Navy meticulously charts its informal experiences of leadership and broadcasts them throughout leadership training. The experience of a special-forces commander in tackling Somali pirates – and his emphasis on the 40 separate scenarios his team contemplated ahead of the engagement – underlined to everyone listening the Royal Navy’s meticulous attention to detailed and exhaustive planning.

The Navy know how to get the most out of their personnel and even organise Naval Dit Days to spin a few dits!

So, back to teachers or more specifically the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). Without a shadow of a doubt, the SLTs that have happy ships and get everyone working as a team are expert dit spinners or as Brighouse calls them ‘skalds‘.

We can learn plenty from dits because they provide us with opportunities to share the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to do a job well and to a high standard.


The term dit seems to be derived from the naval term, ‘ditty-box’. This was a box in which sailors kept personal items. However, the meaning seems to have changed somewhat by the mid-20th century. Contributors to the Globe and Laurel sent their reports from the „ditty box‟ (Globe and Laurel September 1941: 312). The ditty-box here seems to refer to the desk at which correspondents wrote or to a box or bag in which he kept his own notes, from which the report would be compiled. It seems probable that the term dit then became specifically attached to the stories, stored in or sent from the ‘ditty-box (Source – King, 2004)

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