The following article is cross-posted from an article originally written by Rob Almeida over at gCaptain.

On board USS Antietam, Pusan, South Korea, March 2003

It’s been almost 6.5 years since I resigned my commission in the US Navy where I served 2 tours at sea on board west coast-based warships followed by an instructor tour at the US Naval Academy. Since leaving the service, “civilian-life” has kept me pretty busy. I’ve traveled the world, met thousands of people, and even worked for a year on a drilling rig floor! It’s really been an incredible learning experience and I certainly have a much greater sense of self than I ever did before.

It’s also given me an extraordinary perspective on my time in the US Navy, and how completely backwards and inefficient the US Navy operates at times.

In 2009, I was hired by Transocean (NYSE:RIG) as a part of their Rig Manager training program. Essentially, this was an 18-month program designed to go through all the different positions on an offshore drilling rig, including all the shore-based training, to prepare me to become a Rig Manager-Performance. It was an incredible opportunity and I was psyched to have the experience- not recognizing at the time just how different it would be from my previous leadership training in the Navy.

My first two weeks at Transocean were spent in Amelia, Louisiana with about 20 other new-hires, including Roustabouts, Roughnecks, Subsea Engineers, Crane Operators, Drillers, and two other Rig Manager trainees. We weren’t allowed to leave the facility grounds during that time period and we were fed Transocean’s safety culture, learned their processes, studied damage control, and gained an understanding of the level of attention to detail expected on board an offshore drilling rig.

After two weeks, I still didn’t know much about drilling, but above all else what I knew what was expected of me. I was now a safety leader and fully ready for that immense responsibility.

My first experience out of the US Naval Academy was attending Surface Warfare Officer’s School in the fall of 1999. During the 6 month training program in Newport, Rhode Island, we learned all about naval weapons systems, gas turbine engineering, and conducted in classroom-based scenarios. It was a really fun time and my classmates and I drank a lot of beer while celebrating the fact we were no longer midshipmen.

At the end of it all, the course turned out to be a total waste and I was no more adept at my next job than I would have been had I gone straight to the ship. I was put in charge of 35 enlisted sailors who were working on systems that I had no real understanding of, and my immediate supervisor’s response to everything was, “did you look it up?”

I was miserable.

The following is the mission of my alma mater, the US Naval Academy:

To develop Midshipmen morally, mentally and physically and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of naval service and have potential for future development in mind and character, to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship and government.

Even as I was handed my diploma and was commissioned an Ensign, I really didn’t have a good idea of what was in store for me when I got to the “fleet”. What does a leader in the fleet look like anyway?

The confusion lies in the fact that leaders come in all forms, but the Navy’s “corporate” vision of a leader is really quite narrow.

I have a very competitive personality, am internally driven, and hate being told what to do. The type of leadership that will get the best results and work out of me is not the same kind for someone who is detail/technically oriented and introverted. As a junior naval officer, I just assumed after a while that I had a problem with authority. To a certain degree maybe I was right, but the root cause is that personality and recognizing motivating factors are not well understood in the context of naval leadership.

Understanding this is key.

You can have the most spit and polished officer in the fleet, but if he or she can’t figure out the personal motivating influencers within each subordinate, then they’ll have a difficult time getting the most out of them, or retaining them. This ultimately impacts the performance of subordinates and subsequent mission accomplishment.

Looking at professional advancement…

In the US Navy, you’re expected to advance and move on to other, more senior roles regardless of your actual strengths, and you’re expected to have checked all the boxes along the way. As an officer, this means qualifying as Engineering Officer of the Watch, Officer of the Deck, and Tactical Action Officer (TAO).

Ok, fair enough, I can appreciate the importance of being well rounded, but can someone tell me WHY THE F&*K you need a full body photo included as part of your promotion board? What is this, Match.com?

If you want your leaders to look good, and feel good about themselves, then throw away those horrendous blue camouflage uniforms and get back to khakis. ADM Nimitz and Steve McQueen are rolling in their graves right now.

The Navy doesn’t attempt to tailor officers to specific jobs that reflect their strengths or even teach them how to best lead their Sailors. Those who don’t fit in the pegs properly are considered “problems,” not potential assets that are capable of thinking outside the box and improving processes with their creativity, if they were only given more understanding leadership. Sure, there are sailors and officers who are prone to stupid acts, but more often than not, a deeper look would reveal a highly capable individual who is simply misunderstood and unappreciated.

“People quit managers, not jobs.” – Marcus Buckingham

Transocean had a solution to this, one that I found rather profound. Every employee is required to take a personality test that accurately depicts their tendencies, weaknesses, ideal situations, leadership needs, and growth areas. The results of this test are color-coded and you literally wear your personality on your hard hat, or at the entrance to your office. I’m a red over yellow. This essentially means that I have a go-getter/director personality coupled with a communicative/extroverted side.

Makes sense right?

There’s more to it than that…follow this link to see some of the other bits of info that go along with this profile.

I was at the Surface Navy Association National Symposium this winter and attended a speech by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. At the end of his speech, I got up to the microphone and mentioned how Transocean employees wore their personality profiles on their hardhats and on the entrance to their offices. I asked him if the US Navy was pursuing initiatives like this to support leadership development and fleet operations.

Most of the people in the audience laughed at the idea that officers would have their personality profiles affixed to their stateroom doors, but I think the VCNO saw what I was getting at.

Transocean (and every other civilian company) does something else that contributes to a positive working environment and leadership development…

Everyone eats together.

I realize this goes against a couple hundred years of Navy tradition, but seriously, why is it a privilege to eat in the Wardroom or Chief’s Mess? If you want to get to know your people, or anyone for that matter, have lunch with them. Listen to their conversations, talk to them, find out what motivates them. It’s really quite simple.

Leadership has nothing to do with the bars on your shoulder, or your job title, it has everything to do with getting the most out of the people you work with. The US Navy’s latest ship designs and technology have clearly evolved far quicker and further than its leadership. Perhaps it’s time to take a big step back and really ask the question, “why do we do it this way?”




Posted by Rob Almeida in Merchant Marine, Navy
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  • David Hindin

    My own timely rebuttals to this lame piece were banned by gCaptain.com. A more recent comment on the gCaptain.com site pretty much tolls the bell till it gets suppressed:
    http://gcaptain.com/leadership-sea-naval-officer/?43031
    Begin Quote:
    John Eric Dupee · Ship Pilot at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay
    Yeah, sorry Rob, but I HAVE been stationed in warships. A DDG, AOR, LSD and an LCU that deployed in an LPD, PHA and LPH, and lastly a YTB Master – additionally I served as a Harbor Pilot in three ports during my 22 years. For you to wrap that article up with who eats where is just plain childish. Unless I miss my mark – with two tours at sea you MIGHT have been a junior Department Head before heading to instructor duty. NOT the saltiest of dogs.

    Understanding IS key, Shipmate. Understanding that the Navy (and Military in general) CAN’T be run like a FOR profit entity is pretty elementary. And talent AIN’T recruited (nor is it kept) like it is on the outside. Nothing you’d be too, too familiar with if yer Chief was doing his job and keeping you out of trouble. Yer leadership DID fail you – the first response SHOULD have been “Did you ask the Chief?”

    “People quit managers, not jobs.” – Marcus Buckingham.
    Not in Military they DON’T. There not authorized to quit.

    Yer whole article places ALL blame with management and NONE with the individual. In my experience, when everyone was hosed up but ME, I needed to be hemmed up and re-calibrated.

    The Military ain’t for everybody and that ain’t a bad thing. Hell! You yourself admit to a problem with authority. Having your personality profile on yer ball cap would have just made you easier to identify to the Senior Watch Officer as a problem child.

    Is the Navy perfect? Hell, no – but it’s been doing pretty well these past 237 years, and I have faith it’ll continue to do well.

    Retired Navy CHIEF Boatswain’s Mate (Surface Warfare).

    End Quote.

    John Eric Dupee is the real deal.
    He blogs with style at:
    http://johndupee.wordpress.com/

  • David Hindin

    My comments(1} banned from gCaptain.com.

    I write to note an interesting published exception to the Transocean “colors personality process”. I will also not ask how it worked out in real time on ” Deepwater Horizon” either.

    From “The Leadership Experience” , by Richard L. Daft
    Publication Date: July 17, 2007 | ISBN-10: 0324539681 | ISBN-13: 978-0324539684 | Edition: 4.

    http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Experience-InfoTrac-Dryden-Management/dp/0324539681

    http://books.google.com/books?id=JJ_HuV1KlyQC&pg=PA97&lpg=PA97&dq=transocean+show+colors+leadership&source=bl&ots=Uq7uckLbNw&sig=YMgWpPiqPQ5AtxDNZ_CTVucT5HU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=8H1xT7XlF_LciQLhuqXgDA&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=transocean%20show%20colors%20leadership&f=false

    The Leader as Individual.
    P 97.
    Begin Quote:
    “Employees aren’t required to show their colors, and some don’t. One employee who doesn’t reveal his colors publicly is CEO (at the time) J. Michael Talbertwho says he needs to be a bit of a chameleon because he has to change his own personality to suit the people he’s dealing with at the time. Transocean’s
    training instructor reveals that Talbert’s really a green- blue. However, he can act like a competitive red when he needs to, the instructor says, referring to a recent merger. “‘Once the merger stuff settles down. he’ll go back.
    to green and blue”.
    End Quote.

  • David Hindin

    My comments (2) on the original piece that were banned from gCaptain:

    After giving some more thought (and research) to this really bizarre piece by Mr. Almeida, I think I can point to the root of his frustration regarding leadership in the Navy.
    The answer lies on another web site:
    http://goatlocker.org/

    “the quarters (berthing/lounge) area for Chief Petty Officers is referred to as “The Goat Locker”, hence the name of this site”.
    “For the visitors with no military background some additional information is necessary. No other armed force has a rate or rank equivalent to (Chief Petty Officer).. than the United States Navy or Coast Guard.”.
    “The “Chief” is required to be a fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of good will, and the authority on personnel relations as well as the technical expert. “Ask the Chief” is a household word in and out of the Navy and Coast Guard.”.

    http://goatlocker.org/cpo-resources.html

    Refers to a USNI archive article: “Where’s the Chief”, a 1995 Proceedings article by Captain Chris Johnson.

    A circa 2007 article shows the leadership problem that the Navy was dealing with during Almeida’s tenure.

    Lambert, Mike (Captain, ret.). (2007 April). “Anchor up, chiefs! Reset the Mess.” Proceedings, pp. 71–73.
    http://therealnavy.com/Documents/Anchor%20up%20Chiefs.pdf
    and finally, “Ask the Chief”
    By Chief Electronic Warfare Technician Robert S. Lanham, USN
    Proceedings Magazine – February 1999 Volume 125/2/1,15

    http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1999-02/ask-chief

    A young officer who fails to work within this system is bound to be frustrated the third party in the equation.

  • Paul P

    Great article about the role of leadership and where the Navy isn’t doing as good of a job as it should. A thought occurred to me after reading this a second time– there have been a lot of point made about education, leadership training and what it takes to be an officer/leader in today’s Navy and military in general. Many folks have pointed out the need for change. However, remember that the current leadership in the military are products of the system that folks have complained about.

    For them, the system worked as it should. They did what they did as per the career map and were rewarded by flag rank. It would take a group of dedicated senior officers to look at the system with an impartial eye and see what it was. Then, there may be changes or perhaps the current system is what the Navy needs.

    That first step is the problem– finding enough stars to make an honest, and open assessment with a commitment to change to make it happen. Perhaps then the need for articles like that above won’t be necessary.

  • http://gCaptain.com Rob Almeida

    In response to Mr. Hindin, he was banned due to his needlessly antagonistic approach. I think my article speaks for itself.

  • David Hindin

    I really don’t need the last word here, but in response to Mr. Almeida, his article “speaks for itself” Thanks to USNI for publishing spirited rebuttal.

  • Greg Ballard

    Mr Almeida: You are correct, your article does speak for itself. And that is why Mr Hindlin and Mr Dupee are correct. Part of the reason that you have these thoughts on your short career is the fact that nobody trained you correctly. The Academy is there to give you basic broad knowledge. Your Chief should have helped make you the Leader you needed to be for your division. You were probably left dangling, and that is our fault as a Chief’s mess. But if you wanted to be a specialized individual who is an expert on one job and only one job, you should have joined the Air Force. Nothing against them, I have worked with them extensively during my 22 years in, and my father was in the Air Force. Typically, they have 3-5 persons trained to do one of the technical jobs held by a Sailor. I take pride that my fellow Chiefs and most of the Navy are capable of being put in ANY job, and being successful. It might not be pretty, but it will be done. That is why our sister services like us when we go on IA’s to Iraq/Afghanistan with them. In the end you were most likely failed by your Chief. But was it all his/her fault? I would have hoped that they would have taught you at the Academy that you needed to seek out your Chief for guidance. That is one of our main jobs in the Navy…”training Junior Officers…”. As ADM Mullen said, he learned that officers command the ship, chiefs run the ship. You never learned, or were never taught that you didn’t have to know the minute inner workings of the systems you own as a Divo. That is the Chief’s job. You don’t like the fact that they didn’t cater to your specific strengths. Being at sea with a limited crew, we don’t have the luxury of falling back on 27 layers of officers/Chiefs/Sailors or only having certain people do certain jobs like a business can. They can fly somebody out to the rig to replace you in short notice. In a war zone, you don’t have time to stop the fight and say “that’s not my strong suit”. You were given a education and expected to be a leader in any situation.

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