Archive for the 'CNO' Tag
Adam Gopnik was recently on CNN with Fareed Zakaria discussing the place of the humanities in our world. It was a conversation that continues the recent debate aboutr the U.S. education system and the role of STEM. It also is a mirror to the discussion of officer education and training in the U.S. Navy, albeit somewhat inverted. While the discussion of U.S. education at large is one of too few science, technology, engineering, and math students and practitioners, in the Navy we face an officer corps where STEM educated officers are by far the majority, and according to policy will only become more dominant. But Gopnik said something that caught my attention: “We need the humanities … because we are human.”
The statement reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a Captain in the Pentagon. Following the relief of yet another Commanding Officer, for a leadership mistake that seemed obvious to us, the Captain asked how come, after 238 years of naval history, we haven’t figured this out? We all know what good leadership is, we all know not to be a toxic leader, and doesn’t it all seem so simple? It’s reminiscent of a letter Admiral Hyman Rickover wrote to the editor of Proceedings in 1981. For Rickover, the engineer’s mind could not fathom why people didn’t simply follow the procedure, put the inputs into the equation and get the guaranteed result. There was no need, he wrote, for Proceedings to ever publish another article on leadership. Good leadership was a settled matter.
The reason, of course, is that we’re talking about human beings, complete with all of our frailties, failings, and free will. One of the great truisms of military leadership is that our people are our greatest strength, or our most valuable asset. It’s repeated time and time again. Today Chief of Naval Operations Greenert tells us that “Our power comes from our folks, the attributes and their skill which they bring.” A century ago Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote that having a good Navy “consists not so much in the building of ships and guns as it does in the possession of trained men.” Is it true? I certainly think so. But if people matter, we’re not talking simply about end-strength numbers or rack space in berthing. We’re talking about humans. And because we’re talking about leading, working with, partnering with, and eventually even fighting other humans…we need the humanities.
Cultural understanding, emotional intelligence and empathy are fundamental parts of good leadership, and also a part of modern naval concepts like international partnerships. They come from experience. It is my great hope, however, that I will never have to experience all of the trials and challenges my fellow sailors face in life in order to help them. What a tragic life that could be. Instead, I’d rather read my share of Shakespeare, Hemingway, or O’Brian, which might help me learn a thing or two about emotion and about the way people face different challenges in their lives, even at sea. Reading the biographies of great leaders, the histories of battles both large and small, and the classics of strategy, helps me learn from the mistakes and successes of others rather than have to learn only from my own multitude of mistakes.
Many of you right now are thinking, sure but will it give me practical answers? No. Will it help me on my next tactics quiz or NATOPS closed book test? No. And that’s not the point. Empathy is not about perfect answers; it’s about finding a place to begin understanding each other and finding a way to connect. Without that connection, leadership is purely a matter of positional authority. Of course, only barking out orders is one of the worst ways to be a leader. The goal is leadership where, as one of Lord Admiral Nelson’s officers once said, “we all wish to do what he likes, without any kind of orders.” And if you remember that the enemy gets a vote, then the human mind will also play a role in how they formulate that decision.
Admiral Harvey was simply wrong when he told CDR Salamander and Eagle One on Midrats that “this is not a business for poets.” (Actually, his friend ADM James Stavridis, counters the idea directly since he studied English literature instead of engineering as a Midshipman.) It is true that we do need practical answers sometimes though. When running a nuclear plant, the Admiral is of course right that we need technical experts who can give the definite answer. But technical knowledge and execution are only a part of my job as an officer. (And, incidentally, something that Nuclear Power School has taught lots of historians and English majors.) If half of my job is working with other humans, why should I only study science and machines? Shouldn’t we have balanced officers, able to integrate the human and the technical? In order to have that, we must educate in a balanced way as well.
In the critical scene in Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad’s classic novel of the maritime world in the late 19th century, the Second Engineer of the tramp steamer Patna comes up to the bridge from below, long after dark as they head across the Gulf of Aden. The novel’s anti-hero Jim repeatedly checks the clock, as the final minutes of his bridge watch tick down (a moment we all know and identify with). The Engineer and the Captain, who had just come to the bridge in his pajamas, begin to argue about the role that Engineers should play at sea. Without them the ship wouldn’t even move, and they could pretty much take care of all the responsibilities aboard ship, exclaims the engineer. The Captain argues back about the importance of seamanship and command, both men likely having had a nip from the bottle. Jim, paying attention to the amusing give and take, feels the ship give a shudder. Patna struck something in the water. The officers, distracted by their argument and the sudden fear that Patna will sink, abandon ship.
I can’t help feel like the scene tells us something about the debate over officer education. We need both. We need engineers to provide technical expertise and their particular way of approaching problems and we also need a balance of line officers who have studied humans and human interaction, who have studied the humanities. We need diversity. But maybe most importantly, we need both of them to stop arguing with each other and stop maneuvering for position. Stop making official policies that benefit their tribe and take us further out of balance. Stop thinking that only they and their type is what our navy and our nation need.
It’s time to drive the ship. The issue is on the table, but instead of tribal preservation we must figure out how to bring balance back to the Navy, to educate officers and integrate the technical specialist’s skills with the strategic thinking and leadership lessons of the humanities and social sciences. Instead of piecemeal decisions and salami slicing policy, we need a holistic vision. It is time for an official and comprehensive look at the kind of naval officer we need in the 21st century, and how our system develops those officers. If we neglect our professional responsibilities the tragic victims may not be our service, but instead the passengers we abandon: the American people. It’s time to stop arguing at the back of the bridge and start looking outside. It’s time to focus on our profession. We’re headed toward a collision.
Good people can argue yes or no if Mentorism is best left as an encouraged, but natural and informal process where junior personnel seek advice and example from more senior personnel who can help them understand what is needed to succeed. Many think that something so good as having a Mentor provides such a benefit that it should be mandatory. I happen to believe it works best when allowed to happen naturally – but support for formal Mentoring is a easily defended opinion. Either way – Mentorism is a net good for all involved, including the Navy.
SeaDaddyism, however, is a totally different animal. SeaDaddyism is a cancer in any organization, as one person is given special treatment based on being a golf buddy, son-in-law of a significant person, son of a good friend, daughter of a college roommate, etc. That is why smart leaders will do their best to keep any hint of favoritism away and beyond suggestion. Indeed, SeaDaddyism is best seen as straddling the fuzzy line where fraternization begins. Ugly and a net negative for the health of the Navy.
In the few cases where I saw real SeaDaddyism, conflict soon followed. Good thing about our PCS system though – in most cases the impact on a Command are mitigated by time, and things tend to self-correct for the Command degraded by the effects of a SeaDaddy on the fair and equal evaluation and treatment of subordinates.
What if we had a system of official SeaDaddyism – one that was supported all the way to the senior uniformed leadership of our Navy? What if mid-level leaders, the ones who write FITREPS and Detail officers, were held accountable if they did not practice SeaDaddyism? What if there was a by-name list of personnel who were to receive the benefits of open, aggressive, and trackable SeaDaddyism? Independent of any self-correcting PCS cycle – what if this SeaDaddyism was perpetual – unending.
Worse yet – most would know who was on the list, and who was not. What if every time someone was promoted or given a plum assignment – regardless of the possible exemplary performance of that individual – because it was known/assumed that the individual was on the SeaDaddy List, it would be assumed that the person didn’t earn or deserve promotion or a plum assignment – that it was simply a gift from his SeaDaddy?
From one of my very trusted sources,
From: XXXX, XXDM, N00
Sent: XXXday, July XX, 2010
To: XX RADM, N00; XXX, RDML, N00; XXX, RADM 00; XXX, RDML USN; XXX, RADM, N00; XXX RDML N00; XXX, RDML, XXX, RDML, N00; XXX, RADM, XXX, RDML, N00; XXX, RDML, XXX, RADM ‘
Cc: CAPT XXXX, Executive Assistant to ASN (XXX); XXX, N00; XXX, SES, N00; XXX, CAPT, N1
Subject: Diversity Accountability
In preparation for the annual Diversity Accountability Brief that I will be giving CNO next month, my N1 has put together the attached slides. The data, pulled from TWMS earlier this week, represents what is in the system but actual assignment of personnel in your XXXXXX may vary. Please review and submit changes as necessary.
A change in focus of this year’s diversity brief is the desire to identify our key performers (by name) and provide insight on each of them. CNO is interested in who are the diverse officers with high potential and what is the plan for their career progression. He may ask what is being done within to ensure they are considered for key follow on billets within the Navy. This list must be held very closely but will provide ready reference to ensure we are carefully monitoring and supporting the careers of the best and the brightest the Navy has to offer.
Please review the data provided and report your concurrence or identify specific anomalies. Your insight to the diverse composition of your command will assist in my discussion with CNO. Additionally, provide your by name list including career insight for your top performers (03 and above) in those key positions. This reporting requirement will not be put into TV4 taskers due to the sensitive nature of the by name list. Input is due to me by 2 August 2010.
So, back to the title of this post. Is this the Navy we want? A Navy where we track officers by a desired race and ethnicity, and demand – that pesky word accountability from a 4-Star is a demand – that they are ranked higher and detailed to better jobs than those of a different race and ethnicity?
Really? I take a slightly different angle on this over at my homeblog, head on over there if you want to read it and the response from the CNO’s office on the above – but here is my final thought.
We have a great tradition in our Navy of “taking charge and carrying out the plan of the day.” Those officers appointed over us are given the obedience their rank deserves and their orders are followed. That is built on a foundation of belief that those appointed over us got there on merit – they got there because they are the best. As a result, if we have to go in harm’s way they will give us the best odds of achieving victory over our enemies, secure our nation’s interests, and return our Sailors back to their families intact.
How does Diversity Accountability support this foundation? If it doesn’t – when do you start to question it?
As professionals, when do we cross the line from following every order blindly to listening to that nagging voice in the back of our head telling us all is not well – that the assumptions in our track are all wrong? The further down this track we go, the more I think of the lessons of Honda Point.
If we want to encourage the already widespread problem of racial self-identification fraud, this is a great way to do it. If we want to move away from a goal of a color-blind and equal opportunity Navy, this is a great way to do it. If we want to encourage division based on the worst parts of human nature, this is a great way to do it.
The answer is simple. The solution is very simple.
UPDATE: The Washington Times has picked up on the story with an editorial; High seas segregation: The Navy is listing dangerously in politically correct water. They nail it.
In practice, the Navy will be creating a list of privileged “diverse” officers who will enjoy special benefits and career mentoring not available to people of the wrong race, as well as a virtual guarantee of fast-track access to the highest reaches of command. Fifty-six years after the Supreme Court struck down the concept of “separate but equal” treatment of races, the U.S. Navy is erecting a wall of segregation between what will amount to two parallel promotion systems: one for the “diverse” and another for the monotone. If this isn’t illegal, it should be.
This type of backward, 20th-century, overtly racial thinking has no place in 21st-century post-racial America. The Navy leadership apparently believes the way to promote racial harmony is by engaging in blatant, invidious discrimination. In practice, however, this system will, in fact, relegate “diverse” sailors to a form of second-class status. Any nonwhite male sailor who – through intelligence, initiative and drive – builds a stellar career will simply be seen as just another special case, just one of “the Listers.” Those sailors may achieve rank, but they will have to work twice as hard to command respect.
The suggested list of privileged officers is due Monday. The message states that the reporting requirement will not be put into the secretary of the Navy’s TV4 Taskers tracking system “due to the sensitive nature of the by name list.” No doubt, once the secret list leaks, as it surely will, there will be as much discomfort for the people on the list as for those not on it, especially those unfortunates who met the diversity requirement but for some reason did not make the cut. Maybe they can sue, charging discrimination. Either way, the Navy Department has run aground.