Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag
Following the end of the Second World War, Captain B.B. Wygant felt that the United States Navy needed a reminder of the great men of its past. With so much valor and accomplishment during the war in the Pacific, and on the European front, he appeared to fear that important historical examples of naval professionalism might be lost.
There was one man, above all others, that he felt the next generation of officers needed to be aware of: Admiral William Sims. He wrote an article that was published in Proceedings in 1951 entitled “Admiral Sims As I Knew Him,” where he reminisced of his personal experience serving under Sims and the stories that circulated in the fleet during his years in uniform.
For more than two decades William S. Sims was at the forefront of naval affairs. From the revolution in naval gunnery to his development of torpedo boat and destroyer operations, he was a central figure in preparing the U.S. Navy for World War I. During the war, he served as the senior naval commander in Europe and was instrumental in the establishment of the convoy system. Following the war his leadership as president of the Naval War College established the foundation of the creative and innovative Navy that developed the operating concepts for submarines and aircraft carriers leading up to World War II.
Below are excerpts from Wygant’s article. For USNI members who want to read the original, with a multitude of sea stories and leadership lessons, it can be found in full in the Proceedings Digitization Project.
By 1903 I had been detached from the Kearsarge and was a division officer on board a gunboat with four inch guns. At the time that Sims came on board we were engaged in the process of substituting human hair for the coarse metal wires that had been supplied in the telescopes. He took as much interest in that procedure as if it had concerned the telescopes of a turret in a battleship. In the conferences that were held to discuss gunnery matters he encouraged the younger officers to speak out and not to be tongue tied in the presence of their seniors.
He was liberal minded in other things as well. One day while walking in the countryside near Newport, he told me something of his experiences while serving as Naval Attaché in Paris and St. Petersburg. When asked about life in the Russian capital during the gay season, he remarked that he avoided social activities as much as possible because Russian society was extremely corrupt and the treatment of the lower classes was revolting to him. “Had I been a Russian I might have been a Nihilist,” he added jokingly.
Later he had command of the Atlantic Destroyer Flotilla, and it was in this latter position in particular that his characteristic methods were brought into play. Frequent conferences were held in which all were encouraged to be outspoken and decisions were arrived at after free discussion. Sims was never a great advocate of “spit and polish” but was immensely concerned with getting things done. In May 1917 when the second group of our destroyers arrived in Queenstown for antisubmarine operations the Admiral came on board the destroyer Tucker to ascertain how we had stood the trip. After looking about and asking a vew questions he requested a boat to take him ashore, having dismissed the familiar green barge on his coming aboard. A boat was called away and while I explained that there had not been time to shine the brightwork since our rather rough passage he interrupted, “Will the boat run?” When I replied that it would, he said, “What is it for?” The thing that mattered was not the appearance of the boat but its ability to carry out its mission.
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
Sims’ willingness to permit the exercise of initiative by the man on the spot was noteworthy, as was also the extent to which he decentralized administration at a time when such practice was somewhat new in the service. I have a letter from him in this connection in which he wrote as follows: “Decentralization was of course bound to come with experience. Probably you do not know to what extent. Here is an example from before your time: I was closely associated with a C-in-C … who opened all the flagship mail, wrote all the endorsements … in his own hand, had all signals brought to him, wrote the answers himself, and allowed nothing to be done without reference to him. And he was immensely proud of his achievement!”
An example of Sims’ tendency to reduce things to their essentials is his definition of a destroyer in an attack against capital ships. “A destroyer is a projectile and the Captain is the fuse.”
His life was largely spent in uncovering deficiencies and smashing idols, but while deprecating his tendency to overstatement and his occasional inability to make clear his point of view, I feel that to him more than to any other single person belongs the credit for the efficiency which the U. S. Navy demonstrated during the Second World War.
Readers interested in the writing, thinking, and professionalism of William Sims can read some of his essays and articles, with introductions, in “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.”
In 1916 Europe was engulfed in the beginning of The Great War. The rapid campaign that was expected in the summer of 1914 had degenerated into something unexpected, a long and almost siege like struggle. While the United States proclaimed neutrality, the Navy suspected things would get worse and they would either need to protect the American coastline or lead a mass mobilization to carry an army across the Atlantic. They began to prepare volunteers who expressed interest in joining the naval services with information to jump start their training when the time came. It began with a series of lectures, including subjects like coastal defense tactics and torpedo boats, and a short period aboard a ship a sea.
Captain William Sims was asked to prepare a lecture for the Naval Volunteers on the subject of “military character.” Sims was well known in the service. He had led the gunnery revolution a decade prior, at one point earning him the nickname “The Gun Doctor,” and was a leading voice in the development of modern battleships. He had spent some time at the Naval War College as a student, and was kept on as an instructor before returning to the fleet. During the war he would command all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, the Navy’s command equivalent to General Pershing’s on land.
The subject of professionalism is central to much of Sims writing, both before the war and after returning home to assume responsibilities as the President of the War College. From the importance of personal professional study, to the tenets of mission command, to the need for constant military innovation, he spent a good deal of time thinking about the subject.
What did Sims believe were the professional and ethical responsibilities of a military leader? In his view a central tenet was the importance of self-awareness. Professionalism requires a constant personal net assessment, or “estimate of the situation.” This is what he told the Naval Volunteers who had gathered with the knowledge that they might soon leave their civilian responsibilities and take on the mantle of military leadership:
It seems almost incredible that there should be men of marked intellectual capacity, extensive professional knowledge and experience, energy and professional enthusiasm, who have been a detriment to the service in every position they have occupied. They are the so-called “impossible” men who have left throughout their careers a trail of discontent and insubordination; all because of their ignorance of, or neglect of, one or many of the essential attributes of military character.
I knew one such officer who was a polished gentleman in all respects, except that he failed to treat his enlisted subordinates with respect. His habitual manner to them was calmly sarcastic and mildly contemptuous, and sometimes quite insulting, and in consequence he failed utterly to inspire their loyalty to the organization.
A very distinguished officer said after reaching the retired list: “The mistake of my career was that I did not treat young officers with respect, and subsequently they were the means of defeating my dearest ambitions.”
The services of this officer, in spite of this defect, and by reason of his great ability, energy, and professional attainment, and devotion to the service, were nevertheless of great value.
Both qualities and defects of course exist in varying degrees. These sometimes counterbalance each other, and sometimes the value of certain qualities makes up for the absence of others.
Some officers of ordinary capacity and attainments have always been successful because of their ability to inspire the complete and enthusiastic loyalty of all serving with them, and thus command their best endeavors; but no matter what other qualities an officer may possess, such success can never be achieved if he fails in justice, consideration, sympathy, and tact in his relations with his subordinates.
Such men are invaluable in the training of the personnel of a military organization in cheerful obedience, loyalty and initiative; and when these qualities are combined in a man of naturally strong character and intellectual capacity he has the very foundation stones upon which to build the military character.
The pity of it is that so many men of great potential power should not only have ruined their own careers, but have actually inflicted continuous injury upon the service, through neglecting to make an estimate of the situation as regards their characters and through neglecting to use their brains to determine the qualities and line of conduct essential to success in handling their men, and thus failing to reach a decision which their force of character would have enabled them to adhere to.
Such a reasoned process applied to the most important attribute of an officer, namely, his military character, would have saved many from partial or complete failure through the unreasoned, though conscientious, conviction that it was actually their duty to maintain an inflexible rigidity of manner toward their subordinates, to avoid any display of personal sympathy, to rule them exclusively by the fear of undiscriminating severity in the application of maximum punishments, and such like obsessions.
It would appear that such officers go through their whole career actually guided by a snap judgment, or a phrase, borrowed from some older officer, such as the precepts quoted above. Though they have plenty of brains and mean well, their mistake is that they never have subjected themselves and their official conduct to any logical analysis. Moreover, they are usually entirely self-satisfied, and frequently boastful of their unreasoned methods of discipline; and they usually explain their lack of success by inveighing against the quality of the personnel committed to their charge.
All this to accentuate the conclusion of the war college conference that: “We believe it is the duty of every officer to study his own character that he may improve it, and to study the characters of his associates that he may act more efficiently in his relation with them.”
This, then, is the lesson for all members of our military services. Let us consider seriously this matter of military character, especially our own. Let us not allow anybody to persuade us that it is a “high brow” subject, for though military writers confine their analysis almost exclusively to the question of the “great leaders,” the principles apply equally to all individuals of an organization from the newest recruit up.
This is excerpt from chapter two of “21st Century Sims: Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era.” It is cross-posted from The Strategy Bridge’s series on the military #profession. The book is available for pre-order and will be available 15 February in paperback and e-book.
First, let’s set the stage. Most of you have already read this;
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Michael Stevens today said the Navy is revoking Bill Cosby’s title of honorary Chief Petty Officer, originally presented in 2011. The Navy is taking this action because allegations against Mr. Cosby are very serious and are in conflict with the Navy’s core values of honor, courage and commitment.
Cosby enlisted in the Navy in 1956 and served for four years as a hospital corpsman before being honorably discharged in 1960 as a 3rd Class Petty Officer.
Let us put aside the sordid stories and unpack this a bit.
The Navy is taking this action because allegations against Mr. Cosby …
As far as we know, these are simply allegations, yes? So, we do not wait for justice, we do not wait for much of anything. The accusation is enough, I presume.
In isolation of the case at hand, I hold no brief for Bill Cosby, fully hoist onboard the reasoning and precedence we are accepting, and over the last few decades have accepted with a numbingly regularity – there are larger issues at work.
Where else does this habit manifest itself? We all know about the abuse of the IG system and the habit of firing senior leaders simply on the basis of an accusation. When we do that, we destroy careers decades in the making and even worse, besmirch the name of good people who, once found innocent, cannot reclaim their good name.
When truth, justice, and fairness are replaced by emotion, spin, and narcissistically therapeutic emoting in synch with the political mob’s Zeitgeist of the news cycle – what message are we sending to the Fleet, to our Sailors?
If thinking, feeling, and believing are now trumping what we know – then exactly what kind of organization are we? What are our Core Values again?
What are we honoring by presuming guilt, executing punishment, and then using that presumption to preach to the adoring public about our “honor.”
What courage is it to immediately throw someone under the bus before they have had a chance to address the charges against them? Why the hurry? Are we serving justice, or are we only out to protect ourselves, truth – unknown – be damned.
What are we showing a commitment to? Not to a Petty Officer Cosby who served our Navy at not the easiest time for a man of his background to serve. I’m not sure we are showing commitment to the values of justice as outlined in the Constitution we are sworn to uphold. I’m not sure we are even showing a commitment to the UCMJ. It seems that we are mostly concerned with a commitment to damage control against the Zeitgeist.
These public sacrifices to Vaal serve nothing and no one but the person who does the firing, to remove a irritation, to remove a distraction – not for any other higher purpose. That is a clear message; a message that is received.
What is our official Ethos? Let’s pull from the juicy center;
Integrity is the foundation of our conduct; respect for others is fundamental to our character; decisive leadership is crucial to our success.
We are a team, disciplined and well-prepared, committed to mission accomplishment. We do not waver in our dedication and accountability to our shipmates and families.
We are patriots, forged by the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment. In times of war and peace, our actions reflect our proud heritage and tradition.
Are we showing respect for the assumption of innocence of Cosby? Are we being dedicated to our Shipmates? Is punishing people by removing honors based simply by accusation part of our proud heritage and tradition? Really?
Is that the standard we are going to set? Is that the message we want to send to our people? You will be punished without evidence, simply because of accusation? We will crush you, and if innocent or the accusations are unproven – then that is your problem, as long as we are protected?
We are looking for reasons why our most experienced leaders are leaving after Command. We are wondering why we have so many refusing command that is offered to them.
Want to know why there is such an erosion in trust in senior leadership? Wonder why there is so little confidence? Want to know why a growing number of mid-grade officers don’t want that job?
Look at messages. Look at actions – not words – actions. Is truth a habit, a feature, or an inconvenience. Is not all honor we have set on a foundation of truth?
If we undermine that value of truth, does not the entire structure above it fall in to danger?
Here is a data-point to consider – an example where the actual ethos set on high drifts down to every layer of our organization. Even down to the keepers of our official memory. The chronicle keepers. Those keeping the bridge log.
They feel that there is nothing wrong with deleting history; ripping pages out of the chronicles; changing the bridge log.
Here is a screen shot from Thursday night of the URL: “http://www.navalhistory.org/2011/03/03/chief-cosby-front-and-center” read the address. Here is what you see.
What is missing? Well, with the Internet – nothing is deleted. Here is the cache:
Was this done by bad people? No. This was done by good people taking action based on the signals they are getting from higher up. That is where my bet is.
In the opening, I stated this problem started decades ago, for clarity sake, let’s draw a sharp mark on the calendar – one that is in living memory for anyone Year-Group ’91 or older, and legend to younger. We can draw that line 23 years and three months ago to the second week in September 1991; Tailhook.
That is where we saw senior civilian and uniformed leadership – who were there and active participants – shrink and cower while pulling the uninjured bodies of the innocent over them to protect them from the political frag pattern. Countless good junior officers’ careers were strangled in the cradle to protect those already past their prime.
For those who lived through it – that was the first break in the trust in leadership and our system many of us experienced. Following events have just emphasized that break in a bond that should be there, but isn’t – a break we see, talk about, and even do surveys trying to figure out.
This episode of memory hole utilization is just another data-point of an entire organization that has allowed this malignancy to take hold from bottom to top. Though modest, it cannot be discounted. It is the shaking rear-view mirror that is the result of the engine mount that is slowly giving away. You can ignore the shake and dismiss it as minor – which it is – but, you are also ignoring the cause of it; a growing problem that will eventually lead to catastrophic failure.
I have had a few people mention to me that this action is a response to an organizational circuit breaker popping in DC over a Petty Officer’s horrific Peeping Tom activity towards his ship’s female officers. If true, then we are letting the criminal actions of a 2nd Class Petty Officer indict the entire Navy as an organization tries so hard to be seen doing something, anything – and Bill Cosby, already abandoned my most, is an easy, defenseless, target of opportunity.
Again, is this in line with the truth, justice, or fairness? No. It is the reactionary result of thoughts driven by feelings of fear, believing that in some way, the organization you lead is as bad as its critics say it is.
Not the finest example of the human condition is our actions towards Petty Officer Cosby. One thing this episode has made clear; we have yet to recover from the leadership failures we saw in spades after Tailhook.
UPDATE: A point of clarification was brought up in comments. That website is not hosted by the U.S. Navy. It’s hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute. NHHC was invited to be equal partner on our site, and others as guest bloggers, among them Navy TV. It is at their discretion to delete/make private the posts.
Back in 2009, in his Proceedings article The Navy Can Handle the Truth: Creative Friction Without Conflict, regular USNI contributor Claude Berube provided a great observation about how important the give and take of debate is in addressing the challenges we face, and the great opportunity we have with the internet to broaden the reach and scope of those involved.
In the current environment, due to largely to changing missions, budgetary constraints, and varying priorities, the Navy continues to shrink in terms of both ships and personnel, decreasing the already minimal familiarity of the general American public with its Sea Services. Bullets and shells may win the battles, but words and ideas define the war and mobilize or sway the requisite public opinion to win it. Therefore, it is important for the Navy to recognize that one of America’s greatest strengths—its freedom of speech—can be its own force multiplier. This freedom allows for creativity, the engine of culture, the economy, and the military; dictatorial powers largely experience the relative creative stagnation regnant in a closed society.
Earlier this week over at my homeblog, in a discussion about another Proceedings article by CDR Darcie Cunningham, USCG; Millenials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?, I brought in a White Paper that found its way to me, Training Millennials: Improving Quality in an Environment of Austerity, by LCDR Gordon “Judy” Faulkner, USN, at that time the VFA-106 Training Officer. Yesterday Judy sent me an updated version of the White Paper which I’ve embedded below.
Not taken aback by the boisterous romper-room that exists over at my homeblog, as I asked, Judy reached out to me – and the results are exactly what Claude was outlining.
I liked his email so much, with only minor changes, I asked his permission to publish it as a guest post. I originally was going to post his response over at CDRSalamander, but I wanted instead to bring it over here, as Judy brings up exceptionally important challenges that need to get a broader exposure.
Though I remain in disagreement with some of his observations about Millenials and think that discussion is a distraction, the other part – and I would argue the most important part of the White Paper – is what I would recommend the greatest focus by the reader.
Read the updated paper at the link above and draw your own conclusions, but the rest of the post I would like to turn over to Judy. The quotes are from my commentary on his White Paper, but otherwise the rest is his response. Over to you Judy.
Perhaps this piece would have been better as two separate articles, each addressing what I perceive as two very different topics. 1) Chronic under-resourcing coupled with mission creep, resulting in an inadequate training pipeline. 2) How to recognize, address and lead in light of generational friction, which you seem to agree is real and exists between most generations. Alas, the version you posted is the one that most people have read.
My use of the term “Millenials” in the title belied the real point of the paper. Alternatively I could have called it “How under-resourcing is threatening to destroy the Navy by forcing us to push through sub-par officers in an effort to meet requirements.” Even my long-winded literary namesake would assault this as verbose.
“He is not happy with the condition of the swimming hole he is playing in and has a rough idea that the issues are upstream … but besides a sniff and a passing glance, he has not started asking – or at least feels he has the top-cover to even bring up – the harder questions of “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”
Let’s put one thing to bed – during my time at VFA-106, AIRLANT fully supported every Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB) that VFA-106 submitted; there were several. I was VERY happy with the swimming hole I was playing in (VFA-106) and those Commanding Officers who went to the mat to support me. In fact, it was my most rewarding tour thus far. Top cover existed in spades – to the point where VFA-106 failed to meet production metrics in part due to historically high attrition.
I have thought extensively about, ” “why” these personality types are floating down to his part of the river.”
It has a lot to do with the “fiscal austerity” in my title (sorry again for the drudgery there). Chronic under-resourcing creates a training dilemma.
How do we access, indoctrinate, train, and retain the best officers while culling those not suited to military service? Even more importantly, how do we do that in an environment where the best are leaving (or are not signing up in the first place), and we are forced in some cases to retain the worst to meet requirements? You point that out yourself here:
The problem is not with the Millenials – it is with senior leadership’s inability to select, cull, and lead junior personnel. Do that, and any “problem” people simply won’t show up.
That is the rub. Setting standards from officer accession, entry in to aviation pipeline, and then each milestone along the way.
Agreed. In fact, that is why six of seven proposed solutions have nothing to do with changing Millenials. Leadership is the solution, and as I state in my paper we need to tailor leadership to those we lead while enforcing or improving upon existing standards. That begins with understanding those we lead.
If I sound a bit like a curmudgeon, perhaps it is because 23 pages seemed long enough. Another paper written today might be about all of the positive aspects of Millenials that we should be tapping into and harnessing as leaders.
That being said, as you point out in your conclusion, generational friction is real. Understanding that friction and your audience are critical to effective communication, which is fundamental to sound leadership. Dr. Jean Twenge is doing a sound and scientifically based job of explaining current generational friction. In my opinion, she offers excellent insight for officers attempting to improve their communication skills. She is not selling snake oil out of the back of a wagon. She is attempting to quantify and explain generational friction in an effort to foster understanding. This is not at all about blaming Millenials; it is about understanding them. To quote my paper: “Developing Millennial officers requires a concerted leadership approach. Officers cannot lead in the ways that they believed worked for their generation. They must study, adapt and lead in the way that their Sailors require them to. Leaders must adjust their approach to their Sailors, not the other way around.”
There is also the problem of second guessing of who can or cannot meet standards. The multiple chances and training jackets measured in inches of thickness and pounds of weight … the pushing to the right and the next command people who should be invited to find another way to serve their country earlier on – wasting their time and the Navy’s money. That story is not new. May be worse – but not new.
Bingo. I could not agree with you more. Here’s the three million-dollar question – when we have fewer candidates who meet the standard than we have required billets, what gives, the requirement or the standard? This is where the rubber meets the road in today’s Navy. The most recent Aviation Department Head Screen Board is yet another example of this dilemma, albeit rooted in some different issues.
The Sailors of VFA-106 expend tremendous energy to train every officer who arrives at our door. In some cases, those officers should not have arrived in the first place. That does not mean they do not deserve our full effort. Some of the best leadership I have ever seen came from the Lieutenants whom VFA-106 assigned as mentors to our most difficult officers. We did not attrite those problem children them without first trying to lead and develop them.
There is a balance between healthy attrition and production. The former fosters competition and appreciation for the privilege of serving in the Navy. The latter ensures that we meet requirements in a way that is fiscally responsible to the US taxpayer. One of the most difficult decisions as a Training Officer or Commanding Officer is when to remove a student from training. In some cases it is easy; in most cases it is a gut wrenching progression of doing everything possible to train and lead (we all want to believe that we can get through to anyone) and finally admitting that some people are not suited for Aviation or for the Navy. The point where that decision occurs will vary based on leadership style and experience. In all cases, it is critically important that the Fleet provides unfiltered feedback on their nuggets and that the Fleet Replacement Squadrons provide the same to the Training Command. That flow of information should continue all the way to assessment. The bottom line is that ownership at every level ultimately ensures that we do not matriculate sub-standard officers to the fleet. Each command should see itself as a brand and every officer that passes their doors as a ambassador of that brand. Ultimately, a certain amount of undermanning is preferable to having sub-standard officer, aviator, SWO or Submariner in a Wardroom.
If you are not given the tools to force shape those that float down stream to you, then your bosses are the problem.
Boom goes the dynamite. In this case, the tools you speak of are resources matched to requirements. And in my opinion, the bosses are the elected ones, not the ones in uniform; however, it is our responsibility as officers to dutifully advise our elected officials when we can no longer meet stated goals given current fiscal constraints; however, as an O-4 at the Fleet Replacement Squadron those conversations are “a little out of my element.”
In summary, the entire cadre of junior officer instructors at VFA-106 is comprised of Millenials. They are some of the best officers with whom I have had the opportunity to serve. They are harder working, smarter and in many cases more dedicated then my contemporaries. Given adequate resourcing those same instructors of VFA-106 will set to meeting fleet requirements, providing the Navy with high quality Officers and aviators. And given adequate resourcing, we might just improve their morale and retention at the same time.
That, my friends, is how it is done.
As a final note – if you wonder if Aristotle, Chesterton, Socrates or other of history’s great thinkers ever yelled at the kids to get off their lawn, I recommend
This post is a response to an article in the August issue of USNI’s Proceedings by Commander Darcie Cunningham, U.S. Coast Guard, titled “Millennials Bring a New Mentality: Does it Fit?” So if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you start there. This post appeared in its original form at CIMSEC.
Where to begin? To her credit, Commander Cunningham asks an important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” It’s also clear her frustrations are borne of personal experiences in command. Unfortunately it’s a question she fails to answer (more on that later) and in doing so perpetuates myths and patronizing generalizations. [Full disclosure: I’m in the millennial generation, on the older end of the spectrum, and like all such groupings the term “millennial” is a debatable construct but I’ll accept her definition (those born in the 80s and 90s) for argument’s sake.] “Kids These Days!” Commander Cunningham begins by noting several behaviors that are supposedly unique to millennials: that they “posture to work only the bare minimum number of hours required,” that their “customs and courtesies are eroding,” and that “there are an increased number of negative confrontations.” It is entirely possible that this is what is happening at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles, it is certainly her perception. But more likely it is just that: perception. Such perceptions have existed about pretty much every generation when they were in their youth. That doesn’t make them accurate.
Let’s return to the important question: “how does our structured military culture adapt to this new generation?” Beyond the advice to use positive feedback to keep the crew motivated, the Commander Cunningham offers nothing. Instead she says they must be “educated,” “course-corrected,” and evaluated for whether they will “truly be able to adapt to the service.” And that’s the thing – this isn’t really an article about adapting the military to millennials, it’s about adapting millennials to the military, as reflected in the title. Which is not all bad. To be sure respect for rank and proper military etiquette are just good manners, and appreciation for a service’s traditions, structure, customs, and courtesies are the marks of a professional. Yet here is where it gets downright galling. The commander moves to close by questioning whether millennials are just “focused on what’s in it for them.” This is flat-out wrong. As the Washington Post reports, millennials “want jobs that affect social change, and they give what they can. A 2012 study found that three-quarters of young people surveyed gave to a charity in 2011, and 63 percent volunteered for a cause.” It bears remembering that this is an all-volunteer force. While many undoubtedly join the military in part for other reasons – heck I joined partly to pay for college and to travel abroad – I would submit a vast majority, such as myself, also joined in part for the ideals that military service embodies and a belief that such work is work towards a better world. Instead of playing to these motivations, however, Commander Cunningham advises reminding these servicemembers that there are “long lines” waiting to get into the coast guard and that the economy is not the best. There’s so much wrong in this. First, it’s unclear if the commander thinks that since “millennials…may not be the right fit,” they can be replaced by one of the other five generations she says she oversees, or if she’s referring to individual millennial members. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt she means the latter and that she’s not saying that taking on the challenge of motivating millennials may just be too hard and that they should be written-off en masse. Second, there’s a reason these individuals are the ones in service and not in the supposed long lines. It’s because these they were the top qualified candidates. Even those who aren’t top performers in service are not likely to have too much trouble finding work outside the military, or using their benefits for further education, so this threat rings hollow except for those really troubled individuals threatened with a non-honorable discharge. And that’s to say nothing of how trying to scare one’s employees isn’t typically the best management or leadership strategy. Third, because these were the top qualified candidates this also means that any millennial you give up on is going to be replaced by…another millennial…who by and large won’t be as qualified. Sure you can keep up the numbers, but again, what does this say of the quality of your talent pool? One complaint the commander makes that does ring true is that “younger members…have an expectation of accelerated advancement through the organization.” In Commander Snodgrass’ 2014 Retention Survey he notes that 60% of respondents “feel they are making a difference in their job, but regardless of what they do – 64% don’t think they will be rewarded in any way by superior performance.” This should not be an indictment of millennials but a recognition of a drawback of military service in comparison with civilian organizations, as well as an opportunity to prove one’s leadership bona fides. Yes, we millennials want positive feedback and to know whether we’re doing a good job, and yes we wish we could rise through the ranks commensurate with our talents rather than in accordance with organizational and statutory limitations. Leaders would be well served to look for alternatives such as creating opportunities for crewmembers to prove themselves through increased responsibility or challenges. If the military can’t keep up with the rest of the world in reasonably advancing its people, Commander Cunningham should at least be able to explain what is or isn’t in her control and that she will do what she can to position her people for success. There are going to be bad apples among us, as there are in any generation. But tarring an entire generation with questionable generalizations is counter-productive. While this article may ask the right question, it doesn’t really attempt to answer it. What most millennials want is appreciation, when earned, an opportunity to make a difference, and a voice that is heard if not always heeded. The military, the top employer of millennials, still needs to make a serious attempt at understanding how to best take advantage of what this generation has to offer. A good place to start exploring the issue is Air Force vet Tim Kane’s Bleeding Talent, NYT review here. Another response to this article can be found at CIMSEC by LT Matt Hipple.
Reviews by Bill Doughty
The United States Navy is making and living history right now in Hawaii in the world’s largest maritime exercise: Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC 2014), fostering collaboration and cooperation and promoting international understanding. Among the participants in this year’s RIMPAC are navies from 22 nations, including UK, Japan, and China.
Two books give perspective on the past two centuries of naval history and provide context for the history being made by the U.S. Navy this summer.
A lot has happened in the two centuries since the Revolutionary War and War of 1812: from wooden ships to littoral combat ships; the birth of naval air forces, airpower and UAV; nuclear-powered fleet ballistic submarines; computers and cyber-security. The world is changing too, as captured in the Maritime Strategy, from world war confrontation to global cooperation. Think about the evolution of the fleet and the world in which it operates today.
Thomas J. Cutler thinks and writes about changes and challenges over the past 200-plus years in “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy.” His Naval Institute Press book is a mainstay and now a top pick on the “Be Ready” list of the CNO’s Professional Reading Program suggested reads.
Cutler writes about the “magic” of the lore, language and legacy of the United States Navy, and invites Sailors to reflect on the “club” to which they belong. His book recounts — and makes relevant — history through the stories of Sailors in the past and present.
“The more you know about the Sailors who served before you, the more prepared you will be to do your job, and do it well. It is your turn to follow in the wakes of those who went before you, to lead the way for others who will follow you, and to make your contributions to the Navy’s ongoing legacy of honor, courage, and commitment.”
In a Chapter 6, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” Cutler sets the stage with a brief description of Master Commandant (Commander) Oliver Hazard Perry, his famous pennant and the sailors who fought in the face of adversity at the Battle of Lake Erie. Cutler then gives more recent history, including the story of the five Sullivans brothers lost aboard USS Juneau in Guadalcanal Campaign, 70 years ago this year.
Cutler ties in the brothers’ namesake ships, including the current USS Sullivans (DDG 68), showing how the ship was targeted in a failed attack by al Qaeda in Aden, Yemen in January 2000. That same year, on the day before the Navy’s 224th birthday, terrorists launched another attack on an Navy ship, this time against USS Cole (DDG 67).
He recounts the heroism of the Sailors who all focused on three tasks, “caring for the injured, providing security against further attack, and saving the ship.” Don’t give up the ship…
The author packs a lot of history in this easy-to-read overview that contains stories and photos about JFK’s PT-109, Rear Adm. “Amazing” Grace Hopper, 1776‘s gondola Philadelphia, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, battleship USS Maine, Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, and naval aviator and astronaut Alan Shepard Jr., among others.
In the appendix he offers synopses of key engagements through battle streamers, showing the operational history of the U.S. Navy.
The streamers demonstrate a commitment to always “Be Ready.”
Speaking of “back to the basics,” also recommended is a new book by Rear Adm. Robert O. Wray Jr., “Saltwater Leadership: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer.”
The book, with a forward by Sen. John McCain, is endorsed by retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, and former President George H. W. Bush, who served as a naval aviator and “junior officer at sea.”
Wray offers self-described bite-sized “sea stories” and practical, pragmatic “salty advice” along with plenty of lists, including traits and tributes, rules and advice, and a list of 35 books on leadership!
Interestingly, the book opens with advice from ancient philosopher from China Lao Tzu:
A leader is best
When people barely know that he exists,
Not so good when people obey and acclaim him,
Worst when they despise him.
“Fail to honor people,
They fail to honor you”;
But of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, “We did this ourselves.”
— Lao Tzu’s “Tao Teh Ching,” verse 17, 6th century BC
Wray’s book is published by the Naval Institute Press and is in the same “Blue and Gold Professional Library” series as “The Bluejackets Manual,” “Command at Sea,” and “A Sailor’s History of the U.S. Navy” (above), among others.
(An earlier version of this post appeared on Navy Reads — http://navyreads.blogspot.com. Recent posts include reviews of “Cybersecurity and Cyberwar,” “Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations,” and “Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell ‘Bud’ Zumwalt, Jr.”)
Leaders are people professionals…and must master the subject matter of their vocation.
Military mindsets tend to be overly mechanical and process oriented. While mastering the tools of war and upholding procedures are extremely important, they are not the currency of leadership. Man is more than a rational, solitary being. Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of our species is its social nature. Humans have a strong desire to be esteemed within social networks. If leadership is the primary function of officers and non-commissioned officers, then leaders must comprehend the subject matter over which and through which they are to exercise their roles. That is, leaders must understand the psychological forces that cause individuals to act.
Components of effective leadership are two-fold; (1) mastering the position of a leader, and (2) managing the forces that move people. To help leaders exercise influence over a group, the Navy empowers certain positions with authorities. But these vested charges do not make one a leader. Leaders must earn their broader powers from their followers. As stated in the Declaration of Independence (itself a statement of terms between the led and their leaders), “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Before conceding any power “the led” must trust that their prospective leader will act in their best interest.
So back to the proposition that leadership is a contract between socially inclined creatures. The more “the led” trust their leader, the more power they will loan and thus the greater will be their equity and commitment to achieving group goals.
The virtue that exemplifies someone as trustworthy is integrity. Integrity is uprightness of character, the quality of truthfulness and honesty. It is the preeminent character of a leader because it the quality that individuals must believe is present before committing to followership. The relationship between leaders and followers is reflected in the ethos, moral nature, of the group.
Accordingly, leaders should focus a significant portion of their time and efforts toward nurturing trust-based personal relationships at all levels of the group. The goal and byproduct of building such a command relationship is confidence, respect, and loyalty. Leaders that take time to express a genuine interest in the aspirations, ideas, and problems of others reap the golden coin of leadership; trust.
Last month we examined the characteristics of leadership and found that as an organizing principle its unique strength was derived from convincing others to willingly act in a desired way to achieve larger objectives. With this in mind, what then is the best way to implement and harness the benefits of sound leadership within a complex organization? Said differently, what operating methodology is commensurate with leveraging the free will of individuals?
One approach gaining renewed interest is known as mission command. Mission command is a command and control philosophy based on “command by influence”, a phrase that reflects the essence of leadership. Mission command is a leadership-based governance concept built on trust and mutual understanding. Mission command depends on an organizational hierarchy that is comfortable delegating tasks and decision making.
The operative function within this decentralized administrative process is leadership. In this organizing mode the commander gives subordinates broad, clear goals, but grants them wide latitude of how to accomplish those goals. In return for accepting the risk of subordinate actions, the commander is rewarded with superior results. The empowerment of subordinate leaders exercising initiative in accord with the commander’s intent has a compounding rate of return in that it enables faster proactive and reactive action; which in turn expands new opportunities for the group and forecloses opportunities for opponents. In short, mission command surpasses other organizing principles because it exploits the power of “leadership-gone-viral.”
For military professionals leading is not a collateral activity; it is a full-time, continuous responsibility. To be effective in any field of endeavor one must first know how to use the tools of the trade. While knowing the subject of one’s profession can be gained through study and experience, unless that knowledge rests in the forefront of one’s consciousness, where it serves as a backdrop for influencing daily activities, it will be as useless as an unread book.
Leadership is about convincing others to act in a desired way. Hence, the art of the profession lies in persuading others that it is in their best interest to pursuit a particular objective. Convincing then, is what distinguishes leadership from others methods that rely on compellence or coercion, such as dictatorships or subjugation to achieve objectives.
Yet getting others to willingly work to achieve a desired end takes more than eloquent talk or irrefutable evidence. The willingness to follow is a pivotal emotional commitment taken by an individual. It is an emotional investment by one individual in another based on the belief that the leader is a credible individual with worthy ideals. The currency exchanged in a follower – leader contract is trust. Thus, to reap the benefits of effective leadership, mutual trust must be continuously nurtured and reinforced.
With information abundantly available, the primary challenge for most leaders is not a lack of knowledge but the ability to pierce the fog of daily distractions and actively apply engrained leadership tenets.
Effective leaders are guided by prevailing winds of enduring principles, but informed by present realities. They do this by continuously learning and refreshing their thoughts about leadership. Professional leaders must study the subject of leadership regularly in much the same way a medical professional continuously studies and tools of his trade.
By Mark Tempest
Are there lessons one can learn from the most exceptional edges of the military experience that can be useful to the civilian world?
Was there something from the experience of American prisoners of war imprisoned at the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War that had to do with their success in their subsequent careers?
Our guests to discuss for the full hour will be Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland, authors of Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams.
You might find the review of their book by one of the former POWs, CAPT Dick Stratton, relevant:
It is almost as if the authors were there beside Jim Stockdale while he was in the Maison Centrale (Hanoi Hilton).
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here.
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- On Midrats 3 May 2015 – Episode 278: Betrayal, leadership, loyalty, and redemption: Task Force VIOLENT
- A “Hollow Force” or a “Hollow Strategy”?
- On Midrats 26 April 15 – Episode 277: Manpower, Modernization, and Motivation – an Hour with VADM Moran
- A Call to Write