Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag
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.
It is not unusual when things are rough and appear to be of poor going in the military, to look at the top of the chain of command for the problems. That is smart, because that is usually where the problems are.
Over the years I have called for the “Burke Option” to deep select a vibrant, young CNO to break the adhesions of the lost decade that started this century. Others have called for it too as another way to break up the intellectual logjam up top. Would it help? It did last time it was tried … but then again they had Arleigh Burke.
Is this general malaise towards the performance of our uniformed senior leadership fair? Is it just a Navy problem?
I think it is DOD wide. Back in 2007, LTC Paul Yinling penned what started a serious challenge to the performance record of our General Officers and Flag Officers (GOFO) in his zero-elevation broadside, A Failure in Generalship;
America’s generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America’s generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.
An entire book was written by Thomas E. Ricks covering the shortcoming of today’s – and past – GOFO in The Generals.
Another Army Lieutenant Colonel, Daniel L. Davis, this August went to the well again in the Armed Forces Journal (subscription required) ;
The U.S. Army’s generals, as a group, have lost the ability to effectively function at the high level required of those upon whom we place the responsibility for safeguarding our nation,…
In August on this blog, I hit the topic too. I think this tilting against the GOFO windmill is pointless.
For such action to take place such as clearing the deck would take the right civilian leadership in the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch – and I see neither the appetite nor huevos to do such a thing.
So, we will continue course and speed unless otherwise directed … and in a fashion, that is fine – until it isn’t. If you judge what some see in the mid-grade leadership … the next few decades may be interesting on the way to “isn’t.”
If we are looking for leadership problems to address, is that the right part to look at? Some don’t think so, and instead point a worried finger to the incoming, not the soon to be outgoing. I don’t agree, and here is where I have a disconnect with what I have been reading not about the top of the chain of command, but at the generation coming in the entry level.
I have a lot of faith in this generation of junior officers – but I am starting to read a lot on the civilian side that makes me pause; am I missing something?
… the problem with the unemployability of these young adults goes way beyond a lack of STEM skills. As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time in a button-down shirt and organize a team project.
The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life.
A survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.
Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.
The argument, at least inside the Navy, about the lack of critical thinking and creativity, predates the present generation. At least for my generation, we have pushed back against it from day one as a byproduct of too much emphasis on technical training and too little on thinking.
White’s comments, and of those she interviews on the civilian side, do not – at least from this seat – ring true. I don’t see a problem with our junior officers’ performance, attitude or critical thinking – if anything we are repressing all three. Are we getting the pick of the litter?
I just left active duty four years ago – but even that is getting stale, so let me roll this back to our readers: where does our stable of officers need the most attention? The war horses long in tooth, grumpy, set in their ways, and graying about the muzzle – or the rambunctious colts and fillies snatching reins when you’re not looking? Maybe we’re getting the pick of the litter – but I don’t see the problem in leadership with the twenty-somethings.
Or, if you look at the pic above and follow the link next to it – are the challenges we are having separate from the civilian world and totally of our making – and we’re a few decades in to making it?
There is something very wrong going on at the very highest levels of our uniformed leadership, they are not standing up for the honor and reputation of their Sailors, Marines, and our other brothers and sisters in the profession of arms.
This failure goes beyond individual failure; it is a systemic failure negatively impacting everyone from the deckplates, to the Beltway, to the post-active duty unemployment line.
I remain perplexed by the supine masochism displayed over and over in the face of weak-at-best accusations made against the culture, morals, and character of our military in the last year. Though even a cursory examination easily shows either the inaccurate, skewed, or downright malicious warping of data concerning sexual assault, suicide, and PTSD in the military – our leaders have surrendered the field without returning a single shot; accepting the agenda and smears of those who are focused on one thing; bringing down the level of esteem our nation holds the military and veterans in.
This should not be a shock to anyone, we have seen this movie before – and people inside and outside the military have been warning this would happen – again.
We saw it after the Vietnam War like in no other period, and again in a very political form following the glow after DESERT STORM. With the counter-culture reeling from the shock of the military being held once again in high regard, it was no shock that the usual suspects made the most out of the bludgeon we gave them at Tailhook to go after the military culture root and branch.
- On Midrats 21 Dec 14 – Episode 259: The Islamic State – rise and world view, with Craig Whiteside
- On Midrats 14 Dec 14 – Episode 258: COIN, Cyber, and Lawfare: the continuity of war in to 2015
- On Midrats 7 Dec 14, Episode 257: “Clausewitz – now more than ever, with Donald Stoker”
- And so, our Navy finds its Memory Hole
- To Defeat ISIS, Hawkeyes Required