Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag
A couple of years ago here, I posted about the danger of getting too close to the media, I described what is the downfall of many GOFO;
Vanity. Non-mission related, non-value added vanity that degraded or destroyed the “brand” of men who gave decades of service to their nation and rose to its highest levels.
In his self-immolation, General Petraeus, USA, has provided, in a fashion, a very good object lesson for leaders from LPO to CNO. It is not a new lesson, it is not a unique lesson – as a matter of fact it is a lesson that echoes throughout human history. It isn’t limited to the military environment either, it is just part of the human condition; ego, power, and sex.
Do we talk about this enough? Not really. Not in the direct manner we need to. We talk around it. As it can be a bit touchy for some in a socio-political context, usually we only discuss the second and third order effects after it all goes south. We are more than willing to talk about the externalized manifestation of the ego-power-sex dynamic; the person who abuses their power to gain sexual favors or to force themselves on subordinates, but we do not talk enough about the internalized version of it; the magnetic draw and seductive nature of power itself, how it warps the ego, and how it morphs in to the emotional and mammalian drive towards sex.
Power is an aphrodisiac that can make even the physically or personally repulsive person attractive. It draws in certain personalities to men with power and influence. Can it happen male to female as well as female to male? Sure, I’ve see the “scalp hunters” in action – but that would be the extreme exception to the rule, and frankly silly to discuss. In the real world we are talking about the man in power and the women who are drawn to them. We see that dynamic at NJP, in the relief of Commanding Officers, and all the way to the 4-star level.
Perhaps some leaders who are not fully self-aware may have missed it, but in a gender mixed environment, almost all male leaders will have females of lower status attempt to get closer than they should – in a heterosexual context via a way a male colleague cannot. We are all adults here, we know how the bouncing ball goes from that brief moment of enjoying the company of a woman’s voice a little longer than one should.
About the whirlwind unleashed by General Petraeus’s very human weakness, more details will come out, and others will be writing about every aspect of this for awhile. Get used to it, as this has all the aspects of power, sex, infidelity, and intrigue that a story with legs needs. It is much more interesting to the general public than sequestration, the Afghanistan withdraw, or fiscal cliffs. Let that work its way out, but for us – what is the base lesson that should come out of this at the deckplate level – specifically for male leaders?
It is simply this; you will find yourself in a place sooner more than later where a female subordinate will make herself available to you. It can cover the entire spectrum from raw and physical immediacy, to a slow growing relationship based on professional respect and friendship that intensifies with proximity.
There was more than one decision point in the relationship that brought down General Petraeus where he should have diverted then-Major Broadwell back to the gym solo, but he didn’t. As a result, a reputation is in tatters, a critical agency has lost a leader, a war’s leaders are distracted, and two families are in turmoil. In time I am sure we will all know more than we want to, but one thing is clear. He is the person responsible for this. He was senior in age (almost two decades) and position (at the start we think O-4 to O-10). It was his inability to control his weakness, his ego, and his actions that brought him here. He knows this too, or at least he does now.
As young leaders grow in positions of authority they need to keep simple human nature in mind. You will be tempted, even if you try to avoid it. You can end it as quickly as it comes up, and all will go along as before. We are all human, and at a weak moment, you may pause – but don’t pause long – there are too many lives, families, and careers that are riding on you being a leader and doing the right thing.
If you fail, that is on you. Same with General Petraeus; this is on him. Not the woman on the other side of the story; not the media; not the FBI; not his staff; not anyone above him in the chain of command, other agencies, or political parties.
There are many positive things to benchmark with General Petraeus’s career, and now you have a negative one. Don’t want to have all your hard work blow up in your face? Look at the poor decisions he made, and look for those decision points in your life where you will have to make the call – you will be there – do it right.
After noting the loss of Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Atwellt in the attack a week ago, it is natural for many to point out the irreplaceable nature of the AV-8B+ Harriers that were destroyed – our greatest loss of aircraft since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
While true, that is just the background. It is also true that every loss of life is significant, but in time except for those who know them – losses become a number or perhaps a thumbnail picture.
It is helpful when the opportunity presents itself to look a little deeper in to a loss. What was the character of those lost? What did they represent? What impact did they have on those they served with, the organizations they led, the services they were members of, and the nation that they gave the ultimate sacrifice?
Thanks to our friends over at SLD – we have a copy of Lt. Col Raible’s Command Guidance. Read it. Ponder it. Compare it to your own. If you are someone soon to take Command and are working on one; here is your benchmark.
From: Commanding Officer, Marine Attack Squadron 211
To: Squadron Attack Pilots
Subj: COMMANDER’S GUIDANCE FOR SQUADRON ATTACK PILOTS
1. Professional hunger.
My goal is to identify those Officers who want to be professional attack pilots and dedicate the resources required to build them into the flight leaders and instructors that are required for the long-term health of our community. This is not a socialist organization. We will not all be equal in terms of quals and flight hours. Some will advance faster than others, and because this is not a union, your rate of advancement will have nothing to do with seniority. Your rate of advancement will instead be determined by your hunger, professionalism, work ethic, and performance.
If flying jets and supporting Marines is your passion and your profession, you are in the right squadron.
If these things are viewed simply as your job, please understand that I must invest for the future in others. Your time in a gun squadron might be limited, so it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities that are presented.
2. Professional focus.
Our approach to aviation is based upon the absolute requirement to be “brilliant in the basics.”
Over the last few years Marine TACAIR has not punted the tactical nearly so often as the admin. Sound understanding of NATOPS, aircraft systems, and SOPs is therefore every bit as important as your understanding of the ANTTP and TOPGUN. With this in mind, ensure the admin portions of your plan are solid before you move onto objective area planning. Once you begin tactical planning, remember that keeping things “simple and easy to execute” will usually be your surest path to success. If the plan is not safe, it is not tactically sound.
I firmly believe in the phrase “hire for attitude, train for skill.”
Work ethic, willingness to accept constructive criticism, and a professional approach to planning, briefing, and debriefing will get you 90% of the way towards any qualification or certification you are pursuing. The other 10% is comprised of in-flight judgment and performance, and that will often come as a result of the first 90%. Seek to learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Just as a championship football team debriefs their game film, we are going to analyze our tapes and conduct thorough flight debriefs. It has often been said that the success of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the plan and brief. The other side of this coin is that the amount of learning that takes place as a result of a sortie is directly proportional to the caliber of the debrief.
4. Moral courage.
Speak up if something seems wrong or unsafe.
We all know what the standards are supposed to be in Naval Aviation and in the Corps. Enforce them! When we fail to enforce the existing standards, we are actually setting and enforcing a new standard that is lower.
If you average one hour per workday studying, 6 months from now you will be brilliant. That is all it takes; one hour per day. As you start to notice the difference between yourself and those who are unable to find 60 minutes, I want you to know that I will have already taken note.
Then, I want you to ask yourself this question: “How good could I be if I really gave this my all?”
6. When all else fades away, attack pilots have one mission: provide offensive air support for Marines.
The Harrier community needs professional attack pilots who can meet this calling.
It does not require you to abandon your family. It does not require you to work 16 hours per day, six days per week. It requires only a few simple commitments to meet this calling: be efficient with your time at work so that you can study one hour per day; be fully prepared for your sorties and get the maximum learning possible out of every debrief; have thick skin and be willing to take constructive criticism; find one weekend per month to go on cross country. When you are given the opportunity to advance, for those few days go to the mat and give it your all, 100%, at the expense of every other thing in your life.
To quote Roger Staubach, “there are no traffic jams on the extra mile.”
If you can be efficient during the workweek, give an Olympian effort for check rides and certifications, and are a team player, the sky will literally be the limit for you in this squadron.
C. K. RAIBLE
A half-decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, a top-down movement started to take root in the US Navy around a word; transformation. The Transformationalists gained steam as they were swept up in the mid-90s Zeitgeist; all was new and now was the time to make a new Navy.
With the end of the existential threat of global Communism, technology’s promise of Moore’s Law, and with the self-esteem and optimism that their generation felt as they first gained the reins of power from the White House to the first GOFOs – this was the time where, yes, all was new – in a fashion.
There were challenges though. In the pre-9/11 Pentagon, the post Cold War was one of lean budgets and an expensive to maintain legacy Fleet. Each new ship and each new program put greater demands on a already strained budgetary pie. How do you sail in to the future with, as you see it, a sea-anchor of the past holding you back?
Even with a larger budget, as the Navy fed off the fat of the Cold War Fleet – how do you get the Fleet of tomorrow? With challenges comes opportunities the saying goes, all that was needed was a vision.
Decades, indeed centuries, of best practices of shipbuilding and aircraft development – how to build them, maintain them, and man them – were showing one path of requirements and a way forward; but that was a hard story – one that made beloved new theories come away bruised and battered. On that path to that still undefined “there” one thing was clear – we could not get “there” from “here” with the money in hand and the numbers in mind.
If experience, history, and best practice told us what we did not want to hear, there was but one thing to do – ignore that reality and create a new one. From such was born Transformationalism.
By selective hearing, blinkered optimism, para-scientific concepts, faith, a dose of hope in the best case scenario, and even more importantly – the force of personality – we thought would get “there.” Our Navy would be transformed – a Navy based on New Technology, New Networks, New Manning, New Training, and New Maintenance; the PowerPoint gods had it written; therefor it would be done.
There is a fine line between institutional optimism, overconfidence, and arrogance. When facts are brushed aside and history ignored, and instead you gird your future with untested theory and hope – you have to play the odds. As an institution we decided in that brief period in time that now was the time, it was a moment that a generation needed to grab hold of an institution and Transform it; to steer not in to – but away from the skid and see what the odds brought.
“Don’t you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!”
— Saito, from the movie Inception.
And so we threw away the charts, put the radar in to stand-by, and we sailed forth in to the sea of New Technology, New Networks, New Manning, New Training, and New Maintenance.
Who was to ride the wave of Transformationalism and have a front-row seat? Naturally, those who would make it happen would be those Captains who at the turn of the century would make Flag and would spend the next dozen years doing the best they could to bring the fruits of Transformation to the Fleet.
The best perspective would be from someone who spent a good quarter-century in the Cold War “legacy Navy” – one knowledgeable of the “build a little, test a little, learn a lot” philosophy & culture that brought about such programs as cruiser development in the 1920s and 1930s, and surface-to-air missiles from the 1950s through Aegis. They would have seen how it was done, knew how it was done.
What have those individuals who have rode that path seen? In a moment of candor – what do they have to say at the end of their travel? What fruits have come from the tree of Transformationalism?
4-star Admirals come and go. Some leave larger footprints than others, and today one of the size-13 4-stars has re-joined the civilian world; Admiral Harvey – welcome to the other side – and thank you for your service.
Like one of his predecessor 4-stars from another service – Admiral Harvey has left those who are taking over the watch a gift, if they want to take it.
Earlier this month, Admiral Harvey sent out an email to the other SWO Flag Officers. I encourage you to read the whole thing; The Fundamentals of Surface Warfare: Sailors and Ships and read the embedded attachments.
The past few years have been a serious wake-up call for our surface force. We discovered that the cumulative impact of individual decisions made over long periods of time, driven by unique and widely varying circumstances, had put the future readiness of our surface force at risk.
Prepare yourself, because a decade of manpower, maintenance, and programmatic sacred cows are about to be brought to task by one of the ones who raised them.
We shifted our primary focus away from Sailors and Ships – the fundamentals of surface warfare – to finding efficiencies/reducing costs in order to fund other important efforts such as recapitalization. We took our eyes off the ball of the main thing for which we were responsible – maintaining the wholeness and operational effectiveness of the surface force. Because readiness trends develop and evidence themselves over years and not months, shifting our primary focus to individual cost-cutting measures gave us a very myopic view of our surface force and the way ahead; institutionally, we essentially walked into the future looking at our feet.
Institutionally, there was a culture that had you keep your head down, and your mouth shut. Who created that culture, and why?
There is also that “f” word; “fundamentals” – that most ignored concept as of late but the record is clear; the naval gods of the copybook headings are calling for their offerings. Ignoring fundamentals in manning, maintenance, and program management were all warned of, why were they dismissed?
Did we grow an appreciative and rewarding environment of operational excellence – or did we grow and reward administrative bureaucratic bloat? Did we function as a learning and self-correcting institution of critical thinkers?
… we “trained” our people on the deckplates that improving efficiency trumped all other considerations – certainly an approach and a philosophy that was completely contrary to the institutional culture of ownership – “this is MY ship; this is MY gear” – and the institutional focus on operational readiness – “we are ready NOW” – that have been at the very foundation of our surface force since its beginnings.
… and what did we do to those who objected to this outgrowth from the cheap grace of b-school management books and silly 2-week Outward Bound MBA seminars? Simple – they either shut up or were professionally told to follow the sign to Ausfahrt. How many people did we promote that didn’t have a deckplate culture (months at sea, hours in the cockpit) – but did have other things non-related to performance at sea or in the aircraft? What were those things we valued so much, and why?
The flawed process is just a byproduct of a more critical problem, a flawed culture.
When the assumptions behind the man, train, equip and maintain decisions did not prove valid, we didn’t revisit our decisions and adjust course as required.
In short, we didn’t routinely, rigorously and thoroughly evaluate the products of the plans we were executing.
There you have your answer.
Again, the word of the day; why? Part of the answer is an undercurrent to the entire Transformationalist movement; their totalitarian opposition to dissent. They abused the very important military concept – keep your differences quiet outside closed doors.
That is a great thing for war – but a recipe for failure outside a no-kidding war war. The institutional cancer of promoting a culture of loyalty to individuals over institutions, I would offer, is north of 51% of the answer to the above, “Why?”
Those assumptions were evaluated and found wanting many times over the last decade … and those results were ignored and/or suppressed. Little action was taken for reasons related to needs of individuals temporarily in positions of power, not the institution’s long term viability.
We shifted maintenance ashore, scaled back our shipboard 3M program and reduced our preventive maintenance requirements to fit a smaller workforce, and then failed to fully fund the shore maintenance capacity we required.
The result was optimally-manned ships that we could not maintain to the performance and reliability standards we previously mandated in order to achieve mission success over service life. This result became apparent with the increase in the failure rate of the INSURV Material Inspection, the “gold standard” inspection which measures the performance of our Sailors and their ships against the established standards required to sustain wholeness and mission effectiveness over the life of the ship.
How did we respond to this? We made INSURV classified in order to further hide the problem, and protect the tender egos of those who helped create the problem. That may sound a bit harsh, but it is the only answer that can survive the follow-up question.
Here is one of the best parts of the email – one everyone should read twice.
Now in discussing these issues with you, I want to acknowledge up front that I realize how much more I could have done to fully evaluate the impact the actions I’ve described to you had on our surface force’s overall mission effectiveness. Looking back on my time as a Flag officer, I can see that I focused too exclusively on the tasks and responsibilities immediately at hand and did not take sufficient time to “step off the pitcher’s mound” and reflect more broadly on the Navy-wide/community-wide impact of what we were doing. And, when we did gather together as community leaders, we did not get to the heart of the matter: our Sailors and our ships and their collective readiness to carry out our assigned Title 10 missions. I could have done better. We could have done better. You MUST do better, because now we know better.
I was guilty too. On active duty, I allowed myself to be shut up. Why? Complicated answer for myself, so I won’t pretend to know it for someone else either – but I do know what the culture was that drove me to shut up. Even at his level, I think Admiral Harvey was in the same culture.
… our TYCOMs, ISICs and ships must be focused first and foremost on EFFECTIVENESS – if it’s cheap, efficient, but doesn’t work, it does us no good. If our budgets drop, we may certainly have to do less; but whatever it is we decide to do, we must do it well.
If it is expensive, inefficient, and doesn’t work – then it is doubly no good. I am not sure we were focused on “cheap.” LPD-17 and its titanium fire mains were not cheap. LCS as a littoral corvette is far from cheap. The pocket battleship sized Zumwalt “Destroyers” are not cheap. I’m not sure what we have tried to make that is cheap in the last couple of decades. F-35? No. F-18? Well, they are cheaper than the alternative … but they do work at least.
Here is another quote that is valuable and deserves great reflection in our Flag Officers;
The absolute accountability of our COs for the performance of their ships and Sailors is the sure foundation for the performance of our Navy under the most challenging conditions imaginable. We know that the concept works.
So why did we so readily walk away from an approach that had accountability at its foundation with regards to how we deliver combat capabilities to the Fleet?
Yep. Accountability up? Spotty record there.
Towards the end, there is a call for an about-face to what is already the dying concept of Transformationalism;
Re-establishing the fundamentals of how we train, how we equip, and how we operate and then putting those responsible to deliver on those fundamentals back under accountable officers in the chain-of-command … for the sake of our surface force and our Sailors, be ruthless in the maintenance of our standards and keep your focus where it MUST be – on our ships and Sailors. …
That is a good start.
Some may say that Admiral Harvey’s call is too late, perhaps – but that does not matter. Is he now an anti-transformationalist? I don’t know, but he’s trending that way at least.
I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and all should welcome the message of this email. The higher you go, the larger the Sword of Damocles is … but of course no one but the person in the seat can see it. As most everyone does – he did the best he could for the country and Navy he served, and he did it better than most.
We should hope that this letter is the start of an ongoing conversation, not just by Admiral Harvey as he adopts the suit and tie, but by those in uniform as well.
There is a lot of ruin in a navy as big as the US Navy. Regardless of well intentioned mistakes of the past, there is still plenty of excellence left to build a better Navy from. Let us repair and redirect the damage done as we move forward from the last couple of decades of poor concepts and cultural warping. If the larger Navy community is looking for a starting point for that conversation – Admiral Harvey has provided us one to use; we should accept it in the manner it was offered and get to work.
When does a leader need to backoff – and when does a leader need to get in to fine-granularity leadership? The more senior a leader gets – what is a constructive level of detail?
This time around this habit gained steam with “Intrusive Leadership” and the belief in that if we have a long enough shafted screwdriver with a finely engineered head, then by-golly we can get things right!
Is it people or process? A bit of both? Perhaps. Is it required, or is it simply one leader’s reaction to D&G higher up?
After awhile, even the best “Intrusive Leadership”/micromanaging/helicopter-leadership/etc reaches a point of diminishing returns by either excessive detail or context. Those at the receiving end feel frozen from action and look for a point of pivot where they can get some relief, while those at the giving end believe that the more they do of the same, the further away from what is needed they find themselves. Everyone is frustrated, and results suffer.
This week over at my homeblog, we’ve had a little fun with CNSL’s SHIPS ROUTINE message, but in all seriousness shouldn’t one ask; is this an efficient and effective way of doing business at that level?
It brings up two broad questions; are we excessively micro-managing our leaders from the highest levels, and are we making prudent use of Record Message Traffic?
As I understand it, the message we highlighted is just one of a series that’s been getting rolled out this summer (the first being about small arms), and the messages are just the *highlights* from the upcoming re-publication of SURFLANT Regulations. It is a good thing to update and clarify how things should be done … but do we really need CNSL to put out a messages (as opposed to regulations promulgated via different means) that prescribes details so minor they wouldn’t even make it in to the POD? Is that a good habit for others to copy?
ALL COMMODES, URINALS, SINKS, SHOWERS, AND DRAINS MUST BE CLEAN AND OPERABLE. SHOWER CURTAINS, MATS, BULKHEADS, AND DECKS MUST BE CLEANED AND SANITIZED TO PREVENT MILDEW.
We call it “Record Message Traffic” or “Messages,” but I always preferred the Royal Navy “Signals” – mostly because it frames the medium better. There should be very few “signals” – and those that exist should be short, direct, and of such importance that other delivery methods are inadequate – otherwise the important things get drowned out in the signal-to-noise ratio.
When, as leaders, do we get too far in to the weeds to the point that we can’t do our jobs because we are too busy doing others’ job? When is too much – just too much?
Well, as one of my commenters pointed out – when in doubt, benchmark the best. At the beginning of the year that would end with our nation in a World War, Admiral Ernest J. King, USN, then CINCLANT, put it well;
Subject: Exercise of Command — Excess of Detail in Orders and Instructions.
1. I have been concerned for many years over the increasing tendency — now grown almost to “standard practice” — of flag officers and other group commanders to issue orders and instructions in which their subordinates are told “how” as well as “what” to do to such an extent and in such detail that the “Custom of the service” has virtually become the antithesis of that essential element of command — “initiative of the subordinate.”
2. We are preparing for — and are now close to — those active operations (commonly called war) which require the exercise and the utilization of the full powers and capabilities of every officer in command status. There will be neither time nor opportunity to do more than prescribe the several tasks of the several subordinates (to say “what”, perhaps “when” and “where”, and usually, for their intelligent cooperation, “why”), leaving to them — expecting and requiring of them — the capacity to perform the assigned tasks (to do the “how”).
3. If subordinates are deprived — as they now are — of that training and experience which will enable them to act “on their own” — if they do not know, by constant practice, how to exercise “initiative of the subordinate” — if they are reluctant (afraid) to act because they are accustomed to detailed orders and instructions — if they are not habituated to think, to judge, to decide and to act for themselves in their several echelons of command — we shall be in sorry case when the time of “active operations” arrives.
4. The reasons for the current state of affairs — how did we get this way? — are many but among them are four which need mention: first, the “anxiety” of seniors that everything in their commands shall be conducted so correctly and go so smoothly, that none may comment unfavorably; second, those energetic activities of staffs which lead to infringement of (not to say interference with) the functions for which the lower echelons exist; third, the consequent “anxiety” of subordinates lest their exercise of initiative, even in their legitimate spheres, should result in their doing something which may prejudice their selection for promotion; fourth, the habit on the one hand and the expectation on the other of “nursing” and “being nursed” which lead respectively to the violation of command principles known as “orders to obey orders” and to that admission of incapacity or confusion evidenced by “request instructions.”
5. Let us consider certain facts: first, submarines operating submerged are constantly confronted with situations requiring the correct exercise of judgment, decision and action; second, planes, whether operating singly or in company, are even more often called upon to act correctly; third, surface ships entering or leaving port, making a landfall, steaming in thick weather, etc., can and do meet such situations while “acting singly” and, as well, the problems involved in maneuvering in formations and dispositions. Yet these same people — proven competent to do these things without benefit of “advice” from higher up — are, when grown in years and experience to be echelon commanders, all too often are not made full use of in conducting the affairs (administrative and operative) of the several echelons — echelons which exist for the purpose of facilitating command.
6. It is essential to extend the knowledge and the practice of “initiative of the subordinate” in principle and in application until they are universal in the exercise of command throughout all the echelons of command. Henceforth, we must all see to it that full use is made of the echelons of command — whether administrative (type) or operative (task) — by habitually framing orders and instructions to echelon commanders so as to tell them ‘what to do’ but not ‘how to do it’ unless the particular circumstances demand.
7. The corollaries of paragraph 6 are:
(a) adopt the premise that the echelon commanders are competent in their several command echelons unless and until they themselves prove otherwise;
(b) teach them that they are not only expected to be competent for their several command echelons but that it is required of them that they be competent;
(c) train them — by guidance and supervision — to exercise foresight, to think, to judge, to decide and to act for themselves;
(d) stop ‘nursing’ them;
(e) finally, train ourselves to be satisfied with ‘acceptable solutions’ even though they are not “staff solutions or other particular solutions that we ourselves prefer.”
One does wonder how Admiral King would react to the goings-on in our Navy. A man whose own daughter stated,
… her father was “the most even-tempered man in the Navy. He is always in a rage.”
Odds are, he wouldn’t take kindly to retired CDRs commenting on his messages. Good odds, methinks.
Join us Sunday, 10 June, at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) for Midrats 10 June 12 :Episode 127: “Disruption, Disfunction and Leadership” on Blog Talk Radio, a show that poses some interesting questions:
What is a “crisis in leadership?
In an organization that prizes the Type-A personality that takes risk combined with a strong intellect – yet at the same times asks from it silence and order – what happens when each end loses faith and trust in the other?
Our guest for the full hour will be Peter Munson, Marine officer, KC-130 aircraft commander, Middle East specialist, author, and editor of Small Wars Journal.
As a starting point, we will use his article in SWJ, Disruptive Thinkers: Defining the Problem:
“Today’s military is facing a significant crisis. … The rank and file of the military who have made or witnessed the massive efforts and sacrifices of the past decade, and who have seen so very little in the way of satisfying results in return, … They are disappointed by the failures of leadership and imagination that have yielded toxic commands, a rash of firings in some services, and a breach of trust with our most vulnerable service members. They wonder about the future of the weapons systems that support and defend them as they read tales of acquisition woe. They question the growing focus on bureaucratic minutiae. They question how they can be trusted so completely in a combat environment, but are treated as children in garrison. They wonder how a military system that prides itself on justice will reward the generals that have presided over failure, … while at the same time eroding the autonomy and discretion of junior commanders with a creeping campaign of bureaucratic centralization.
These are symptoms of a malaise facing the military, of an ossified and decadent institutional culture and a bloated bureaucracy that has grown a profusion of power centers that jealously guard their territory and their budget.”
Seen the movie, “Heartbreak Ridge?” – remember the major out to get Gunny Highway? He’s one of “role models” we’ll be talking about.
I suspect that John Boyd’s name will come up.
The following article is cross-posted from an article originally written by Rob Almeida over at gCaptain.
It’s been almost 6.5 years since I resigned my commission in the US Navy where I served 2 tours at sea on board west coast-based warships followed by an instructor tour at the US Naval Academy. Since leaving the service, “civilian-life” has kept me pretty busy. I’ve traveled the world, met thousands of people, and even worked for a year on a drilling rig floor! It’s really been an incredible learning experience and I certainly have a much greater sense of self than I ever did before.
It’s also given me an extraordinary perspective on my time in the US Navy, and how completely backwards and inefficient the US Navy operates at times.
Yesterday over at my homeblog, we went over last week’s issue with the USMC’s problem understanding the proper context of what is clearly Nazi iconography. From flags to tattoos (see the NSFW video linked to in comments at the last link if you really need to see it) – there is an issue there.
Our nation has its own rich martial tradition, so why would warriors feel the need to search outside their own heritage – or for that matter outside an honorable heritage elsewhere – for their unit/personal iconography?
At the reactionary, retail level the answer is leadership – that that is only a symptom of a larger problem. What is wrong with our own heritage?
Is the problem ignorance of our own martial history? Perhaps … but that doesn’t explain why individuals and units have no problem finding “strong martial imagery” in a foreign history. What are we doing wrong inside our own historical lifelines that our own iconography is insufficient – could it be that we don’t give it the support it deserves?
I would offer that part of the problem is that we have allowed others to water down our own “red in tooth and claw” history – purging or softening what is the very real nature of this business – we kill people and break things simply because we are ordered to (insert polite conversation version here). There is little margin for error – and a lack of attention to detail or knowledge will quickly lead to the death of yourself and possibly thousands of your Shipmates – and mission failure. Not a Hollywood ending – but one of charred flesh, scattered chunks, and in some warfare specialties – a grey-pink mist.
Yes, this line of work is at its core a rough business.
The phrase “Initial Success or Total Failure” has long served as the unofficial motto of explosive ordnance disposal technicians in the U.S. military.
Until recently, the slogan hung on a wall at the Naval EOD school at Eglin. It was removed after senior EOD leaders decided the words were insensitive.
“It holds some potential insensitivity and implies that our fallen and wounded EOD warriors have somehow failed,” said Joy Samsel, deputy public affairs officer at Naval Education and Training Command in Pensacola. “We don’t want to do that to families.”
Samsel said the EOD school has never had an official motto and has no plans to adopt one.
Rear Adm. Michael Tillotson, commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, took issue with the slogan and said that “to imply that failure is an option is unacceptable.”
“Throughout history, many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners, have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty,” he said. “To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful.”
Let me join the many in saying; RADM Tillotson, you’re wrong; in this business everyone does not get a trophy.
“The motto is not about the individual, it is about the mission, and when you are dealing with an explosive device you generally get one shot to render it safe,” Will Pratt, a former Army EOD technician, wrote in an email to the Daily News.
“When you start making changes to an explosive device, you are either going to shut it off or set it off, hence initial success or total failure. This does not mean that the technician is a failure by any stretch of the imagination. ”
Pratt said the military has lots of unofficial mottos and that “Initial Success or Total Failure” is included on the Navy’s EOD memorial in Washington, D.C.
He added that he hopes the Navy won’t allow Tillotson to “destroy a tradition that was there long before him and will be there long after he is gone.”
First Sgt. Joseph Smith of Fort Hood, Texas, said the removal of the motto “is beyond most EOD technicians’ comprehension.” He said he has never heard any complaints about the motto from EOD techs or their families.
Actually – direct clear communication of the binary nature of the EOD business, as the motto is, is actually a signal of great sensitivity to your Sailors’ families – making sure from the beginning Sailors understand the unforgiving nature of their work and so will have a greater likelihood of coming home. It shows great respect for their maturity and professionalism by speaking to them without guile.
How is this being carried out? Well, in an almost Orwellian/Soviet manner. From an email inside the EOD lifelines;
Subject: FW: Visual inspection of all NAVSCOLEOD buildings
Please read the e-mail below. I don’t know the history or driving factors behind this so please don’t ask AND refrain from sending me an e-mail telling me how dumb you think this is. Bottom line is it needs to happen and I need you to make it happen.
DO NOT DELEGATE THIS BELOW THE NCOIC LEVEL.
I need either the Divo or NCOIC to personally inspect all spaces under your cognizance. This includes training areas (e.g. IED huts, BC labs, PT areas, ice house, class plaques, ceiling tiles, etc) and any place that this phrase may possibly reside. If, for example, you find a wall with the phrase, don’t just take a can of spray paint to it. Annotate it and add it to the list of places you found the phrase and we’ll work with facilities to get it painted over to make it look nice.
If/when I find out more about the driving factors I’ll get back to you. If you have legitimate complaints and/or your instructors morale is negatively affected save your concerns until next [redacted] Divo meeting or come and talk with me personally. I need confirmation this has been completed by 1100 Friday 10 Feb.
Of note, this does not apply to personal memorabilia that individuals have on display at their desks or in their PERSONAL work areas.
Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal
So, down the memory hole. Admirals have a lot of power – so it is done.
There are even talking points:
QUOTE: Rear Admiral Michael Tillotson, Commander Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (senior Navy EOD officer)
“As leaders in the EOD community we have a responsibility to support, train and prepare EOD Technicians for an extremely dangerous profession. To imply that failure is an option is unacceptable.”
“Throughout history many EOD techs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, other U.S. government and civilian agencies, as well as foreign partners have lost their lives or been wounded in the line of duty. To imply that they failed is insensitive and disrespectful. We owe our fallen warriors and their families honor and dignity for their heroic service.”
Initial talking points:
1) “Initial success or total failure” has never been an official motto of Navy EOD.
2) The motto itself holds potential insensitivities and an unintended message insinuating that our fallen and wounded EOD Warriors have somehow failed.
3) It is the Navy EOD’s position to not display this motto within Navy commands.
Give warfighters appropriate and sufficient iconography – or they will find their own.
We’ve seen this movie before; well, some of us have. Those who saw the post-Cold War, post-Desert Storm “peace dividend” era will recognize where we are. Different acronyms and different policies – the but goal is the same. People need to leave. It starts ugly, creates a new normal, then settles out. There are no great ways to reduce manpower in a bad economy – but there are less bad ones.
Are we doing this right – and are we leading from the front to make sure leaders enjoy the same hardships as their Sailors? For those we keep on – are we choosing the right leaders for the right reasons?
I would like to send along a snapshot of what our front-line leaders are having to work with as they tell outstanding Sailors that, even in this economy, soon they will have to make it work without the Navy.
When was the last time you saw a grown man cry in uniform over a non-legal admin issue? It ain’t pretty – but behind the PPT; this is what is happening at one major sea command.
Results from the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB) for E4/5: we had 20 of 50 candidates selected for separation.
ERB for E6/7/8: we had 9 of 48 candidates selected for separation. No E7/E8s were separated; all E6.
One was a 16-year first class who cried like a baby when he was told. Wife, two kids, no NJP, no misconduct, solid good Sailor. This comes on the heels of the 46 E4-E5 folks ship-wide we notified two weeks ago.
Some of these Sailors had PRD extensions to make the homeport change and move or moved their families to the new duty station. Not only have our Sailors stood up to meet absurdly inconvenient USN challenges (when would IBM move you, not help you sell your house (now upside down), and expect your wife to do the move alone while you were gone for 6 months), but they did so with the good faith that they had a reciprocal commitment from USN.
Well, they thought they did. They had faith that because they did all they were asked to do – the Navy would stand up to the promises it made verbally and by culture. They have found instead that truth can and will change.
ERB and her automaton sister Perform to Serve (PTS). How are these impacting the relationship between Sailors and their leadership – and the connection between officers and enlisted?
Remember, with PTS no humans are involved in this decision. A computer looks at certain parts of their personnel record and calculates their value to the Navy with an algorithm. Yep, we are letting the computers do all the leading for us. We detach ourselves from the very personal part of leadership; you have to work both the “good & fun” as well has the “difficult but needed” parts of it.
That can quickly develop in to a habit. It is a short walk from “just let a computer tell others the bad news so I don’t take the hit,” to telling the XO that we shouldn’t let anyone on overnight liberty in our next port because no one wants to have to explain to their Sailors why they denies their chit. It’s too hard; push the bad news decision to someone else so I can hand out NAMs. And no – I didn’t just make that story up. It was sent in an email last week from one of my regulars. Yes; longer deployments with less liberty. That makes a great bumper sticker.
Isn’t leadership at its core a personal relationship? People will follow the orders of a superior – but they are led by individuals they honor and trust. The whole PTS/ERB process puts the concept of leadership on its head by the impersonal nature of it all. These Sailors are being fired, and they are being fired without cause…you can’t tell them why, just “you’re fired.” The people who know them best aren’t making the call – they are just reporting it.
The decisions are made from afar – yet the leadership challenge comes up close. How do you motivate a Sailor, who deployed 4 months early, who is gone from home for 11 months, who thinks that they are about to be fired and then will be expected to remain at sea for the next 3 months until deployment is over? “You’re fired…but you have to stay at sea for the next 3 months and work hard and you can’t do any planning for your career change because your internet doesn’t work and you can’t talk to your wife and kids except on 4 ATT sailorphones. Oh, and we’re dumping you in the worst economy since the 1970s. Carry-on.”
That is what is happening in the Fleet right now. Not all that different than what we saw with the early 90s Involuntary Release from Active Duty (IRAD), but these are enlisted personnel, not officers.
Going beyond the people affected – back it out a bit. We’re already “optimally” manned, right? So when these Sailors leave their commands, the command will get a replacement. After all, while we’ve cut 3,000 Sailors, so far we haven’t changed the manning documents. Who do you think is going to show up as the replacement? Do you think that when you lose your 1st Class – who has all the quals, experience, and technical knowledge they’ve gained in 14 years of service – you’re getting the same thing from BUPERS to replace them? No. You’re lucky if you get a 3rd Class with the right NEC’s.
So, ships and squadrons that already don’t have enough people, now have fewer experienced Sailors as well. It’s not a question of how many Airmen or Seamen you push into the command to make the numbers look right. Training and experience matter. The other problem is that you are now cutting back on your mid-grade leadership. You end up with ships and squadrons full of Khaki and 3rd class and below. People who are supposed to be looking at the big picture and worker bees, but nobody in between to connect the two. Is that setting an organization up for success or failure?
A slightly unsettling component of this is that it takes a lot of people out of contention for retirement benefits as they are 4-6 years from retirement, but that isn’t one of the goals … is it?
Does the senior leadership have a full understanding of how their decisions are impacting both leadership and Sailors on the deckplates? Do our actions show any empathy with our Sailors and their families? The talking points that were distributed to front line leadership about how to “fire” a Sailor were ridiculously simplistic and next to useless.
Is this really the best way to do this? From the view of the deckplates – are officer and enlisted reductions being done the same way? Well, again – let’s look at what was done at the officer level. Fair or not – it is what the enlisted see.
As a point of discussion, look at the Selective Early Retirement (SER) board for URL CAPT and CDR. Who did we “fire,” 124 officers? With this economy, even being retirement eligible, people are staying. So, numbers need to go – did they go far enough? Doesn’t look like it.
As a result, many LCDR and below are having their screen groups pushed back by years because there are so many CDRs and CAPTs hanging on. I know of a LCDR who was told his first look at O5 was pushed back 2 years, another pushed a year. Odds are that Shipmate will see another slide. Why aren’t we thinning the herd of 12-16-yr officers as we are 12-16-yr enlisted?
Here is the pernicious difference between what happened to the officers vs. the enlisted – the officers who do get “fired” all have their 20 years in – they get a check. ERB folks are often ¾ of the way to the pension that now they will never see … unless they can work some reserve time and tread water for a couple decades plus.
For now though, the officers will hit the USAJobs website with a nice paycheck coming in while they tread water. ERB and PTS? Just a chunk of money to chew on until it runs out. BTW – your daughter needs braces and your son turns 16 next year and don’t plan on moving to a job with your family in tow – you’re $20,000 underwater in your home.
Have we (Navy leadership via BuPers) through our actions and processes institutionally broken faith with our personnel? Is this how a Top 50 Employer acts?
Yes, reductions need to be made – but are we doing it right? Can we clearly look in the face at our deployable forces and those with the most sea duty and say, “We have cut as much of the supporting infrastructure as possible. We have cleared out all the oxygen thieves and professional shore duty billet sponges; we have to go after you.”
Do we really have a lean shore infrastructure? (staff and shore BA/NMP, call you office). Have we scrubbed our manning documents correctly? Have we, like the Army and USMC, done a thorough review of our personnel to see who has and has not deployed in the last few years and made people offers they can’t refuse? Are we rewarding the right things? Do our actions reflect our words? Does a CDR in DC, or an E4 at Pax River, have the same (or better) chance of promoting over someone on a back-to-back sea tour? Well, let’s take another snapshot.
We have been a Navy at war for over a decade. In that time, one of the greater challenges we have had is the Individual Augmentation (IA/GSA) program (AKA NARMY). What have we told people over and over – well, that it will be both rewarding and rewarded. Has it?
Do we reward the warrior – or are we still stuck in a peace-time/Cold War mentality where we don’t so much reward tactical and operational performance and effort so much as number of hoops and checked boxes? Do we focus a lot on school time – or actually leading Sailors at sea and forward deployed? Are we promoting combat leaders to run an organization that exists to fight its nation’s wars – or are we promoting the fonctionnaire and perpetual student?
Again – let’s look at what we are doing with officers. What happened at the last Aviation Major Command Screen Board? Perhaps we will find our answers there as – coming from SG-90 +/-, these officers have spent more than half their career at war. Right?
What does this data point tell the warfighter about what our Navy values during wartime?
- Overseas duty? A wash.
- IA/GSA? Doesn’t look like a winner.
- Avoid hard duty overseas or a year+ in the dirt with an IA/GSA, or find a way to warm a seat in a classroom or chop PPT slides in a 3-digit J-coded job on a superfluous Staff?
Where do you become a better leader – at sea and deployed – or ashore working on your handicap?
Difficult times require difficult decisions. Are we making those difficult decisions for the right reasons? Do our actions match our words?
As things contract, you have to make sure that your keep the value added, and let the less value added go. That is the only way to, at the end, make sure you have an organization that is in best shape to address the challenges it faces.
What do our actions and manpower shaping tell you about what a smaller Navy will be like? As people have the habit of selecting in their own image – what will we become more and more like as the present conflicts fade? Will this serves us well when, and it is when not if, the next war comes?
UPDATE Zacchaeus over at Small Wars Journal does a very good job contextualizing the tradeoffs embedded in the above post. Read about “The Lance Corporal Equivalents” here.
Another insightful blog on CDR Sean Heritage’s homeblog, Connecting the Dots. He offers great advice on how leaders can (at least try to) influence who will relieve them, and why they should do so.
What CDR Heritage did was take Admiral Harvey’s idea about 360 degree input, especially as it relates to screening officers for command, to heart. Not only that; he took the iniative - in spite of “the potential for ridicule” – to implement it. His justification is helping ensure that the right officer eventually takes the reins of his command.
Using a sports analogy, sometimes the best athlete available is not the best fit for the team currently making their draft selection. In our case, sometimes the best person on paper is far from the best person for a given job. I want to help ensure the best Senior Chief and the best Commander for NIOC Pensacola are “drafted” in place of the Senior Chief with the best relationship with the detailer and happens to have the right PRD and the Commander who “looks good on paper”. Our community is far too small for us to ignore the intangibles.
Read CDR Heritage’s entire post here: Succession Planning
The taxpayers have invested millions of dollars, in some cases tens of millions of dollars, to “grow” someone to the position of Commander Command or higher. With every Command Pin, there is an institutional hope that this experience and subsequent superior performance will prepare that leader for the next level of service to their nation. Each additional exposure to Command builds on the already exceptional talent our system invites to lead. We lose all of that for a simple lack of personal judgement and self-control. How do you mitigate this problem?
We don’t have a perfect system – no system devised by humans ever is – but it is a good system. We demand a lot, we expect a lot. In an era of broader cultural shoulder-shrugging and acceptance of sub-par performance, the Navy especially continues to hold its leaders accountable for transgressions away from accepted standards both professional and personal. This is good.
Sub-par professional performance will occur regardless of what cohort you select; internal & external imperfections will always exist. Abusive personalities can advance on occasion, the weak will fall to a criminal inclination, lack of at-sea time or inadequate flight hours by strong players deemed to have “other priorities” for their career path than sea-duty can run aground or off a runway, and yes – bad things happen to good people with horrible luck – but this is as it has always been. That isn’t the issue.
There is one area causing explosive bolts on Command Pins to activate that is beyond the pale, one with no excuse or acceptable explanation. Though it impacts female leaders now and then – let’s be honest and speak as adults with each other; this is almost exclusively a male problem. Yes it takes two to tango – but the person in a position of authority has 100% of the responsibility for an inappropriate relationship. Full stop.
It seems like a simple concept to talk clearly on why and how to keep your base nature under control, but it isn’t for reasons partly social, partly socio-political.
In a perfect world, all that would be required in any Leadership 101 course would be an audio loop of Grandmother Salamander’s admonition, “Don’t sleep with the help!”, but obviously that doesn’t work. It doesn’t seem that what we are doing now is working either. I’m not sure what the answer is, but we need to find a better way to talk about these things. We have accountability right – we are failing on prevention.
Perhaps it is that people are just uncomfortable talking about people doing things they should not with their tender vittles. A silly reason for people who spend decades perfecting the art of breaking things and killing people – but the subject does strange things to people.
On a personal level, somewhere the 15-yr old boy short-circuits the middle-aged higher brain functions preventing self-control and focus; on an institutional level we find it verboten to openly discuss a well known sexual dynamic.
There is the problem – to talk honestly about this you have to talk about uncomfortable realities concerning how people interact on a very personal level – and not in a good way. Facts that are not in alignment with some people’s pet theories. I’ve never had much respect for people with PhDs in Sociology or Psychology, but I do have a tremendous amount of respect for women who have been married for decades, successfully to very powerful men. They understand well what is going on. We should listen to them.
The best of that rare breed can speak with the clarity and directness this problem requires. Here is a shot at boiling it down their advice and applying it to the maritime services.
All you need to do is to look at the coupling habits of the very powerful (see any 3x or more married man in his 60s/70s+ as a reference) to see that one of the greatest aphrodisiacs for women towards men is power. It doesn’t have to be great power – just relative power. The greater the difference in relative power – the greater both sides of the problem; the sexual attractiveness of power and the resulting unrealistic ego-driven sense of entitlement (Charlie Sheen, Schwarzenegger, DSK, WJC, etc)
The sexual attractiveness of power is personified – though not exclusively experienced – by a sub-set of usually younger, insecure women who have a very dangerous combination of personality traits; they are sexually attracted to men with power and they have an innate understanding of a man’s ego and the social weaknesses of insecure men. They know how to use one to get close to the other.
This meets a personality trait that almost all men have – a weakness for the fawning sexually-tinged advances of a younger member of the opposite sex, and an ego that craves to think that even at middle age they are as attractive as they were two or more decades earlier – that yes, they are all that and a box of chocolates.
When one side meets the other, the results are predictable.
We have all seen this and know – some more than others – that when this situation happens and the senior man steps through that open door, it is harder and harder for them to step back out of it the longer it goes on.
Almost all male leaders, it doesn’t take a Commanding Officer, will run in to this. As we are all weak and fallen – the key to avoid falling where countless have fallen before is to make sure that you try to prevent that “heart-beat-thump moment” from ever taking place.
Over at NRO, Kathryn Jean Lopez shared some advice that a longtime congressional spouse offered to new Congressmen. Modified slightly by me to fit our profession – I think it offers a sound roadmap.
Ponder with me:
1. Live in the right place for the right reasons. Be sure the decision on where to live — de-camp the family to the new duty station or to be a geographic-bachelor – is based on what is best for the marriage and family, not on your Navy career. It must be a joint decision. Marriages and families need to be the first priority in all decisions.
2. Keep your spouse close to your side. When at all possible, run your non-daily social events by your spouse and include him or her whenever possible. Ensure that evening and weekend events do not interfere with family schedule except for exceptional mission related events.
3. Social events and liberty are a danger zone. Attending social events is important, but very few require for you to be there after 2300. Avoid alcohol use in public, and private conversations with members of the opposite sex – especially when they are married to someone you own paper on or are your subordinate. Do not give out or request private contact info. You have ombudsmen and the Fleet Family Support Center for a reason. If the person you are talking to is intoxicated, walk away. If you find yourself alone with someone, immediately find a crowd. If on overseas liberty you violate the 2300 rule and have had a few drinks, remember your mother’s rule, “Nothing good every happens after midnight.” Remember, your job isn’t to be popular, fun, part of the crew, or to have a good time – your job is to lead.
4. Get over yourself! Give your designated parking space to the Navy Relief auction or other such event on a regular basis. Keep any use of “I” or “me” in public speeches to a minimum. Don’t have subordinate’s spouses address you like their service-member husbands/wives. Invite them to call you by your first name if they do otherwise. Be humble. If you don’t have an XO or CMDCM who walks in and speaks frankly with you – then you may have a problem. If your Dept Heads never challenge you and win – then you may have a problem.
5. Remember, you are there to serve the nation; not to be served. Keep focused on your Sailors and your mission. If your head is nice and spotless but you have no idea what condition the other heads are in, you may have a problem. While deployed, if your uniform is complete and in good condition while those you are speaking with look worn out and are as a whole a mix-matched mess, then you may have a problem.
6. Keep in touch with your spouse and family every day at home and deployed C4I/operations permitting. When on liberty stay away from places junior personnel frequent. If it is 2330 and you are at a mixed table of junior officers, all of a sudden you realize that 4-years-older-than-your-daughter LTJG YogaInstructor is sitting hip-to-hip next to you with your legs in contact down to the toe, and everyone has a beer in front of them with more on the way – then you may have a problem.
7. Treat all people with respect and dignity. Junior enlisted, junior officers, Chiefs, CMDCM, XO, the civilian guard at the front gate, the Commissary bagger, the person you just sent to CCU, the JO who just downed his board – you are known by the words said behind your back.
8. In the end – you are just a government employee. Irreplaceable until you leave – then forgotten. Once you hang up your uniform – 99.8% of the people you meet won’t know or care. Remember that the final vote tally takes place far from your Administrative and Operational Chain of Command – all that matters is the record presented to God. If you don’t believe in God then at least know that every AM you will have to look at that person in the mirror.
9. Heed Micah 6:8 — “What then does God require of you? Seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”
10. Remember the angels … “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” G. K. Chesterton.
11. If religion isn’t your thing – then remember Ben Franklin; “To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness.“
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