Archive for the 'Leadership' Tag
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.
Some keep their thoughts to themselves when they see problems, or keep them firmly behind closed doors. Others see the requirement to step from the shadows to confront in the open what others are keeping silent about.
Why are so many people in the profession of arms so quiet? The reasons are many and varied; loyalty to ones chain of command, deference to authority, orders, propriety, fear, passivity, verve, desire to retain professional viability, or just a lack of confidence in ones opinions.
When is the supported institution best served by silence, and when by open and contentious discourse? Is this a time for silence, or a time for those at the highest levels of leadership to dare to read, think, speak, and write?
Not put their name to something a person on their staff wrote; not some “It takes a village to write 3,000 words” safety-in-numbers collaboration. No – something in their own words either in their personnel by-line, or by a properly vetted “Federalist Papers” format.
At its best though; Sims, Mitchell and Connolly – there is the benchmark that we need right now.
What do those three General Officers/Flag Officers (GOFO) have in common? Well, at different stages in their careers, they were highly influential due to their very public outspokenness about what was not being done correctly in order to, in their minds, address the critical shortfall in weapons development, procurement and strategy in order to have an effective fighting force.
They put their reputations and careers on the line – while on active duty and planning to stay on active duty – in order to elevate the discussion in the open. The did this for one reason – in order to bring about a better American military.
Sims was sending letters directly to the President, used rather colorful terms to identify critical shortfalls, and was an aggressive publisher of anti-establishmentarian ideas. Mitchell beat the drum and edged across a few lines to pronounce to an unlistening and ossified parochial bureaucracy the future influence of air power upon history. Connolly had no problem aggressively explaining Newtonian physics against the Joint-fetishists of his day. Sims was rewarded, Mitchell was Court Martialed, and Connolly found himself a terminal 3-Star.
They chose the risky path – and rewarded or punished individually; their nation’s military were the better for it collectively.
There is another path – it is an honorable one as well – one that has a mixed record of success. While it is true that the higher one goes up the chain, the more perceived “power” one has and as a result has the ability to affect change, most of the time that remains just-beyond reach. That power lever is a mirage. It is a trick. It is the triumph of hope against experience.
Good people who are truly trying to do the right thing often find they have waited too long. That magic set of PCS orders, that enabling rank – it never comes. All of a sudden, they find themselves scheduled for Executive TAP, yet realize their work is incomplete.
Does the United States need a 300-ship Navy or will it over the next 70 years need seven strategic nuclear submarines on patrol in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans? Each would have 24 intercontinental ballistic missiles, all of which could carry up to five nuclear warheads.
That was the choice Vice Adm. William Burke, deputy chief of Naval Operations Warfare Systems, described Tuesday at the Congressional Breakfast Seminar Series.
Burke, who is set to retire in the next few weeks, spoke frankly about the undersea portion of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad “and its intersection with our shipbuilding plan.”
His conclusion: “If we buy the SSBN [the planned 12 replacement strategic submarines for the current 14 Ohio class now in service] within existing funds, we will not reach 300 ships. In fact, we’ll find ourselves closer to 250. At these numbers, our global presence will be reduced such that we’ll only be able to visit some areas of the world episodically.”
This topic of the impact of SSBN recapitalization in the face of a perfect storm of macro-budgetary crisis and the delayed effects of the procurement Lost Decade from poor programmatic decisions that will be the 2020’s is not new. Indeed, many of us have been writing and speaking about the need to address the coming “Terrible ‘20s” for years.
Why is it a GOFO scheduled to “retire in the next few weeks” is the one who is talking about this? On this and many other issues; you can have all the “Disruptive Thinker” JOs and sharp enlisted you can jam in a conference room, you can have scores of retired Field Grade officers pounding away at their dinner table each evening, and you can have the pundit-pondering think-tankers of the Potomac chattering until Judgement Day and it won’t have the impact of serving GOFO standing up and speaking without guile or hedge about what everyone sees, but few openly say. As long as they do not, then you will get the B-team working the creative friction.
What impact can a GOFO have as he is heading out the door? Not really that much. Like a lame-duck politician – his professional capital is spent. The cynic and critic will simply dismiss his comments as sour grapes. His natural allies will just set their jaws and mumble “too-little-too-late.” If the only issues he raise are related sequester, then he will be looked at as just a political hack.
Are these professional death-bed conversions helpful? While the decision to be silent and work behind the closed door is a valid and honorable one, in the end is it really a false economy of delayed revelation? Better late than never, or just another lost opportunity?
Sure, comments heading out the door can be helpful, important, and impactful in a fashion, but they have but a shadow of the impact they could be have had if these actions took place in the open, in high profile, years before while the GOFO were still in uniform and intended to stay as such for another tour or two.
As our Fleet shrinks and is balanced out with either sub-optimal platforms such as LCS or expensive Tiffany porcelain dolls; as our carrier decks are full of short-legged strike fighters and underarmed expensive F-35s (TBD), our deployed Sailors are burdened by a bloated, demanding, and ineffective Shore/Staff fonctionnaire cadre, and a money-sponge of a SSBN recapitalization requirement is squatting right in front of us – where are our Sims, Mitchells, and Connellys?
Do we need them? Do we have them? What do they need to do?
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.
- On Midrats 19 April 2015 – Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”
- John Quincy Adams — The Grand Strategist: An Interview With Historian Charles N. Edel
- 4 Reasons Not to Resign Your Commission as a Naval Officer
- About Face: A Return to Marine Corps Innovation
- On Midrats 29 March 15 – Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC