The Wisdom of a King

August 2012


We’ve been here before – it is common in this line of work. It goes by different names and given heft by different charters.

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?


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.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Navy, Training & Education
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  • Messages like this figure heavily into my own “4 more years” calculus.

  • Robert_K

    Fantastic post! Should be required reading!!!

    Regarding the micromanagement issue. Many scholars have noted that organizations are created around information flow, span of control etc. Our current organizational structure, with its various echelon’s of command, was largely established in the early 1900s. The so called information age should have created a much flatter organizational structure than what’s in place today –but it hasn’t. In my opinion many organizations survived simply to facilitate officer promotions and the result is way too many GO/FOs. Leaders at echelon’s that aren’t actually required attempt to make changes or to find excellent solutions to non-existent problems simply to show they are adding value to the organization. This leads to a culture micromanagement.

    With regards to:

    (d) stop ‘nursing’ them;

    There is a significant difference between taking care of the troops and mollycoddleing them – many leaders simply don’t get it. It appears that this problem has been around for quite some time.

  • Navig8r

    My first ship was named after Earnest J. King. We had a framed copy of one of his OPORDs on the bulkhead in the wardroom (Yes, the entire OPORD). It basically said, “find the enemy, then kill him,” or words to that effect. He apparently put his own advice to practice during the war.

  • Spade

    “first, the “anxiety” of seniors that everything in their commands shall be conducted so correctly and go so smoothly, that none may comment unfavorably;”

    Might this come from a risk averse culture that punished any mistake, no matter how minor or how distant from command, as harshly as possible?

  • GBS

    Some very good words from a smart and effective senior Naval Officer who was for most a nightmare to work for. He wrote a brief clarification three months later. One can only imagine what prompted CINCLANT SERIAL (0328) of APRIL 22, 1941. Here’s paragraph 1:

    “1. In the three months that have elapsed since the promulgation of the reference, much progress has been made in improving the exercise of command through the regular echelons of command — from forces through groups and units to ships. It has, however, become increasingly evident that correct methods for the exercise of initiative are not yet thoroughly understood — and practiced — by many echelon commanders.”

  • CDR S.,

    Perhaps the Navy should simple adopt Admiral King’s message as their ethos—God knows we’ve produced nothing better.

  • CAPT Mongo

    FADM King was a (very) distant cousin on my mother’s side. Family lore has it that he wasa tough as nails SOB (can be good) hated the British (bad, in the circumstances) and merciless on those who failed (could be either way, depending). Lore has it that when he took over as ComInch he directed the removal of all but one (1) typewriter from all USN ships so as to better control the burgeoning paper piles afloat.

  • Dave Schwind

    Admiral King’s Serial is superb…absolutely superb. Instruction on the Serial should be made mandatory. Unfortunately, with today’s current focus on Things Other Than Warfighting (like body fat measurements, breathalyzers before duty, alternate lifestyle awareness…I can go on…) there’s absolutely no chance that any of King’s principles would “stick”. They might be given lip service and a few nods of head, but when the priorities from on high are to engage in social issues rather than the ability to be a professional mariner and tactician, things will never change.

    This is also the first time I’ve seen Admiral Thomas’ message. I spent the last 18 months of my time in the Navy on his staff, with the last 12 months working in the front office at CNSL. I can only imagine how this message came about…the Admiral was down on the waterfront during his routine ship visits (he’s probably the most waterfront-visible SURFLANT in history…) and kept seeing ships without these simple routines in place. I can only imagine his comments after seeing the first. Then the second…and then the third…boy, that must have been ugly!

    Some people may gnash their teeth because of the admiral’s apparent micromanagement by this message. However, if the message wasn’t needed, it would never have been written. I could be completely wrong, but I cannot imagine Admiral Thomas waking up one day and sending this message “off the cuff”. No, there had to be a number of precipitating events that led to this message being drafted and sent. Sad, but true.

    The most disturbing thing about this blog post and the original message is that they even had to be written. Are commanding officers, executive officers, and command master chiefs so out of touch with reality and so untrained that they are unable to manage the very basics shipboard routine inport? The fact that a two-star admiral has to tell the “command triad” that the commodes and urinals must be kept clean should be taken as an example of a massive failure in leadership on the part of those currently in leadership positions afloat. I am positive some of those people will disagree with me…but the fact remains that Admiral Thomas saw so many failures in daily shipboard routine that the original message had to be written.

    I only hope that we are better prepared and trained for combat operations…but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Ed Hasell

    Genius. Now I more fully understand how we came to be the most powerful Navy in world history from 1942 through…

    Speaks poorly of me that I retired as a CAPT after 27 years before I read this serial. Agree with all that this should be required reading and then a USN standard OPORD.

    It does assume that we are selecting, training, and leading the right personnel and that they will be held to a standard of professional competence. If they have to be told how to clean heads that may not be true-but how did that happen?

  • Retired Now

    how about a USS KING, DDG-125 ??

    didn’t the Navy used to have a DDG named KING long ago ?

  • The Usual Suspect

    The root problem seems to be the endless focus on non-essential tasks and training completely unrelated to war fighting, ship handling, and the good order of the service. The politicization and balkanization, especially of the Navy, and the other branches of the United States military have lead us down the path of sloth. Political in the sense that nobody does anything without taking their career into consideration first. What happened to “Ship, shipmates, self”? Balkanized in the sense that sailors spend valuable time in Diversity training to the detriment of training on the essentials of their job and shipboard duties.

    Let’s go back to focusing on the core tasks and practices, period. We are being asked to fulfill our mission with fewer personnel and fewer ships. This makes the focus on core competencies and practices even more important than they have been in the past.

  • I’ve been thinking lately of the various sea battles off Guadalcanal in 1942. Many times, the flag officer in charge simply had no tactical plan, or if they did, completely failed to share it with subordinates. Those plans that did exist failed to capitalize on our strengths,and were almost doomed to failure from the start.

    Was that lack of tactical proficiency a result of peacetime focus on priorities other than warfighting and shiphandling? Had those flag officers even had realistic opportunities to develop scenarios and engage in tactical planning? Or were fleet exercises so scripted by higher echelons as to preclude any worthwhile command training for the future leaders of task groups?

    And what parallels exist with today’s fleet (and the other services as well, of course)?

  • Ken Adams

    “Warfighting First, Operate Forward, Be Ready.” The tenets of Admiral Greenert’s sailing directions are in the spirit of Admiral King’s serial, telling the fleet the “What” and “Where” with a good bit of “Why” thrown in.
    I don’t think that most echelons below CNO follow the same spirit. I know from my time on a low-level staff (20 years ago) that the temptation to over-specify the “How” was always present, and in my role as the future plans guy I often got feedback from the subordinate units that I wasn’t feeding them enough direction. This was significantly different from my time on board ship, where most of the wardroom was insulted if the staffs told us how to do our missions, and the chiefs were certainly insulted if the officers did the same within the lifelines.
    I wish I had known about Admiral King’s serial at the time. It would have helped me make the argument within the staff and with the subordinate units that I found it unsettling to have tell them to use proper personal hygiene in the head, and that the requests for further detailed guidance on the matter were unprofessional and unwarranted.

  • Ken Adams

    In addition to the various echelons of command in the Fleet, King’s serial should be required reading among the various Pentagon bureaucracies. For example, DOT&E could use a dose of this medicine:


  • egfish

    The questions “are we excessively micro-managing our leaders from the highest levels, and are we making prudent use of Record Message Traffic?” presumes that the cited message is an example of excessive micromanagement. At it’s face value, it appears to be the case, afterall, how is it possible that ships have forgotten how to execute shipboard daily routine? Dave Schwind’s post offers a different context to consider the message, which I would then read as the Commander’s order to get “back to basics” … let me clearly establish the standards, since I have been surprised by what I have found on the waterfront. I would consider his “serial” a traditional method to give an order. Much better than an email or chat. It’s basically an open P4 that “RADM THOMAS” sends. Stick it in the front of the CDO binder. Follow it.

    So, different questions come to mind: Why is CNSL sending this message out? Aren’t the standards clearly established in existing guidance (SORM, regs, etc.) Are standards in the daily routine really slipping? Why? What’s the real cause?

  • Retired CDR

    Admiral King’s Serial ‘fatherhood’ is nothing short of leadership by example. This should be (if not already) a staff study for all ROTC, USNA, Staff College, War College curriculum. I was around when Dr.Demming’s TQM business model was introduced as TQL (sigh), and we thought this similar to micromanagement then – applying a business model to tactical and operational leadership just didn’t fit, so we thought – and were ‘directed’ otherwise. We need someone of ADM King’s tenacity now – sadly, I don’t see anyone stepping up. The Serial has application outside of militaria as well – my current experiences in the corporate world could use this ‘guidance’ framed appropriately also – I plan on printing and framing for my ‘cubicle’ and sending around as required reading to my team and a ‘courtesy copy’ to my boss and boss’s boss.

  • Perry

    FADM King was a hard-drinking, womanizing, profane, rude SoB who never would have made it above LT in today’s Navy. There is no way that a reprobate with such character flaws could have ever done anything useful for his country. Good Naval officers should stop holding him in esteem; active duty officers who continue to do so will have it noted and recorded in their service records by their ship’s political officers.

    Also, please do not make any more laudatory blog posts about him, as it just makes more work for the Naval Ministry of Truth (NAVMINITRU) to correct the record.

  • butch

    Perry – Well played, sir.

  • dport

    I have a copy of ADM King’s Serial 053 posted at my desk at work and at home. I appreciate what ADM King was trying to do. I also appreciate what RADM Thomas is trying to do.

    What RADM Thomas is doing is trying to get the fleet back to the basicss, “blocking and tackling” as it were. The fleet has been in a state of individual experimentation since the late 90s with initiatives like Smart Ship and the Blue/Gold watch team concepts. In some respect, we have lost sight of works. In our eagerness to challenge the status quo, to get rid of the mindset of “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” we have forgotten to ask the question “why did we do it this way in the first place?”

    I think RADM Thomas’ message was in reaction to the experimentation he was seeing on the waterfront. Experiments by well-meaning Commanding Officers and Executive Officers. Experiments that were failing. Now we have to ask ourselves why were they experimenting?

    A former Commanding Officer of mine put it very simply. A CO has three resources at his disposal, time, people and money. Over the course of the past decade people and money have been taken from the ships, so the COs and XOs out there are experimenting with ways of maximizing time. What can they do to maximize the amount of time in the day to get work done, while still respecting some sort of work/life balance?

    Time hasn’t been untouched as a resource either. The operational tempo of the fleet is high. Also the demands on the fleet are arguably greater than ever before. We have transitioned from single-mission platforms to a fleet of very capable multi-mission ships. A Cold War era Knox-class frigate didn’t worry about area air defense, strike warfare, and wasn’t expected to be a big anti-ship warfare platform. Our fleet’s current ships have to do all the missions of the Cold War and the immediate post-Cold War era and anti-terrorism/force protection, non-compliant visit board search and siezure, and ballistic missile defense. And they have to do it with less time to train, thanks to a high optempo, fewer personnel onboard than the ship was designed to operate with thanks to minimal manning, top-six roll down, etc., and with less money.

    The system, as it stands now, puts all the risk on the COs. The CO is expected to perform well in all wafare areas with more and more complex systems with fewer resources (time, people and money). I wonder when someone in leadership is going to go to the ships and say “USS Eversail here are the mission areas I expect you to perform well in, and I will take the risk if you cannot perform other mission areas to the same standard”?

  • I suspect having approximately 350 flag officers and approximately 286 men of war to be a factor. Dating my self, the US Dep’t of Agriculture used to be the lagest civilian Federal agency while at the same time the farming population decreased from 4% of the workforce to 1.5%. The joke was “Asked why a USDA bureaucrat was crying in his office one day, he responed that his farmer died.”
    The USN is top heavy

  • Dave Schwind


    I agree with your points about time (to an extent), people, and money, but I can’t quite agree with the part about CO/XO experimentation as an excuse for the reason(s) that precipitated RADM Thomas’ message. As a former SWO and then surface TYCOM staffer (though I will admit not having a chance to visit the waterfront since 2010) I’ve personally seen failures in maintaining some of these very standards on the waterfront.

    Many of the failures stem from the “tyranny of the urgent” (thus my partial agreement on time as a factor). How often is the XO tasked with covering a meeting, or supervising the fulfillment of an “urgent” RFI from the squadron/TYCOM/etc. and the XO’s inspection of messing and berthing gets pushed by the wayside? It gets delegated to the MAA, or the CDO, or sometimes the CMC. I’ve served under XOs who were exceptionally retentive about their inspection…everything had to be flawless or there’d be a reinspection…and another…until it was done right. I’ve also seen the inverse: the inspection ends up as a walk through and glaring issues go unfixed (I can think of a commode that was down for 8+ months due to “parts on order”, only to find out – when I hounded the division responsible – the parts were never ordered!) Not a hard fix…but doing the right thing took just “that much” more effort to get it done (and if it took me a couple hours to get the answer as a LT, how much faster would the responsible division had acted if the XO was hounding them??)

    Maintaining a ship in “shipshape” condition takes time. On my first ship, we spent 30 minutes after quarters and 30 minutes before liberty call (when was the last time anyone saw a routine “liberty call” time on a ship inport?) cleaning and polishing. EVERYONE was involved…and it was the role of the XO to pull people off computers (ironically, this was in the days before “The LAN”, but we still had them…) and get them cleaning. (It only took once to figure out that he was serious when he meant ALL hands!) Needless to say, the ship was spotless, and we were darn proud of it. Three ships and ten years of service later, I never served on another ship as “shipshape” as my first. Was it because of manning? No, I served on ships with larger crews. Was it because of money? No, money was tight then too (cleaning supplies aren’t that expensive!) Was it because of time? No, later ships still had Sailors rolling off the brow at 2PM because of “work/life balance”…still plenty more time in the day to work! Was it because of OPTEMPO? No, because we were underway 2-4 days per week, every week, unless we were either in an availability or deployed. But in the end, the crew was happier, the ship was cleaner, and everyone was proud of what they accomplished.

    In my opinion, the key is this: the crew will respond in kind to the standards and expectations set by the “command triad”. If cleaning the ship is confined to 30 minutes once a day and the cleaning effort is half-hearted at best, and the cleaning is often interrupted by “other pressing requirements” (like spending 2+ hours doing command PT during the workday) and the deckplate leadership either sitting in their staterooms or behind a computer terminal somewhere (doing “work”, of course!) then standards will slip – it’s inevitable.

    In contrast, if maintaining high standards of professionalism and readiness are something that the ship’s CO/XO/CMC truly believe in, and are willing to make the investment of their time and their effort (note, that’s the time and effort of the command’s leadership…) and they are willing to make a priority, it is possible to accomplish, even in today’s austere manning and budgetary climate.

    Honestly, this boils down to a simple leadership issue: the physical state of the ship is a direct reflection of the genuine care the command triad has for their crew. If the XO is unwilling or cannot sufficiently prioritize enough to execute the duties prescribed to him by the SORM, such as inspecting berthing, how can he or she claim to genuinely care for their crew? Can anyone allow their shipmates to live in substandard conditions and in good conscience say they have the best interest of their crew in mind? They can’t, plain and simple. It’s the CO’s responsibility to make sure the XO is getting that job done. If the Sailors cannot sufficiently trust their CMC to complain about their living conditions, they are failing as well. Thus, if RADM Thomas is seeing ships where these inspections aren’t happening at all, as evidenced by the material state of berthing and eating areas, the command triad on that ship has clearly failed in their role as leaders.

    Just my two cents…

  • Doc Holiday

    King was right, but he was also in a Navy that only within living memory got rid of wearing swords while on watch and was a Navy that still had cocked hats and epaulets as uniform items. King’s Navy was a Navy where battleships had bands in whites to play morning colors on a Sunday. A Navy where Lieutenant Commanders could actually be Lieutenants, Commanding. A Navy whose entire Asiatic fleet never ran from facing impossible odds, but stood by their duty. And got annihilated for it.

    In my opinion, King’s Navy didn’t need Admiral Thomas’ memo, because it had discipline, crisp and taut. A memo such as Thomas sent out would be superfluous. King’s Navy was unmistakeably a military. They didn’t do everything perfect, but the things that were found to be deficient in combat in World War II did not, in my opinion, involve the basic military culture of the Navy–and also, still in my opinion, it was that basic, unmistakeable, daily military routine, that culture of duty, that allowed that Navy to fleet up and expand to face its greatest challenge. It had the fundamentals down.

    Can today’s Navy say the same? Crisp, taut daily military routine should be the sine non qua of the Navy. It provides the foundation for instilling understanding of duty, creating love of service, and insuring resiliency in combat. I support RADM Thomas.

  • Doc Holiday

    As a quick followup–it is my profound belief that the more our daily military routine resembles somewhat the concept of duty as seen in the movie “Fort Apache”, the better our Navy will perform in combat.

  • dport

    If it is a simple shipboard leadership issue then why is it so widespread as to necessitate a message to address it? Are we that bad at choosing department heads, command master chiefs, executive officers and commanding officers? If it is, we need a full stop until we can fix it. I’m sorry, but I cannot buy the mantra of it being a waterfront leadership failure at this point. This and other data points make me think otherwise. No one should be surprised if the fundamentals suffer when you take away resources, add requirements and foster an atmosphere of challenging the status quo.

    I also think it is easy to underestimate the significance of manpower. When manpower is reduced things like doing away with quarters seem like a good way to add man hours back to the work week. Think of it this way, by skipping thirty minutes of quarters a day a 250 person crew can add 625 man hours to the work week. That’s like adding 10 people to the crew, assuming a 60 hour work week. That’s really tempting to an XO when you’re undermanned and an email from the TYCOM comes in asking for an IA nomination, or an OPS with a First Division of 15 people. I’m not saying it’s right, just that I understand the temptation.

    This message was needed. We need to get back to “blocking and tackling.” I sincerely hope this directive action was followed up with an instructive action. I hope leadership reminded everyone why things must be done this way. It may be obvious to those of us sitting on the sidelines, but to those onboard ship, trying to make a million things happen all seemingly at once, it gets rather tough to see the proverbial forest for the trees.

  • Mittleschmerz

    @Dave – your points are all valid. Part of the problem with this message is the messenger. RADM Thomas has become famous to the fleet – not for inspirational leadership, but for tyranny and invective. Leading through fear may be effective for the short term, but long term it wreaks havoc. And we are all supposed to know this.

    Lets assume that everything you say is completely and 100% true. Why send a Fleet message out that indicates there is a problem at the CO and XO level? Where are the ISICs? Where is the leadership and mentorship of the SWO community that explains this:

    “Messing and berthing is one of the most important things the XO does. It is where the XO transmits and maintains standards. When properly executed Messing and Berthing is added to insistence on things like military courtesy and proper execution of maintenance, every thing else follows. Everything.

    When an XO stops insisting on military courtesy, perfunctorily completes (or not) messing and berthing, and skips 3M spot checks because of “the tyranny of the urgent” then the XO has communicated a standard. As a result, everything (and I mean everything) falls apart.”

    This message – transmitted from CNSL to ISICS – in person and without profanity (!) – then further translated from ISIC to CO, XO, and CMC would have been far better received than the “thou shalt” message…coming from someone who is known to be profane and vicious in his language.

  • Sal:
    Hooray for this discussion and hopefully these thoughts will help us appreciate the leaders’ perspective. It is also that time in tours (toward the end) when a leader experiences events that show he had small effect. If they aren’t comfortable with realizing they didn’t get it all done, it makes them question everything. Review the last six months of any tour.

    I have just completed a study on the Challenges of Command at Sea. I interviewed recent CO’s of Surface ships who served successfully in Command. I interviewed recent COs of surface combatants who served successfully in Command. (e.g. they had Bands at their COC). They candidly discussed their inspirations, paths, experiences, successes and disappointments in Command. Ships’ COs hold the keys to the Navy’s future.

    They also provided this advice for those who are following in their wakes:
    Every CO encouraged those in the trenches to decide to stay the course if their heart was in it. Several acknowledged the special “Calling” of command. If one hears it, admit it, and actively seek more responsibility and greater challenges. “Run to the sound of the guns.” Key advice covered getting ready through study, application, and seeking experiences. Selection still demands working hard to excel in every assignment and avoiding embarrassing your boss. The bosses may not always look good, but you will need to help their recovery or stand up to be the one to say “No more.” It is the test of succession, which has been repeated through history.

    Command is personal. Future CO’s must invest time to understand themselves and be authentic to sustain the bonds of trust between junior and senior. Be honest with who you are- there is no ‘on/off’ switch .” Over the next several years, as the Surface Navy shifts to Fleet up XO-CO scenarios, some XOs may pay the price for not acting forcefully to rescue their COs from exercising bad judgment or ignoring consequences of their intended actions. “When in Command, command.” “Enjoy it- it will be gone before you “Blink.” Err on the side of Sailors.

    The findings:
    The SWO path to Command works. Command is tough; today, it is tougher.
    It’s Personal, and there is No one way. Be authentic. Be Bold. Be Disciplined.
    Navy standards of cleanliness key excellence everywhere.
    Professional conduct. Drive to standards. Maintain a tradition of service.

    COs make a difference.
    Navy leaders develop Navy leaders.
    Future successful CO’s begin as JOs under good CO’s.
    Play to strengths of four programs: 3M, DC, Safety, Training and Qualification.
    Finds ways to “Tame” the Information Explosion. Think, speak, write.

    Surface Force Turmoil caused by budget pressured decisions ignoring system consequences and mission requirements.
    JOs tried to warn/ rescue the bosses.
    Set up crisis in TRUST. Micromanaging (or appearance) further eroding it.
    Hope not lost- Factors in place to reverse funding, training, and manning trends.

    Effects of previous funding, training, maintenance reductions can be overcome, one ship, one crew, one event, one CO at a time.

  • Bill Rogers

    With all due respect to Admiral King, Arleigh Burke’s direction to Desron 23 is a better example of focusing on operational essentials. According to E.B Potter’s biography of Admiral Burke,

    “The spirit of the document was summarized in five lines on the cover page:
    If it will help kill Japs, it’s important.
    If it will not help kill Japs, it’s not important.
    Keep your ship trained for Battle!
    Keep your material ready for battle!
    Keep your boss informed concerning your readiness for battle!

    The last page contained only these words: NON-BATTLE ORDERS: NONE. CORRECTIONS TO THIS SECTION WILL NOT BE PERMITTED.” (E.B. Potter, Admiral Arleigh Burke, Naval Institute Press Ed., 1990, pgs 90-91)

  • Robert_K

    Excellent comparison, Bill.

    There certainly has been a collegial atmosphere on the USNI Blog this week….

  • SwitchBlade

    Sorry I’m late with this, but a couple of quick questions:

    1. Why did COMNAVSURFLANT info themselves on the message?

    2. Para 3.D.(4) Does this mean the corpsmen on smaller ships have to come in everyday to inspect? Do LCS’s even have a corpsmen?

    Just wondering.

    Maybe the COs would stop this if they sent a daily message reporting completion and discrepancies to the next reporting senior – of course info COMNAVSURFLANT.