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Sid Harrison ETCM(SS) USN/Ret
July 2008

Doing some thinking about LEADERSHIP
Sometimes a thread pertaining to current Navy  (vs "old Navy") leadership pops up on a Chief Petty Officer board that I frequent. The big buzzword I see being used now days "leadership from the DECKPLATES". Sounds kinda catchy and I'm smart enough to know what the meaning of the phrase is intended to convey.

Needless to say immediately the thread bifurcates into two distinct groups. 

That's right... you got it: "old Navy" vs "new Navy".

From my perspective - aside from the entertainment value of watching the comments and arguments unfold - I see no point in the discussion.

Why?  Well, to use another current - but fairly accurate - cliché, "it is what it is". What that means is all those leaders at the lower end*** of the leadership scale in the Navy (or any other Military branch) are bound by time and place., i.e. the HERE and NOW.

***Regardless of position and paygrade, the highest ranking Chief is still outranked by the lowest O-ganger. But what Senior Enlisted can do and (must) use effectively is persuasion. A good leader must be persuasive in making a case as to unit policy. Some believe a foot in the butt is the only form of persuasion. Sometimes it is. But over the long haul its getting the crew to want to do what you want them to do. They will if a leader is trusted and consistent.
It all comes down to this: minor tweaks and adjustments can be made during an active Naval Career. And they always are. But the results can be glacial in coming to fruition and the cumulative changes are not fully appreciated until long after the fact. In the final analysis each generation of Chiefs (Senior Non-Coms.. other branches) are STUCK in the HERE and NOW. And it becomes irrelevant how I or any of my peers handled leadership challenges decades ago. Sure, we can spin out some "words of wisdom" and relate some anecdotes to make our points. But that's pretty much the extent of it.

A very cool young Chief I served under back in the day always had a kind of dry wit and was quick with an appropriate comment. I recall when some of the older Chiefs (some were WWII vets) were grousing about how this new Navy is just going to hell in a hand basket, Jack would look up and give his standard retort, "Yep. The Navy's just not like it used to be".  Then after about a 3 beat pause he would say, "and never was".

I always loved that line and during my Navy career if I found myself falling into the bitching mode about New vs Old I'd remind myself of Chief Jack Sweet's response.

Bitching doesn't accomplish the mission. In fact the whole deal on leadership is that IT IS ONLY about the mission. The Military is not a social redemption institution. It is mission oriented and whatever drives a unit to that end is what must be used. If it means making adjustments to accommodate the increased role of females in the service. Well, it is what it is.  If it means dealing with the high percentage of youngsters and all their societal baggage coming in who are from screwed up homes and a "me generation" society. So be it. It is what it is. Those people are needed to do one thing: accomplish the mission.

Anyway,  we made our history; for better or worse. Now you Senior Petty Officers are making yours. And God bless you in that endeavor.

There are however some UNIVERSAL OPERATING PRINCIPLES (I believe) that over arc the generation differences.

So without dragging this out any further, here's my (perhaps oversimplified) take on some principles.:

From someone who has been out for 32 years and doesn't know diddly squat anymore.
However (comma) I do remember a few basics.
Recently while rummaging around through junk in the attic my wife found a USN course completion certificate from the early 1970s. It was still in that el-cheapo standard Navy issue black frame. The kind that were much used at the time for letters of commendation and the like.

It was from a Chief Petty Officer Management Course promoted by our SubFlot that I had attended. It had a big fancy gold star looking thing in the corner of it and was done up in a kind of olde English printing. A very impressive looking document it was too.

As I recall the course was REALLY, REALLY big on a popular thing of the day called "Transactional Analysis". It also had a lot of stuff thrown into the mix that was straight out of something that was likewise the popular rage of the day called "I'm OK. You're OK".

We did a lot of "team building" problem solving exercises too:  building stuff... projects and the like.

As we were all Submarine Chiefs from various commands we naturally took a highly skeptical typical "sewer pipe sailor" approach to the whole deal. But we behaved like our mothers had taught us and politely kept our misgivings to ourselves and played along with the "facilitators" pitch for a week. They were just good Sailors doing their job and besides it wasn't all that bad. Plus they always had fresh doughnuts and coffee in the morning. (A big budget BuPers deal I suppose). Hey - I never got doughnuts in Navy Motion Picture Operator school.

To tell the truth it was kind of interesting to me - and I guess to the other guys as well - but frankly I never found a thing in the course that I ever (knowingly) used. Perhaps at some deep subliminal level some of it may have stuck in my brain. Maybe even influenced me in some subtle way I wasn't aware of.  I kinda doubt it. Dunno.

Personally, for my daily leadership challenges, I always drew upon my remembered experiences and observations of how some of the worst leaders (aka assholes) I had seen performed as I came up. And of course I used the examples set by the finest leaders I had served under or had observed. Always tried to avoid the pitfalls I had seen in the WORST and to emulate the qualities of the BEST and to ask myself the question, "Now I wonder how old Chief such-n-such would handle this situation?"

My take --- among the Chiefs I knew in the Submarine Force at the time --- was that we all approached leadership pretty much the same way.

To wit...  we followed a few basic rules and I guess it all seemed fairly straightforward to us:

+++Emulate the BEST ---  don't do like the WORST.
+++Lay that concept on top of your technical skills.
+++Know everything you can about your boat.
+++Never, ever, EVER put yourself in a position where an O- ganger can sand- bag you. Especially in front of the crew.
+++Never bad mouth the Wardroom or another Chief to a crew member. Either on the boat or off duty.
+++Never forget you were once a beady-eyed raghat too.
+++Never assume privileges you don't have.
When an E4 is going to mast for coming aboard a half hour after liberty expired don't expect a free ride when you roll aboard drunk three hours after liberty is up.

In that specific case, as he was buffing up for another big night ashore, I gave the Chief in question the choice: stay aboard and find something constructive to do in his Division while he reflected upon "double standards" --- or waltz his butt up to the XO and explain why he wasn't required to obey the rules. He chose the former and I heard no more from him on the subject. And he was never late again.

Oh! And the LT/Dept Head whose Sailor was going to mast for being late? He also had pulled the same stunt. Nearly noon when he came aboard. Everyone topside saw his condition and then I got the questions: "Why can he get away with it and a PO3 in his OWN department can't?"  I made damned sure the XO (and the Captain too) knew that so long as I was COB that we should be honest about it and either promulgate TWO separate PODs - one for E6 and below and one for E7 and above - or we all get on the same page.  The LT henceforth was always onboard before liberty expired.

BUT one important thing I DID NOT DO was to blab the details of all that business to the crew. They knew alright. The crew always knows. They didn't need their COB running around doing a "get a load of me" flap jaw act over it.

LESSON No 1: For this little vignette, keep your lip buttoned about what goes on behind the scenes. Nobody cares to watch sausage being made. They just want the finished product.

LESSON No. 2: Good LEADERSHIP means getting things done without causing a lot of waves.

And what about that sailor who went to mast?

Slap on the wrist. No harm no foul. He retained his recommendation for advancement and made PO2 his first time up. And the Chief and the LT? The matter was never spoken of again  ---   subsequently my wife and I attended parties at both their homes . Both good guys and good sailors who just needed a bit of a reality check. End of story.

Note: Two of the best skippers I ever served under were NOT SCREAMERS. Both were very quiet and radiated genuine respect in their manner at all times. And they were PERSUASIVE. One was the late D. O Griffith. I have a short piece about him HERE. I never heard him raise his voice.

+++Never bullshit a crewmember. If you don't know the answer simply say "I dunno. Lets look it up". Blowing smoke is the fast track to getting labeled as a phony and anything you do after that will never un-ring the bell. The word spreads like wildfire too.
+++Never lose sight of the fact the crew watches every move you make and they keep book on you and someday you will either be filed in their memory banks in the WORST or BEST category. Strive to be remembered as the BEST.
+++Know where that middle area is that lies between the two extremes: on one side, being a horse's ass who thinks anchors on the collar are a "license to kill"--- and on the other being "one of the boys (or girls nowadays).

Operate in the sensible middle zone. Give respect and demand it.

Had a nuke LT., USNA grad, who was a helluva nice guy. And that was his problem. He would engage in horseplay and kid around with the troops aft and he might as well have worn a sign that said "love me". They didn't. The engineering troops paid him zip for respect and often called him by his first name.

The guy and his wife lived in the same town as I did so they and my wife and I socialized sometimes. But when he and I shared a ride (in uniform) to the base I rendered the proper "sirs" and "Misters" and that was his clue to call me COB.

I didn't try to "straighten him out" - he was a "ring knocker" so I figured with his USNA background he might wise up one day. He never did. As soon as his obligated time was done and after divorcing his wife, he went to a big-bucks civvy nuke plant management job --- which is where he wanted be be anyway.

+++Don't hang in the Goat Locker all day pretending to do paperwork. Wander around but don't publicly usurp your LPOs in their duties.
+++And just get on with it. Go to sea and make sure the number of surfaces equals the number of dives and do your thing.

Oh - and that framed certificate? I removed the certificate and put it in my USN retired folder.
Chucked the frame.

Told my wife she is OK.   She told me I am OK.   And then we had a coffee.