Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tipping Point - Can you hear me now?

I believe that the clamor over the relief of Captain Holly A. Graf for cruelty aboard USS COWPENS has brought the discussion of abusive senior leadership to a tipping point.

Every one of us who has served in the Navy - whether at sea, ashore, under the sea or in the air - has had that CO, XO, DH, DO, Chief or other senior leader who made our lives and the lives of our Sailors a living hell.

At the same time, we've had people in those same leadership positions who have made our service to the Navy and her Sailors a privilege. We are very fortunate that this type of leadership is far more prevalent than what has been described in the CO of USS COWPENS.

I don't doubt that senior Navy leadership is listening acutely to what is being said and written about this particular CO firing and perhaps it will bring them to a tipping point in their thinking about how we prepare our officers for positions of significant leadership and how we evaluate them.

The damage done by one Commanding Officer extends far beyond the skin of the ship, beyond the fine COWPENS crew, beyond the FDNF and beyond our Navy. We can condemn this one officer very easily - but, keep in mind that many people played a role in the development of this officer and furthering her career. All of them are complicit in this unfortunate page in our Navy's history.


Anonymous said...

The goal of "diversity" has clearly blinded the Navy's leadership. Women can absolutely serve successfully at sea and in leadership positions. But no one expected the first woman CO of a DDG and CG to fail so miserably. I am certain if a male CO had committed some of the same despicable acts as Captain Graf did he would have been fired long ago and never been granted major command. Instead, the hope that Captain Graf would become a poster-child for diversity has backfired and now has the potential to become a public relations nightmare for the Navy.

Sean Heritage said...

Well stated...No CO is given the honor of such positional authority and responsibility without the aid of many. As I recently shared on another blog, "In the Navy, we promote specific behavior, degrees of competence and depth of character with every evaluation we write, every detailing opportunity we enable, and every promotion we facilitate. Are we deliberately enhancing our culture or are we inadvertently creating its demise? What are we choosing to do to promote a team culture worthy of our membership?"

There are many to blame for the failures of our COs and many to congratulate for their successes.

General Quarters said...

Perhaps in this specific case diversity is the culprit, but our Navy has struggled with the broader problem of abuse of authority for centuries.

It is quite possible for the petty tyrant to achieve good results (as determined by the reporting senior) by fostering fear and loathing in the ranks. Admirals, like their civilian counterpart CEOs, are too often short term thinkers, more concerned about next quarter's earnings report or a prized diversity horse in the stable than the long term welfare of the organization.

If you want to solve the problem, you must incentivize the officer corps to self-police and weed out the bad apples, early and often. There is currently incentive to do the opposite: promote incompetence in the name of diversity. However, change "diversity," in this case, to whatever objective the reporting senior values and you will still have the same problem until officers are incentivized to value competence above all else.

Anonymous said...

Your comments are well stated but, this officer abused the Navy's confidence. I know her career well. Before she became the Curtis Wilbur's XO her parent command greased the skids for her to getting her SWO pin. Then as XO of DDG-54 she destroyed moral and destroyed the careers of some great officers. One of her orders was to have the sailors paint the five inch gun in the rain, at sea, along with other tirades that could only be described as abusive.

Look at her career path and see that she had an extra shore tour right before she became CO of the Churchill. She was supposed to be the commissioning Commanding Officer. She was thrown out of the PCO course for Aegis. The Commanding Officer at ATRC vowed as long as he was CO she would not be allowed back at his school due to the utter disrespect that she showed his staff. As soon as he left some sea daddy pushed her back in the program.

From the reports at the Churchill she was no picnic there either. Now we have the Cowpens where someone has finally said enough is enough. In large leadership situations sometimes an idiot can shine in spite of themselves. Good sailors have been known to hide the mistakes of undeserving officers all the time.

One thing that was impressed upon me by one of my CO’s early on was to always be perfect on COMMS, ship driving, and message traffic. These things go outside the skin of the ship and represent how the ship and her CO look to the rest of the world and most importantly his or her boss. I know that the Navy sometimes needs to give the fleet a kick in the butt to get it to accept diversity and the changing world but, this officer abused the Navy’s benefit of the doubt as well as several crews. I know there is no sailor that has served with her that doesn’t have some unflattering stories to tell. The Navy needs to start looking at what's happening inside the lifelines. I guarantee she's not the only one.

Anonymous said...

I retired from the Navy as a Chaplain (and served the USMC as well). It is not so much about gender as it is about leadership. I have had some fine CO's and XO's who were women.

There is a culture in the Navy (more evident with surface warfare) that somehow allows and tolerates this behavior (much more rare in the USMC).

I have even worked for some senior Navy Chaplains whose leadership style was akin to Captain Graf.

It is unfortunate the damage that is done to careers and those who might have stayed in the service.

Anonymous said...

I knew Holly when she was a LT department head on the USS Ainsworth. She was strung tight, inclined to over-the-top outbursts, and generally an "in your face" type personality back then. Nothing I'm reading about her and the Cowpens come as a surprise in the least, and it causes me to shake my head with disappointment at how the Navy let the Sailors who have been exposed to her corrosvive behavior over the years down for what most obviously seems to be an "equal opportunity" plug for itself.

That she made it this far is clearly, in my mind, an indictment of the Navy - were a male acting like her he would have had his legs cut out from him long before he ever made command of a destroyer, much less command of a cruiser. She was protected and annointed long ago, and instead of taking her to task about her behavior the "system", or certainly powerful representatives of the "system", protected her and tolerated her behavior, which was never cloaked and well known by anyone who knew her and how she did business.

Bottom line, Holly is responsible for the situation she finds herself in, though I'd be doubtful that she appreciates this. But the system helped her along, allowing her behavior and subjecting those who had to work under her to behavior totally contrary to what the Navy really should be about.

Paul said...

I have a question that I'm hoping that someone can answer. When Capt Graf was the X.O on board the Curtis Wilber was the C.O Capt. Quinn at the time?