Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Command Excellence: The Commanding Officer/Executive Officer Relationship

Captain Susan Cerovsky
Commander Paul Wilkes
The ability of the CO and XO to work together is vitally important because their relationship impacts all aspects of the command. In superior commands the CO and XO work as a team and live up to Napoleon's dictum that "Nothing in war is as important as an undivided command." 

Although the CO and XO work together, the CO leads and the XO follows: there is never any doubt about who is calling the shots.  In superior commands, the XO actively supports the CO's policies, philosophy, and procedures. This does not mean that there is always perfect agreement. Differences, though, are dealt with in private. The XO may try to convince the CO to change her mind. But once the decision is made, the XO fully supports it; he does not attempt to undermine the CO in any way. As they say in one aviation squadron, "Fight in private; support in public."

The COs and XOs of superior commands accept that their roles are different and that they must work together to accomplish the command's mission. The CO has the big picture; the XO, the nitty-gritty. Thus, the CO establishes policy and procedures and holds the XO responsible for implementation. Duties and responsibilities need not be the same from command to command in the same community: in fact, each CO emphasizes different areas. What is essential, though, is that these roles be clearly defined and mutually agreed to.

Most COs in superior commands meet regularly with their executive officers to discuss long-range plans, tell them about upcoming activities, and get their ideas on preparing for these activities. The XOs, in turn, keep the CO informed about how plans are being carried out and do not hesitate to raise concerns requiring the CO's attention.

This is how it works at the Center for Information Dominance (CID) Corry Station, Pensacola, Florida and at other excellent commands throughout the Navy.


Anonymous said...

Captain Lambert,

Speaking as a crew member I found that much of the time, the Executive Officer was viewed as the person who was required to enforce the ships policies and regulations and the Commanding Officer was viewed as the person who would step in if things were not kept under control. Many crew members viewed the Executive Officer as the bad guy and the Commanding Officer as the good guy. Few of the crew were aware that the Executive Officer was just carrying out the Commanding Officers orders.

Very Respectfully,

CWO4 Brian Ashpole, USN-Retired said...

... as it should be. As Navyman834 is fully aware, orders to a junior never start with "the Captain says or the Chief says..."
We are bound by law to carry out the orders of those appointed over us. There are things that are explicit and there are things that are implied.
The wardroom is fully aware that the Captain sets the tone and the command takes on his/her personality...