Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Importance of the Chiefs Mess in Command Excellence

"The backbone of the Navy" is how one old adage sums up the importance of the Chiefs quarters. Superior commands are especially quick to acknowledge the Chief Petty Officer's special role and contribution. The uniqueness of that role is a function both of the position the Chief occupies in the organizational structure and of the job qualifications that must be satisfied before the position is attained. Chiefs have considerable managerial and technical expertise and are the linchpin between officers and enlisted.

For there to be a strong Chiefs quarters, the Chiefs must feel that they are valued and that they have the authority and responsibility to do the job the way they think it ought to be done. In superior commands, the Chiefs feel that their special leadership role is sanctioned and appreciated by the rest of the command, especially the CO. In these commands, the Chiefs are included in all major activities, particularly planning. Their input is sought and readily given. If they believe that something won't work or that there is a better way to do it, they speak up.

Chiefs in superior commands lead by taking responsibility for their division. They motivate their subordinates, counsel them, defend them when unjustly criticized, monitor and enforce standards, give positive and negative feedback, communicate essential information, solicit input, monitor morale, and take initiative to propose new solutions and to do things before being told.

The Chiefs play a key role in the enforcement of standards. Because they are out and about, they see for themselves whether job performance and military bearing meet the Navy's and the command's requirements.

When work is done well, they offer recognition and rewards; when it is done poorly, they act to correct it. They also know the importance of modeling the kind of behavior they expect their people to display. If they expect their personnel to work long hours to get something done, they work the same hours right along with them. Their concerns extend beyond their immediate areas, however.

Chiefs in superior commands act for command-wide effectiveness, promoting the success of the unit as a whole. Although they have a strong sense of ownership and take responsibility for their division's activities, they are able to look beyond the job at hand: when other departments or divisions need assistance, chiefs in superior commands are willing to help.

The superior Chiefs quarters usually has a strong leader who plays the role of standard-bearer for the command, creates enthusiasm, offers encouragement, and drives others to excel. It is usually someone whom the other chiefs perceive as fair, who stands up for their interests and those of the crew, who listens with an open mind, and who has demonstrated a high degree of technical proficiency.
In superior commands, the Chiefs quarters functions as a tight-knit team. The Chiefs coordinate well, seek inputs from each other, help with personal problems, identify with the command's philosophy and goals, and treat each other with professional respect.
Finally, this ability to perceive larger goals and to work toward them as a team extends to their relationships with division officers. Chiefs in superior commands are sensitive to the difficulties that arise for division officers, who lack experience and technical know-how but must nevertheless take their place as leaders within the chain of command. A superior Chiefs quarters supports and advises these new officers fully and tactfully.


CWO4 Brian L. Ashpole, USN-Retired said...

As an outsider looking in I have to say that there are things happening in the CPO Mess these days that disappoint me and leave me scratching my head.

MCPO said...

As an outsider looking in I have to say that there are things happening in the Wardroom these days that disappoint me and leave me scratching my head.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again. The Chief's are all messed up, not it's the Officer's that aren't cutting it. Quit already.

LCDRLDO/6440 said...

As a former CPO and Officer I would agree with both of you!

Anonymous said...

Concur that there is fault in both the wardroom and chief's mess; however, it is a responsibility of both parties to correct it. Healthy friction between the two groups is good, but when one blames the other entirely for anything that is when the friction has reached an unhealthy level.

Stop pointing at the other party and start engaging will both benefit in this simplest of exercises.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 4:10 7/12 - A counter to your short sighted argument:

The years required to promote as an officer have remained fairly constant over the years. You don't see any O-4s over 8, however I can count on both hands the number of guys who made Chief between 8 and 10 years. Think there might be a problem there?

But its ok - they've got those sweet pirate t-shirts and deckplate leadership bumper stickers so they must be good to go right?

Anonymous said...

Killer snark, Officers and Chiefs. So junior high of you.
Get it together, fellas. More is expected of you, the senior leadership

MCPO said...

Anon @ July 13, 2012 9:33 AM

You said: "You don't see any O-4s over 8, however I can count on both hands the number of guys who made Chief between 8 and 10 years...."

To get selected from O1 - O3 you just have to fog a mirror. So you are saying a officer's real section point doesn't start till the O4 level? What about the LDO that puts on ENS at 8 yrs? He has nothing to bring to the table? An 8yr CPO got selected for a reason...that CO signing the Evals had to had a strong endorsement for selection to CPO as well as being selected by a board of MCPOs.

My initial comment was made to be taken tongue and cheek...that is why I only change the one word. To say the CPO Mess is a problem without also placing some blame in the Wardroom is very shortsighted.

And as a Chief I will be the first to admit that there are indeed some sh*tty E7s in my Mess. But there are also some superstars as well. I am sure this could be said for the Wardroom.

The main difference I see is that someone has taken the power from the Chief's Mess that it once had...Maybe it was given away?? Maybe Chief's have lost their way? But I think this all happened when someone started to blur the lines between Officers and Chiefs....Chiefs started doing the jobs that junior Officers traditionally were required to do and in turn this caused that O1-O3 to lose a very valuable skillset in his career path, that of being mentored by a CPO and learning how to trust the CPO, as well as being the divvo. This also caused the young CPO to not learn how to be the Division LCPO. So ultimately both partys are losing.

There are many other examples of this in todays Navy...but the old adage of "Officers Run The Navy...Chiefs Make The Navy Run," is quickly being lost. Chiefs may make the Navy run...However, contrary to belief, the job of the Officers are to lead the Chiefs. It is not the job of the Chief to lead the JOs...It is the Chiefs Job to mentor and take the direction of the DIVVO and make it happen. That leadership from the O to CPO is simply direction provided from the JO on his vision of how he wants the division to run...the CPO will make it happen...

If the Chief's role is reversed and the Officers doesn't learn the dynamics of the Chief's Mess at a early stage in their career then both the Wardroom and CPO Mess is F*cked! We might as well become the USAF.

MCPO said...

Sorry for the isolated typos...It's had to proofread in the little comment box provided. Next time I will cut and paste from Word. :)

Submarine Ordnance LDO CDR, Ret said...

As a former CPO and retired LDO, my perspective is that the Chief's Quarters no longer has the power it once wielded. I would attribute this to society in general, where corporal punishment is frowned upon, that has crept into the military. In my early days in the Navy, chiefs were revered. You didn't cross one for fear of word being passed to your chief of the infraction. The CPO's were a consolidated group that looked out for each other, but also their Sailors. I'm not sure that is the case today. It seems the primary goal is promotion, both in the goat locker and the wardroom. Just look at unrestricted line officer rotations; they do a minimum amount of time in XO and CO jobs to make room for the next "leader." Is it any wonder why we see so many CO's being DFC'd. My best memories as a CPO were on a submarine with the worst wardroom in the squadron, but the goat locker was the best on the waterfront. We had to be...

James Hammersla said...

Just my thoughts:

I just left duty onboard a DDG where the first 18 months were spent with either no CPO in any of the 3 billets I had, or one that honestly wasn't performing and this was noted by the Crew, the Mess and the Wardroom. When the first of the CPO billets I had was filled by a serious & hard charging Chief life got better. As the other billets were filled, my role as an officer on the ship immediately improved; I was able to focus my attentions and energies where they needed to be since I had a Chief to do what Chiefs do.
I have been lucky to have served with some really good Chiefs and they have taught me about how the Navy runs (crossing over from being a Marine Corps SNCO was bit of culture shock both good and bad).
In three duty stations, I have seen:
1. No relationship between the Mess and the Wardroom.
2. A seriously dysfunctional relationship between the Mess and the Wardroom.
3. An effective and healthy relationship between the Mess and the Wardroom.
Maybe my most recent experience is just the difference between a shore duty command and a warship (a lot less time to worry about bake sales, car washes and fluff since you have to focus on the ship), but I know that both CMCs onboard made a point of fostering the relationship between the Chiefs and the Officers and I am thankful to them for that.
As was previously said, there are pockets of bad individuals everywhere (Crew, FCPOA, Mess & Wardroom), we all have to deal with our 10 (or 20) percent. But right now I feel more invigorated about the Navy than I have in a while, and I can attribute that to a good group of Sailors (Crew, Mess & Wardroom) that I had the honor to serve with in the last couple of years – and there are a few Chiefs that are standouts in that group.

Joe Loomer said...

When I first met the author, I was a Chief visiting his command in Japan along with the Force Master Chief from Naval Security Group. One of the discussions during that visit involved a Warrant-select guilty of fraternization, and what the consequences should be. In other words, Captain Lambert had issues withing the wardroom and the mess in his very own command, yet has the breadth of experience to write this awesome post best on the overwhelmingly positive impression he (as a commanding officer) has of the Chief Petty Officer community, and their impact. It pains me to see the quibbling between senior members of both the wardroom and the mess here - hijacking a positive take on the Mess' function for your own diatribes. Set high standards and lead by example.

Navy Chief, Navy Pride