Friday, January 4, 2013

Measuring success in command

I have long been a strong proponent and advocate for command excellence in our Navy Information Operations Commands and Detachments.  Strong enough to invest money in the effort.  For the last 6 years or so, I have sent "Charting the Course to Command Excellence" to every new commanding officer in the claimancy.  In more recent years, that package has included some relevant material on preparing for command and its significant responsibilities.  The softcopy of "Charting the Course to Command Excellence" is included in the 'deskload' of all the students attending PCO/PXO/CMC leadership in Newport, Rhode Island.  So, the efforts of my former Executive Officer, LCDR Robert A. Duncan have found their way into every command in the Navy.  That's no small feat.  He helped turn a sloppily produced booklet into a professionally produced product used by thousands (the Navy says they have over 1000 commands).

I'm always soliciting the COs for feedback on whether this material helped at all during their command tours.  As you may imagine, there's not much feedback forthcoming.

I'd like your thoughts in the "comments" on what you believe constitutes a "successful command" or "success in command".  

Will you help me out?  PLEASE?

How does one measure such a subjective thing?  Is "not getting fired" success?  Virtually every O5 CO is awarded a Meritorious Service Medal  and nearly every O6 is awarded a Legion of Merit.  Does anyone look at metrics for period of one CO's tenure versus another's?  Or is every command tour the same?  How do we distinguish between success and significance in command?  How can we better gauge 'success in command'?

Leave me a comment.


Michael Junge said...

I measure success by the future success of the people and how well they stay in touch over the years.

Do the top ranked officers and chiefs get promoted, well and often? Do they select for the next career milestones?

Do people talk to each other, out of a joy of having served together (rather than the joy of having survived or endured, though the difference can be entirely subjective and position based).

Did the command do things that are remembered by those who served there? Something beyond the "man, do you remember when we got hammered in that port visit."

But, in the end, it all comes down to the people, what they learned and what they did with that new knowledge.

Mike Lambert said...

Captain Michael Junge,

We are on the same page. I am excited that two of my former JOs will be CO/XO of my former command in July 2013. One of my PO2s is there as the CMC now.

This triad was well prepared years ago for their new roles and they will fill them well.


Sean Heritage said...

Two answers from previous posts on the subject. First is from

"Sad truth is that our respective Command Tour will be deemed successful as long as we are not fired. We will enjoy a nice ceremony that will acknowledge the transfer of authority, accountability and responsibility to our relief and we will have a medal pinned to our chest, as others congratulate us “on a successful command tour.” To the Admiral’s point, I don’t care to be successful, as success by this standard has largely become mediocrity powered by sometimes questionable motivation. Instead, I continue to be a proud member of a team focused on being significant. A team who measures significance by creating unique value for the customers, by building meaningful relationships within and beyond OUR command, by having no choice but to repeatedly say “You’re welcome” to the many individuals who appreciate our extra efforts, and by ensuring everything in our wake is better than it was before we involved ourselves."

Second is from

"Over the last few days I have been congratulated by many Shipmates for what they perceive to have been a successful command tour. Such an assumption is based merely on the fact that we are having a ceremony and I am wearing this medal. In my opinion, both were a given. Yes, many Commanding Officers have been relieved for cause and others have assumed command without a ceremony. But ceremonies like today are the rule and they very well may signify the end of a successful tour, but success is subjective. The Sailors and Civilians of NIOC Pensacola are successful by any metric, but we are not satisfied with being successful. We strive to be significant. To me this tour was all about being an active and significant participant in the lives of as many Shipmates as possible. This tour was about helping those truly interested in living a significant life work toward that objective. This tour was about making NIOC Pensacola a significant command in the eyes of all. I believe we, the NIOC Pensacola Team, are in fact far more than successful, we are significant."

Mike Lambert said...

Thanks Sean. Always appreciate your participation and contribution.

David Spalding said...

"Charting the Course to Command Excellence" opens the chapter on "People" with the following statement: "The people in a command are the most important determinant of success." Change the word "determinant" to "measure" and one has an equally accurate statement: “The people in a command are the most important measure of success.” Indeed – people – are the only true measure of success and significance in command. Though that seems fairly subjective, it can be objectively measured.

A superior Commanding Officer produces superior people, who in turn produce superior work, which produces excellent results, which are reflected in training, exercises, performance evaluations, fitness reports, accolades, and awards -- all of which are measurable and comparable.

To put it another way: Commanding Officers lead people  people act  actions produce results  results are both measurable and comparable. In most cases the organization that aces inspections, wins the Battle “E”, excels in Unit-level training and exercises, produces the most externally-recognized Sailors, boasts high retention rates, etc. – are those with superior Commanding Officers. The measurement of success should not be whether or not a Commanding Officer survived, but rather, whether or not he/she excelled.

Take care of your people and your people will take care of you and excel at the mission.



Mike Lambert said...


Thanks for joining the conversation!! Looking forward to lunch next week.

All the best

Anonymous said...

Mike, My favorite leader has been for years Dwight Eisenhower. His "metric", to use modern jargon, was two things: 1. Is the command better now than when I got here? 2. Will the people miss me when I depart? (He was talking about both seniors and subordinates)

Navy Grade 36 Bureaucrat said...

As I always try to be practical, I would measure a number of things:

- Did you enable the people below you to accomplish more in a given workday?

So, if you changed the command structure (like many COs do), did it make the command more efficient? If you brought in a new process, or new software, or whatever, did it help the sailors or make life miserable?

- What is the new "routine," and does it help or hurt the mission?

We are what we most often do. So, if you changed the daily brief format, did you make better decisions, or did you simply create more work for your sailors? Is your battle rhythm accomplishing the mission on a daily basis, or does every new challenge shift how you operate?

- Do your top performers (the ones you want to lead the Navy when you leave) get more recognition, or was it based on rank?

- Did you spend most of your time with your troublemakers, or did you spend your time coaching your best sailors?

- Finally, did you reduce the amount of wasted time at your command?

The last one I think gets forgotten in the mix. We spend tons of time building powerpoints, excel sheets, etc., but how much is useful? I created more than a few powerpoints for past Commanding Officers that were simply thrown away. No decisions made, just pitched, after hours of work. If your people waste a lot of their time because you as a CO levy stupid requirements on them, then how can you expect them to do great things for you? How can they innovate, mentor others, solve problems, etc., if they have to send multiple TPS reports that you don't pay attention to?

Disclaimer: Never been a CO. Worked for a bunch of good ones, and some bad ones.

Anonymous said...

A successful command, or success in command can best be seen in how the command operates. Is is obvious that the entire workforce is empowered? Is there a sense of shared consciousness; is every level of the organization "bought-in" or understanding of their role in the overall mission or function of the command? To quote GEN(ret) McChrystal, "If everybody on a baseball team has a high batting average, but you lose, you lost." Successful command is not only measured by these questions, but any negative response is a direct reflection of an ill performing, non-successful command. Very good, thought provoking post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

People are obviously a key element for measuring success. But we can't forget about the command's mission and mission accomplishment.

Some key questions:

Does the command have a clear mission?

Do command members have a clear understanding of the mission? How about subordinate commands, higher headquarters, or those supported by the command's mission?

Is the command trained and ready to accomplish its mission?

Does the command have the resources to accomplish its mission?

Regarding a CO's success, a good measure would be what was done by the CO to address issues identified by answering the questions above.



Anonymous said...

Combat action is the ultimate arbiter of success or failure in command. You will either prevail in battle or not. The true success of a rear echelon support command will be determined by the exact value that the supported fighting commander assigns to it. All the "metrics" are peacetime prognostications of likely success in combat. They should be considered, but they are not the final word. Study more Stan McChrystal and other successful combat commanders, especially the historical ones, and less business management (MBA school) theory.

David Spalding said...

In response to Anon Jan 7 2013, 10:20 AM:

I see very little business management theory above. Both the original post and majority of the responses focus on the success of one’s people being the true measure of success in command. Interestingly enough – battle-hardened combat commanders agree. Good leadership is good leadership – whether in peace time, on the battlefield, or in a supporting role -- the defining characteristics and measures of a good leader do not change. Below are several applicable quotes from successful WWI and WWII combat commanders:

“ ...the success of a military commander depends largely upon his practical turn of mind, whether it be in planning and directing military operations in the field or managing the business of transportation and supply. Military science is based on principles that have been deduced from the application of common sense in the conduct of military affairs...military genius is really only the capacity to understand and apply simple principles founded on experience and sound reasoning.”
––GEN John Pershing

“Communications, or the ability to inform people what you expect of them in understandable terms and the ability to transmit to them your interest in them, is the key to successful leadership.”
––GEN Harold K. Johnson

“Remember, a good leader is one who causes or inspires others, staff or subordinate commanders to do the job.”
––GEN Omar Bradley

“The test of a leader lies in the reaction and response of his followers… The greatness of a leader is measured by the achievements of the led. This is the ultimate test of his effectiveness.”
––GEN Omar Bradley