Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Some Naval officers - afraid to lead?

This may seem like a odd statement to some in the Navy; but it really is not strange at all to some of those in leadership positions and others who are selected to fill significant leadership positions.  Many Naval officers actually fear selection for senior leadership positions.  And later in their careers, they literally live in fear while serving in significant positions of leadership and this fear is sometimes paralyzing to them.

Of course, this is not true of all officers.  Those who are true leaders realize it is their responsibility to lead and to fully develop the leadership skills of all the Sailors in their organizations.  Exceptional leaders focus a great deal of their time helping the Sailors on their team develop leadership skills.  Some weak Commanding Officers seemingly go out of their way to suppress the leadership aspirations of the Sailors they lead.  They do what they can to keep their Sailors from developing leadership skills because they fear that those Sailors may prove to be more effective leaders than they are themselves.

Usually, these Commanding Officers experience these fears because they have not received adequate leadership training, or they worked for weak or ineffective Navy leaders themselves.  A surprisingly high number of those promoted into these significant leadership roles have had no formal leadership training or coaching.  Some in the Navy actually believe the myths about leaders being born and don't take the time or make the effort necessary to create and nurture leaders.  Some of our Commanding Officers find they have to take on the responsibility of command with only a vague idea of what is expected of them.  In these cases, the Commanding Officers experience the fear of being held accountable or of not meeting expectations.  It paralyzes them and they fail to lead their commands at the very high levels of performance required of "extraordinary commands".


HMS Defiant said...

Every year they are rated at least once on "LEADERSHIP" by a superior. How do they make the selection to leader if they are such weak and fearful leaders then?
I knew a very good LCDR. Excellent Department Head, formerly OSCS who snorted loudly when offered LCDR Command of an MSO. He called such a job, selected to fail. Perhaps he was right. I met many bad COs on the sweeps but only 1 failed to select for additional command at sea and vanished without making captain.
Each in their way would 'snort' at the idea of formal leadership training. You have it or you don't.

Anonymous said...

HMS Defiant,

The strong and courageous sounding names of what I would refer to as Gator Navy ships have not necessarily lived up to their names in recent times, there is no doubt that these ships can do a job that no other ships can do, but the Guardian failed, or rather Her crew failed to navigate in familiar water, I cannot imagine a LCDR not wanting to be CO of an MSO to prove his real worth rather than as you stated “selected to fail”. You people should try to live up to the names of your ships.

Very Respectfully,

James Hammersla said...

A collar device grants authority but doesn't make a leader. The responsibilities of leadership can be burdensome for some people, but that is okay; we learn and grow by pushing our limits, challenging ourselves and stepping outside of our comfort zones.

As far as fear is concerned I have long thought that courage is not the absence of fear, courage is accomplishing your task in spite of fear.

HMS Defiant said...

Navyman834, I hear you.
Back during Praying Mantis and Earnest Will there were 6 sweeps there and IN THE TIMES I was there with them, Fearless was unique in being terrified of entering minefields. I used these ships as a case of early leadership opportunities back when the MSOs were around and served as LCDR commands. All of them were long in tooth and low on maintenance and run at around 30% manning. Our stateside crew was about 20-32 guys but in the Gulf we had about 100 guys. Stateside, peacetime, they were a lot of work to keep running and a CO had an XO and 3 Ensigns plus maybe 5 Chiefs to keep things going without coming to the negative attention of the boss. We had great leaders like Snyder, McCabe, Moore, Stanton, Nerheim but I knew a number of turkeys. All but one of them went on to command FFG, DD, CG. They were the last of the class of officers that would command 4 or 5 warships during a career. The LCDR I referenced was a damned fine leader but he didn't see the upside for him of working that hard and letting it all hang on the line for the pleasure of command.
I monitored Ardent and Dextrous for a year in 96. They were good but very different from the MSOs. Everything from attitude to mindset was changed to make them more like little cruisers than mine battle force ships. In their case and that of Patriot and Guardian which I monitored as well, the failure was, IMHO, at the leadership's lack of abilities of their ISICs. The ISICs wouldn't allow the ships to put a small boat in the water without filing a plan and getting the Chief Staff Officers permission. Sad really.

Anonymous said...

DCW, HMS Defiant,

It has been 59 years since I first joined the Navy in 1954, and my joining the Navy was primarily to keep from being drafted into the Army, I had a choice and made that choice and just forged ahead for 24 more years. It did not take long for me to realize that money and prestige were granted to Capital ships and since I was placed as a gun fire control technician in the Navy, I was the beneficiary of that money and prestige. I served on a Light Cruiser, a Battleship and two Gearing Class Destroyers and these shipmates on most of these ships called me Guns or Gunner, that made me feel pretty proud, but I could shoot those 5” 38 Cal guns, with the aid of the Mk 1A Computer, and the crew knew it. I applied for FT(B) school to assist me in making Chief and enhancing my Navy career and was required after graduation from this school to attend Navy Instructor School (IT School), prior to being assigned shore duty as an instructor. I created some problems for IT School as my class was graduating from that course, and I found that a transfer to a shore duty station after that was held up for about 4 months, when I did get transferred it was to a Submarine Training Command (Guided Missile School Dam Neck, VA,). I had no idea of what a Submarine was all about in those days, but with much study over the next three years I was able to climb to the top of the enlisted ratings for the remainder of my Navy career. And I did make Master Chief with the knowledge that I obtained during this period of time. During my first tour of shore duty I did find that the Submarine Force Atlantic had an unlimited budget, hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended to keep the equipment at GMS Dam Neck in operational condition while the last Destroyer I served on the USS William R. Rush had a problem that disabled the train receiver regulator of mount 53 and that gun mount remained OOC at the time I was transferred from the Destroyer Rush. That was 1/3 of our Main Battery capability and I felt at the time that the Navy Department cared little about our capabilities and I just hoped that the remainder of the Destroyer Fleet was in better condition than we were at that particular time.
The point that you were referring to about the Gator Navy really has to do, in my opinion with fact that the Gator Navy since as far back as I can remember has always been treated as the red headed step child of the Navy, I do not know that for a fact but I suspected that for many years. Their ships were undermanned and I expect their budget was well below what they were required to expend. And in my opinion it is very difficult to maintain a reliable force under those conditions. CO’s of those ships and even XO’s must have found their tours be very taxing and unrewarding from what I have heard of in reference to Gator Navy experience.

Very Respectfully,

Anonymous said...

"Many Naval officers actually fear selection for senior leadership positions."

Interesting opinion. Do you have any facts/data to back up that statement?

Vincent Scott said...

I am not sure I concur with the comment that many commanding officers receive no leadership training. Sorry to disagree Mike. I have known some really bad CO's. That said I believe they all received training all along the way, and our system is supposedly designed to reward and promote... real leaders. Unfortunately I think all to often it rewards conformists who look to get ahead by not standing out. Not true of everyone but true all to often that our system does not reward real leaders... and therefore we to often do not get real leaders in command.

Matt said...

Thank you for posting your thoughts on this topic, Captain. On the first day of each IWBC class we discuss the number of Commanding Officers fired in recent years; and facilitate an honest conversation about leadership in the Navy. One of the first questions we ask the students is, “How many of you aspire to be in Command?” The results are always surprising; very few hands go up. My assumption is the majority of junior officers want to be commanding officers, but our findings do not support that. The truth is people are terrified to have that level of responsibility, visibility, and vulnerability. Of course there are exceptions.

“People promote to the level of their incompetence.” I hear this muttered in conversations on a regular basis; I believe the phrase has some merit. We are failing to properly prepare our “leaders” for the positions to which we assign them; yet we do not hesitate to vilify them for every misstep. It is objectionable that formal leadership training is not provided to junior and mid-grade officers.

Our culture, and FITREP system, has supported a personality ethic for so long that we have “leaders” (by position) that lack the character to be in Command. When people lack character they hide behind collar devices, and avoid honest conversations. Those with weak convictions cannot tolerate criticism because it threatens to expose who they really are: unprepared and unsure. This results in “leaders” who perpetuate the problem by celebrating people who cater to ego and polish their personalities.

One of the most important topics we discuss in IWBC is the need for real, honest feedback. It is hard to look a Sailor, or peer, in the eye and address failure. It shouldn’t be. Tell people what they need to hear and not what they want to hear is a discussion point taken directly from “The Cryptologic Community Guiding Principles” that we stress to every new IWO we teach. Our goal is to help prepare our students to go forth and seek out the honest conversations, and work hard to overcome deficiencies. I am hopeful that our students leave with the mindset necessary to affect the cultural change we need in the Navy.

Mike Lambert said...

Anonymous at 7:17AM

Yes, the results were from an anonymous survey taken last year.