Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Importance of THE 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.

It goes without saying (Well, why am I saying it then?), that the Senior Enlisted Leader/Command Master Chief can easily make or break the proper functioning of THE MESS.  That individual must have the respect of the crew, THE MESS and the wardroom to be effective.  Excessive absences from the command for 'other' activities is a problem.  Lack of warfare qualification is a problem.   A poor relationship with THE MESS is a problem.  Poor communication with the CO/XO is a problem.  Lack of interaction with the crew is a problem.  Add all that up and you have enough problems as the SEL/CMC to not only force THE MESS to fail but to point the command toward failure.  

Yesterday, the Navy advanced its latest group of newly minted Chief Petty Officers.  They have great expectations upon being welcomed into THE MESS.  Let's give them the best chance to become the great CPOs the Navy needs.  Let's not encumber them with the dysfunction of a poorly led  mess.  Master Chief / SEL, if you're not up to the job, step aside and let one of your very capable brothers or sisters in the mess lead the group.  There are plenty of them ready to step up and lead if you can not or will not.


Anonymous said...

Very timely Mike as this applies directly to the situation on the destroyer Williams. CO and CMC both fired.

Anonymous said...


I am given to wonder. How will we ever know why anybody at all was sacked off that ship? Does the Navy chain of command ever come forward with ANY explanation? I must not have that URL. Please could you forward it to me so I can learn why the Navy tosses so many leaders over the side.

You know if they said they were raping, beating, cuffing, smacking, binding or otherwise engaging in verbal tussles with subordinates over the meaning of the Higgs Boson, I could get it but as we know, that isn't the Navy way. They just bone Commanding Officers and Executive Officers and CMCs with the feeble loss of confidence and then they expect the whole underweb of despicable to allude to the 'fact' in the case.

Why specifically did they get relieved? Anybody actually know?