|Commander Mike Elliot, CO NIOC Yokosuka Japan|
The CO in a superior command:
• Targets Key Issues
• Gets Crew to Support Command Philosophy
• Develops XO
• Staffs to Optimize Performance
• Gets Out and About
• Builds Esprit de Corps
• Keeps His Cool
• Develops Strong Wardroom
• Values Chiefs Quarters
• Ensures Training Is Effective
• Builds Positive External Relationships
• Influences Successfully
Superior commanding officers focus on the big picture. They set priorities, establish policy, and develop long-range plans. They target only a few key issues at a time. In explaining his priorities, one CO says: "I regularly have captain's call with all paygrades so I can reinforce any points that I want to emphasize. I always talk about combat readiness, safety, and cleanliness. And whenever I ask them what my priorities are, they always tell me, "Combat readiness, safety, and cleanliness." Once they identify the critical needs of the command and chart a direction, these COs accomplish the command's mission by inspiring others and working through them.
This means that superior COs recognize the importance of their relationships with other people, and they concentrate on developing those relationships within and outside the command.
In dealing with the executive officer, superior COs are concerned not only with immediate issues but with overall progress: they look upon the XO as an assistant, but they know that this assistant is a future CO. Together, they discuss plans and review courses of action, and the CO is especially careful to keep the XO informed of command decisions. Whenever possible, the CO delegates, leaving room for the XO to function independently.
In the same way, the best COs develop their department heads and division officers, delegating work and meeting frequently for planning and review. They monitor morale and try to create a climate of mutual support. They take an interest in the well-being of their officers and express a willingness to talk about significant personal problems. They pay special attention to first-year officers, making sure they start out on a strong career footing. With more experienced officers, they provide opportunities for professional development and encouragement to move up through the chain of command.
Superior commanding officers are also sensitive to the role of chiefs and the chiefs quarters: It is the chiefs, they say, who "run the ship," who have that combination of management know-how and hands-on experience needed to keep the command's systems running smoothly and crew members working efficiently. As one CO put it, "The chiefs are the eyes and ears of the squadron. They're here all the time and know what's going on. I'd be a fool not to listen to them." These COs expect their chiefs to be involved in all phases of running the command, and they make sure the chief's role is respected.
Top COs know how to balance overlapping demands. They show great interest in and concern for their subordinates, yet they refuse to micromanage, to be constantly looking over people's shoulders to see what they're up to. By frequently getting out and about, these COs can express their interest in their personnel and get a feel for how things are going in their command. One CO states: "I've got a personal goal of seeing three people a day and just walking around and asking people, 'How's it going?' "
Much of leadership and management is influence, and superior COs are masters of influence. They know how to get people to do what they want them to do and to like it. A common trait of these COs is that they keep their cool; they are not screamers. But they do have a repertoire of influence strategies that they choose according to the situation and personalities involved. At one time, they may use reason and facts; at another, a judicious display of emotion and a loud voice. These COs know how to push the right buttons to get their people to make sacrifices and work exceptionally hard.
These COs have high standards, too. They want to be the best and they want their personnel to take pride in themselves, in the command, and in the U.S. Navy. They realize that without high morale, teamwork, and pride, they cannot achieve and maintain top-flight performance. They also know that achieving their high standards requires high quality training, so they insist on training that is both realistic and practical.
Top COs know how to develop a superior command and how to convey the image of that success to important outsiders. They develop networks that provide essential data and support; they get help from their squadron or wing staff when preparing for inspections; and they aggressively seek out the most qualified personnel, necessary resources, and good schedules. As a result, they are often more successful than average commands in getting these things.
Not all the COs in outstanding units write out their command philosophy, but it is clear that they all have such a philosophy, that they are successful at communicating it, and that they persuade the crew to buy into it. They tell people how they want the command to operate and they set an example themselves. This results in high morale, commitment, and trust.