Friday, May 28, 2010

Command Leadership School Takeaways

Over the last two weeks, I had the pleasure of attending the Command Leadership School in Newport, RI. The purpose of the two weeks was to help those of us fortunate enough to be selected to be Commanding Officers think about and prepare for the responsibility that comes with the pinnacle of a Naval Officers's career. Though I got a great deal out of the experience, there were three primary take-aways (not necessarily new, but revalidated lessons):

1) Our Recruits are as Motivated as Ever - The highlight of the class was our field trip to Navy Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, IL. While there, it became very evident that our new recruits are passionate, capable and excited about being a part of our Navy. It is also clear that the Navy is committed to the development of our newest Sailors. The facilities are state of the art and the leadership (E-5 and above) is phenomenal! The culture at RTC Great Lakes serves as evidence of what we can do when we are truly committed to a cause. All too often our commitment wanes upon approval of PowerPoint slides, the release of a message or the signing of an instruction. Success in Great Lakes is all about follow through, while the challenge for the rest of us is building upon that momentum once these motivated Sailors hit the Fleet.

2) Command is an Elite Club - The Officers with whom I shared a classroom were extremely impressive. The discussion and personal interaction validated the Navy values open minded, level headed, collaborative leaders in the role of Commanding Officer regardless of community/designator. Though such traits are abundant across the Officer ranks, they seem to be the standard amongst this group (even and in many cases, especially, the Surface Warfare Officers).

3) Failure in Command is a Personal Choice - Though the Navy has relieved eight Commanding Officers this year to date, it is not because any of them were not fully prepared for command. It is because they chose to fail. They made bad decisions and most were in the area of personal misconduct. We joked about who in our class would grace the cover of Navy Times in disgrace, but just like those who went before us, we laughed it off. Odds are that one of us will choose to fail. We have been given the tools to succeed, and it was made very clear that personal misconduct is the prominent path to failure. I recognize such a bold statement could prove excellent ammunition if I am detached for cause, but I truly believe that failure in command is a conscious decision.

Two years ago, Commander Command was not something to which I aspired. I can honestly state that after screening, doing research and speaking more directly with mentors, I quickly evolved. Not only is there no other role I would rather assume, but there is no other Commander Command where I would like to assume it than at NIOC Pensacola. It is remarkable how sometimes in life others know what you truly want better than you do. I am looking forward to the opportunity and will ensure success remains our choice.


  1. Very thoughtful post. I think you have it exactly right.

  2. Another greta post Sean, particularly the part about choisec and the consequences.

    I recent read the book "Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam." It's a good read.

    The following link is to a NWC presention Col Fred Cherry and CDR Porter Halyburton gave about their experiences in Viet Nam. Halyburton speaks quite eloquently about choices, their consequences, and responsibility for both. The video is about 90 minutes long but it's definitely worth watching when you have the time.


  4. Great post. I just finished CLS, and it was two weeks very well spent. I am very thankful I read some of the material before I went there and freed up my time there to do some of the supplemental reading assignments.

    The trip to RTC was indeed awesome. I thought the whole Battlestations simulator was extraordinary. I was slightly alarmed at the disconnect between RTC and the A-School side of the house though.

    I echo your comments about the quality of my CLS classmates. It was an honor to spend those two weeks with such high quality people.

    I'm still contemplating whether or not to continue blogging while I'm in command though. What led you to decide to continue blogging? Do you have any personal guidelines or rules for blogging while in command?

  5. For insight on why I started blogging, please find a relevant post at

    I continue blogging while in command for the very same reason, though you'll note I do not directly speak of command issues. Our command is relatively small (approx 175) and we celebrate that fact. It allows us to connect on a personal level and share in this adventure called life. Though I believe strongly in the goodness that is social networking (started and just recently launched and I have not accepted any FB "Friend Requests" from command members and asked that they refrain from sending any more. As you well know, we have to be very careful about the perception of fraternization and favoritism and that is one of my ways to help manage those perceptions. I will eagerly accept any and all once there is no COC issues (i.e. either they or I PCS). Here are my thoughts on FB (

    I highly recommend you continue blogging and create other ways to connect (yes, I realize I am a bit extreme). One of my experiments is sending out a book abstract ( each Thursday to the entire team that connects a book to a relevant teaching opportunity we are experiencing at the time (i.e. transparency, perception management, metrics, personal branding, etc).

  6. Thanks very much for sharing your insights and referring me to the other posts. You're a very talented writer. Keep up the good work!