As I look forward to witnessing another good friend realize the career milestone that is Command, I am reminded that it has been less than two weeks since the Navy relieved our 13th Commanding Officer (CO) this year. It stings whenever any CO gives the Navy reason to fire him/her, but this one hit closer to home than any. This time it was a classmate of mine from the Naval Academy, but more importantly she was a fellow member of the Information Dominance Corps who failed Information Dominance Corps Sailors.
This thought piece is not about any singular CO firing, but wonderment of how this happens in any organization. Many people point to the failure of the individual due to poor choices, lack of training or leaders giving unworthy individuals the honor of command in the name of diversity, favoritism, etc. I believe that each of those are contributing factors in some cases, but not a constant. To me the common thread is the lack of a true Team Culture.
It is said that success is a team effort, while failure can be achieved in isolation. Families, friends, coaches and teachers enable the success of a child. Without the interest of others, that child will almost certainly fail. For a command to succeed, it takes deliberate efforts on the part of Chiefs, "White Hats", Civilians and Officers. And as we have seen all too often, the CO may chose to fail the command. Because the Navy has a proud tradition of ensuring ultimate accountability and authority rests with a CO, we are quick to judge a CO who is fired, but what about those on the sidelines? I am not advocating that we let a CO off the hook, but only that we all look in the mirror to see what we might have done to prevent such failure (Related Article: Point the Finger Inward)
Arguably, the single greatest self-correcting organization known to man is the Chief Petty Officer Mess. There is a proud tradition of helping each other continually improve, holding each other accountable and collectively raising the bar that exists only on the closests of teams. Why are commands unable to cultivate that philosophy across the entire team? And why might Chiefs be reluctant to mentor their seniors with the same philosophy?
In the aftermath of the most recent CO being relieved, I spoke about it to the Chiefs, Officers and Senior Civilians at NIOC Pensacola. I told them that if this happened at OUR Command, it is partly their fault. That was not a ploy to shirk responsibility or predict a future failure. It was a purposeful effort to let them all know that I expect them to hold me accountable, to be constructively critical of my actions and to help us to collectively manage perceptions. We will succeed as a team, but I will not fail the team because they allowed me to live in isolation. All are cordially invited to help ensure I am/become the CO they deserve and that OUR actions have the desired effects, while minimizing unintended consequences.
Much of leadership is perception management and most times actions are perceived inappropriate long before they truly are. Here's to hoping that we can grow a culture whereby we are more concerned with our seniors and peers holding true to our proud tradition than we are our next performance appraisal, future assignments and promotability. I firmly believe that the inappropriate activity of at least a few of the 13 COs who failed their Sailors and Families could have been prevented by addressing questionable activity before it became truly inappropriate and required intervention from higher authority.
Note: Coincidentally, I had the honor of commissioning a new Chief Warrant Officer earlier today. A proud leader who continues to achieve much because he is willing to tell others what they need to, and not necessarily what they want to, hear.