Leave a Legacy

By Senior Chief Firecontrol Technician John Snell, U.S. Navy

How many chief petty officers really have looked at—much less practiced—the Navy core values? To live truly by these guidelines is extremely difficult; it takes day-by-day commitment. Truly successful enlisted leaders in the Navy continually will measure their actions—personally and professionally—against the standards of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. They will guide their subordinates and their own lives by these core values. If we do not, our juniors will view us as do-as-I-say-not-as-Ido leaders, and although they still may follow us, they will do so with contempt and mistrust. In the end, we are the ones who will lose.

Mentoring : Many of today's enlisted men and women grew up in single-parent homes, where they spent much of their after-school time alone while waiting for a parent to return home from work. Of the new arrivals on board my ship, as many as 60% come from single-parent homes; even those with two parents were likely to see both of them working outside the home. A hunger for guidance, standards, and rules exists in many of them. They desire a structure in their lives that many had never seen before joining the military. One of the ways chief petty officers can provide this structure is by mentoring juniors in their divisions. Mentoring can take many forms, but in this case it means taking a personal interest in the lives of the younger Sailors. We must stay involved daily in all aspects of their professional and personal development. It is no longer good enough to sit in the goat locker and run things through the division leading petty officer. We must be out on the deck plates, talking with our people. We need to know them, where they come from, where they want to go in the future and what we can do to help them achieve their goals in life. If they don't understand what they want to do with their lives—and many of them have no idea—then we must make it our job to help them realize their potential and reach for their dreams. We must show them how only they are responsible for their real success, both in the Navy and in life. whether they intend to stay in or leave the Navy, we must guide them—whatever they may choose.

We always should keep in mind that we are as much in the business of developing young adults as we are in developing young warriors. Which of them are coming up on their 21st birthdays soon? Who is going to take them out on that big night? Who will be the designated drivers? Who just got bad news from home? What is the status of each Sailor's qualifications or professional courses in the division? All these are questions that we, as chief petty officers, should be able to answer readily. Mentoring is not only being a guide for our people, but also providing an example—helping them understand the Navy's core values and teaching them how to use these core values to guide their lives. If we leaders walk the talk, it will be that much easier.

Applying Process Improvement to Our Leadership Techniques : There are those who say that true leaders are born, not made. I am not one of those people. True leaders are those who treat their trade as all true craftsman do-they work at it all the time. The Navy has continued to improve on its leadership courses. The new leadership continuum for personnel from E-5 all the way through command is a fine example of the direction we need to take. Senior enlisted leaders no longer can expect to rest on their individual talents or their experience. We must apply what we know; study; apply what we have learned; and then study some more. Our young people are street smart, and can smell a rat at a long distance. As leaders, we should read anything and everything we can about leading people. Being a true leader is a fulltime job. It does not stop when we get home at night or as soon as the latest crisis has been solved. Process improvement applies to being better leaders just as much as it applies to completing tasks more efficiently.

Innovation is the key to success in today's smaller Navy. We must continually search for new ideas, and blend them with our experience and the experience of those who have gone before us. Professional development must not stop when anchors or stars are fixed to one's collars. If we are not looking continually for new and better ways to lead our people, then we are doing them—and the Navy—a disservice. This is truly a young person's game—and for senior enlisted leaders to remain on the field and contribute we must devise the right plays to ensure that our can-do Sailors win.

Senior Chief Snell is Chief of the Boat on board the San Francisco (SSN-711) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He has served previously on the Spadefish (SSN-668), the Haddock (SSN-621), and was the fire control officer for Commander, Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, Virginia.


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