What is authority? How, where, and when do we get it? Who has it now and how much does he have? Such questions might provoke wide disagreement throughout the Fleet, but most would agree that officers and petty officers no longer have the authority they once had. And, because the link of authority has become corroded, the chain of command is immeasurably weakened.
Today, on board our ships, we are exercising poor leadership because we just do not understand authority and its uses. This poor leadership is destroying authority even further.
Before we can understand the destruction or the reconstruction of authority, however, it will be necessary to try to define “responsibility,” “authority,” and “accountability.”
Responsibility: That which one must answer for to his superiors or his juniors, including, but not limited to, assigned tasks, equipment, men, money, morale, and leadership. With responsibility should go the authority to carry it out. But this is the great gray area of authority which we need to analyze further.
Authority: The impression all men have of the leader’s power and his willingness to use that power. It is the aura of power—the so-called mystique of command presence—which makes the leader’s juniors carry out his orders and which inspires the leader’s superiors to give him more responsibility.
Accountability: The reckoning, wherein the leader answers for his actions and accepts the consequences, good or bad.
In the definition of Authority above, the word “impression” was used. This, of course, denotes a psychological impact because a large portion of authority is perceptual. If officers and petty officers do not know how to use the psychological impact of authority to their advantage, they cannot become good leaders without the tangible disciplinary action which was once available under Rocks and Shoals, but is no longer so under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
There are five ingredients of authority. Two are tangible, three are intangible.
The first ingredient is the power one has by virtue of his rank or rate. It is tangible and it becomes a psychological ingredient when juniors weigh whether or not the leader is willing to use it.
The second ingredient is that part of the leader’s power which is implicit in the responsibilities he has been assigned; e.g., his primary duties or his duties as officer of the deck. Like the first ingredient, this is tangible, providing his juniors know what his responsibilities are.
This ingredient also becomes psychological because there are so many actions the leader must take which are not spelled out in the organizational manuals or similar documents. Nest duty officer is an example of where one has his responsibilities outlined, but his authority is not delineated.
The third ingredient is also easy to understand but difficult to teach. This is the power which accrues to the leader by virtue of his character or makeup. It includes his personality, diligence, moral responsibility, honor, duty, allegiance, forcefulness (or lack of it), convictions, and many other characteristics.
We come now to the last two ingredients, which are purely psychological. These two are the power that accrues to the leader as a result of his superior’s actions and that which results from his own actions.
First, let us look at that which results from his superior’s actions, because it is the one most often abused in the Fleet. If this ingredient is to enhance one’s authority, the superior must:
► show complete confidence in the leader.
► support his decisions.
► support his unexecuted orders. The criterion he must use is whether the leader’s orders will be effective or not without recourse to how he would do it differently.
► not bypass the leader in the chain of command.
► not make the leader’s subordinates privy to information the leader doesn’t have.
► avoid putting the leader in the position of having to defend or reverse himself to his subordinates.
► depend upon the leader for everything that falls within the purview of the superior’s responsibility. This dependence alone operates to enhance the leader’s authority.
There are many other actions the superior can take in order to exhibit complete confidence. It is incumbent upon him to do so, since his unquestioning and unquestioned confidence in the leader is a major ingredient of the leader’s authority.
Most officers soon discover that it is important to show confidence in a good leader under their command, but few recognize that it is absolutely vital to show confidence in a weak leader. The good leader can survive without his superior’s confidence, but the weaker leader is lost without it.
Now let us look at a few common mistakes being made in the Fleet which destroy rather than create authority. Let us call the first the “Conference Syndrome.” It occurs at many levels of shipboard life, but, for this example, let us consider only the commanding officer.
Just before entering the shipyard, many COs hold an all-officers briefing. At this briefing they set forth policies regarding cleanliness, quality of work, cumshaw, and the like. Of course, the object is to apprise all officers, firsthand, what is expected of them. Five problems are inherent in this technique:
(1) Division officers are psychologically elevated to the head-of-department level and the heads of departments are relegated to the division officer’s level. In addition to reducing the heads of departments’ authority, the division officers are getting information which each will interpret in his own way. Based on these interpretations, each can later question their heads of departments’ decisions.
(2) On destroyers, the division officers (after attending a number of these conference-type briefings) quite naturally assume that they can successfully operate at the executive level—a level which, to their frustration, they probably will not achieve for a number of years.
(3) In all matters discussed at these all-officers meetings, heads of departments lose some of the responsibility for their division officers. Thereafter, for two reasons, the heads of departments will not supervise the division officers as closely as they should. To differing degrees, the heads of departments will expect the CO himself to ensure that his own policies are carried out and/or they will expect the division officers to do just what the CO desires without any supervision.
(4) The touchy problem arises when it comes time to exact accountability for improper performance of duty by a division officer. It would be improper to hold the head of department totally accountable since he has been divested of some of his responsibility and authority. It is equally improper for the CO to hold the division officer accountable since this would reduce the authority of the head of department. Had the chain of command been followed originally, the CO could have avoided this dilemma.
(5) The most important error of these all-officer meetings, however, is that the CO misses a chance to show complete confidence in his heads of departments thereby increasing their authority. Of course, the same problems occur on a much larger scale when the CO also briefs his chief petty officers prior to the overhaul or some similar type evolution.
The solution to this conference syndrome is simple. The CO should exercise his leadership through his executive officer and heads of department exclusively. If they and they alone work for him, he can hold them totally responsible and completely accountable.
A second example of bad leadership might be called the “Retaliation Syndrome.” This problem is most frequently exhibited when a superior perceives himself to be in trouble because a junior, several echelons below him in the chain of command, is guilty of misconduct. The senior has been embarrassed and a desire for revenge often manifests itself. When the man who was directly responsible can be identified, his superior is quite often directed to take certain action. Sometimes it is disciplinary action; other times it is not. Either way, if the man’s immediate superior is required to take certain action, it is wrong because the immediate superior has lost the authority to hold the man accountable himself. The same loss of authority has been imposed on all the intermediate superiors.
Another frequent mistake might be called the “Praise Syndrome.” A common failing to which many officers succumb is that of indiscriminately praising men who are several echelons below them in the chain of command. Frequently, officers praise—deservedly—lower-rated men for a good job. But it is given in the wrong way. Like orders, praise must be given via the chain of command, for several reasons:
► There are too many men in the Navy today who aspire to work directly for officers because of the psychic income they receive. (Officers who tolerate this do so because they are flattered or do not know better.) Obviously, these enlisted men do not think that a petty officer has sufficient stature to supervise them. Such men must be made to work for petty officers.
► Insofar as possible, one should have only one boss. All praise and chastisement should come from this immediate superior.
► And, of course, it may very well be that the petty officer of the man receiving praise can be having a difficult time establishing his authority over the man. If this is so, the last thing he needs to complicate his problem is praise from “on high.”
► Finally, if the immediate superior is to have the optimum in authority, he must have the option of relaying the praise on to his man or keeping it to himself. Even though he should be encouraged to pass it on, the decision must rest with him.
Then, there is the “I-am-outstanding Syndrome.”
Why is it that many leaders must prove to juniors that they can do their job better than the juniors can do it? With broader experience, higher visibility position, keener attention to small details, better leadership qualities, and a desire to have their responsibilities carried out in nothing short of an outstanding manner, leaders frequently prevent subordinates from attaining either responsibility or authority. Even though such leaders often have outstanding performance records, they are not training leaders below them. And they are not training subordinates so that they will delegate their authority when they become more senior. Let me cite a couple of examples.
There are chief petty officers in the Fleet today who will not delegate authority to any of their lower petty officers. They would rather hold for themselves the prerogatives of, for example, passing out work assignments, giving out praise, and filling out evaluations. In short, they manage and supervise all their men directly because they will not trust their subordinates to produce the results which they expect, or they don’t want to dilute their own power or control.
Another example of the IAO syndrome is readily apparent in many destroyer wardrooms. The quick way to identify this example of poor leadership is to see how dependent the executive officer and the CO are on people other than their heads of departments. To a large extent our ships’ organization manuals force the Exec to exercise direct control over all the officers in the wardroom. The executive staff concept specifies many collateral duties which are generally assigned to the division officers, causing them to report directly to the executive officer, rather than to their department head, in the execution of these duties.
In order to establish the proper chain of command, the executive officer must be provided with a span of control which does not hamstring him, and the heads of department must be given the authority they need so that they can be held totally accountable and responsible. A CO need do only one thing: assign all collateral duties to the heads of department, then let the heads of department delegate the work to the division officers. In essence, the division officers have the collateral duties. But, they report to their own head of department and not to the executive officer or the CO. Heads of department, in turn, report to the executive officer.
The executive staff (when filled by anyone but heads of. departments) creates three undesirable situations from the standpoint of leadership and authority. First, it permits the division officer, when told to do something by the head of department, to reply that he is working on a collateral duty for the executive officer. The division officer can choose to work on collateral or primary duties as he desires rather than working under the full direction of the head of department. The head of department who overrides the orders of the executive officer is usually brought to heel by the Exec. One or two of these confrontations is about all it takes for the head of department to let the division officer do as he pleases. The head of department’s authority is thus weakened; precisely to the degree that the division officer’s impression of his power is reduced.
Secondly, the standard submission of fitness reports creates a reduction in the authority of the heads of departments. It is almost axiomatic among junior officers that whatever a head of department writes on a fitness report will be changed at least twice before it leaves the ship. In other words, the executive officer and CO will inject their ideas of the division officer’s performance. Therefore, the wise division officer directs his primary efforts to ensure himself a good fitness report toward the Exec and the CO. Through collateral duties, he has this opportunity which, of course, weakens the authority of his head of department. A dilemma results for the CO who tries to correct this situation. Concern for his officers’ careers often dictates that the CO override a head of department evaluation. The solution is for the CO to educate his heads of department before they prepare their rough draft. With the proper education, heads of department can deliver to the executive officer rough drafts of fitness reports which the CO can sign with only minor alterations. This, of course, enhances the heads of department’s authority because the division officers then truly work for them.
The third undesirable situation created by using division officers on the executive staff and other collateral duties is that the executive officer has too large a span of control to be efficient.
The “Overdirection Syndrome” is represented by that propensity we seem to have for directing everyone within sight or hailing distance of us. COs tell shipfitters how to do a repair job or install equipment. Executive officers tell nonrated men how their uniforms should look; they also directly tell all the officers what they like or dislike about them. Heads of department explain to firemen or seamen just how they are to paint the bilges or a bulkhead. Division officers tell seamen how they are to clean paint brushes or a berthing compartment. In short, too many leaders are giving too many orders (or advice or guidance) to too many people, when the business of controlling these latter people rightfully belongs to someone else.
Of course, all of the symptoms are examples of breakdowns in the chain of command. The CO has an inherent right to direct everyone under his command. However, just as the other examples above reflect, he is bypassing the opportunity to show complete confidence in his juniors and is thereby reducing their authority. By exercising his “right,” the CO has infringed upon the prerogatives of others.
Another leadership mistake we make is what might be called the “Chief Petty Officer Syndrome.” This dually occurs in ships where the commanding officer is technically oriented or seems unduly involved in the technical aspects of the ship’s work. When a head of apartment briefs the Old Man on a technical subject some COs demand either the CPO’s presence or his opinions. No one disputes the CO’s need for specific advice from the level of greatest technical expertise. But, for leadership to be optimized, the head of department must be made to report technical matters and stand ready to amplify them. Only in this way can he be held totally responsible and accountable.
The head of department must be given the option, too, of standing on his own opinions, whether they reflect the CPO’s opinions or not. (Only for clarity and simplicity has the division officer been omitted from this example.) When the head of department stands alone in a situation like this, great confidence is built—or an officer is held accountable for a bad decision or recommendation. In either case, good leadership has been exercised.
A final example might be called the “Immediate Response Syndrome.” At least part of the roots of this serious and prevalent problem can be traced to management training. In essence, it occurs when a senior repeatedly expects immediate results, even though, if properly carried out, the order must be passed down through several echelons of the command. The end result is loss of authority at several levels because the recipient of the order will eventually have to bypass the chain of command or cause it to be bypassed in order to achieve the immediate results. Efficiency may be served, communications may be served, but authority and morale will suffer.
We have seen seven examples of how authority is weakened in the Fleet. And, as we have examined each, the word “confidence” looms large. The greater the confidence a superior shows in what the leader does, says, and recommends, the greater the leader’s authority. And this confidence must be present at every echelon within the command if subordinates are to have enough authority to carry out their duties in a good leadership environment.
The final ingredient of authority is that which a man deliberately instills in himself. It becomes a part of him as a result of his actions and the manner in which he comports himself. The essence of this ingredient is that the leader must always look and act like a leader.
This aspect of authority is significantly ignored at the junior officer and junior petty officer level. Unfortunately, we do not have any formal method of teaching it, and, since it is a variable and very easily changed, it is incumbent upon us to teach it.
Here are some examples of how junior officers and junior petty officers can be taught to improve their authority:
► Never ask a junior to do anything! Give orders in clear and concise terms so that there is no doubt as to what is wanted. Never end an order with words like “okay?” or “understand?” These words betray doubt that the order will be carried out.
► Do not lose your temper. There is, of course, a very distinct difference between “getting mad” and losing control—sometimes becoming visibly angry can help the leader make his point. But, when the leader loses control, he loses the esteem of those below him. Worse, he is putting the man he is railing against into a defensive position from which the man must react. The man’s reactions—both bad—are to withdraw or to become argumentative.
► The leader must use the chain of command. In particular, the CO must prevent subordinates below his immediate juniors from coming to him with either problems or proposed solutions. They must be made to communicate through their immediate superiors. The wise CO knows that he is building his own authority when he protects the authority of his immediate juniors.
► The CO must hold his immediate juniors responsible for everything their subordinates do. The CO should compensate in the area of accountability for matters over which they have little or no control. This means, for instance, that the CO holds the Exec responsible for the men’s conduct ashore. If the responsibility is passed down the chain to each man’s petty officer, the CO will have everyone in the chain responsible and the accountability prorated, so-to-speak, so that all those responsible are held accountable to one degree or another.
► The good leader builds his own authority by keeping his immediate superior informed of what he is doing.
► The good leader does not use a senior’s name to strengthen his own position when giving an order or trying to accomplish any task. Those who are led must believe that everything they do is their leader’s idea. Obviously, then, the leader should never strive to appear to be a “nice guy” by saying that the CO or the Exec wants a certain job done.
Conversely, the good leader does not use juniors’ names to strengthen his position to a senior, even if it is in technical matters. He must master the technical material so that he does not report that his chief petty officer says this or recommends that. This must be so whether the CPO’s recommendation has been accepted or rejected by the leader.
► The good leader motivates his men, ensures that they are relatively happy and have a sense of security. Throughout the Fleet today, the men are being pulled in every direction by too many people in positions of authority. When they stand quarterdeck watches, the quarterdeck watch officer or the officer of the deck lectures them about their slovenliness. As bridge watchstanders they are reprimanded by officers and petty officers for inaccurate reports and inattention to duty. The masters-at-arms regularly try to square them away. The good leader will demand that those in authority report his men’s shortcomings to him. He will forcefully encourage his peers and his superiors to bring their objections about his men directly to him. He alone will hold his men accountable for their actions.
► Sometimes one does nothing. Day-to-day leadership occasionally offers problems for which even the best leader has no solutions. At such times, it is best to do nothing directly.
But, surely, one must do something. The following four rules offer some guidance for the good leader.
He controls his emotions. But, he suppresses more than his anger. He must, in fact, not reflect strong emotions of any kind; this is particularly necessary in eyeball-to-eyeball leadership situations.
He thinks on his feet. He quickly considers whether the matter in question involves the individual’s health, safety, or simple training (perhaps the man simply did not know what was expected of him). If it is one of these problems, the man should be corrected on the spot without delay.
He uses the chain of command. If it is not one of the foregoing three categories, he allows the man’s immediate superior to handle the problem directly. The object, of course, is to have every man working for only one boss.
He ignores nothing. Anything that is unsatisfactory must be acted upon at once in accordance with the three preceding rules. This includes unsatisfactory conditions mentioned by superiors and/or peers.
Our third class petty officers and, oftentimes, our junior officers are not given a recognizable form of responsibility because they do not have enough authority—at least in a form which they know how to use. We must manufacture that authority in some manner. The lack of authority and the watering down of our petty officers’ responsibilities is a major factor contributing to our poor retention.
There was a time when all of us were proud of the fact that, in the Navy, a man could get responsibility faster and at a younger age than anywhere else. It should, and can, be that way again.
Lieutenant Commander Dean enlisted in the Navy in January 1951 and entered Officer Candidate School in 1957, after six-and-one-half years as a machine accountant. Upon graduation from OCS, he was assigned to the USS Richard E. Kraus (DD-849). In April 1960, he became the Executive Officer of the USS Engage (MSO-433). He assumed command of the USS Limpkin (MSC-195) in 1961. In 1963, he was ordered ashore for duty in the Plans Division of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He matriculated at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in 1965, and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations. In January 1967, soon after graduation, he reported to the precommissioning detail of the USS Talbot (DEG-4), and served as Executive Officer until March j 1969, when he assumed command of the USS Courtney (DE-1021).