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A human endeavor as momentous as leading others requires a firm foundation. To be a continuing and successful act, leadership must have a core which is unalterable and irreducible. It cannot remain valid as an action in and of itself; it must serve a higher purpose. To sustain its viability leadership must pursue an ideal.
It may seem naive to discuss ideals in a cynical society which scoffs at the mention of such things. Yet, some of the catastrophic leadership failures that produced that very cynicism were caused by a loss of contact with basic principles. Likewise, it may appear passe to reemphasize what has traditionally been put forward as a tenet of leadership, that of dedication to a goal, but in its restatement it is no less true. Indeed, it is only becoming more apparent that leadership of any lasting effect is motivated by an ideal which transcends the leader.
For any naval officer to perpetuate his role as a leader he must act with a purpose that extends beyond himself- When the leadership problem becomes seemingly overwhelming, he must recall the beliefs that prompted him to become part of the military. He must believe that the basic structure of this country is worth maintaining and that a strong military is essential for preserving this nation. And, finally, he must see that the Navy is an integral part of any viable defense. Without these basic assumptions his foundation of leadership will erode.
Proceeding from a belief in his country and the need for a defense of its government, there is only one more postulate needed to fix the purpose of a military leader. A military leader has one paramount function: to fight. Perhaps this concept is best summarized by the words of career soldier and Civil War general, Charles F. Smith:
Battle is the ultimate to which the whole life’s labor of an officer should be directed. He may live to the age of retirement without seeing a battle; still, he must always be getting ready for it as if he knew the hour and the day it is to break upon him. And then, whether it come late or early, he must be will' ing to fight—he must fight.
The ideal held before us as military leaders, indeed the only rational explanation for our position in society, is t0 prepare for battle to the extent that, when the time comes, we fight t° the maximum effectiveness of our resources. Whether we hope to avoid a dash of arms by our preparedness is not the issue because without a real commitment and ability to fight there ls no deterrent. We delude ourselves if We think our job is any other than preparing to wage war as efficiently as possible. To like or dislike fighting has no real bearing on the matter; if We assume the job there is no alterna- rive but to perform it correctly. We are not managers or administrators, ^e are soldiers. Other functions should receive attention only in pro
portion to their usefulness in meeting fhe goal of combat readiness. Against the ability to fight we measure the actual, day-to-day performance of our )ob.
The problem of priorities with 'vhich every naval officer struggles is roore easily confronted. Our purpose is t0 fight and that which, in the long run, helps to attain that objective is cc'ost important. Granted, there are Enumerable things which seem to conspire against doing our real job, ut is up to us, the leaders, to cut chrough the chaff or change the sys- tern if necessary when practices and Procedures have an adverse effect upon °Ur fighting efficiency. To the myriad things in the modern Navy which scure our primary mission we must propose a scale to measure, order, and •scard according to mission en- ancement. If we do not keep sight of °Ur purpose, it is certain we will eventually be overwhelmed by the endless, ^ ^generating programs, projects, rrns, and reports. We must force 0urselves to remember that the Navy not a reform school, a management trainee program, a social club, or even atge corporation; it is an organiza- '°n whose only function is to fight, and it relies on its leaders to improve and sustain that ability.
As leaders, it is essential that we Periodically stop and reflect on the a °f combat readiness to determine at is necessary for its accomplish- rnent. It is all too easy, otherwise, to
fall into the trap of “crisis management” and to abrogate the real leadership responsibility. In the Navy this practice has become so common that crisis often is the only stimulus for action. Like a dog chasing its tail, it is a self-perpetuating game without a satisfactory end. All of an officer’s energies can be absorbed reacting to each new crisis while nothing is done to correct the underlying problem. No plan is made and no action is taken to solve or circumvent the source of the crisis; nothing is done to get back on track toward improving fighting efficiency. Such practice is, in the end, inimical to the Navy’s mission. Unless a leader takes the time and the initiative to refocus on his real purpose, and he discerns the best means of contributing to the goal of combat readiness, his potential will be sacrificed to the “crisis management” maelstrom.
Pursuit of the combat readiness goal by virtue of its importance excludes politics. Of course, we in the Navy are directed by political objective. The policymakers determine the "when,” the “where,” and, to a large degree, the “how” of applying our fighting ability. But in the quest of fighting proficiency, as military leaders, we must be nonpolitical and strive to eliminate politics within the Navy. We cannot be sycophants of the prevailing political trend setters. The
Navy cannot, nor should not, be offered as a microcosm for solving society’s problems. It cannot be the playground for the ephemeral sentiment of partisan politics nor the sounding board for special interest groups. By the same token, the Navy should not be an organization that determines its direction through the political maneuvering of its own internal “unions.” These are too narrow in range and too detrimental in their overall effect to be tolerated by leadership that has its sights on fighting efficiency. Navy leaders should be responsive to only one interest group: the people of the United States.
As leaders in the Navy, we are, despite any statements to the contrary, responsible to the country for our ability to fight. We must ensure through our leadership that everything possible is done to preserve and enhance that ability. Regardless of the fluctuations of political sentiment we are accountable to the nation and to our own consciences in the final analysis, for our ability to fight. It is our responsibility to make certain that narrow interests and political gamesmanship do not compromise the fighting ability of the Navy.,
The most stirring appeal that Admiral Nelson could offer at Trafalgar was, ”... England expects that every man will do his duty.” When
our country calls upon us to execute our obligation we will be expected to do our duty. As leaders we will be ultimately held accountable for our preparedness to fight, just as if we “knew the hour and the day” war was to come.
Within the Navy itself, leadership which is responsive to an ideal dictates a nonpolitical attitude in decisionmaking. Leaders at all levels must make judgments on the basis of the fighting effectiveness objective. The system must be cleared, to the extent possible, of “office politics.” To open the field for goal-directed, achievement-oriented officers, selection criteria have to be structured around actual performance criteria. The man who advances should not be the one necessarily who conforms best, who is the most adept socializer, or even the one who pushes the most paper; rather, he should be the man who does the most to further the fighting potential of his unit. The man who is promoted should be the one who, through his leadership acumen and demonstrated proficiency in his warfare specialty, does the most to ad- “If we do not keep sight of our purpose, it is certain we will eventually be overwhelmed by the endless, self-generating programs, projects, forms, and reports.” vance combat readiness. He should not be the man who, according to himself, has the best achievement record, but the man who really has contributed to the mission. It is incumbent on the more senior people in the military to take an incisive look at the performance of those serving under them and make their evaluations depend more upon overall contribution to the organizational goal. The “good-ole boy” syndrome for getting ahead should be put aside in the Navy which needs ideal-oriented leaders to keep its viability as a fighting unit alive.
The firm grasp of an ideal by a leader can help promote consistency in his actions. Consistency on a leader’s part is a sine qua non for winning and perpetuating the support of his followers. The sustained support of his people is important to any leader and especially to a Navy leader whose most important tool in accomplishing the goal of fighting efficiency is people. A leader cannot inspire or evoke the higher motives of his men, and thus their best efforts, without gaining and retaining their faith and confidence. The leader who continually demonstrates a dedication to a goal which transcends his own personal gain has a much better chance of obtaining enduring support. His commitment to an ideal keeps him on track toward the ultimate objective of fighting proficiency which, in turn, lends a uniformity to his policies. His standards remain intact, and there is a high compatability between words and deeds.
Almost the reverse is true of a selfserving leader. Such an individual with the changing objective of trying to please his superiors through his handling of the duty "crash program” or the most immediate "crisis” will eventually end up entangled in his own duplicity. He will do whatever is necessary at the moment to please the person who sits above him in the chain of command, the person who writes his fitness report. An officer with totally egocentric goals has trouble being consistent because he reacts to each situation with whatever standards are necessary to handle the immediate task, regardless of the effect on the overall mission. He will do or say whatever may be necessary to accomplish the job and then revise or reverse his criteria to meet the next task. He uses people and consequently loses the potential of his most important asset. Such leaders who serve no higher purpose than themselves, and they are by no means atypical in the Navy, end up contributing very little to the mission of the Navy or themselves.
Men can tell when they are being manipulated and when they are being led. They usually adjust their efforts accordingly. An ideal-oriented leader demonstrates his sincerity by his consistent pursuit of a higher goal. With a focus on his real purpose, he has the aplomb to temper “crisis” handling
with farsighted mission-accomplishment needs. He is the leader most likely to win the deep-rooted support and to call forth the maximum effort from the men who serve under him- This is essential to a leader who aims at proficiency in battle. Even in today’s technologically advanced Navy, the spirit of men compared to material factors conforms to Napoleon's maxim that, “in war the moral is to the material as three to one.” Since we really cannot count on material superiority, it is critical that a naval officer lead the men under him in a manner which exploits this ratio.
Despite a pending indictment for irrational idealism, it would seem that there is an intrinsic value in leadership based on an ideal which directly benefits the leader. That is, in addition to gaining strength to sustain his leadership, a leader who advances toward an ideal also receives a reward as an individual. When a leader dedicates himself to a cause or a goal that contributes to something greater than himself, is there not in such actions an inherent satisfaction? Is it not better to know that through a career of dedicated duty one has helped sustain the advantages of our free system? Is it not better to spend a lifetime, or at least some portion of it, absorbed in work that benefits others rather than in pursuit of the illusionary symbols of personal success? Is it not better to see some lasting achievement rather than experience temporary fame or status- Though the answer to these questions may be a matter of philosophical debate, in tangible terms do we not seek a return on our investments of time and energy? And, if so, is not the most sought-after return a feeling 0 fulfillment? If it is, then the person most likely to attain satisfaction is the one who makes progress leading c0' ward an ideal.