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By Lieutenant David A. Jenkins, U.S. Navy
quired to turn in an individual evaluation input form. The division officer can no remember everything, and the individual is less likely to neglect a specific important point.
Okay, enough with the ethereal stuff on leadership! You are up to your eyeballs in PMS schedules, your next three inspections are just around the comer, and your executive officer is on you because your people can’t keep their berthing compartment straight. You’re already getting to the ship before the sun is up and leaving it after sunset. Just exactly how are you going to apply traditional leadership practices—like courage, loyalty, and vision?
From my observations over the years, I have compiled a list of “hands-on” qualities that seem to be present in successful naval officers—officers who have been promoted early (and often) to positions of increased responsibility and have been recognized by their respective communities as good leaders. I genuinely believe that the consistent practice of the following qualities will help all junior officers become better leaders, both in the Navy and in future careers.
- Planning Ahead. One of the most useful skills for leaders is being able to see past the immediate demands to plan for the future. The good leader constantly looks ahead, anticipating problems and events and planning for them. Very few surprises occur in the normal course of the Navy’s routine, since most management scenarios in the military are repetitious. For example, most command-level inspections are administered on a cycle, and it’s no secret when they come due. Planning ahead reduces the “pucker factor” considerably, because ample time can be set aside for the necessary preinspection preparations.
- Information Review. A leader must be able to review large quantities of information and extract the points salient to the particular situation. The ability to quickly arrive at the bottom line is a valuable administrative skill—especially in an emergency situation.
- Steady-Strain Management. Good leaders all seem to practice a variation of this theme—a consistent, high level of concern for the command’s mission. Consider, for example, a ship’s many inspections. The purpose of an inspection is to ascertain the command’s readiness in some area—the true level of readiness, not a pumped-up inspection level. A ship that practices intense preinspection preparation, followed by long periods of weak leadership and low levels of concern, might be tasked with an operational commitment and be unable to respond. Its normal readiness level might be well below average, despite its having sailed through the most recent inspection cycle.
A leader can avoid these peaks and valleys in operational readiness by adopting a steady-strain management philosophy—maintaining systems, personnel, and equipment at peak or near-peak readiness levels on a continuous basis. True operational readiness would be markedly higher, and much less preinspection sweat would be needed, because systems and equipment would only need to be checked prior to inspections.
Subordinates are held year-round to the same standards by which they will be inspected. It might take time to get to this level of performance, but the benefits are obvious.
- Inspection Preparation. Virtually all inspection organizations publish the inspection checklists they use, stating the appropriate references. One organization even publishes a “List of Recurring Discrepancies,” which outlines its most commonly encountered discrepancies. These inspectors actually experience about an 80% agreement between inspection “hits” and these lists—for all commands inspected. Most commands, therefore, could profit handsomely by an honest apprais of their operational condition in th months preceding the inspection.
Inspecting organizations generally careful to ensure that their inspectio standards align with existing, approve parameters. They don’t create the standard; they simply verify command com pliance by asking units to demonstrat that systems and equipment operate to de sign levels.
> Performance Documentation. A goo leader never forgets to document the pet formance of his subordinates—good and bad. At evaluation time, it is much easier to generate a powerful, effective list of Petty Officer Jones’s accomplishment* if you’ve kept track all along. In addition, all division personnel should be re
Actions against personnel who do no1 perform up to standards also are easief with clear documentation of counseling and other actions taken by the command to provide guidance and assistance to tltf individual. Formal counseling should always be documented, but need not always be negative.
► Positive Attitude. Good leaders alway* respond to tasking in the affirmative Their first answer is “Can do!” Whef faced with apparently impossible, conflicting, or extremely difficult tasking' they present all options to superiors and ask for further direction. They communicate a sense of positive energy to thei( subordinates. Tomorrow is not good enough, if it is reasonable that it can be' done today. In general, a positive, proactive attitude gets more accomplished.
You don’t have to be a born leader to be a good leader. Many leadership qualities really are basic skills that can be practiced on a day-to-day basis. Good communication, for example, begins with knowing your subordinates and keeping your interactions on a predominantly positive track.
- Flexibility. Flexibility is an essential leadership quality. Flexibility in reacting to new taskings is key, as is the ability to assess the specific situation. The junior officer should quickly recognize management decisions that are ineffective or inappropriate, and should provide alternate paths and solutions, reallocating resources or personnel as necessary.
- Even-Keel Behavior. Calm, organized thought processes and personal interactions—versus explosive bursts of energy or anger—are vital to defusing crises. Most people lose their ability to think rationally and objectively when they become emotional. Unfortunately, the negative approach is sometimes Used as a daily management tool,
With subordinates becoming desensitized to the constant bursts of anger. People working in this environment are never sure when there is a real crisis, because the boss is always upset.
- Focus. The ability to focus on pertinent problems—while keeping other less pressing issues in perspective—is a necessary leadership skill. The successful junior officer can focus on central issues, while at the same time juggling many competing issues, all at various stages of completion.
^ Cognitive Thought. A good leader can handle several conflicting or contrasting issues simultaneously,
Versus handling issues in linear fashion. He can consider multiple Problems concurrently, while still affording each its own unique degree of concern.
* Job Knowledge. A junior officer Will not know all of the technical details of the equipment and sys- iems he is responsible for, but he must have enough knowledge to be conversant and fluid in discussions With his increasingly technically trained subordinates. He risks a great deal of credibility if he is perceived as weak in this regard. A good leader is technically competent and garners respect from his subordinates in proportion to his knowledge.
^ High Standards. High expectations, regardless of the existing environ- thent, are a mark of good leaders. Standards should be high, but reasonable, and consistent with approved, published documentation.
Military Skills  I
should be unwavering. He should never voice disagreement with the chain of command or policies of superiors in front of subordinates, but should express his objections and proposed solutions to superiors in private. He never uses superiors as “the bad guy” or as the reason a job must be done, as in, “The XO wants this done today before anybody goes home.” Rather, he says, “We’ve got to get this done today, Chief.”
Division officers or department heads should never directly task junior enlisted personnel. Ignoring this most basic principle can result in friction between the
offender and senior enlisted division personnel. The division officer also should jealously guard his own rights in this regard, objecting (at the proper time and in an appropriate manner) to superiors that bypass him in interacting with subordinates. Likewise, juniors should not be allowed to bypass the chief or division officer, except for command mechanisms such as Captains Call and XO
open-door policies. In general, problems should be solved at the lowest level possible.
► Relationship With the Leading CPO or PO. The experience and management expertise of our CPO community is a resource for the junior officer—one he should respect and cultivate. A new ensign is both positionally and functionally in charge of his division and should lead the division. He also should realize that senior NCO leadership exists to provide the direct guidance to division personnel. The CPO mess will respect a junior officer who is trying hard to do his job, especially if he lets the chief do his job! Run all tasking through the chief. Hold him to the assigned tasking, but let him be a leader as well!
When occasional strong differences of opinion occur—which can be misinterpreted by junior enlisted—they are best discussed in private. Regardless of the interaction, when the discussion is over, both the chief and the officer should resume their normal, professional demeanor and relationship, especially in front of the troops.
- Delegation. One of the most common errors of new division officers is a reluctance to delegate. New ensigns believe that they can work long and hard enough to do just about everything, and most chiefs will be glad to let them try. But one ensign can’t do it all, and an ensign who does not delegate does not develop subordinates. An ensign tasked with a new assignment should not ask “How can I do this?” He should ask, “Who can best do this for me?” He should be sure the task actually requires his personal attention before starting in on it.
- Communication. A good leader communicates his intentions in a clear, understandable manner, with appropriate consideration for the target audience. For example,
command goals would be presented to the CPO mess differently from a group of seamen.
> Goal Setting. Another important quality is the ability to present clear, understandable goals with a timeframe for completion. Goals are assigned both a time requirement and a responsible person. A “Plan of Action and Milestones” (POAM) has become quite popular and
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can appear in many forms as a planning and tracking tool for job assignments. Goals must be specific, reasonable, consistent with published guidance, and measurable, so that progress can be gauged. ► Sensitivity to Personnel. The junior officer should be keenly aware of the unique problems, needs, strengths, and weaknesses of his personnel. He must accept and acknowledge the varying degrees of intelligence, creativity, interest, and energies of his workers. Although our sailors are increasingly technically trained, they have widely varying degrees of ability. He must be able to extract the maximum from his subordinates by matching assignments to personnel, when possible.
Sensitivity also means knowing your personnel outside the work environment. Sailors are real people with families, spouses, children, and off-duty interests. It is not unreasonable to expect the division officer to know his personnel’s family situations (number of children and spouse’s name for example). People appreciate it when their organization is genuinely interested them.
Praise in public, admonish in private is a tenet of good leadership. Petty Officer Jones could be praised publicly in his work' center, but should never be criticized in front of his peers or the troops. Criticism of a subordinate’s work should be preceded by a positive comment about some aspect of that work. Interactions between the officer and subordinates should be predominantly positive; people should know you appreciate their good work. Punitive, negative actions, when necessary, should be applied uniformly and fairly.
► Matching Personnel to Jobs. The careful matching of jobs to personnel allows personnel to perform in areas in which they excel. But unless this practice is balanced by also assigning personnel tasks that are challenging or new to them, their professional development will suffer. The practice of letting only those who have proven expertise in a particular area continue to perform in that area provides a greater expectation that the job will be done right. On the downside, we begin to ask for a disproportionate amount of work from those who can, and less from those who can’t. We then fail to develop new talent and risk losing both the overworked and underdeveloped sailor to discouragement.
The desire to achieve a high quality product must be balanced against the need to develop subordinates. The manager who is interested in the long-term development of his people must be willing to accept some larger degree of imperfection—at least initially. .Of course, in a high-threat or combat situation, the manager will always defer to those who have the proven ability to produce the desired result rapidly. You can’t afford to train someone in the heat of the battle.
>• Recognition of Subordinates. One of the least expensive investments we can make, in terms of esprit de corps, is in the formal recognition mechanisms of the Navy. Navy Commendations, Navy Achievement Medals, CO’s Letters of Commendation, or simple recognition in front of peers are great motivators that cost a command very little—a few hours of composition and a bit of follow-up.
Sailor of the Month, Quarter, and Year must be viable, meaningful programs. An ensign that says, “We didn’t have anybody we could nominate this quarter” should be hung up by his heels. Candidates should be submitted for all of these programs. Just being nominated is a noteworthy achievement for your best sailor, and one that can be mentioned in the sailor’s next evaluation. The chain of command is generally quite willing to use award mechanisms, provided that the initiator does the paperwork—a small price to pay!
Command award allocations, if applicable, should never go unfilled. The CO or XO, when faced with an end of the year decision about how to distribute a few remaining awards, should not have to ask for additional writeups. Division officers and department heads should have several writeups on file or working and should be able to fill any open requirements almost immediately.
There you have it—one Navy lieutenant’s observations on leadership- Hopefully, this will provide a sort of how-to checklist that one might find practical at the pump-and-valve level. We learn some leadership qualities by on-the- job training, some by osmosis, but the skills listed here can be practiced hands- on, on a daily basis. Ultimately, we are all individuals and must act out our own unique leadership roles in the Navy and in life. However, I am convinced that the qualities I have listed are part and parcel of a successful naval officer’s leadership bag.
Lieutenant Jenkins currently is assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School. His previous tours include assignment to the Fleet and Mine Warfare Training Center as mine countermeasures instructor, main propulsion assistant on board the USS Sellers (DDG- 11), and operations officer on board the USS Ford' fied (MSO-446). He was commissioned in 1983 via Officer Candidate School, after seven years of enlisted service.
 cer’s support of the chain of command
^ Chain of Command. The junior offi-