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Junior officers reporting to a ship will face more managerial responsibility than they are likely to see again in a lifetime. Six leadership techniques—prioritize, plan, train, care, communicate, and participate—may help smooth the transition from student to naval officer.
As an instructor at an NROTC unit, I spent a great deal of time counseling students. A recent visit from a midshipman first-class about to be commissioned was particularly memorable. He had the jitters about the major changes
about to occur in his life—becoming a naval officer, graduating from college, moving to a strange part of the country, and reporting to his first ship. Most of all, he worried about being equal to the tremendous responsibilities that his first sea tour inevitably would bring.
I spent the next half hour reassuring him that he was going to be an outstanding officer, in spite of his anxiety.
Long after he left, however, I was still thinking about his concerns and the fact that most young officers report to their first sea tour with precious little managerial experience to guide them. Yet ju" nior officers reporting to a ship are greeted with more managerial response bility than they may see again in a life' time. Upon arrival, they must not only run their divisions smoothly, they als° must handle a wide variety of collateral duties, stand demanding watches, and make steady progress toward warfare qualification.
With my own shipboard experience5 in mind, I wondered what kind of advice I could give this midshipman to smooth his transition from student to naval off*' cer. Specifically, how could I relay the benefit of my experience in a way tha* might help him be more successful- I” my four years on two ships, through on- the-job training and trial and error. I adopted some fundamental leadership and management techniques that eventually brought me reasonable success. So-' even though there was absolutely noth' ing new or unique about my methods— I decided that a few tips on being a good manager would be the best advice I could give this future officer.
Prioritizing is the key to success in an environment where more is asked of a junior officer than could ever be accomplished. On my first tour, the chief engineer and I used to joke despairingly tha* we were being pulled in so many directions that our “vectors were all canceling”—and nothing was getting done. I** the end, however, prioritizing enabled us to overcome this common problem. To begin, an officer must identify those responsibilities that allow no margin f°r error—in other words, those jobs that re-
fighting school preparing for the upcoming propulsion examination. Similarly, ju nior officers who have labored long and hard to implement worthwhile training programs too often end up neglecting them because they fail to plan ahead.
Adhering to the schedule in a shipboard environment requires a great deal of discipline; there will be daily temptations to divert attention and resources away from established goals. During my tour on a guided-missile cruiser, I always admired the fact that nuclear training was absolutely inviolable. No matter what other important events were taking place on board the ship, that training always was held and attendance was strictly enforced.
In developing a schedule, an officer must submit inputs to the planning board for training and work closely with the division chief petty officer. By including the senior enlisted in the planning process, an officer can ensure their support and be confident that the schedule is realistic.
Good schedules address both long- and short-term objectives. Big jobs and commitments must be attacked early so the division can chip away at them rather than respond in a crisis mode. Meanwhile, short-term requirements, such as preventive maintenance, can fall into a daily or weekly routine, once they are clearly identified.
Ideally, portions of each workday can be allocated routinely to specific tasks or programs. For example, the time immediately following morning quarters might always be devoted to maintenance spot checks, and training might always be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays shortly before lunch. The key is to establish a schedule that addresses all divisional goals and then to stick to it as much as possible. Research in manufacturing environments has documented the productivity gains that are possible when plant management minimizes schedule interruptions and short-notice changes. Transition times between tasks will shorten as planning at all levels becomes more certain. Morale will improve as people sense the presence of sensible leadership and have time to complete the tasks they begin, and the average level of excellence, across the spectrum of divisional responsibilities, will be much higher than it would be in an atmosphere of poor planning.
Good employees are the Navy’s most precious asset. By implementing high- quality training programs, a division of
luire the utmost attention. When I was Signed as the navigator on my second 'hip, for example, I knew that the safety of the ship had to be my top priority, no Matter what other demands might be tttade on me. Similarly, I knew that the blip’s Personnel Reliability Program tanked first among my countless administrative duties. Only after allocating ad- e<)Uate resources to such vital jobs should officer undertake less important tasks. Merely keeping up with the many options is one of the most difficult aspects °f effective priority setting for the junior officer. For instance, officers who are out of step with command goals or who rarely tour their work spaces will end UP misallocating resources. Matching divisional capabilities with senior officer Expectations is an important facet of priority setting. Effective communications are the only way for the division officer link these two areas. On the other hand, something as simple as carrying a note pad and writing down ideas and Problems on the spot also can help an officer keep up with the many issues that arise away from the desk.
Clearly, prioritizing must be integrated Mth the planning function. I found it helpful to sit down alone before officers call to evaluate and rank my jobs. I asked ttyself, “What must be done today? Are 'here any reports due? Is tomorrow morning's navigation brief prepared? Are the Applies for the upcoming underway period on board?” Next, I would ask, “What long-range goals and commitments are aow a day closer? Is the division moving forward on the predeployment checkoff list? Is the training program going to Provide enough qualified watchstanders for the next underway period? Are the needed repairs for the upcoming overhaul being documented adequately?
Faced with so many considerations, it is sometimes difficult for an officer to avoid the pitfall of doing the easiest jobs first. Inevitably, however, the more difficult jobs rate a higher priority. Because it takes a disciplined manager to attack 'he harder jobs first on a steady basis, this type of officer enjoys the greatest success.
Effective planning enables an officer to move the division toward its goals on a schedule, in spite of the daily and hourly changes that characterize shipboard life. All division officers know, for example, that a preventive maintenance Program is supposed to be perfect at all times. Keeping it that way, however, requires good planning when the sailors Who perform the maintenance are at fire
ficer can capitalize on the Navy’s multimillion dollar investment in human capital. Training programs will exist—they are mandatory and universal—but the officer must make the decision whether the division’s training will be pertinent and effective or simply an admmistra ive
requirement. , .
The best thing any officer can do ensure a quality training regimen is to care enough to become personally involved in it. If this underlying concern is present, a number of measures exist that can improve training effectiveness greatly. For example, the division officer can make the training participatory by assigning topics to other members of the group, instead of making them listen to the chief or leading petty officer every time. Preparing and presenting training lectures improves the self-esteem o young sailors, even though some assistance inevitably is required.
Regular and inviolable times should be designated for training, to the point where it becomes part of the weekly routine. A worker who is pulled away from an important job to attend training is unlikely to listen well. And any training held shortly after lunch on a warm day is going to be useless because half the group will fall asleep. In addition, a division officer must try to arrange a good location for training. Too often in a shipboard environment, training takes place in a poorly lit, inadequately ventilated space with a chipping hammer battering the outer bulkhead.
Attendance must be strictly enforced if the program is going to have continuity and good results. Officers should make every attempt to attend training, to improve their own knowledge, to show support, and to ensure quality. Finally, the training must be carefully designed to prepare participants for advancement.
The benefits of high-quality training are almost endless. Combat and operational readiness should be the foremost goals of the program and its measure ot success. Cross-training—teaching a sailor more than one job—is particularly effective toward this end and also is a great confidence builder. High morale also can be related directly to training effectiveness. Everyone is happier, for example, when the division’s watch burden is eased by the addition of newly qualified watchstanders; and these new watchstanders usually are proud to be standing independent watches. Knowledge gives a fleet sailor a greater sense of contribution and team membership, in addition to individual satisfaction. It also improves efficiency, productivity, and quality because a well-trained sailor needs less supervision and is capable of doing better work in less time.
Officers must care about the health and welfare of the men and women in their charge, and the best way to ensure the health of a command is to create and enforce a safe work environment. Eliminating accidents should be a conscious goal of every division. Nevertheless, the hazardous nature of naval operations makes attaining this goal very difficult. Sailors use dangerous chemicals, transport ordnance, operate heavy machinery, work aloft, work on electrical gear, and climb hundreds of ladders. The danger is even greater for newly reporting personnel who are unfamiliar with the dangers of shipboard life.
There are a number of ways that a concerned officer can help keep this dangerous environment from victimizing workers. An ongoing, meaningful safety training program can make workers aware of hazards. A thorough safety indoctrination can reduce senseless injuries to new arrivals. In enforcing safety standards, however, there is no substitute for an officer’s active involvement in the workplace. Any command duty officer who tours the ship regularly can make an endless list of safety violations that were corrected “just in time,” probably precluding serious injury.
An officer can play an important role in safety beyond the quarterdeck as well. Timely safety briefs at morning quarters are one of the best ways to help prevent off-duty accidents. Around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for example, I would always discuss the dangers of drinking and driving. On Fridays during the warm weather months, I stressed water safety. An officer also can highlight the dangers present in a foreign port before liberty call.
Monitoring the physical well-being of subordinates is another important aspect of leadership and management. For instance, an officer can play a major role in the physical fitness of subordinates through example, encouragement, and enforcement of Navy standards. During both of my tours, I made some headway in discouraging tobacco use and always challenged my divisions to boost their previous physical readiness test scores. Improved productivity and lower absenteeism are just two benefits of physical fitness.
An officer also must be alert for injuries and illnesses in the ranks. Many sailors are reluctant to seek medical treatment. Sometimes a condition was treated only after I noticed the problem (usually at quarters) and ordered a sailor to sick call. Sick and hurt sailors who try to stay on the job place themselves at undue risk and become a danger to their shipmates. It often requires a concerned officer’s intervention to get them treated.
The division officer also must be attuned to the emotional health of subordinates. Alcohol abuse, financial woes, family strife, and legal troubles are only a few of the personal problems that can bedevil the fleet sailor. By staying alert for symptoms, an officer can intervene early and become an important liaison between the troubled sailor and the many Navy resources in place to offer assistance. A referral to the chaplain, the command master chief, Navy Relief, legal services, or the ship’s doctor often provides the solution that gets someone back on the job.
The division officer must learn to communicate effectively, up and down the chain of command. Success in communicating with senior officers requires a good sense of timing and a great deal of confidence. Careful preparation—especially an attempt to anticipate a superior’s questions—is mandatory. Communicating effectively up the chain of command enables officers to synchronize their individual goals and plans with the expectations of commanders.
Senior officers also call upon junior officers to offer deck-plate advice. Knowledgeable and honest advice from a trusted subordinate can make commanders aware of many important regulations and procedures. I often advised my commanding officers about navigation and shipboard security. I did not always tell them exactly what they wanted to hear, but our dialogue created an atmosphere of trust and contributed to the safety of the ship. A yes-man mentality can be disastrous—both for the commander and the division officer.
Without question, a junior officer must keep superiors informed—adopting a “no surprises” creed. Any commander would prefer to learn about a problem early, rather than be shocked by it later. Contact reporting from the bridge and equipment status reports are classic examples of keeping the captain informed—yet many junior officers neglect this important management function.
Communicating down the chain of command also is critical. For instance, clearly defined divisional expectations, standards, and goals are prerequisites for good performance and higher productivity. Junior officers must effectively c0,r municate the day’s priorities to those "'W will actually carry them out. Moreo'er keeping the division informed about the ship’s operational schedule and othe( events almost always improves morak A good communicator and manager neve| forgets, for example, that the location0 I the next port call is just as important to , the deck seaman as it is to members0 | the wardroom. Morning quarters, pro^ bly the only time an officer has ever) one’s undivided attention, is an excelk111 venue for informing the troops.
Finally, good management requifO* that an officer provide performance fee“ back to workers on a much more freque(l1 basis than the annual evaluation systeh1 requires. Claiming a lack of time, tnan' junior officers neglect their role as eva uators, thereby failing to quickly reinfod* positive performance or correct p°ot performance.
Participate______ ■*_____ ._________ .
Another crucial element of good man' agement is the physical presence of ^ division officer in the workplace. I officer can effectively lead and manag® from a stateroom desk. A morning a,ld afternoon tour of divisional spaces isa great way to keep abreast of job progress' developing problems, and worker per‘ . formance. Regular walk-throughs wjt‘1 | the division chief help to identify maim | tenance problems early. The officer wh® > can maintain a presence on the de<> I plates, without becoming a micromam ager, builds trust and morale in subofdt' nates and can provide informal perfor' j mance feedback on a regular basis.
Involvement on the part of the man' i ager is indispensable to the planning aIia prioritizing functions. Observing ho" tasks are carried out injects reality int° the goal-setting process, especially in d* I area of time allocation.
I did pass all of this advice on to the | worried midshipman, just before h's commissioning and detachment for Sur' face Warfare Officers School. Considering all of the rapid changes taking plaCt'„ in his life, I could certainly understand u he did not listen very well. If my advie6 makes him slightly more successful °r saves him just a little frustration, hoW' ever, it will have been worthwhile.
Lieutenant Owen is a senior consultant with Deloi'te
 Touche. While in the Navy, he served an NROTC instructor at the Georgia Institute 0 Technology in Atlanta, as navigator on board the USS Virginia (CGN-38) and first lieutenant/ warfare officer on board the USS Illusive (MSO-448I He currently is assigned to the Navy Reserve Read1' ness Center in Atlanta.