Good leadership involves more than managerial skills. It's time to focus on taking care of our people.
In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review entitled "Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?" that examined the difference between leadership and management. How do these differences reveal themselves in the context of military organizations? Is leadership rewarded and promoted in the military or do individuals with good management skills stand out us the example to follow? Furthermore, to support the military mission, is it better to train managers to lead or to leach leaders to manage?
Leaders vs. Managers
There is a distinct difference between the functions of managers and leaders. Individuals can perform both duties, but they often place agreater emphasis in one area and neglect the other. In addition, when individuals systematically engage a specific function, their personalities begin to reflect the focus of their efforts. Somepeople behave as managers while others behave as leaders.
To be effective, organizations require both managers and leaders to be effective, but their roles are very different. Studies conducted at the University of Michigan 1960s identified two types of leadership behaviors: employee orientation and production orientation. In 1985, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton expanded on these studies and created a leadership/managerial grid that coincided with the University of Michigan studies. The results of both studies strengthen the idea that individual leadership styles are influenced by the tasks they perceive as having the highest importance.
Managers manage tasks. They are the production-driven individuals who focus most of their efforts on the job. Their concern for subordinates is low compared to productivity, and they often view people as tools needed to accomplish the work. Managers ensure that day-to-day activities are completed in a timely, efficient manner. They are likely to work in groups to achieve organizational goals. Organizations would accomplish little without managers overseeing the process. This form of leadership is effective for a specific task, but it does not create and sustain the driving forces of change required for substantive transformation throughout an organization.
Individuals with a people orientation are the leaders. They are relational types who exhibit high consideration for their subordinates. They have planning schedules spanning weeks, months, and years. Leaders are visionaries and agents of change. Research suggests that leaders inspire and motivate, clarify priorities, listen to their subordinates, and act on behalf of their workers to address issues that could interfere with their mission. They often must separate themselves from the group to maintain a fresh perspective and avoid being caught in the riptide associated with production activities.
The Navy creates and promotes managers instead of leaders. Management is not a negative trait, but it is not the primary trait required for naval officers. Our focus should be on taking care of our people and letting our people take care of the tasks.
You Get What You Inspect
The Navy’s performance appraisal—the fitness report—is a prime example of the Navy focusing on management over leadership. The fitness report carries a heavy emphasis on management over leadership. There is only one block, out of seven, that specifically measures leadership. This is understandable: department heads are busy with administrative activities, so they need a quick and easy way to rate their subordinates. Management skills are easier to evaluate.
Management tasks can be assessed quantitatively because they are objective measures of performance. Inspection results or numbers of spot checks performed are typically measured, but they do little to evaluate the leadership qualities of the division officer. Leadership is subjective, and the department head rarely is in a position to assess the leadership abilities of the division officer. The divisional personnel are in the best position to discuss a division officer’s leadership abilities, but there is no system for subordinates to evaluate their division officer’s effectiveness.
More guidance and effort ought to be required from department heads to provide substantive quality feedback to division officers. Counseling sessions and annual reviews are designed to give the junior officers guidance on improving their performance. Many senior officers have not been trained to build successful relationships with their subordinates, and they fail to facilitate constructive development sessions. The fitness report should place more weight on leadership qualities, and divisions should have input on the division officer’s performance appraisal. Measures such as advancement rates, captain’s mast cases, reenlistment rates, and unauthorized absences are all direct reflections on divisional leadership.
The administrative programs that junior officers are responsible for maintaining also are in dire need of change. Division officers are overwhelmed with preventive maintenance schedules, personal qualification standards, recall bills, battle bills, watch bills, cleaning bills, and numerous other administrative programs. In 1998, according to the Chief of Naval Operations, there were almost 315 administrative programs on each ship. Inter-deployment training cycle (IDTC) reforms have tried to eliminate some of this burden, but changes are not being made on the deck plates. For example, a message released a couple of years ago eliminated the need for a formal engineering training program. The idea was to create local programs that would be more effective and less burdensome on the program administrator. My command decided to keep the old, arduous program and simply change the name to reflect a local program. Nothing was accomplished to help the crew. The individuals charged with implementing the changes ignored the spirit of the IDTC reform and failed to perform their duties as agents of change.
Division officers have little time for creative or innovative thought. Ideally, division officers should know all their people so they can write meaningful, substantive evaluations and make recommendations for schools and advanced training. If they are constantly consumed with administrative duties, there is no time for leadership activities.
Department heads are faced with even more administrative burdens than division officers. It is no wonder a department head would choose to keep an old program in place instead of trying to create a new program or modify an existing one. There must be a concentrated effort to reduce administrative programs on board ships. The programs that are required could be handled at a lower level if commands would trust and empower their troops.
Lack of Consistency
Officers are hindered in their ability to lead by the short time they are assigned to particular ships and billets. Officers are assigned to a first division officer tour for two years, and then they transfer to a second division officer tour for 18 months. Two years is not enough time to implement any significant changes. Cultural and attitudinal changes can take years. Training and performance issues also demand extended efforts. The Navy is a dynamic environment, and the composition of a division is constantly changing. We must find ways to stabilize our teams for longer periods. A chief could have four different division officers during a four-year tour. This precludes consistency, a key element of effective leadership change in organizations.
In sports, coaches are given several years to lead their teams before their credibility is seriously questioned. Building a division is like building a sports team—the coach has to evaluate strengths and weaknesses and learn what combination works best for different situations. If a player is weak in a particular area, the coach spends more time and effort working with the player to build confidence and ability. A leader is expected to be the agent for change, but changes take time. If the coach is pulled out in the middle of the game, the team suffers.
Dynasties are established through leadership and consistency. A case in point is the legendary leadership of Dean Smith, former coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels. After 36 years of coaching college basketball, Dean Smith had the most wins of any coach, 879 games. He had 11 Final Four appearances, 2 national titles, and 13 ACC championships. More than 96% of Smith’s lettermen graduated. Can you imagine if a naval officer were part of a wardroom that won 13 Battle “E”s, or if reenlistment rates were tracked and the officer was able to achieve a career reenlistment rate of 96% for personnel under his command?
Mentorship and Empowerment
A fourth area for improvement is mentorship of junior officers by senior officers. When I was an ensign, there was no priority placed on training for junior officers on a routine basis. Senior officers were too busy with their duties to conduct formalized training, so we picked up what we could whenever there was time. The command structure is too formalized for a junior officer to have a normal conversation with the commanding officer or the executive officer. Therefore, junior officers are deprived of the opportunity to gain true insight into the expectations of senior officers.
For example, it seems some senior officers do not want to be approached by junior officers. One of my former captains insisted his department heads play bridge with him in his cabin nightly, but he did not have time to talk one-on-one with his junior officers. In those rare instances when we would have the opportunity to talk with him, the condescension was unbearable. This attitude had a profound negative affect on the junior officers under his command. Under that same captain, I had an executive officer who really understood and could connect with the junior officers. He sat down with all of us and explained his theories and ideas about how the troops should be treated. He viewed every sailor as a hero, and he is the type of leader the Navy needs to seek out and promote. He epitomized what I believe a leader should be. However, his attempts to create a more forgiving and understanding culture were in direct opposition to the authoritarian leadership style of the commanding officer. As a result, the executive officer’s influence was degraded and not supported.
A volunteer mentorship program for junior officers would be a huge boost to morale. Ideally, those senior leaders who choose to mentor could be introduced to junior officers requesting mentors. Throughout their careers, junior officers would have a person to call or e-mail outside their chain of command willing to listen and give advice. Almost every great leader I have studied had a mentor who helped them. The Navy needs programs to strengthen our ranks, especially in the surface warfare community, and a concentrated effort toward lifelong mentorship could start the healing process.
Rear Admiral John T. Natter, Lieutenant Alan Lopez and Lieutenant Doyle Hodges wrote the article “Listen to the JO’s: Why Retention is a Problem” published in the October 1998 Proceedings. The authors revealed that many junior officers had lost faith in their senior leadership and only one in ten aspired for command. I believe this is a direct result of senior officers failing to hold normal, civilized conversations with their junior officers. Senior officers do not seem to realize the importance of the relationship-building aspects of leadership.
Empowerment is another keystone of leadership. A leader cannot lead unless he is empowered to do so. In the Navy, we promote people and they take on greater responsibility. However, this additionally responsibility often dos not translate into more authority. Adding responsibility without authority is a recipe for failure. Decisions should be made at the lowest levels possible, but the final decision maker seems to be drifting higher in the chain of command. If a work center supervisor cannot decide when his personnel can go on liberty, how can we trust him or her to do a proper job? Given responsibility, people transform and mature. And yet, we are reluctant to place responsibility at lower levels because we have a zero-defect mentality. Department heads feels as if any mistake on the deck-plate level reflects badly on them, and they are determined to avoid defects no matter the cost or amount of micromanagement required.
The greatest leaders are modest individuals who credit those they lead for their personal successes. Great leaders set out with a vision and a belief in their heart. Through transformational leadership, their vision inspires supporters. In return, their supporters sustain and propel them. Leaders share traits of greatness, but possessing traits of leadership does not ensure greatness. The goal of leadership is to motivate and orchestrate a group of individuals toward a common goal. Successful leadership is measured by examining the accomplishment of tasks along the road to achieving a visionary goal.
Some of the major leadership traits that are identified in trait studies are intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability. Leaders are intelligent, but if their margin of intelligence over their subordinates is too great, breakdowns in communication can occur. Integrity is a key trait, especially in Navy leaders.
The layman often does not think of sociability when reflecting on great leaders, but study after study lists the ability to seek out pleasant social relationships, as a dominant trait for leadership. Another theory that supports sociability as a leadership trait is the “Big Five” personality trait theory. The Big Five personality traits are extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Agreeableness, like sociability, has been found to have a high correlation with effective leadership. Agreeable and social people are more likely to develop closer personal bonds with their subordinates. As a result, trust and respect are developed. The leader becomes more of a symbol than just a supervisor.
Managers can lead and leaders can manage, but the best solution is to teach out future leaders to do both. The peacetime mission has focused more attention on the management of tasks than on the training of future leaders. It is time to reverse the trend.
Lieutenant Hudson is the electrical officer in the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). He graduated from Vanderbilt University and is working on his master’s in industrial/organizational philosophy at Christopher Newport University.