From the Deckplates - Evident and Exhaustive

By Senior Chief Jim Murphy, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Subordinates must see leaders who are proactively engaged in the mission and with the professional needs of those in their charge. By enabling juniors to help themselves, and doing for them when they cannot do for themselves, leaders demonstrate that they care, that they are approachable, and that their people matter. Many leadership tasks necessarily take place behind closed doors, but even then, followers can sense when leaders are working in their best interests.

The importance of leadership by example cannot be overstated. Junior personnel learn more about leadership from their own leaders than any other way. The most evident behaviors will be emulated. Subordinates will mimic good and bad examples, so leaders must display, tolerate, and reward only positive leadership.

As the chief on board the Enterprise suggested, leadership must also be exhaustive. Our leaders face many demands, and there is often not enough time in the day to handle every situation. Leaders must balance and prioritize countless responsibilities, and that includes making time to address subordinates’ professional needs. The end of the work day is not an excuse for failing to properly deal with a situation. The vital importance of leadership in organizational success demands that some days will be longer than others. Leaders’ working hours are not set by a clock; they are determined by the requirements of the unit and the crew.

Exhaustive leadership means not accepting one failed attempt before giving up on a goal. Roadblocks to success must be met by renewed strategies to address a problem in different ways, seeking success through whatever allowable means available. Not all goals can be accomplished and success is not guaranteed, but leaders who exhaust all options do not fail. The difference between victory and defeat often comes down to sheer persistence. Failure, on the other hand, comes from giving up before every option is attempted.

Effective leadership is exhaustive and sometimes exhausting, but great leaders go above and beyond for their people. Still, leaders must ensure their responsibilities do not become all-consuming. Setting aside time for family, personal development, and rest is critical to restoring energy for the most demanding days.

The traits discussed here are crucial not only to organizational success but also to leadership development. Teaching leadership is difficult because so much of it is learned by observation, experience, and trial and error. Individual attributes can be lectured about in a classroom, but true learning comes when they are experienced on the deckplates.

Organizationally, we get the professionalism and leadership we demonstrate and accept. Unambiguous examples of positive leadership that go above and beyond expectations are no different. The demand for and demonstration of these traits ensures current and future success.

Many commands and sailors face issues like those currently confronting the crew on board the Enterprise . These challenges demand immediate attention and proactive leadership. Whether those challenges are operational or a mix of personal and professional, the way leaders at every level address them is a lesson to future leaders and impacts how they address similar challenges throughout their careers. Success now and in the future requires leadership that is evident and exhaustive.

Senior Chief Murphy retired from the Navy after 21 years of service. His June 2012 Proceedings column, “Bring Back Humility,” was included in the recently published Naval Leadership , a volume in the U.S. Naval Institute Wheel Book series.


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