Charting a Course - Working with Your Chief

By Captain Kevin Eyer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

“We have two ears and one mouth so I also ask them to listen twice as much as they speak. For the first three to six months on board, they should consider themselves to be in a learning mode. Especially in a littoral combat ship they need to qualify quickly and that has to be their priority, but in all classes of ship, he or she should concentrate on learning their jobs, and rely upon their senior enlisted personnel to bridge the gap until they’re ready to take on a bigger load.

“Utilize the knowledge of your chief, learn about him or her, and learn their mannerisms and the approach they use to lead the division. Once ready, make small changes to increase efficiency, rather than taking an opposite approach. If you demonstrate that you have the chief’s back early on, he or she will have yours and ensure that you don’t look foolish in front of the XO and skipper.

“The junior officer/chief relationship is a fragile partnership, and it needs constant maintenance. It should be open and frank, without egos and/or rank coming into the conversation. Trust me, the chief knows you are the officer.

“Ultimately I prefer—and I strongly advocate—the ‘servant leadership’ model, and I require my officers (and my chiefs) to commit to a short reading about what it is and how to implement it. Robert K. Greenleaf first coined the phrase in his 1970 essay, ‘The Servant as a Leader.’ For many, this reading gets them thinking about things from another perspective, which I believe is valuable. Servant leaders turn the traditional leadership pyramid on its head, with the junior sailors on the top of the pyramid and the leader/manager at the bottom, looking up as an enabler, a provider, a force multiplier. It focuses on the needs of others, ahead of one’s own. You cherish other people’s perspectives, giving them the support they need in order to meet both their Navy and personal goals. It involves them in decisions, where appropriate, and builds a sense of community within the team.

“It is my fundamental conviction that the synergy of empowered junior sailors supported by effective leadership standing foursquare behind them, providing the resources and guidance necessary, is the only sensible way forward for our Navy in the 21st century.

“The Navy needs to drive out those antiquated thought processes, held by both old-school chiefs and officers, that the enlisted man cannot be trusted and that they simply need to carry out my orders, ‘because I said so.’ The millennial generation does not react well to the screamer, the demander, or the micromanager. Today’s enlisted sailors are more educated than ever before (some with undergrad or graduate degrees) and most possess a higher technical aptitude than many officers. They do not want to be controlled, they want to be unleashed and allowed to show their full potential.”

Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three of them: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62). He is a frequent contributor to Proceedings .




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