Enabling Leadership from the Bottom

Leadership Development Topic Week

By Jacob Wiencek

Introduction

As a junior enlisted Sailor in the U.S Navy, developing as a leader is one of the crucial, overarching aspects of my new naval career. As someone on the lower rungs of the ladder I often think about how I can currently develop my leadership capabilities and how I am capable of leading from where I am now. While we should all strive to develop as a leader, to grow, rise up the ranks, and become a senior leader, what we do now can have a profound impact in how we act as we move further up the chain. What I often see neglected is not so much “How do I improve and move on to the next rung of leadership?” but rather “How can I be a leader now?”

After reading through the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO) new Navy Leadership Development Framework I see many positive ideas  to grow and modernize the Navy as a whole. As we adapt to the needs of the 21st century and the challenges we face, it is important to be engaged in these discussions moving forward. The decisions agreed on today will shape not only our Navy in how it operates, but also in our individual outlooks on leadership, and we how we fit in together within the framework of the Navy.

Always an Opportunity to Lead

I would argue that junior Sailors can provide more than what the framework envisions. While it is very important for us to be engaged in our own professional leadership development, as both junior Sailors and junior leaders, we can provide  unique insight and perspective not available to some levels of leadership. From working on the lower rungs of the leadership ladder we can provide not only a unique view into how things are operating, but also provide our experiences to new Sailors, peers, and superiors that can help better shape informed decision making.

Anyone can be a leader at any time, no matter where they are in the chain of command. Even though I am a junior enlisted Sailor at the moment, there are still those who are below me that I can benefit from my example and experiences. I am not far removed from being a Seaman, and I can freshly recall the challenges I experienced as I began my naval journey. From working on qualifications at my first duty station, learning the ropes of my job, and adjusting to Navy life, these are just some of the many challenges I faced starting out. While I have overcome many of these challenges, some still remain, and my experiences are recent enough to where I can provide assistance to those who are also on their journey to develop their naval careers. Experience enables leadership.

To those Seamen who are just arriving at my command and to my peers as well, my experiences in meeting these challenges can provide a resource to overcome similar challenges. Having recently completed the processes of becoming qualified in my positions, and having stood them for some time now, I can provide that type of on-the-job training that would help ease the path of others who will come after me. Furthermore, this experience would also translate into helping new Sailors qualify for their positions more rapidly. There is little sense in making each sailor reinvent the wheel to learn their particular job. While I am respectful of the issue that each person should at some level be able to independently learn and operate their tasking on their own, as  leaders, even a junior ones, we should seek new ways to pass on what we have learned from our particular experiences, to build on the past experiences of others with our own, and to pass that collective knowledge and development onto the next sailor who can continue to add to that.

I am particularly encouraged by how the Navy seeks to reform enlisted occupational training and development. “A” School and subsequent “C” schools are obviously important in not only establishing an initial and basic understanding in the many Navy rates we can join, but it also provides the continuing education piece to where skills are refreshed or augmented by new developments in our particular career tracks. Focusing on my own personal development as a leader, these new changes are highly encouraging and positive in helping chart the path to my career growth and success.

Leadership is not just a top-down process where my peers and I provide guidance and assistance to those under us. We can also be leaders to those superior to us and use our experiences and knowledge to help those new higher ups who come to our commands. For instance, my experiences at the command can be drawn from by those above me as they adjust to the new structure of the command. Having that kind of understanding can aid those leaders above me as they work to integrate successfully into the command. My on-the-job knowledge can provide workplace experience in how to navigate the department and division while my direct expertise on the mission itself can better help those above me make better decisions and present them with a greater underlying awareness of the mission itself.

Conclusion

This new Navy Leadership Development Framework is an important step in growing all levels of the Navy in different ways for senior and junior leaders. As a junior Sailor I am encouraged by the positive developments regarding continued rate education development and the steps outlined that can lead to personal improvement as well. Implementing these changes and developments will no doubt increase the overall operational effectiveness and professional development of the service and I am excited that I can add my voice and perspective to the ongoing conversation. Moving forward, I hope more attention can be paid to how junior leaders in the Navy are already leading and how our experiences can enrich our continuing leadership development as a whole.

Jacob Wiencek is a Petty Officer Third Class in the United States Navy and currently stationed with Navy Information Operations Command, Hawaii. The views expressed above are his own and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 7, 2016) Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Goodwin, right, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcus Buchannon, left, assigned to the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85), conduct training in aft steering during a replenishment-at-sea with the Military Sealift Command Dry Cargo and Ammunition Ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christian Senyk/Released)

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