Category Archives: Seamanship and Leadership

Discover what qualities make a good leader and a good seaman.

Design Thinking for Military Advantage

In collaboration with U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC)

Introduction

The United States Navy has a proud tradition of mission accomplishment, regardless of the odds. From John Paul Jones taking the fight to the British shores aboard the Bonhomme Richard, to the hard-fought victories of the Pacific campaign, our naval service has been able to find the competitive advantage necessary to win. We have been fortunate that great people throughout our history have risen to the call when necessary. This long and storied list contains names such as Decatur, Preble, Farragut, Morton, Ellis, Puller, Hopper, and Halsey. The right person, with the right answer, at the right time— almost as if fate was on our side.

These larger-than-life figures make for compelling stories, but what if they were never born? What if these legends were not in the right place at the right time to save the day? What if the Navy fostered an environment wherein the creative problem solving, critical thought, and extreme ownership that called these legends to action were core competencies across the force? Imagine a force that spends less time prescribing exactly what to do and instead harnesses the power of the collective, a force where our competitive advantage is not simply people, but rather capable, empowered, and passionate teammates. We should develop teammates truly capable of leading us into the future because we are too comfortable reacting to the present.

To truly realize our potential, we must deliberately build upon our strong history and shape the ongoing cultural change across the force. We must make creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership core competencies, and go out of our way to enable teammates who reflect these traits. Our training pipeline and personnel system should reinforce those tenets. In the absence of that, or rather in parallel, we must focus on shaping culture at the unit level. This entails the creation of connective tissue across many efforts that seek the same outcomes to ensure scalability while creating new norms and delivering outcomes we have yet to imagine.

This article seeks to shine a light on the unnecessary level of risk aversion and bureaucracy in our organization, describe the fundamental principles behind design thinking and deckplate innovation, and share revealing examples of these principles in action at U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). 

A Learning Navy

In the Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, the Chief of Naval Operations lays out numerous lines of effort as a vision and strategy for the Navy’s future. The green line of effort, which challenges the Navy to “apply the best concepts, techniques and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams and organizations,” is being realized in an emerging grassroots movement which has taken the challenge to “set aspirational goals” and use a combination of critical thinking, lessons from history, and methods of human-centered design to encourage creativity and innovation to create advantage.

A sustainable competitive advantage is difficult to identify, and often results from an interwoven mass of tangible and intangible factors. Tangible resources are easy to identify and range from financial capital to physical assets like airplanes and ships. Intangible resources, while more difficult to quantify, may be the most valuable assets that an organization possesses. Human resources provide long-term exploitable skills, productive effort, and tacit knowledge that is difficult to replace and hard for competition to replicate. Personal and organizational experience builds tacit knowledge, and can be described as the collective know-how of a group. Organizations often struggle to quantify or pass on this knowledge through verbal or written communication.

In order to prevent stagnation, the Navy must become a learning organization. A learning organization continuously transforms itself by properly unleashing its people’s tacit knowledge. Throughout the rich history of the Navy, innovation and creativity have often ebbed and flowed. As Peter Senge points out in his book The Fifth Discipline, many successful learning organizations share a common vision, willingly challenge their own mental models, and encourage their people to seek personal mastery and engage in team learning. The results are the Googles, Facebooks, Ubers, and Warby Parkers of the world. This is not to say the Navy should model itself in the image of Facebook or Uber. Clearly the business model of fighting and winning our nation’s wars differs from that of social networking or crowdsourcing vehicular transportation. But just as many different corporations with different goals and models have embraced rapid learning to achieve maximum possible performance, so too can the Navy, and the first step in becoming a learning organization is admitting that you are not one.

Though many senior leaders may disagree, our Navy, as a whole, is not a true learning organization–at least not yet. Everyone needs to grow comfortable with a continuous departure from the status quo as the start of a new way of thinking. Through the combination of these ideas, an organization can leverage the knowledge and abilities across the spectrum of its constituents. The core competencies of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership will help us break this mold. Our current system fails to assess, develop, or value these competencies. But unbeknownst to many, a deckplate revolution has commenced.

A Revolution in Thought and Action

This revolution continues to bring smart creatives from across the Navy together to create a movement. They focus on reimagining our culture as one founded on the aforementioned core competencies. This is where design thinking comes into play. Much contemporary writing focused on change references design thinking, but what is it exactly? Is it a perceived silver bullet from industry that the military is attempting to latch on to? A fleeting “buzzword” quickly forgotten? Hopefully not.

Design thinking is about embracing the combined knowledge within an organization for maximum possible performance. Creating solutions can be difficult, especially if you have not effectively defined the problem. Design thinking provides a process to focus efforts and achieve results. Though many techniques and tools differ, design thinking is rooted in four major elements: define the problem, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and refine/execute.

NOSC San Jose Sailors engaged in a 45 minute divergent thinking exercise designed to capture ideas in order to address an opportunity statement provided by NOSC leadership. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey)

Defining the problem is very easy to gloss over, but it can be the most important step. Are you solving the right problem or simply a symptom of a higher systemic impediment in your organization? Design thinking encourages approaching the problem from different perspectives to ensure you are still solving the correct or complete problem. Seek to ask why until you have worked past the easy answers and get to the truly hard question. Don’t just look for the simplest and most obvious solution, but seek as many different solutions as possible. Divergent thinking facilitates this concept, especially with many people working together. The goal is to diverge into as many ideas as possible, where the most opportunities appear when you are not constrained by finding the “best” solution. Think quantity over quality; many people can’t arrive at the right answer without fully embracing their comfort in the group or without pulling ideas from previous ‘bad’ examples.

After generating as many opportunities as possible, design thinking uses tools to group, merge, and then pare down the solutions until, through synthesis, converge on the best functional results. To higher leadership, this can be considered a catch-all in removing the ‘Good Idea Fairies’ from the group and allowing the best solution to bubble to the surface. This solution will be free of emotion and carries with it a vector towards positive change.

After arriving at a solution, seek refinement and development through basic prototyping. Design thinking provides tools to prototype solutions that seek to test the foundations of the idea rather than building a working physical product. This enables testing and further development with minimum resources. For higher levels of leadership, this may work towards an entire command or unit. When implemented from the ground-up – individuals, workcenters, divisions, and departments – this equates improvement across the spectrum.

After the solution has been refined, execute. Ideas without execution are meaningless. It takes action to bring an idea to fruition, and without that action, design thinking is truly just the latest “buzzword” spoken in an echo chamber.

Leadership’s Role

Upon the conclusion of the event, the collaboration and support of the participant’s leadership is necessary to promote the success of these young leaders by providing them with time, trust, and top cover. These core aspects drive the successful engagement of our young Sailors and Marines, and inspire every ounce of our commitment and progress. Without them, we don’t have the perspective to see beyond our silo of thought. The relationship between leadership’s time, trust, and top cover and rank and file empowerment defines the success or failure in the leader-led relationship. All of the time and trust in the world does nothing if you don’t have someone blocking for you along the way. Conversely, there is no top cover that someone can give you that would produce results without the adequate time and trust that goes along with it.

The illuminate Th!nkshop at Fleet Forces

Officers assigned to SEVENTH Fleet in Yokosuka participate in an executive course collaboration exercise focused on developing rapid prototypes in order to gain perspective of the Illuminate effort. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey)

The illuminate initiative at Fleet Forces Command is one grassroots program bringing design thinking courses to Sailors and Marines. Turning the traditional paradigm of learning on its head, they encourage shrugging off bureaucracy, taking ownership, and focusing entirely on problem-solving and process improvement as opposed to passively receiving top-down innovation initiatives. Based in the concepts of design thinking, the Th!nkshops seek to identify solutions through a process of divergent and convergent thinking, coupled with the critical thought and positive mindset vital to the process itself. 

Like many other organizations in this grassroots movement, illuminate champions the fact that the foundations, objectives, materials, and format are designed and taught by a small team of active duty Sailors and Marines. Led by a passionate group of individuals, the course has already made a difference across the Navy. These efforts have primed the pump of an ad-hoc network of like-minded Sailors and Marines that seek to collaborate and achieve results. With the right resources and an expanded inventory of design thinking and organizational learning methods at their disposal, this network could move from an ad-hoc group of facilitators to a connected group of command sponsored representatives that will achieve maximum performance across the Navy.

Refining The Process

Getting the Th!nkshop pilot off the ground would not have occurred without an incubation phase. Illuminate needed people to iterate and a laboratory to experiment in order to refine the course. Enter Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). The Echelon IV command participated in numerous iteration sessions  and helped develop the Th!nkshop curriculum.  Throughout this process, NCDOC personnel received personal and professional development training and provided candid feedback to the illuminate facilitators. The USFFC Th!nkshop facilitators refined the course based on the feedback. This cycle of iteration, development, and growth continued for several months. As a result, NCDOC adopted and launched its own chapter of illuminate utilizing their own in-house facilitators, while USFFC simultaneously began to spread illuminate across the naval enterprise. 

Since leaving NCDOC in December 2016, USFFC has impacted numerous commands. These include more than 40 commands at Seventh Fleet (C7F), Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC), and Naval Operations Support Center (NOSC) San Jose. They are scheduled to travel this summer to NOSC Dallas, East and West Coast Submarine Forces, SWRMC, and SPAWAR. They also conduct a series of Th!nkshops in Norfolk where they have trained Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic (FRCMA), National Guard, Reserve Forces (RESFOR), and Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR); summer plans include OPTEVFOR (Commander Operational Test & Evaluation Force), Transient Personnel Unit (TPU), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 12, and Special Boat Team 20.

NCDOC’s support and assistance provided the fertile ground for the Th!nkshops to blossom from an amazing idea to a training mechanism directly impacting Sailors and Marines. Their partnership laid the foundations for illuminate to scale across the fleet.

The NCDOC Experience

The time, trust, and top cover of a trusted ally provided the fertile ground for the illuminate Th!nkshops to grow and develop. In its early phases, illuminate took root at Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). But long before opening their makerspace for Th!nkshop incubation and refinement, NCDOC began a deliberate culture shaping journey. A journey as unique as their mission; one that continues to make them the Navy’s “Purple Cow,” to borrow a term from Seth Godin.

They don’t use a Command Assessment Team to assess climate, they have a Culture Club that shapes culture. They use a 360-degree hiring panel to select new civilian teammates, and conduct 360-degree feedback for all E-7 and above as well as supervisory civilians. They have shaped a culture that truly combines the power of the 21st century mindset with the best of our strong Navy tradition. The foundational experience among NCDOC Teammates is their tailored version of the illuminate Th!nkshop, which is integrated within their 100 Day Onboarding process. Over the last few months, the Th!nkshop alums have reinvented peer recognition, reimagined mentorship using the NFL draft as the model, developed a locator tool to navigate their building, crafted a New Teammate Handbook using Valve’s New Employee Handbook as inspiration, redesigned their next Command Climate Survey, and directly leveraged design thinking to reorient operational execution.

The most visible evidence of the significant culture shift at NCDOC is the aforementioned New Teammate Handbook. It not only serves as a vehicle to reinforce their ongoing commitment to culture-shaping initiatives, it also serves as an example of how the public sector must both lead and engage if they are to give Smart Creatives reason to join the team.

The formatting of the handbook is not what you would expect from a government organization and neither are the words contained within. Everything from the internally developed Waypoints that articulate shared behavior across the NCDOC team, to the “Allowed To” list that compels all teammates to be “Doers,” speaks to a team that truly values competence, collaboration, and character. And because words are hollow when not supported by action, one need only watch their Innovation Cross Functional Team coach “Idea
Champions” at all ranks through the process of making their ideas reality to see that the “Doer” philosophy runs deep across the team and produces results.”

NCDOC’s New Teammate Handbook (Click to read)

NCDOC serves as a visible example that it’s not about the Th!nkshop itself; it’s about the culture it fosters and the operational outcomes that a culture of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership generates. The NCDOC team interacts differently than any other within the Navy. Their spaces are different from any other within the Navy, and their approach to just about everything is different from any other within the Navy. It’s not about being different for the sake of being different, but rather about caring enough to question everything, to allow expertise to trump rank, and to prioritize long-term significance over short term success. NCDOC is a prime example of how a sustained commitment to facilitating Th!nkshops impacts thinking, doing, and mission accomplishment at the unit level. A Th!nkshop experience may leave you inspired to do more, but without the visible commitment to the tenets it teaches by leaders at every level, you will quickly be reminded of the short shelf-life of inspiration.

The Future

The work at USFF and NCDOC is not Navy-mandated, but simply the result of some forward-thinking minds within the Navy and Marine Corps, the desire to make a difference, and the opportunity to do so. Th!nkshops have inspired many, but we measure impact by our ability to sustain and scale the transformation ignited to date. Th!nkshops alone won’t generate the outcomes we need; command triads committed to culture shaping and helping each teammate realize their potential will. We offer our Th!nkshops as a vehicle to kickstart local initiatives, and welcome the opportunity to partner with units across the Navy. These partnerships grow and strengthen our network of leaders committed to creating an environment that affords us the opportunity to evolve into a true learning organization. This environment not only ensures great ideas are prevalent, but as our Chief of Naval Operations has made clear, allows us to turn those ideas into something real.

Contact us below for more information on how you can be a part of the Th!nkshop movement.

LCDR Owen Morrissey and LT John Hawley are currently assigned to USFFC in support of the CNO’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. They can be contacted at owen.morrissey@navy.mil for executive engagement and john.w.hawley@navy.mil for more information and to schedule an illuminate thinkshop. For more information on the NCDOC state of mind, contact Dr. Rebecca Siders at rsiders@ncdoc.navy.mil

Featured Image: Sailors assigned to NOSC San Jose participate in a rapid ideation session during a reserve drill weekend. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey) 

Leadership Development Week Wraps Up on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

This past week CIMSEC featured a topic week on leadership development. In response to our Call for Articles authors shared insightful writings on how to foster creativity and innovation, be better leaders, and recognize the importance of leadership as a key warfighting advantage. We thank our authors for their excellent contributions, listed below.  

Making Good Leaders Great: Recommendations to Improve U.S. Navy Leadership by Will Wiley

“This paper will suggest some items for consideration to improve the leaders of today and tomorrow. Some will require funding streams, while others just require forethought and creativity by the leader. These recommendations, when coupled with the immense amount of formal training leaders receive, can make the Navy an even more formidable force today and in the future.”

Enabling Leadership from the Bottom by Jacob Wiencek

“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?'”

Embracing Creativity: A Leadership Challenge by David Andre

“Certainly creativity has always existed within the Navy, but until recently, it was not recognized as an integral value of leadership. Placing it on the same level as compliance and character requires change. And balancing the tension that exists between these values is one of the biggest challenges facing the Navy.”

Innovative Leadership Development: Why and How by Joe Schuman

“According to the Navy Leadership Development Framework (NLDF), effective leaders demonstrate qualities such as humility, honor, courage, commitment, integrity, and accountability. While few would disagree that these character traits are necessary for Navy leaders to be successful, the rapidly changing security environment of the 21st century makes it such that these skills are not sufficient. If the Navy is serious about producing leaders who will be “ready for decisive operations and combat,” it must place a stronger emphasis on promoting innovation throughout its leadership development process as a whole.”

Maritime Profession of Arms in Dangerous Waters? by Tom Bayley

“Although not a real directive, the time may have come for such a dramatic act of courage and leadership to repair the weakening trust within the Navy. The all-volunteer force has completed four decades of service and perhaps that transition was not properly executed. An overly bureaucratic military organization grown over time to train the masses of inducted service members with a ‘one size fits all’ methodology has created an ideology that relies upon lengthy detailed procedures and extensive requirements rather than leadership and good judgment.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

Featured Image: Chief Gunner’s Mate Jamario Perry is pinned to the rank of a chief petty officer aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider/Released)

Maritime Profession of Arms in Dangerous Waters?

Leadership Development Topic Week

By Tom Bayley, CAPT (ret.) USN

—— OFFICIAL INFORMATION DISPATCH FOLLOWS ——

RTTUZYUW RHOIAA0001 0232338-UUUU–RHSSSUU.

ZNR UUUU

R 130001Z FEB 17

FM CNO WASHINGTON DC

TO NAVADMIN

INFO CNO WASHINGTON DC

BT

UNCLAS

NAVADMIN 00Z/15

SUBJ/TRUST, RESPONSIBILITY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND NAVY TRAINING//

MSGID/GENADMIN/CNO WASHINGTON DC/N1/OCT//

RMKS/1. TRUST IS CRITICAL TO OUR NAVY AND I HAVE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THE HEAVY BURDEN OF TRAINING REQUIREMENTS HAS NOT ONLY ERODED THE TIME AVAILABLE TO COMMANDERS BUT HAS ALSO ERODED TRUST WITHIN OUR PROFESSION. USING SUCH A BUREAUCRATIC ACTION TO GET “CHECKS IN THE BOXES” DOES NOT ADDRESS THE ISSUES, REDUCES TRUST ACROSS OUR NAVY, AND UNDERCUTS THE COMMANDER’S RESPONSIBILITY.

2. AS SUCH, EFFECTIVELY IMMEDIATELY, I AM SUSPENDING ALL MANDATORY TRAINING REQUIREMENTS RELATING TO PERSONAL BEHAVIOR (TO INCLUDE ALL REQUIRED GENERAL MILITARY TRAINING). I HAVE DIRECTED THE CHIEF OF NAVAL PERSONNEL TO FORMALLY REVISE APPLICABLE INSTRUCTIONS ACCORDINGLY IN DUE TIME.

3. WITH THIS DIRECTIVE, I AM TRUSTING MY COMMANDING OFFICERS TO DO WHAT IS REQUIRED TO UPHOLD THE VALUES WHICH GUIDE OUR NAVY. ADDITIONALLY, THIS ACTION DEMANDS HOLDING PEOPLE APPROPRIATELY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE ACTIONS THEY TAKE. THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANY FAILURE SHOULD BE DEALT WITH A HEAVY HAND BUT RATHER EACH CASE JUDGED ON ITS MERIT AND CONTEXT. THE INTENT IS TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT TO PROPERLY DEVELOP OUR PEOPLE, DISPEL THE ZERO RISK MENTALITY, AND ALLOW OUR COMMANDERS (WHO ARE BEST POSITIONED TO KNOW THEIR PEOPLE) TO PROPERLY GUIDE THEIR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. THIS IS A COMMANDERS’ BUSINESS AND CAN NOT BE ENTRUSTED TO THE PENTAGON BUREAUCRACY.

4. TOGETHER, AS MEMBERS OF THE NAVAL PROFESSION, I AM TRUSTING EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU TO DO YOUR PART IN MAKING OUR NAVY BETTER EACH DAY. OUR FUTURE WILL BE DETERMINED BY THOSE WE LEAD AND IT IS THE LEADERS WHO MUST ENGAGE LEADERS TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN. I TRUST YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING –NOW EXECUTE!

5. RELEASED BY ADMIRAL CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS.

BT

Although not a real directive, the time may have come for such a dramatic act of courage and leadership to repair the weakening trust within the Navy. The all-volunteer force has completed four decades of service and perhaps that transition was not properly executed. An overly bureaucratic military organization grown over time to train the masses of inducted service members with a “one size fits all” methodology has created an ideology that relies upon lengthy detailed procedures and extensive requirements rather than leadership and good judgment. Thinking and discretion of leaders on the deckplates became subjugated to the requirements and guidelines produced by the bureaucracy inside the Pentagon.

Retention Alarms

The “2014 Navy Retention Survey1 raised some somber issues regarding feelings and beliefs of individuals who responded to the survey (which can be extrapolated to the rest of the Navy and is statistically valid). Besides the usual concerns of feeling over-worked and undercompensated, the most troubling findings relate to issues of trusting leadership and aspiration to leadership.  

The executive summary of the survey reports “49.4% of responding Sailors do not want their boss’s job”2 – nearly half of the respondents. The report specifically highlights “an increasing belief that positions of senior leadership, especially operational command, are less desirable because of increasing risk aversion (68.7%) and high administrative burden (56.4%).”3  This should serve as a “RED SOUNDING”4 for the naval profession which is founded upon ultimate authority and command at sea.

One of the unwritten aspirational values our Navy holds is that of “ultimate command.” When nearly half of the profession is no longer aspiring to such positions, the profession’s core tenets are being questioned which thereby endangers the profession itself. Combine this with societal findings of trust where 40 percent of baby boomers believe most people can be trusted, but for millennials, the belief is only 19 percent.5 A recipe for deep levels of mistrust within the organization exists.

An equally troubling facet of this survey is an issue of distrust of Navy senior leadership. Almost half (46.7%) of the enlisted and nearly two-fifths (39.9%) of the officers surveyed distrust Navy senior leaders.6 Even more troubling was only a small minority (10.7% enlisted and 4.2% officer) expressing some degree of trust with the remaining majority of being unsure or undecided.7 This is hardly a strong vote of confidence in Navy senior leadership. 

What might breed such distrust within the ranks? The survey alludes that some of this might be from a perception the Navy suffers from “a significant risk averse culture and zero-defect mentality.”8 The survey’s author quoted a senior Navy leader at the Surface Navy Association as saying “We don’t have a retention problem.”9  By the end of the year the survey was released, then-Chief of Naval Personnel VADM Bill Moran stated the study was “useful” and acknowledged certain retention issues.10 The first step of the 12-step program is admitting you have a problem.

As an example, look at how the Navy reacts to a bad example of behavior from what is claimed to be a very small fraction of servicemembers. Concerned with many behavioral lapses (sexual assault, fights, or discrediting conduct) being linked to alcohol abuse, the Navy instituted the use of breathalyzers to test members of this profession on a random basis.11 With sound bites from Navy leadership that the vast majority of our Service members are fine and outstanding individuals, such a reaction from the top does much to signal distrust of its members. This reflects the bureaucratic response of issuing new policy and instituting mandatory training for the masses. It is typical of the reactive response which tends to fire “accountable” personnel, implement a new policy, and mandate additional training requirements. These are the ways a bureaucracy reacts to such incidents as opposed to how a profession should be responding. 

The Honesty Metric

Another sign of distress within the ranks relates to issues of honesty within the profession. A recent report about dishonesty in the Army12 shares many indicators of  weakening honesty and integrity that are probably equally applicable to the Navy. Mandatory training requirements that exceed the time available pressures responsible leaders to “check the box” and stray away from the intent of the training. Training is a process (means) which does not always imply that learning is occurring (ends). The inability of members in the profession to say “no” in attempting to do more with less in a fiscally strained environment says much about the culture of the profession to be honest with itself.

Many of these indicators were relayed in a very candid e-mail by ADM John Harvey just prior to his retirement as he addressed the surface warfare community.13 This four-star epiphany essentially serves as a confession of senior leadership failing the surface community with a bureaucratic push for efficiency and “doing more with less” while not listening to the rebuttal from the deckplates. With the repetitive use of the royal “we” nearly 80 times in this candid address, Admiral Harvey essentially admits leadership had failed the surface community: “When the assumptions behind the man, train, equip, and maintain decisions did not prove valid, we didn’t revisit our decisions and adjust course as required. In short, we didn’t routinely, rigorously and thoroughly evaluate the products of the plans we were executing.” He then went on to say, “And when we did gather together as community leaders, we did not get to the heart of the matter: our Sailors and our ships and their collective readiness to carry out our assigned Title 10 missions. I could have done better. We could have done better. You MUST do better, because now we know better.” Although this message was directed to the surface community, it could readily apply to the broader issue of failure in the Navy.

A Call for Candor

Such a demonstration of honesty is required as proposed by Dr. Wong and Dr. Gerras in their aforementioned report on dishonesty in the Army. In their recommendations to deal with the eroding culture of integrity inside the profession, is a call for “confronting the truth.”14 This calls for moral courage, especially at the senior ranks, to conduct what will be an uncomfortable assessment of the profession. In Wong’s and Gerras’s recommendations, they also call for reviewing the burden of requirements which they contend has pressured the service to compromise its integrity. This can be expanded by a call for heavily reducing the bureaucratic tendencies that guide the Service by eliminating numerous policies and procedures. This tendency has promoted an ideology that puts members into a reliance on rules and regulations, thereby discouraging individuals from exercising ethical decision-making and initiative which would do much to remove the zero defect mindset and risk aversion. And finally, issue a call for leaders to engage as leaders and stewards of the profession. They must be honest and frank about their assessments and begin an effective dialogue (which implies 2-way communications) with the members of the profession, and demonstrating such in practice through their actions – regardless of how uncomfortable it might be. An example can be found in a recent Proceedings article whose author declared his leaders to be the reason he stayed in.15

Conclusion

The Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment are more than just words or concepts. They must be guiding principles for the conduct its members. It requires moral courage to entertain the thought the profession might be trending away from what makes it a profession. It requires a moral commitment to the oath all members have taken to serve a higher cause – no matter how painful it might be. And most of all, it is the honorable thing leaders should do – trusting the people they honor as the most important asset. Actions speak louder than words, and a call for action by senior leadership to make leaders engage leaders is the only way ahead. This dangerous trend will not be corrected with more training and powerpoint slides. It is a leadership issue and requires having the discussions to restore the trust that is foundational to the strength of the profession, both within and external. Perhaps someday, the Navy may actually see a message similar to one which started this article, demonstrating courageous and candid leadership that would restore trust among the ranks.

The question remains: will the uniformed leadership take up this challenge as stewards of the profession of arms or will bureaucratic tendencies prevail? The warning signs are there and it calls for living up to the Navy’s cores values of honor, courage, and commitment. 

Tom Bayley is a former Naval Officer who retired as a Captain in 2005, with over two decades as a nuclear submariner. He then joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, where he is currently the Deputy Dean for the College of Operational & Strategic Leadership (COSL) and NWC’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. 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.

References

1. An unofficial survey conducted by volunteers across the Navy received 5,536 viable responses to the online survey which resulted in a +/- 1.3% margin of error for a Sailor population of over 323,000 Sailors.  An independent review of the results indicate this survey is credibly valid in its findings.  It can be accessed at: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5353c5e1e4b073dfbc7e1326/t/5403d33fe4b0e9cf18a45ee5/1409536831840/2014+Navy+Retention+Study+Report+-+Full.pdf

2. Ibid. p. 7

3. Ibid. p. 7

4. “Red Sounding” is a water depth limitation set to indicate imminent danger to the ship is present if nothing is changed.

5. David Brooks, “Leaderless Doctrine”,  NY Times, March 10, 2014

6. “2014 Navy Retention Survey”, p. 18.

7. Ibid. p. 18,

8. Ibid. p. 18.

9.  Ibid.

10. Sam LaGrone, Interview: U.S. Navy Personnel Chief Worries Over Potential Service Retention Problems, USNI News, December 2, 2014. https://news.usni.org/2014/12/02/interview-u-s-navy-personnel-chief-worries-potential-service-retention-problems

11. NAVADMIN 012 of 2013, CNO WASHINGTON DC 231937Z JAN 13

12. Leonard Wong and Stephen J. Gerras., “Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession,”  Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press (February 2015). 

13. ADM. John C. Harvey, Jr., USN “The Fundamental of Surface Warfare:  Sailors and Ship”, September 14, 2012.  U.S. Naval Institute.   This email was sent to the Surface Community by ADM Harvey as he was preparing to retire as the senior surface warrior.  In this candid assessment he admits he could have done better and had concentrated too much on the short term tasks and responsibilities. This author ascertains he suffered from being a product of a culture which had more bureaucratic tendencies toward efficiency and processes than reliance upon expert knowledge and decision making by members of a profession.  http://news.usni.org/2012/09/14/fundamentals-surface-warfare-sailors-and-ships#more-691

14. Wong & Gerras, p.28.

15. Brian Kesselring, “Why Did You Stay In,” USNI Proceedings, March 2017. https://www.usni.org/node/90090/why-did-you-stay

Featured Image: SAN DIEGO (Feb. 27, 2017) Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 3, Rear Adm. Cathal O’Connor speaks to the crew of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during an all hands call. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kyle Hafer/Released)

Innovative Leadership Development: Why and How

Leadership Development Topic Week

By Joe Schuman

Introduction

What makes a leader? According to the Navy Leadership Development Framework (NLDF), effective leaders demonstrate qualities such as humility, honor, courage, commitment, integrity, and accountability. While few would disagree that these character traits are necessary for Navy leaders to be successful, the rapidly changing security environment of the 21st century makes it such that these skills are not sufficient. If the Navy is serious about producing leaders who will be “ready for decisive operations and combat,” it must place a stronger emphasis on promoting innovation throughout its leadership development process as a whole.

The definition of “innovate,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “to make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” Innovation, therefore, is essentially a problem solving technique, which can be applied to any number of problem areas – technical, policy, process, and more. Note that innovation is not limited to technological innovation and is distinct from invention – the creation of a new technology. In the context of leadership development, an innovative leader is someone who is forward-leaning, willing to challenge the status quo, and possesses the ability to create value in new ways for the organization to which they belong.

Innovation as a Necessary Warfighting Attribute

Interestingly, the NLDF clearly recognizes the need for innovative leadership. The opening sentence states, “our Navy’s operational and warfighting success requires that we be ready to prevail in an environment that is changing quickly and becoming more complex.” Changing and complex problems cannot be addressed in the same manner as stagnant and simple problems, as the NLDF acknowledges when it stresses the importance of leaders who will “learn and adapt.” Nonetheless, the NLDF falls short of identifying innovation as a critical leadership quality. While the NLDF briefly notes the need for “initiative” and “creativity” in Navy leadership, innovation is only mentioned once within the entire document. In the “Developing Character” section, the NLDF notes that leaders should participate in “innovation opportunities.” Strikingly, this passing reference is included under “self-guided study,” not within the professional education or on-the-job training sub-sections, and is completely excluded from the “Developing Competence” section, as if innovation is not relevant to the competence of a Navy leader.

The deafening silence of the NLDF in regards to innovation is at odds with the military’s own history of innovative leadership. After the Normandy invasion in 1944, for example, American troops found that hedgerows frequently channeled them into ambushes. After discovering that the hedgerows were too thick to cut or drive through, American soldiers designed and welded a mechanism onto the front of their tanks that could successfully cut through the bushes.1 Innovation has historically also taken place on a larger scale. During the interwar period between WWI and WWII, exercises and wargaming at the Naval War College were used to inform actual decisions at the fleet level, which in turn informed the next round of exercises at the War College in an iterative loop. This ideation and testing process was not used to justify current doctrine but, rather, to reveal unanswered questions and possible solutions.2

Innovative leadership has proven its worth in recent conflicts as well. When National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, took command of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, he immediately changed a number of policies in order to better align his regiment’s operation with his own view (which was less accepted at the time) that “the key to counterinsurgency is focusing on the people.” McMaster took concrete steps to this end, banning the use of the term “haji,” mandating cultural understanding education for his troops, and setting up a system to poll detainees on how well they were being treated. As a result of these changes, trust began to develop between U.S. troops and locals which, in turn, resulted in thousands of Iraqis signing up to join the local police forces while preventative tips about insurgent activity surged. In the final analysis, because of McMaster’s innovations, U.S. military experts concluded that the 3rd ACR had conducting the best counterinsurgency among similar units operating in Iraq in 2005.3 

Innovation also takes place on a smaller scale. For example, Chief Sonar Technician Benjamin Lebron, of the USS Fitzgerald, changed the way his division analyzes sonar data. Recognizing that he was spending a majority of his time constructing plots during Target Motion Analysis (TMA), Lebron created a TMA tactical decision aid, first in Excel, and then in HTML and javascript,4 that can spot sonar returns that look like submarine movements in real time. Now, Lebron’s code automates the redundant portions of his work, allowing him to focus on analyzing the relevant information instead of spending time drawing it, and, since it is web based, is easily scalable across the fleet.5

Although the aforementioned cases are promising, they are unfortunately the exception and not the rule. And while innovative military leadership has always been important, the increasingly rapid pace of technological innovation and ever-evolving face of conflict place a higher premium on innovative leadership than ever before. Joseph Thomas, Distinguished Military Professor of Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy, notes that  the current military environment, “calls for skill sets more consistent with the leadership of Lewis and Clark than Patton,” yet, “the military education and training structure that produced Patton remains virtually unchanged.” Thomas continues: “If the current and future battlefield can be characterized by an uncertain, non-uniform enemy, vague and rapidly changing missions, cultural sensitivity of warfighters, and a chaotic environment, then leadership development models crafted when there was a certain and predictable enemy, set leadership roles, and a proscribed methods of fighting must be changed.”6

Innovation Competencies

How, then, should the Navy promote the development of innovative leaders within its ranks? The key to answering this question is to understand the factors that influence the innovative competency of organizations as a whole and, by inference, determine the skills and qualities that leaders of these organizations need to posses. Building off the “Entrepreneurial Competency” framework proposed by Bharat Rao and Bala Mulloth in their paper “The Role of Universities in Encouraging Growth of Technology-Based New Ventures,” four competencies of innovative organizations emerge: (i) Opportunity Development, (ii) Championing, (iii) Resource Leveraging, and (iv) Location Leveraging.7 These qualities are essential for creating innovative organizations, and, as such, innovative leadership development programs must create leaders who can contribute to their organizations in these capacities. In the subsequent paragraphs, the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, a public-private partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and a network of national research universities that seeks to reinvigorate civil-military technology collaboration, will be used as a case study to illustrate examples of leadership development programs within Rao and Mulloth’s entrepreneurial competency framework.

The Opportunity Development Competency is defined as “the need to develop a viable business opportunity” in the context of university entrepreneurialism. It is related to “the knowledge and experience of the individual researcher,” which yields an “opportunity recognition capacity” in such individuals.In the context of the Navy, the Opportunity Development Competency requires individuals to (a) posses the methodological tools to frame problems, develop concepts, and make actionable recommendations and then (b) be exposed to new problems to which they can apply these skills. As such, in order to improve the innovative capacity of the Navy, Navy leadership development must (a) promote these skills and (b) create opportunities for the utilization of these skills.

One MD5 program, MD5 Bootcamp, serves as an example of the type of program that the Navy might want to consider implementing more broadly in order to foster the Opportunity Development Competency in its leaders. MD5 Bootcamp is a weeklong intensive education program that was first piloted in November 2016 with United States Pacific Fleet (PACFLT). It provides Navy leaders with the tools for problem framing and solving through a variety of lessons on topics such as design thinking and Lean Startup Methodology, and then encourages the application of these skills through exercises such as co-creation sessions. Future Navy programming should build off the success of MD5 Bootcamp in their professional education schools and formal on-the-job training.

The Championing Competency, in the context of university entrepreneurship, is defined as “the need for championing individuals who provide meaning and energy to the entrepreneurial process.”9 Champions are critical for promoting new ventures to relevant stakeholders, particularly at the early stages of venture development. Given the hierarchical structure of the military, the Championing Competency is even more important. Since innovation works best from the bottom-up, in contrast to the top-down structure of the military, the Navy must develop leaders at all levels who are willing to champion innovative ideas and push the limits of military hierarchy.

MD5 has made efforts to promote the Championing Competency within senior officers through classes like the Adaptive & Agile Leadership Network (AALN) at the National Defense University, which is an elective course that introduces agile-leadership approaches to innovation to mid-career military members. Other organizations, such as The Athena Project, which aims to harness grassroots innovations within the Navy through pitch events and mentoring, focus on creating innovators at the enlisted and junior officer levels. In combination, programs like AALN and The Athena Project create both innovation champions at the senior levels who subsequently promote innovation opportunities within their ranks, and innovators at the lower levels who champion their own ideas.

The Resource Leveraging Competency is defined as “the need to access the resources necessary to develop the new venture.” Rao and Mulloth note that the likelihood of launching university spin-offs increases as researchers have more access to facilities, financial resources, knowledge resources (e.g., intellectual property), and social capital resources.10 This competency is fairly analogous in the context of the Navy. Military leadership must, after recognizing an innovative opportunity, provide resources and access to promising ideas and personnel. Such resource leveraging may be within the purview of a given Sailor or their chain of command, or it may require the aforementioned championing competency to secure resources from higher levels of leadership.

Jay Harrison, André Gudger, Katepalli Sreenivasan and Capt. Chris Wood (l-r) take questions from the audience to kick off the MD5 hackathon. (Courtesy photo)

MD5 has several efforts that encourage resource leveraging. MD5.net, for example, is a web-based platform that allows for the crowdsourcing, vetting, synthesis, and promulgation of problems, solutions, IP, and other innovation-enabling resources. Once fully operational, MD5.net will allow for resource leveraging between internal Navy and DoD innovators as well as civilian entrepreneurs. Other MD5 programs, such as the Proof of Concept Center and the University of Southern Mississippi, which provides digital design and manufacturing resources in support of distributed prototyping, and projected programs, such as MD5 Lab, which will provide innovators with prototyping and experimentation resources, aim to support this resource leveraging competency as well. The Navy must not only utilize existing tools and create similar programs for themselves, but also instruct leaders on how best to leverage both internal and external resources for the innovators within their ranks.

Lastly, the fourth and final competency, the Location Leveraging Competency, is defined as “the need to locate the new venture in the right ecosystem and support infrastructure.”11 In the context of Navy innovation and leadership development, the principal lesson from this competency is that the best ideas today don’t always live inside DoD and as such Navy leaders must be willing to work with non-traditional partners, especially the private sector.

MD5 Hack, a portfolio of hackathon events that brings together practitioners, technologists, and military members over a weekend to build prototypes, is built upon this principle. It is no coincidence that MD5 Hack has taken place in New York City and Austin, TX, and is going to be run in Boston, MA, as these cities harbor some of the best tech talent in the U.S., who bring their expertise to MD5 Hackathons to solve real DoD problems. Efforts such as DIUx, which has outposts in San Francisco, Austin, and Boston, also recognize the importance of the Location Leveraging Competency to solving DoD problems. Navy leadership must be willing to work with new partners through non-traditional approaches; Navy leadership development, therefore, must teach leaders to be willing to attempt new problem solving methods, particularly those that leverage the private sector.

Conclusion

Charles Darwin noted, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Yet, innovation is not considered a relevant leadership quality in the NLDF despite the clear need for innovative leaders in today’s conflicts. The Navy should be cautious not to bureaucratize innovation from the top-down and can do so by following Rao and Mulloth’s framework. And while current MD5 efforts represent positive progress towards the creation of the next generation of innovative leaders, these efforts will not be sufficient on their own. The Navy, and the DoD as a whole, must incorporate innovative leadership development into its standard leadership development programming. Such efforts can tie in with other promising programs and initiatives, such as the Chief of Naval Operation’s High Velocity Learning initiative.12 If done correctly, the Navy will empower the next generation of leaders to solve problems on their own, improving military effectiveness and success. If not, to adapt Roger Misso’s message, without innovative leadership, Alas Our Navy! 

Joe Schuman is currently a Research Assistant at the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator. Prior to MD5, Joe is a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he studied Mechanical Engineering and Political Science. Joe also attended St. Peter’s College at the University of Oxford as a visiting student, where he studied Engineering Science as well as Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). Readers wishing to learn more about the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator should contact Joe Schuman at joseph.schuman@gc.ndu.edu. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government. 

References

1. Tim Kane, “Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving,” The Atlantic, February 2011. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/why-our-best-officers-are-leaving/308346/.

2. Williamson Murray, “Innovation: Past and Future,” Joint Force Quarterly, Summer 1996.

3. Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

4. “The A. Bryan Lasswell Award for Fleet Support,” National Defense Industrial Association. Retrieved from http://www.ndia-sd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/LasswellAwards2015Program.pdf

5. Meghann Myers, “Top sailor innovations win big prizes,” Navy Times, March 2016. Retrieved from https://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/03/13/award-winning-ideas-navys-top-innovators/81443614/

6. Joseph J. Thomas, “Leader Development in the US Department of Defense: A Brief Historical Review and Assessment for the Future,” The ADM James B. Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership – United States Naval Academy. Retrieved from https://www.usna.edu/Ethics/_files/documents/Leader%20Development%20History%20Thomas.pdf

7. Bharat Rao and Bala Mulloth, “The Role of Universities in Encouraging Growth of Technology-Based New Ventures,” International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management 14(4), January 2017.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. John M. Richardson, “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” January 2016. Retrieved from http://www.navy.mil/cno/docs/cno_stg.pdf

Featured Image: U.S. Navy lieutenant speaks before sailors. (U.S. Navy photo)