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.
“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.”
“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?'”
“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.”
“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.”
“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)
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.
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.
The “2014 Navy Retention Survey”1 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
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.
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
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
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)
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
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
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.8 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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
“It’s not uncommon for discussions of competence and character to put the matters of creativity and compliance in tension…”—Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations
In January 2017, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, released the Navy Leader Development Framework, outlining how the United States Navy will develop future leaders capable of meeting the challenges of a rapidly changing and complex world. The framework recognizes three values that are integral to developing leadership — compliance, creativity, and character. Of the three values, creativity represents the biggest challenge to naval leadership. It is challenging because it defies easy characterization and represents a divergence from the traditional values associated with developing Naval leadership. While there is an institutional framework and culture that develops, values, and supports compliance and character from seaman to admiral, the same cannot be said of creativity. 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.
Creativity is More than just Being Different
In order to effectively harness creativity leaders must clearly understand what creativity is and how it differs from more traditional naval leadership values. Naval leaders are accustomed to dealing with issues of compliance and character. These values are well-defined within the Navy’s core values and evaluation process and feature prominently throughout a sailor’s career, regardless of rating or community. Naval culture views compliance and character dichotomously — one has either complied or not; one either has good character or not. In both instances, success and failure are easily identifiable. Leaders and followers feel comfortable using these metrics as ranking tools.
Creativity — using imagination or original ideas to create something — defies such simple characterization. Creativity is different; it is subjective and exists on a spectrum not seen with compliance and character. Creativity courts risk, is not easily manageable, and often results in failure. It follows that creativity will likely be costly in terms of resources and egos — there’s rarely an immediate payoff in any tangible terms. However costly, creativity and the innovation it sparks holds the key to developing future leaders that are adaptable. The creative mind holds multiple perspectives simultaneously. As such, creative decision-making produces more options, thereby increasing the likelihood of success. This idea is the bedrock for the SECNAV’s Naval Innovation Network, which seeks to bring together disparate ideas from across the ranks in the hopes of fostering creativity.
Establish a Direct Relationship with Creativity
While acknowledging the importance of creativity is important, leaders need to take concrete actions that encourage and make effective use of that creativity. The difficulty for today’s leaders is how to cultivate that creative environment for leaders and followers within an organization that traditionally measures success and failure objectively. Doing so requires adjustments to the way in which the organization reacts to failure and the way compliance and character are typically measured. These changes need to occur vertically as well as horizontally because, like character and compliance, when properly cultivated creativity is infectious.
Making creativity an effective part of the Navy’s leadership model presents some practical challenges. These challenges range from the bureaucratic to the operational and vary from community to community. While forward-leaning leaders speak of thinking outside the box, enlarging the box, or thinking like there is no box, the words can be difficult to translate into action. That is primarily because these well-intentioned challenges to become creative thinkers rarely address the practical limitations that box sailors in every day. From evaluation cycles and ranking boards to tour lengths and qualifications, the personnel organization of the Navy was not designed with creativity in mind. The bureaucracy, when coupled with operational tempos, stifles creativity; sailors simply don’t have the time or luxury to be creative. However, creativity must have time and room to flourish.
Creating this time and space within the disciplined constraints of the Navy is the primary issue facing today’s deckplate leaders. To meet this challenge, these leaders need to move beyond encouraging creativity and provide defined pathways through the bureaucracy and operational tempo. To create these pathways, it is essential that leaders first acknowledge the limitations and potential of creativity. Acknowledging limitations and potential allows leaders to adopt the CNOs line of effort toward High Velocity Learning, whereby leaders strive to accelerate learning through the adoption of the “best concepts, techniques, and technologies.” In doing so, leaders can set aspirational goals while ensuring that creativity yields results and is not wasted time.
Foremost, leaders need to identify where and when to tolerate creativity within their particular missions. A sailor performing a Planned Maintenance System (PMS) check is not an acceptable time for encouraging creativity. Yet, a junior officer conducting Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) activities or an Information Systems Technician identifying systems installations onboard a new platform could flourish in a creative environment. Making these differences clear to subordinates will set the stage for creativity to become an effective tool. Meanwhile, adapting processes outlined in the model of high velocity learning that embolden innovation and creativity will leave sailors feeling confident in exercising their creativity, while leaders will feel confident encouraging creativity.
Along with creating an environment conducive for creativity, leaders need to establish a balance between creativity and compliance. In many practical ways, creativity opposes the Navy’s concept of compliance. By its nature, creativity eschews following the standard rules as it searches for new and innovative ways to achieve something. Resolving the tension that exists between these values will involve sustained involvement from leadership. The CNO’s guidance makes specific mention of the tension created when the notions of competence and character meet the principles of creativity and compliance. Within this tension lies the potential for failure. There’s an immediate danger in too much creativity and not enough compliance, but there’s a long-term danger in too much compliance and not enough creativity.
Moving Past the Fear of Failure
Perhaps the greatest impediment to embracing creativity is the potential for failure. Fear of failure does more to stifle creativity than any bureaucracy or operational tempo ever can. The fear manifests itself in two distinct ways: individual and institutional. There is the individual fear that people have of failure and the repercussions of failure. And then there is the institutional fear that comes from the reticence that peers and leaders have of acknowledging failure in others. While each begets the other, it is important not to conflate the two because they come from different places and, thus, need different solutions. Institutional failure is abstract, while individual failure is personal. Studies show that followers who fear failure focus on thatfear rather than the task, while leaders who fear failures tend to ignore the failures. In both instances, people lose the ability to learn lessons.
Therefore, mandating reforms to foster an institutional environment that embraces failure is only one part of the equation. The individual must also be convinced of the need to accept and learn from failure, which involves a more nuanced approach. To change the attitude sailors have toward failing the Navy must introduce the concept of failureship. Like the name implies, failureship is the ability to fail; and like leadership, it is a learned concept. Considering the relationship that people have with failure, learning to fail constructively is an important lesson for new sailors. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson that the Navy spends little time teaching.
Navy culture encourages success at every stage, and rightly so, because lives often depend on that success. The Navy cites historical examples of battles won and lost, each replete with astounding examples of sailors overcoming staggering odds and arduous circumstances to rise to the occasion. The CNO’s Professional Reading Program is replete with these stories of heroism. Often overlooked within these stories are examples of creativity—sailors taking chances when there’s nothing else to lose. While these tales illustrate that creativity can lead to success, there’s a deeper, less obvious lesson. That is, too often creativity is treated as a last-ditch effort, that failure is an acceptable outcome when there’s nothing else to lose. It is time to recognize that, in the proper context, creativity and failure will promote success. Creativity does not need to be reactive; it has a preventative dimension. It’s time to move failure to the forefront.
To promote this thinking, the discussion needs to move beyond mere acceptance of failure. It needs to move into a realm where leaders encourage failure and followers embrace the lessons of failure. Instead of getting over failure we need to rally around failure. As the aphorism goes: someone who’s never failed has never tried. Discussions of failure need to move from the posters and books and into wardrooms, messes, and galleys. This involves a paradigm shift in how the Navy treats failure. Unlike success, where we champion and personalize the effects, we take a distanced approach to failure. Failure, when accepted, is something that happens to others. Aside from these cultural biases, failure has psychological limitations—people have a tough time dealing with failure. For some, anonymity may encourage creativity, for others, the motivation to be creative may come from the promise of rewards. Despite these differences, the underlying premise remains the same—leaders must look for ways to foster creativity within themselves and their subordinates.
For good reason, the Navy has long promoted successful execution over thoughtful rumination. However, global forces are at work today that require a paradigm shift in the way the Navy develops future leaders. To remain on the cutting edge, keep the brightest talent, and sustain the element of surprise, the Navy needs to cultivate a culture that believes in the value of failure, adopts an organizational behavior that encourages creative minds, and balances the application of creativity with its practical limitations. After all, creativity embodies the Navy’s core values: it takes honor to try, courage to fail, and commitment to overcome failure.
While incorporating creativity into leadership development presents challenges, the good news is that the Navy already possesses many strengths and initiatives to leverage the creative spirit. From traditional concepts like intrusive leadership to new proposals like career sabbaticals and the Tours with Industry program, the Navy is well poised to begin developing creative leaders. The diversity of the Navy’s workforce is another key component that will bolster creativity through exchanging ideas and experiences. As the Navy strives to innovate and overcome, developing and sustaining creative thinkers will determine the future course.
LT David M. Andre is a former Intelligence Specialist, has served as an Intelligence Officer and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM and is a graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School. He is currently serving as N2 for COMDESRON Seven in Singapore. He can be reached at DMA.USN@gmail.com. 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: February 7, 2017. A warfare tactics instructor speaks before sailors. (U.S. Navy photo)