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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)

Embracing Creativity: A Leadership Challenge

Leadership Development Topic Week

By David Andre

“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 Frameworkoutlining 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.

EAST CHINA SEA (Aug. 11, 2016) – Ens. Benjamin Paddock, from Gainesville, Fla., gives a tour of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay’s (LPD 20) vehicle storage area to Republic of Korea (ROK) midshipmen. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chris Williamson/Released)

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 that fear 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.

Conclusion

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)

Enabling Leadership from the Bottom

Leadership Development Topic Week

By Jacob Wiencek

Introduction

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

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

Always an Opportunity to Lead

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Leadership Development Topic Week

By CDR Will Wiley

“For in this modern world, the instruments of warfare are not solely for waging war. Far more importantly, they are the means for controlling peace. Naval officers must therefore understand not only how to fight a war, but how to use the tremendous power which they operate to sustain a world of liberty and justice, without unleashing the powerful instruments of destruction and chaos that they have at their command.” These words delivered in 1961 by then Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Arleigh Burke ring as true in 2017 as they did when he uttered them during his Change of Command address. Leaders today must be expert operators on technologically advanced submarines, ships, and aircraft. They must operate these platforms on seas and in skies which are increasingly more crowded and cluttered. They must motivate their teams to accomplish the assigned mission and serve as effective ambassadors for the nation during foreign port calls. Additionally, leaders are challenged to motivate their subordinates to follow in their footsteps and pursue a career in the Navy. Finally, they must make quick decisions about how to respond to aggressive peer competitors without having the luxury of discussing it with their superiors. Some of these challenges come naturally to those in leadership positions, but taken in total, Navy leadership in 2017 is difficult for even the most prepared leader. 

Therefore, it is wise to analyze the question, “Does the Navy equip its officer and enlisted leaders, at all levels, to meet the challenges faced on any given day in America’s Navy?” The recent release of the Navy Leader Development Framework provides a guide for leaders to develop themselves in a world “that is changing quickly and becoming more complex.” However, the Framework, signed by CNO Admiral John Richardson, leaves the details to each naval warfare community to determine the specifics on how it develops their leaders over a career.

These warfare communities do an outstanding job of making the individual a master of their craft, be that as a submariner, surface warfare officer, naval aviator, SEAL, etc. The Command Leadership School, Senior Enlisted Academy, and other Navy leadership courses develop the individual for the leadership and character challenges they will face in their upcoming job. Informal mentorship, personal development, and experience further prepares the individual for leadership positions. But there are areas where this leadership development is lacking. 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.

Leaders are Warfighters

Above all else, the job of a naval leader is to prepare to fight and win the nation’s wars. Too often in the daily grind of processing paperwork, preparing for an operational inspection, or conducting routine maintenance tasks, leaders forget the reason the nation has a Navy and why they serve. Captain John Paul Jones was not obsessing over getting fitness reports turned in on time when he said in 1778, “I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go in harm’s way.” Most individuals who join the Navy do so to operate the amazing platforms used by the fleet today. They desire to fly planes and drive ships rather than sign their name or make powerpoint briefs. 

While there is a time and place for mundane tasks, leaders must constantly remind their team they are working toward an important mission. This mission is not training for the next major inspection, but rather preparing for forward deployment or combat operations. Leaders must look for opportunities in peacetime training environments to simulate these operations. This can be done in simulators or on the actual platform. Place the team in a realistic scenario and challenge them as they would be challenged in combat or on a deployment. This will tap into the reason most of the individuals joined the military and will produce a better team ready to execute forward deployed operations.

Each warfare community in the Navy has a rich history leaders must pass to the next generation. Leaders should look for creative ways to infuse these stories into the daily routine of a command to motivate the team. Whether it be the VIRGINIA-class submarine crew reading a World War II submarine war patrol story before every engineering training or the crew of the USS ZUMWALT reading about the Battle of Midway throughout the year rather than just during the Battle of Midway celebration, the important thing is to consistently remind sailors in 2017 about the gallant exploits of their predecessors. 

Leaders should not only use history to their advantage, but also celebrate the work other ships in the fleet are doing today. Inviting counterparts from a returning deployer to share their experiences with your team will motivate a command to complete the numerous tasks required to begin a deployment. In the submarine force, there are stories of World War II submarine commanding officers describing experiences to each other from their war patrols over beverages on a Friday afternoon. Too often today these discussions are forgone due to packed schedules. However, an argument could be made that they will do more to prepare the leader for the upcoming mission or deployment than anything that is keeping the individual on the ship.

It is easy for leaders to focus on paperwork, rewrite radio messages, or improve powerpoint animation. None of these items will win the next engagement with the enemy and they do not motivate a team to work long hours to prepare for a deployment. Therefore, leaders must use creativity and a little bit of planning to put the team into realistic situations and consistently remind them of what they may be asked to do many nautical miles away from homeport.

Leaders Must Read

With the end of the Cold War in 1989, the world shifted from a relatively easy-to-understand bipolar international system dominated by the U.S. and Soviet Union to a more complex, multi-polar global community. In recent years, a resurgent Russia has taken aggressive action toward U.S. Navy ships and aircraft with desires to reclaim its place as a dominant world power. China is expanding its military and area of influence with its island building campaign in the South China Sea. The Middle East remains a tumultuous region. Non-state terrorist organizations like ISIS and Boko Haram continue to further their aims. 

The scene described above is just a small taste of the world where the naval leader conducts operations in 2017. The only certainty is that it will change. Therefore, the leader must stay abreast of this environment through consistent reading of current events. The CNO has an excellent reading list, which should be utilized, but it cannot be the sole source of information. Books that make this list and other reading lists often lag world events. To stay up-to-date about the challenges in the world, leaders should consume a daily newspaper like The New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal and a weekly news magazine like Time or Newsweek. Many of these publications focus on domestic issues, while a periodical like The Economist offers a more international perspective. This consistent study will be helpful for leaders who find themselves overseas often and must understand U.S. domestic policies and the challenges facing the international community. 

It is also important for the leader to have multiple news sources with differing political leanings. Subordinates and fellow leaders may filter out unwanted viewpoints or facts in the news. Leaders must be aware of the differing views about a story and use multiple sources of information to understand it and effectively communicate it to their subordinates.

As a young LTJG on a submarine conducting TLAM operations during the opening moments of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, I remember being asked by several of my subordinates why we were conducting these operations. I relied heavily on my U.S. Naval Academy and Georgetown University education, but I also used my reading of news periodicals to properly answer this question. Therefore, leaders must commit to a steady diet of information about the world.

Finally, the leader should realize the periodicals and newspapers listed above will keep the leader informed of world affairs as they develop, but may not always offer the in-depth analysis on global trends or the world leaders who shape the landscape of geopolitics. To bridge this gap, leaders can choose from a wide range of writing from foreign policy experts located in academia and the think tank community. Professional military journals like USNI’s Proceedings are also a good source of information and analysis. Additionally, full-length books by respected historians or experts can round out the leader’s need for insight.

The world is a dynamic place in 2017 and will not become simpler in the years ahead. Therefore, leaders must develop a reading plan to understand the complex planet where they conduct operations.

Leaders Should Leverage Social Media and Smartphone Technology

In some form, a social media platform is in the hand of almost every member of the Navy and is being used on a smartphone. Therefore, ignoring the technology or choosing not to deal with it as a leader is unwise. The young Sailors in the fleet and even some of the not so young Sailors do not remember a world without a smartphone or Facebook. Leaders would be wise to leverage the connectivity of a smartphone and ease of use of social media to run a more effective command. 

Below is just a short list of how social media and smartphone technology could be employed at a Navy command:

  • Use a private Facebook group as a means to recall a crew in port.
  • Use a private Facebook group to disseminate information to crew members and family members.
  • Create an Instagram or command Facebook page to highlight awards, community service projects, etc.
  • Create a command You Tube channel to live stream award presentations or shipwide activities.

The above ideas can be tailored to any level of the chain of command. Leaders receive minimal formal training on how to use these platforms with the exception of a reminder to not violate Operational Security (OPSEC) rules. Once leaders develop best practices they should filter lessons learned up the chain of command for distribution across formal leadership courses. Navy Personnel Command could create a feedback email address to allow the fleet to explain their creative uses of these platforms. In the meantime, leaders should figure out how best to use the social media and the smartphones already in every Sailor’s hands.

Leaders Must Understand the Cyber Domain

Adversaries will continue to look for ways to infiltrate military platforms using the cyber domain. This military domain is not uncharted territory for the Navy, but future conflicts will be just as heavily contested in the cyber domain as they were in the air, land, and sea in the past. Therefore, leaders must understand this domain and how their platform can remain secure from attack while using it to exploit the adversary’s cyber vulnerabilities. The U.S. Naval Academy is teaching all midshipmen a cyber curriculum, which is an excellent first step to equip leaders with a basic level of knowledge about the uses of cyber. However, the Navy needs to expand its efforts to ensure it is in each warfare community’s formal schools. Too often, leaders divest their cyber responsibilities to someone else, but as future conflicts occur in this domain they cannot simply say someone else will handle that part of the battle.

Leaders Can Improve Personnel Management

The individuals who voluntarily decide to serve in the Navy are the service’s most valuable assets. John Paul Jones said, “Men mean more than guns in the rating of a ship.” However, leaders often overlook or minimize the importance of helping Sailors manage their own careers. Often, senior officers provide career management advice to junior officers in the same community due to familiarity with the process. However, officers often fail the enlisted personnel who serve under them by not fully understanding enlisted personnel policies, which are somewhat different from the officer personnel rules. Considering about 85 percent of the personnel in a command are enlisted, it is imperative to fully understand more about the enlisted personnel system. 

Individual communities are attempting to improve the personnel level of knowledge in the force, but what would help leaders at all levels is simply putting at their fingertips knowledge of when critical career milestones are occurring or must be decided on by their subordinates. A tailorable iOS or Android application with an associated desktop program could be used by any member of the command to access this information from the Navy personnel system. Imagine if the Executive Officer (XO) of a command could see on one application, who was transferring within the next three months, who was arriving within the next three months, which Sailors are eligible for a Selective Reenlistment Bonus (SRB) and how much that bonus could be, and where 1306 requests or Planned Rotation Date (PRD) extensions are in the personnel systems. Currently, a member of the ship’s office tries to build this information for the XO by logging on to various personnel systems for the information. 

Leaders could use this same technology throughout the chain of command with the leader’s viewing permissions limited to their subordinates. The individual Sailor could also use the application to see their own information and make wise career decisions. This technology would not be expensive and efforts such as the Billet Based Distribution (BBD) system are welcome upgrades to the personnel system, but the leader needs it to be much more accessible. 

Leaders Should Master Task Management

This paper has explained some of the myriad of challenges facing a leader in today’s Navy. Without a method to process tasks and understand which ones require action a leader will fail. Surprisingly little time in Navy schools is used to teach a leader how to manage daily, weekly, monthly, or annual requiring tasks. It is left to the individual to just figure it out. Some do, others require significant oversight to execute these tasks, while some simply fail. Most leaders fail not because they cannot pilot the aircraft or drive the ship, but instead due to their inability to effectively manage their area of responsibility at the command. The breakdown here seems to be between the first and second sea tour for both officer and enlisted personnel. The first sea tour is relatively easy to manage. These leaders are not leading many subordinates and the task list can be managed in their head. When the individual gets to the second sea tour, there are more responsibilities than can be remembered without a task management system. 

There are numerous task management systems an individual can employ, but one worth highlighting is described in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. In this book, Allen teaches how to process tasks confronting leaders on a daily basis. He also teaches leaders how to generate a recurring task list in a trusted system. The concepts allow you to get mundane task lists out of your mind and free it to do more important things. For the military leader, these concepts free you to be the better mentor or leader to your subordinates and focus on vital tasks like succeeding on the upcoming mission. One does not have to follow the teachings of David Allen to the letter, but in order to succeed in the Navy, leaders must have a trusted task management system before the second sea tour.

Conclusion

The Navy Leader Development Framework is the first step in the work to improve leadership at all levels of the chain of command. However, the world is moving too fast and the challenges facing a Navy leader in 2017 are too great to wait for the development of the perfect Navy leadership course to serve as the panacea for the fleet. Most of the recommended improvements written here require very little money, but if implemented, will reap large dividends for the leader who chooses to employ these strategies. Therefore, leaders should look for ways to employ these strategies to improve themselves and their command. As CNO Richardson said in the Framework, “Let’s get to it.”

Will Wiley is the U.S. Navy Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and a submarine warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: MEDITERRANEAN SEA (Oct. 13, 2016) Vice Adm. James Foggo III, Commander U.S. 6th Fleet, addresses the crew of USS Ross (DDG 71) Oct. 13, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)