Empowering Division Officers and Enhancing Sailor Stability

Notes to the New CNO Series

By Lt. Upton Wallace

There are two key areas that, if addressed strategically, can enhance the effectiveness of our Navy – empowerment of division officers and stability for our sailors.

The empowerment of division officers is critical yet undervalued in the U.S. Navy. In other branches of the military, officers at similar levels are given a broader scope of authority and responsibility, which fosters a more efficient chain of command and enhances leadership development. Division officers in the Navy should be afforded the same level of trust and autonomy. This can be achieved by reducing micromanagement, promoting a culture of calculated risk-taking and innovation, and providing clear guidelines on the extent and limits of their authority.

An empowered division officer can make quicker decisions, reduce red tape, and foster a more responsive and agile team. Most importantly, it enhances the leadership growth of these officers, preparing them for higher roles and responsibilities. It is crucial that we create an environment where our officers are trusted to lead and are given useful mandates for developing their leadership skills.

Secondly, we should address the issue of sailor stability. The frequent Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves can disrupt the personal lives of sailors and their families, affecting their morale and overall effectiveness. While we understand the operational need for such moves, a more strategic approach can mitigate the negative impacts.

Possible strategies include extending tour lengths where feasible, providing more predictable rotation schedules, and exploring options for geo-batching. This would allow sailors to achieve a better work-life balance, thereby enhancing their commitment and productivity. It is time the Navy gives more careful consideration to the human element of our operations, ensuring our sailors are not just effective, but also content and stable.

These two areas of focus – empowering division officers and enhancing sailor stability – are interconnected. A more empowered division officer will better understand and address the unique needs of their sailors, including their need for stability. More content and stable sailors will be more responsive to their officers, creating a more trusting and effective chain of command.

As we move into this new era of naval operations, we must ensure that our leadership structures and policies respect the realities of our personnel’s lives and the operational environment. By addressing these areas, we can foster a Navy that is not only effective in its operations, but also a more rewarding place to serve.

Lieutenant Upton Wallace is a division officer at the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron FRS (HSM-40) based in Mayport, Florida. Originally hailing from St. Andrew, Jamaica, Wallace began his Navy career in 2003, enlisting as an aviation structural mechanic, and advanced to the rank of aviation structural mechanic chief. In 2017, Wallace earned a commission through the Limited Duty Officer program. He has participated in Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Sixth Fleet operations responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Featured Image: EAST CHINA SEA (July 28, 2020) Chief Fire Controlman Reynard McNeil Jr., from San Diego, communicates with the combat information center prior to a close-in weapons system live-fire exercise aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Taylor DiMartino)

5 thoughts on “Empowering Division Officers and Enhancing Sailor Stability”

  1. Great article. While I agree with both of the author’s sentiments, I believe the point of enhancing sailor stability can’t be overstated.

    As a former junior enlisted member of the Air Force, I was accustomed to the practice of closed-loop detailing. Airmen with expertise on a specific platform stayed with said platform for the bulk of their careers. Though this practice limited assignment options, it fostered stability both at home and on mission which ultimately facilitated a more effective force.

    Now as commissioned officer in the Navy, I do believe our organization considers the human element, however I’m convinced this consideration is grossly misdirected. Leaders advocate for assignment, platform, and geographical changes citing the importance of a well-rounded force. Though there are benefits to a versatile fleet, the weight we give to the concept of well-roundedness is to the detriment of readiness, effectiveness, cohesion, recruiting, and retention.

    Sure, there’s an allure to the idea of seeing the world while serving our nation and, yes, mobilization comes with the job. That said, both the allure of seeing the world and the personal motivation for cyclic mobilization wanes rapidly as a direct result of the stress and fatigue brought about by the instability thrust upon the backs of sailors and their families as a result of unpredictable detailing and lackluster incentives. Sadly, the Navy doesn’t do enough to address this issue despite the added benefits. It’s no secret that the Navy’s greatest asset is its people. So why aren’t our leaders hyper-focused on stabilizing this asset with more practical and universal solutions?

    A stable Sailor yields a stable, ready, and more lethal force. We can’t afford to get this wrong!

  2. Well said Lt. Wallace! Our Navy needs more empowerment and less bureaucracy in my opinion. The human cost to readiness is real, and I haven’t seen a metric that accurately captures this. Moving our Sailors around every tour damages the families that accompany them in many cases. Surely, there are those that wish to move around a lot because the adventure works well for them. Conversely, there are many that cannot do this for many reasons.

    Empowering our Division Officers and non-commissioned officers to make decisions and lead is powerful because it allows for fast decision making and feedback which will likely lead to increased readiness and morale.

    Brilliant article and I look forward to reading more in the future!

  3. You’ve hit on a point I’ve continuously tried to make since I’ve became an officer. If you effectively empower your Divos and Junior Enlisted (E5/E6s) you will improved their confidence in their abilities, resulting in a growing hunger to want to get better as a leader. But what’s the road block and why is it not happening? In my opinion, senior leaders are sometimes afraid to truly empower divos/junior sailors – they are too concerned with failure and how it will affect their careers… Leaders HAVE to empower young leaders and allow them to grow into a well-rounded leader, but also open the door to mentor them when they struggle. One example of empowerment I used during my last tour was allowing my AIMD PC LPO to brief the ship’s CO on C4 Broad Arrows. He was very hesitant at first, and I mean very hesitant. The first two times I accompanied him, but after that, he went alone – this lasted the entire deployment. He earned confidence, an EP eval, and selected for ADC this year. I did the same with my new accession MMCO, an ENS LDO. I had him sit in for me at DH meetings with the CO so he could earn that early career experience as the MO. Just two of many examples of empowerment for me.

    The Sailor stability piece is a hard one and the Navy has been getting it wrong for so many years and pushing great Sailors out due to instability.

  4. From my experience, this article is accurate, particularly when discussing empowerment. I believe many leaders wish to empower their Division Officers in theory, but in practice are afraid of the ramifications this delegation entails. It requires them to have actual trust and the ability to stand behind their Divo’s decisions, even if that decision may vary from their own. Many senior Sailors, enlisted and Officers alike question how so many ineffective leaders are putting on anchors or bars. They should mostly be questioning their own abilities to teach and cultivate the next generation of leaders. One of the most effective tools is empowerment and trust. If one is never able to lead and exercise authority, how can anyone expect them to suddenly put on khakis and be relevant? For those who have already proven an ability to lead, it is all more emasculating when their boss fails to allow them to do their job out of distrust, or even worse, fear it will affect their own promotion aspirations. Good article, and yes, we have to take care of our Sailors as well.

  5. Right issue, wrong solution! The Division Officers don’t have time to be empowered, they have too many other things the Navy tells them they must do before they can be Leaders. The Division Officers might have more time to Lead if the wardroom included more JO’s to spread the non-leadership requirements around.

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