Littoral Combat Ship


Leadership Proverbs to Live By at Sea

These are quick and dirty tips to succeed as a junior officer from my career in the Navy.  Take all of this is from the perspective of a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who has succeeded a lot as well as failed a lot. Because I have learned from my experiences, I was rated as an Early Promote in a highly competitive headquarters environment. 

 I don’t care if you came in via a Service Academy, Reserve Officer Training Corp or Officer’s Candidate School, you have experienced what is expected of you as a leader.  Here are some proverbs to live by from my career in the Navy.

1) “You and your Non-Comissioned Officer (NCO) should work hand-and-glove.”  Communication with them is critical.  You put out policy and they make it happen.  You can still succeed without the support of your NCO, but you will have a long road ahead of you.  Get them onboard and listen to them.  Together you will succeed in leading your unit.

2) “Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you.” When your folks have paperwork that they need done, take it upon yourself to handle it first and foremost.  When they have leave, get the papers approved.  When they need help, figure it out with them.  Your effort to smooth their lives outside of their job will give you unprecedented support when the chips are down.  As a side note, don’t bad talk them, EVER.  They will hear about it and it will hurt you in the long run.

3) “You get what you inspect, not what you expect” There are lots of reasons for this.  Your enlisted folks will do their best if they respect you, but they may not understand your expectations clearly.  Always check in with them along the way to make sure that they are on the right track when you assign them ANY work to do.  Conversely, some of your enlisted folks may be afflicted with a bad attitude, in which case, you need to be on them from the get go to ensure that they are doing what you need.  Another version of this is “Trust but verify”

4) “Tell your people what you want done, not how to do it” Chances are that your people have experience doing whatever your asking.  They also have a brain and need to be encouraged to engage it.  Give them your parameters, your expectations, the audience (this is for the Colonel, the Admiral, Congress, etc.) and most importantly, your deadline.  They may go about it differently than you would, but they can still accomplish it.  Be open to their creativity, but hold them accountable for their failures.

5) “Be nice, until its time not to be nice.”  This is pretty straight forward.  No one likes to work for a jerk.  Jettison whatever you have seen in the movies, it is not true.  You are a human, and they understand that.  Treat them as such and give them some credit, until they lose credibility.  Then engage your non-comissioned officers and come up with a strategy to correct the deficiency and move on.  DON’T HOLD GRUDGES!

6) “Praise in public, Punish in private.” – When one of your people succeeds, tell the world.  Right an email.  Tell your Flag Officer, CO, XO, etc. and ask them to recognize the achievement.  When someone messes up, pull them aside and have a discussion with them and your NCO as to why they failed and hold them accountable.  If you punish in private and praise public, you’ll alienate your people and they will hang you out to dry.  As a side, if your senior leadership has an issue with your units performance, YOU get to take it on the chin, ALONE.  Take a deep breath and then discuss the deficiency with your NCO.  DO NOT flame spray your people when you get yelled at.  Conversely, take every opportunity to parade them in front of the leadership after a success.  Their rankings and evaluations will improve, and they’ll get promoted faster. 

7) “Ask for the instruction.” alternately “‘That’s the way we’ve always done it’ is never the right answer.” One of your sailors somewhere will inevitably try to cut corners, pull a fast one, or baffle you with bull.  Part of your job is to be the management link who can explain the problems and issues to the chain of command.  When something complex comes up, make your chief or your leading petty officer sit down with you with the proper documentation and explain what the problem is.  The more you learn, the better division officer you will become and the more you can handle on your own.  The longer you fly blind and ignorant, the more bad things happen on your watch. When they give you the answer “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” IMMEDIATELY stop and ask for the correct instructions.  They have just asked you to do a thorough audit of their practices 

As a junior officer you know more than you think you know about leadership.  You know what is right, and you know what is wrong.  If there is a question about whether it is right or wrong, then you probably already know the answer.  You are accountable to your department head and your captain for the state of your division.  In turn, you should hold each of your people accountable for their work centers. 

Keep learning, keep inspecting, keep asking questions, & KEEP WALKING AROUND & LOOKING AROUND!