XO Leadership Lessons From The '80s
One of my old shipmates got this from his old XO back in the mid-80s, written from an XOs perspective on how to be an effective leader. How much do you think is still applicable for the Submarine Force? Or do you think it was ever applicable?
"Proverbs and Other Pearls of Wisdom"
There is a reference for everything. Cite it.
Repair in accordance with plan (see above).
COROLLARY ONE: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
COROLLARY TWO: If it’s not operating in accordance with design specifications (no matter how intermittently) it’s broke.
COROLLARY THREE: People sometimes heal themselves without assistance. Machines never do.
Johnson’s first principle of leadership: First, you get their attention.
The highest compliment you can pay (or be paid): “You do nice work.”
The worst compliment: “Nice work, but...”
Compliment the man/woman, then tell his/her boss.
Never surprise a man with his evaluation. If he hasn’t been periodically and formally counseled on his performance relative to his peers, he suffers from bad leadership.
Proofread three times:
Format (check the reference)
Grammar and spelling
Meaning (Pretend you’re the guy on the receiving end. What action would you take?)
COROLLARY: Proofread your rough draft. If the Yeoman can’t easily turn it into a smooth product, rewrite and resubmit.
The worst deficiency ever written: The ship failed to… “as required by ship’s instructions.”
COROLLARY ONE: If there is no requirement, don’t do it.
COROLLARY TWO: If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, when will you have the time to do it over?
COROLLARY THREE: Where the “right” way and the “Navy” way differ, the “Navy” way generally keeps rework under 10%.
COROLLARY FOUR: You get what you inspect, not what you expect.
(Current CO) COROLLARY: If your people do not safely start work 20 minutes after quarters, whether it’s training or wrench-turning, they suffer from bad leadership.
Formality means doing things the same way every time, with positive feedback on instruction action and completion. Formality keeps the rework under 10%, gets the ship underway on time, keeps the lights burning, and the ship afloat, off the rocks and undetected.
COROLLARY ONE: Anything worth ordering is worth a completion report.
COROLLARY TWO: “Assume” makes an ass out of you and me.
COROLLARY THREE: Verbatim compliance is very formal. However, at no time are you authorized to screw up formally in the execution of an approved procedure.
COROLLARY FOUR: If you want credibility, be consistent in your standards and requirements.
The worst time waster is poor training. If you are responsible for the training and despite your best planning it’s going poorly, you can do one of three things, two of which are acceptable:
Do nothing, establishing a new low standard of acceptability.
Stop the training and reschedule it when preparation is better.
Step in and assist in conducting the training yourself (if you are qualified to do so) to make it acceptable.
Aim your training at your best people, not your average guy. If you desire some 2.5 level knowledge, train at 4.0, test to 3.4 - 3.8, and you will probably achieve the desired 2.5 level. If you train and test to 2.5 you are certain to achieve less. You will also waste the time of your best people (not to mention your own) and convince your people that training is the least productive thing, rather than one of the most important things they do.
PARKINSON’S LAW OF WORD PROCESSING: Work expands to fill all word processing capability available for its completion. A word processor is a remarkable device designed to increase administrative workload.
THE DELEGATION PRINCIPLE: Examine every assignment you get and ask yourself at what level it should be done. Assign it to that level, conduct the necessary training, establish a reasonable due date, then review the product. The final product will be of better quality, your men will be better trained and utilized, and you will have the time to do the things you’re really supposed to be doing.
Johnson’s Key to Administrative Success: Keep your IN basket empty and your OUT basket full. Act on it, forward it, delegate it, or return it the same day. Your working “limbo” pile should never exceed the capacity of one small desk drawer.
COROLLARY ONE: There are only so many hours available for reading things in detail. Use them wisely.
COROLLARY TWO: The correct action to take on many items is to throw them away. Do so with gusto.
(Current CO) COROLLARY: Bureaucrats exert power by sitting on paperwork.
Johnson’s Rule of Proportional Excellence (or why some ships always seem to get all the good people):
About 5% of the men you get would be losers wherever they went. Try to do in the few months you have with them what their parents were unable to do in 18 years. Work hard to save them until the day you “can” them. You will save, at best, one out of five.
70% to 80% will be superstars, good guys, okay guys, or losers depending on the company they keep, and the training and leadership they receive. What is done with this group separates the good ships from the average and the not so good.
10% - 20% would be superstars wherever they went (but really shine with good leadership and training).
The “Rack-him-out” Principle: If someone has failed to meet your established deadline for accomplishing a task, or has accomplished it incorrectly, he owes you an explanation (to be provided at your convenience, not his) and the right to correctly accomplish the task (again, at your convenience, not his). He forfeited his right to do his work at his convenience when he missed his deadline without explanation. RACK HIM OUT. I assure you these lessons will not be forgotten.
COROLLARY ONE: If you are assigned a deadline, don’t let it pass without completing the project or negotiating a new due date in advance (or standby to be racked out).
COROLLARY TWO: Figure out what kind of tickler system works best for you and use it.
COROLLARY THREE: Figure out what kind of tickler system your boss uses and periodically (at least weekly) check it to see if yours and his agree with what you owe him.
The status quo cannot be maintained by holding what you’ve got. You must be constantly striving to improve just to stay even.
Troubleshooting and Repair Precautions (Or why you are paid so much to maintain and operate your ship)
Not every permissible course of action or solution is necessarily detailed in the technical manual or operating procedures.
Specifically permitted actions are not necessarily always good ideas.
Not all dumb courses of action are specifically prescribed. This self-evident axiom is sometimes referred to as General Order Number One: Don’t be stupid.
In goal-oriented organizations (e.g. Navy), good performance tends to be equated with moral integrity and individual worth. Avoid the trap that “good performer” equals “good person,” “mediocre performer” equals “mediocre person,” and “bad performer” equals “bad person;” not all good performers are “good” people and not all bad performers are “bad” people. Do not overlook a character flaw for fear of upsetting or losing a good performer. Along the same lines, never discipline a person who honestly tries but doesn’t have what it takes to produce. There are humane ways to get him transferred where he can be of use somewhere else or separated if he is not.
Most people (greater than 90%), including most marginal performers, are inherently good people. Not only do they really want to do a good job, but they also honestly believe (through self-illusion if necessary) that they are “better” and their job performance is “just as good” if not better than most of the other guys in their division, department, or ship. This positive self-image is important for good mental health. A person who honestly believes that he is inferior to his peers is a candidate for suicide. Unless presented with detailed, specific, compelling evidence to the contrary, the average person maintains this positive self-image and has no motivation to work harder or better. In his mind he is already working hard enough and good enough. In fact, if questioned he will respond that he is working too hard and doing a better job than required.
Emotional appeals, especially those not backed up by specific details, rarely change perceptions or performance. Fear is a perfectly good leadership technique that can have spectacular results in the short term. If you are particularly skilled with “boot camp leadership,” you can even make it work in the long run. But do not expect to turn the average performer into a self-motivated superstar with this approach. It is likely that you will get, at best, letter of the law compliance.
A mediocre performer can sometimes be led out of his “good enough” rut by frequent, disparate comparison of his performance with the desired standard and counseling on specific ways to improve. This is not to be confused with chewing out. If you can alter his perception of his performance relative to his peers and your standards, and show him how to do better, you are well on your way to developing a self-motivated individual who takes genuine pride in his accomplishments and can be depended upon to do more than just what is required.
If you see something being done incorrectly and fail to take note or take action to correct it, you have:
given your implicit approval for it to be done incorrectly in the future; and
set a new (and lower) standard.
Look your sharpest on Mondays. You’ll like twice as good by comparison.
Keep the bitching lamp out. Complaints are festering sores, if a man has a problem, help him address it through the chain of command.
If valid, fix it.
If not valid, complaining won’t help. Help him live with it quietly.
If valid and truly unfixable, complaining won’t help. Help him live with it quietly.
Work a reasonable length of day to meet your objectives, then go home. There will be plenty of other long days to satisfy the workaholic in you.
Be a “can-do” guy. Being cheerful and positive on the outside gets the job done better and helps you over the hump when you have personal misgivings. This is sometimes called supporting the chain of command. It is also gives you credibility when you have a valid complaint.
COROLLARY ONE: Attitude attacks are authorized - but only in private with your department head, XO, CO, or close friend. Remember, no matter how good the job, some days suck.
COROLLARY TWO: When your best “can-do” guy has an attitude attack, get to the bottom of the problem and fix it fast. At least talk to him if you can’t fix it. Can-do guys fight through attitude attacks, and talking about it often helps them do that faster.
Johnson’s Duty, Honor, Country Philosophy: A man who has served his country honorably for three, four, six, or 20 years is a patriot. His decision to change jobs is his own. Use all the tools at your disposal to keep him in the Navy, but honor his final decision and always treat him like the patriot he is.
The Navy is not a cubic mile monolith in Washington, DC, which periodically charges up to vast potential and zaps the innocent, and helpless sailor. The Navy is people, and people sometimes makes mistakes. People can fix mistakes. Help your men - something can almost always be done to right a wrong (see below).
Anything that has been made by man can be fixed by man.
Whether your recurring problems are with people or machines, look for the common factor. A good sailor abhors a “coincidence.”
COROLLARY: Sometimes the common factor is you. Be able to make that determination and act accordingly.
Sailors (also spelled people) will do anything asked of them as long as they get about 6-8 hours of sleep a day and about one day out of every seven off.
COROLLARY ONE: Sailors work better if they understand what they are doing. Active support always results in better performance than grudging compliance.
COROLLARY TWO: When the work is done, go home. Nothing lowers credibility like make-work.
COROLLARY THREE: There is more work to do than time available to do it. Planning prevents the possibility of wasting time with make-work.
P.S. It doesn’t always work. If it doesn’t, you know you have been honest and fair, and done your best.
“Always do right, this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
- Mark Twain
“It is not the will to win that counts. Everyone has the will to win. It is the will to practice to win that counts.”
- Bobby Knight