Not all leaders are clueless

Just so you don’t think I get a lot of pleasure out of beating up Navy leadership failures, there are some folks in the Navy who get it. Or at least, there were. Here’s an article from Proceedings magazine from about four years ago that shows at least one Captain understood how leadership should work.

If you treat your Sailors like adults and professionals, they will perform that way.

A recent Navy Times story, “Kitty Hawk sailors chafe under liberty rules,” reported on draconian liberty policies instituted in ships assigned to Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) Japan.1 Some FDNF commands apparently require “departmental chiefs or officers to reach by phone or physically see each of their Sailors (E-6 and below) every evening—even on weekends and regardless of marital status—to make sure they were following approved liberty plans.” A multi-part liberty plan form requires Sailors to describe in detail what they intend to do while on liberty; an “alcohol awareness/use” section with multiple Miranda-style questions requires them to affirm that they understand the rules and consequences if they intend to drink alcohol. These legalistic forms must be filled out daily, and commands are expected to spot-check compliance. The cumulative “time tax” of doing so may be imagined.

The story accords fully with what I experienced twice as a ship CO in Japan. Whenever there was a liberty incident, one could hear the knees jerking from Sasebo to Misawa (and sometimes on to San Diego). The highly dysfunctional, counterproductive FDNF Japan liberty policies described in the story, whether imposed by individual ship COs, base commanders, or various layers of staff, reflect an unimaginative, fearful senior leadership mentality dripping with short-sightedness and risk aversion. These policies are a disgrace. To paraphrase French diplomat Talleyrand, “they’re worse than a crime; they’re a mistake.”

Of course, Captain van Tol retired as a Captain, and not an Admiral. Draw from that what conclusions you will…

1 thought on “Not all leaders are clueless”

  1. Captain van Tol committed the most serious crime you can commit in a bureaucracy, truth. Since Vietnam, and accelerating after Iraq 1, the military has gone down hill with the speed of an F-22 in full AB. I’m glad I’m out, and I’m glad my son is out.

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