Monthly archive

October 2018

Orders to the Helm?

in Leadership

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.

Hello again. In case we haven’t met yet: I’m a snarky young whippersnapper who thinks the war on millennials, the Navy’s personnel management system, and its stance on medical marijuana/cannabis for veterans are ridiculous. Now, I want to set a more serious tone and discuss one of the Navy’s favorite topics: leadership. I know what you’re thinking…what’s a millennial going to teach me about leadership? This guy’s been in the Navy since breakfast. He’s never had command, he doesn’t understand it, and his opinions aren’t needed. Well, I’ve observed a few things since I finished my avocado toast this morning, and I don’t really care whether you want my opinion or not. Here it comes.

There’s a pretty big difference between how the Navy talks about leadership and how it leads. The Navy talks a lot about character, ethics, and mentorship. Take a look at the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson’s Naval Leadership Development Framework. It sounds a lot like servant leadership, but officers who are particularly good at this brand of leadership are not the ones we tend to promote to the highest levels. Why? Maybe it comes down to results. The proof is in the pudding. How many Battle E’s did your ship win? How did you perform on deployment? How did INSURV go? Crew advancement and retention numbers certainly are key metrics, but generally they are secondary to more warfighting-focused areas . . . and that’s not wrong. After all, warfighting is the mission. Its why we’re all here. But what happens when leaders get scope-locked on results?

Likewise, the CNO’s framework, and its many predecessors, aren’t bad either. The problem is the Navy pays them lip service. We say one thing and do another. A vice admiral (who since put on a fourth star) once told me and an auditorium full of prospective department heads (oooh . . . identity teaser!) that we were all “fungible.” To be honest, I had to look it up: easily replaced, essentially interchangeable. Needless to say, I didn’t feel very valued as an individual. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe we surface warfare officers (SWOs) do need to “suck it up” a little and just do their jobs, which is to lead. So, was I supposed to mentor and develop my junior SWOs individually? Or just teach them that they are interchangeable, and they need to put their heads down and focus on the next inspection? Or maybe I’m supposed to develop my subordinates individually while acknowledging that I’m the one that has no unique value? How do we sustain such a dichotomy? That’s like Santa Claus for kids. Eventually, they grow up and you either tell them it was all made up, or they figure it out for themselves. The message is clear: we told you we cared about you because you were a young ensign and that was a lie you needed to hear. You’re getting older now, so shut up and get to work!

So, why doesn’t the Navy abandon the servant-leadership myth and embrace the results-based leadership it tacitly promotes? Well, for starters, it’s not working. It doesn’t take Corbett or Mahan to look at the state of the Navy, particularly the surface force, and know there is a problem. The tragic collisions of 2017 were just the latest symptoms. Farsi Island incident ring a bell? Ever heard of Fat Leonard? Even the 2016 SM-2 intercept of cruise-missile attacks by USS Mason (DDG-87) can’t be celebrated. The other DDG in company didn’t even see the missiles. Fifty percent ain’t good. Not to mention the Navy’s well-documented struggles to keep up with deployment schedules amid maintenance delays and constant operational demand. Dynamic Force Employment won’t fix everything. Not without a healthy cultural overhaul. Decades of resource and demand imbalance on leaders gave birth to a cultural rot in the Navy, forcing officers more and more just to do what it takes to get the job done, leaving little room for training, development, wellness and other tenets of the leadership models the service so proudly touts.

How long will the Navy keep trying to stuff more you-know-what in that five-pound sack? Now, even rebalancing resources with demand won’t be enough. Much like black mold, cultural rot must be addressed directly and eradicated, sometimes taking the structure down with it. Some of the Navy’s sharpest young officers already are tackling the cultural rot from the fleet, by breaking down the barriers between warfighting communities and more widely sharing knowledge. Unfortunately, the other communities may not be as welcoming of a surface force so plagued with problems. To be sure, there will be no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work. Even a millennial can see that. It also will require some senior admirals publicly addressing the problem and acknowledging that it may take as much time to fix as it took to develop. It likely won’t be solved on their watch. I’m not holding my breath.

Remember, it’s all about results.

The DoD Policy on Marijuana Finally Makes Sense, Because I Am Way High

in Epiphanies

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.

I just vaped some CBD oil, and I am out of my mind high right now. Now I totally get why DoD and the VA don’t want me, or anyone ever affiliated with U.S. national security, to get anywhere near marijuana, cannabis oil extract, hemp necklaces, patchouli, blacklight posters, or Wiz Khalifa songs.

Firing this civilian military professor for using CBD oil to help him deal with the effects of prostate cancer makes total sense now. So does Inception. Everything is so clear now.

After staring into a bowl of Lucky Charms for half an hour, I understand now why we don’t want our veterans using medical marijuana to help them overcome PTSD and recover from physical injuries. Veteran suicide and homelessness could become real problems!

No, no, my shih tzu is telling me they should stick to the medicine their doctors prescribe them, and I agree! Marijuana is just too dangerous!

Chemically altering your brain is bad, and DoD should hold the line on its current policies. Period. Now please excuse me, I have to catch a cigarette while the smoking lamp is lit, and XO ordered me to catch the sale on gallons of grain alcohol at the package store for the grog bowl at the ship’s Dining In tonight.

P.S. You know what I can’t stand? Anonymous writers taking pot shots at hard-working people (lol, sorry, terrible weed pun)! I’ll “come out” soon enough. Salty just has a few more things to say. Stay tuned!

Happy Anniversary, NAVFIT98

in Props

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Naval Institute Blog here.

Wow. Just wow. I don’t even know where to begin. I want to take a moment to recognize our favorite software, NAVFIT98, the Navy’s truly unique program for creating individual performance evaluations (definitely NOT something a fillable PDF form could do!). I’ll let you guess what ‘98’ stands for. Yes, that’s right! 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of this revolutionary software’s release (and 22 years since it was developed). While so many unstable, “flash-in-the-pan” computer programs, like Windows and iTunes, have undergone update after update, NAVFIT98 has barely changed during its dominant 20-year run. The one update that added front page and back page tabs really was gutsy, but man, oh man, did it pay off in enhanced user experience. Well played!

Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this achievement, I’ve compiled a list of things that happened after the Navy started using NAVFIT98 to document individual performance:

  • I got a driver’s license
  • Most of my sailors were born
  • We started a war in Afghanistan
  • Napster was conceived, released, sued, shut down, filed bankruptcy, acquired by Best Buy, merged with Rhapsody, and then rebranded back to Napster
  • Twelve versions of Microsoft Windows were released
  • Mark Zuckerberg went to his high school prom
  • Monica Lewinsky became a household name
  • LCS became a program of record
  • Colonel Joseph Dunford became a brigadier general
  • Commander John Richardson became a captain

This is even more impressive because NAVFIT98 has survived a nonstop barrage of negative feedback (FAKE NEWS) from whiny junior officers for two decades. “The comments and performance trait ratings are meaningless!” and “NAVFIT98 just creates busy work for raters to make sailors feel better about being ranked last!” Nonsense.

What’s really amazing is, amid all this criticism, the Navy has stayed the course not just with NAVFIT98, but with a personnel management system that prioritizes the most important attribute above all else . . . timing. The way the Navy uses NAVFIT98 to grade sailors with trait averages and promotion recommendations highlights the fact that a sailor’s time onboard a ship, or in a certain job, is more important than the sailor’s professional expertise, character, initiative, leadership, or any other form of merit. Now that’s what I call honor, courage, and commitment!

Thank goodness that despite growing calls for the Navy to abandon the “up-or-out” mentality, or to promote officers based on merit, NAVFIT98 keeps on trucking as a symbol of the Navy’s tried-and-true timing-based personnel management system. The Navy is acting quickly on pressures from Congress to reform personnel management in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. Let’s hope our admirals can resist any congressional pressure to revamp its 20 year old software! Then again, Congress holds our admirals’ advancements in their hands, so we know how that goes! Hey, I wonder if they use NAVFIT98? 😊

Here’s to you, old software!

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