|It's Your Ship
Chapter One: Take Command
MY FIRST INKLING OF THE SIZE OF THE JOB CAME AT 1:21 in the afternoon of June 20, 1997, after I formally assumed command of USS Benfold.
When a Navy ship changes hands, all routine work stops two weeks prior to the event. The crew paints the ship from top to bottom, sets up a big tent on the flight deck, arranges chairs for dignitaries, and unrolls a red carpet for the obligatory admiral, who delivers a speech on the outstanding performance of the ship's departing skipper. A reception follows. Waves of good feeling saturate the event as the former commanding officer is piped ashore.
My predecessor was accompanied by his family as he left the ship. And when the public address system announced his final departure, much of the crew was not disappointed to see him go. I can still feel my face flushing with embarrassment when I remember how some didn't give him a respectful send off.
Truthfully, my first thought as I watched this spectacle was about myself. How could I ensure that my eventual departure wouldn't be met with relief when I left the ship in two years? I was taking over a very tough crew who didn't exactly adore their captain. That was okay; being likable is not high among a ship captain's job requirements. What is essential is to be respected, trusted, and effective. Listening to those raucous jeers, I realized that I had a long way to go before I really took command of Benfold.
I knew that I would have to come up with a new leadership model, geared to a new era. And this awkward reception underlined for me just how much the workplace had changed in military as well as in civilian life.
Never before had employees felt so free to tell their bosses what they thought of them. In the long economic boom, people were not afraid of losing their jobs. Other jobs awaited them; even modestly qualified people moved from one company to another in a quest for the perfect position they believed they richly deserved.
However the economy is doing, a challenge for leaders in the twenty first century is attracting and retaining not just employees, but the best employees more important, how to motivate them so that they work with passion, energy, and enthusiasm. But very few people with brains, skills, and initiative appear. The timeless challenge in the real world is to help less talented people transcend their limitations.
Pondering all this in the context of my post as the new captain of Benfold, I read some exit surveys, interviews conducted by the military to find out why people are leaving. I assumed that low pay would be the first reason, but in fact it was fifth. The top reason was not being treated with respect or dignity; second was being prevented from making an impact on the organization; third, not being listened to; and fourth, not being rewarded with more responsibility. Talk about an eye opener.
Further research disclosed an unexpected parallel with civilian life. According to a recent survey, low pay is also number five on the list of reasons why private employees jump from one company to another. And the top four reasons are virtually the same as in the military. The inescapable conclusion is that, as leaders, we are all doing the same wrong things.
Since a ship's captain can't hand out pay raises, much less stock options, I decided that during my two years commanding Benfold, I would concentrate on dealing with the unhappy sailors' top four gripes. My organizing principle was simple: The key to being a successful skipper is to see the ship through the eyes of the crew. Only then can you find out what's really wrong and, in so doing, help the sailors empower themselves to fix it.
A simple principle, yes, but one the Navy applauds in theory and rejects in practice. In short, the system rewards micromanagement by superiors the cost of disempowering those below. This is understandable, given the military's ancient insistence on obedience in the face of chaos, which is essential in battle. Moreover, subordinates may sidestep responsibility by reasoning that their managers are paid to take the rap.
A ship commanded by a micromanager and his or her hierarchy of sub micromanagers is no breeding ground for individual initiative. And I was aiming for 310 initiative takers a crew ready, able, and willing to make Benfold the top rated ship in the fleet.
What I wanted, in fact, was a crew that bore at least a dim resemblance to the ship's namesake, Edward C. Benfold, a Navy hospital corpsman who died in action at the age of twenty one while tending to Coach handbags outlet two wounded Marines in a foxhole during the Korean War. When several enemy soldiers approached the foxhole, throwing grenades into it, Benfold picked up the grenades and stormed the enemy, killing them and himself in the process. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. (Incidentally, he came from the small town of Audubon, New Jersey, which has two other Medal of Honor winners as well, making it the highest per capita Medal of Honor city in the United States.) I wanted my crew to display courage and step up to the plate just as Edward Benfold had done.
We had nowhere to go but up. Still, up is not an easy direction. It defies Coach purses outlet gravity, both cultural and magnetic. So the Benfold story is hardly a hymn to our unalloyed success in converting the heathen. It was tough going. But instead of constantly scrutinizing the members of my crew with the presumption that they would screw up, I assumed that they wanted to do well and be the best. I wanted everyone to be involved in the common cause of creating the best ship in the Pacific Fleet. And why stop there? Let's shoot for the best damn ship in the whole damn Navy!
I began with the idea that there is always a better way to do things, and that, contrary to tradition, the crew's insights might be more profound than even the captain's. Accordingly, we spent several months analyzing every process on the ship. I asked everyone, "Is there a better way to do what you do?" Time after time, the answer was yes, and many of the answers were revelations to me.
My second assumption was that the secret to lasting change is to implement processes that people will enjoy carrying out. To that end, I focused my leadership efforts on encouraging people not only to find better ways to do their jobs, but also to have fun as they did them. And sometimes a lot of times encouraged them to have fun for Cheap nhl jerseys fun's sake.
Little gestures go a long way. At our base in San Diego, for example, I decided to quit feeding the crew with official Navy rations, and instead used the ship's food budget to buy quality civilian brands that were cheaper as well as tastier. I sent some of our cooks to culinary school. What they learned turned Benfold into a lunchtime mecca for sailors from all over the San Diego base.
There were also our music videos, courtesy of stealth technology. We have all heard of the stealth bomber. We are now building ships using stealth characteristics to minimize our radar signature so that the enemy cannot easily find us. By using angled decks and radar absorbing materials on the hull, an enemy's radar beam is either deflected or absorbed. As a result, an 8,600 ton, 505 foot long destroyer looks no bigger on an enemy's radar screen than a fishing boat. The angled superstructure that stealth technology dictated on the after part of Benfold resembles the screen of an old drive in movie theater. So one of my more resourceful sailors created outdoor entertainment by projecting music videos on that surface, which the refueling crews could enjoy. The shows generated a lot of buzz throughout the fleet and lightened up a tedious and sometimes dangerous job.
While spending thirty five interminable autumn days in the scorching Persian Gulf, we acquired a lifeboat full of pumpkins, a fruit alien to the Middle East. Our supply officer pulled off this coup, and I thought it would be micromanaging to ask for an explanation. After we overdosed on pumpkin pie, we distributed scores of unused pumpkins for a jack o' lantern carving contest.
The innovations weren't all lighthearted. On our way from San Diego to the Persian Nfl jerseys from china Gulf, for example, our first stop was Honolulu. Benfold accompanied two other ships, USS Gary and USS Harry W. Hill, both skippered by officers senior to me. The operational commander of all three ships was a commodore aboard Hill.
During the seven day voyage, we performed exercises and drills. submarine that was posing as an enemy. The submarine's task was to find and sink the ship carrying the commodore. Though the commanding officer of Gary was in charge of this particular exercise, because of his seniority, three days prior to the exercise no plan had yet been announced, and I sensed an opportunity. In business lingo, you could say Benfold's crew had a chance to boost the ship's market share.
I called my junior sonarmen into my stateroom, along with the appropriate officers to serve as witnesses, and assigned them the task of coming up with an innovative plan. I told them to put themselves in the shoes of the submarine's commanding officer (CO), to figure out what he was going to do, and then to develop a strategy to scupper it.
To everyone's surprise mine devised the most imaginative plan I had ever seen. We submitted it, but both the commodore and Gary's CO shot it down in favor of a last minute plan based on the same tactics the Navy has been using since World War II. Now more than ever, we must stop preparing for past battles and prepare for new ones.
When I heard their decision, I went ballistic. Forcefully, almost disrespectfully, I argued with them on the ship to ship radio. The radio is a secure circuit, but also a party line that any sailor can listen to by punching the right button, which all of my sailors did. They heard me challenge my bosses to try something new and bold. I was told in no uncertain terms that we would use Gary's plan. I asked for an NFL instant replay, appealing the decision. Nope. Tradition, plus outmoded business practices, carried the day.
As a result, the submarine sank all three of us its crew breaking a sweat. Talk about dejection. But my sailors knew that I had gone to bat for them. I could not do less: They had done the same for me by designing such innovative solutions.
The next day, we were scheduled to pull into Pearl Harbor. Navy ships arrive ashore and depart for sea in order of the date of rank of their commanding officers, another archaic monument to tradition. I was the junior commanding officer on our three ships, so Benfold was scheduled to arrive last, at 1700 hours in the late afternoon, and depart first at 0700 the next morning, on our way to Singapore.