Monday, September 12, 2011

Captain McCain, the floor is yours

Forget your politics. Just for a moment - I will.

Look at the below - then read it all.
My grandfather, who commanded a carrier task force in the Pacific during WWII, lived large and was always larger than life to me. He rolled his own cigarettes, smoked constantly, swore and drank more than he should have. He was known as one of the Navy’s best cussers, probably not the sort of recognition one would want today. ‘Slew’ was his call sign. James Michener described him in Tales of the South Pacific as ‘an ugly old aviator’ but he was more than that, especially to his men. He was revered for his gregarious, salty attitude, and for his keen interest in his sailors and their thoughts on just about any subject. He made it a point to talk with pilots after they returned from a strike, asking them, ‘Do you think we’re doing the right thing?’ Here was a 3-star admiral, taking time during the course of war to receive honest feedback from men under his command. My grandfather knew that if you ever stopped learning, especially from your men, then you also stopped leading. And he knew how to lead.

“Today, we hear a lot about ‘management’ and not enough about leadership. That worries me. One thing of which I am certain – there is a great difference between managers and leaders. Good managers are plentiful – in fact, our nation graduates over 150,000 MBAs ever year. But true leaders are rare. And believe me, there is a difference

--Leaders inspire people; managers, well, they “manage” people and assets.

--Leaders think about protecting and promoting their people; managers think about protecting their own careers.

--Leaders take charge and accept responsibility; managers often pass the buck to higher authority for fear of making a wrong decision.

--Leaders take risks when necessary; managers are taught to avoid risks whenever possible.

“Ronald Reagan was a leader – Jimmy Carter was a manager.
“My father – who was not an aviator but knew something about leadership – used to say that technical experts are a ‘dime a dozen’. You can always find a man who can tell you how many foot-pounds of force are in a piston, or what the aerodynamic effects on a plane will be at a certain airspeed and altitude. But, he said, ‘The business of leadership is another matter entirely. It’s one of the most difficult subjects there is – to inspire in people subordinate to you, the desire to do a better job.’ That is where true leadership trumps management – in the art of inspiring others to perform far beyond their self-imposed limits.

“In recent years, I have often wondered if we have forgotten some of the more salient lessons of history, particularly as they apply to the development and selection of our military leaders. Have we allowed ourselves to be knocked off course to the point that we strive now to produce the ‘ideal manager’ rather than the next generation of true leaders? Have we focused too much on the strategy and tactics of the battle – and not enough on the leadership skills of those who really decided the outcome, not just at Midway, but at countless other critical battles throughout the past century?

“I am at heart, and always will be, a Naval Aviator. It was my first profession and will always be my favorite. And just in case there is someone here tonight who does not understand why I place so much emphasis on leadership over management, let me be clear. The very nature of our profession demands it. No manager, however competent, will ever be able to inspire people to endure the hardships and make the sacrifices that we all know must come with Naval Aviation. Enduring those hardships and making those sacrifices is the price we pay for the privilege of defending our great nation.

Now, I'm going to get a drink; I think I have a cigar somewhere ...

Hat tip Paul.
UPDATE: Having slept on it ... I've had a few thoughts. All this happened on his watch. Ditto Webb. Even though John Lehman (interesting article in last month's USNI Proceedings) has been out of power - he hasn't lost influence.

The CAPT today were junior officers in Tailhook. Many of the Flag Officers were LCDR and above - they got the message just fine. No one stood up for them when things were tough. If you think "we" as a Navy have lost something - then look to yourselves. You allowed outside - and inside - forces use the officer corps as their own little socio/political experiment. You let the bullies win. Where were you?


John said...

Nice speech and to the point.  And he has the scars to prove his bona fides to speak on the subject, although I am disappointed he did not mention VADM Stockdale among his examples.

Now, what did Sen./CAPT McCain say when CAPT O.P. Honors was hounded off Enterprise to be scarificed on the altar of political correctness?

And for that matter we can look at the many other senior officers close to the situation at the time of the alleged "offenses" and when they were "revealed" in a slimey way.   Sad to say, we did not see much evidence of leadership at all, other than to race to win the approbation of the politically connected or politically correct.

Indeed, when did we last see truly great leadership from senior naval officers in recent years.  I am sure there are some, perhaps even many examples, and being far from the fleet in time and distance I am just not aware of them.

There are many examples at the junior levels- especially in the Spec War community, but how about at the CO and above levels? 

The impact on advancing leadership, or retarding it should be a consideration when it is time to cut individuals and offices and programs when the budget axe falls. 

And finally, I thank our host for providing a great service to the Navy with his blog comments here, and especially his Full Bore Friday pieces to inspire potential leaders and honor those of the past.   And, his weekly exposure of the repugnant actions of teh Diversity Bullies serves equally to throw the spotlight of shame on those impacting leadership in a negative way.

The Usual Suspect said...

Here is the most salient point of McCain's address;

<span>“So as we celebrate the centennial of Naval Aviation and begin to contemplate the next 100 years, I encourage all of you to look back on those who led us through our first century.  I urge you to study their lives and their leadership styles.  Then strive to be like them.  Learn to inspire the men and women who work for you.  Learn to lift them up, to give them meaningful responsibility, to allow them room to grow, and yes, even to make mistakes.   Be slow to judge, and remember that many of our most gifted leaders would never have survived in a ‘one strike’ or ‘zero defect’ environment.  If instead, your style is to be quick to criticize, slow to praise, and you are unwilling to forgive, I urge you to seek a different profession.  And if you have not yet learned the power of redemption, I encourage you to read the biographies of Nimitz, Halsey, Boyington, Henderson, McClusky, and Waldron – just to name a few. </span>

butch said...

1 - Is there any way in hell Slew would have made it to flag rank in today's environment?

2 - The key difference between leaders & managers: you can't manage somebody into laying down his life.

butch said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: today's crop of FOGOs couldn't carry the jockstraps of our WWII FOGOs.  And I think deep down, they know it.

Actus Rhesus said...

Wearing a khaki jacket will never make Mullen into Nimitz.

In my Naval Career I have had faith in my chain of command only twice.

My current billet and my IA...and in half of those instances, I was working for the Army.

bullnav said...

How about Halsey? 

SouthernAP said...

Any one of the leaders from WW2, Korea, and Vietnam never would have screened properly for command in today's atmosphere in this era of being a business major not a war fighter major.

Sean said...


You make a point at the end that I have thought about quite a bit lately. I was a JO when Tailhook hit the Navy and my strongest memory is of being required to do a day long training session on sexual harassment at the command. The fact that we were a single sex command apparently did not bother anyone from altering the syllabus. Within a year I was out and from all accounts it only got worse.

Would it have been better if I had stayed in? Could I have made a difference? I would like to think the answer is yes but having gone through similar experiences in the civilian world I have learned that there is only so much you can do when the organization decides to drive off the cliff. Pointing put the obvious rarely wins you any kudos. No one likes a Cassandra...

But it is personally disturbing to me that the Senior Leadership in Navy are year group classmates of mine who should know better. This is NOT the Navy we joined 2 or 3 decades ago and we have ourselves to blame for what has happened. We did this to ourselves or we allowed it to happen on our watch.

The only hope I have is that we might just turn it around. I hope it is not too late.

Bubba said...

Barney Greenwald:  I've got a guilty conscience. I thought the wrong man was on trial, so I torpedoed Queeg for you. I had to torpedo him. And I feel sick about it. When I was studying law, and Mr. Keefer was writing his stories, - and Willie was tearing up the playing fields of Princeton, - who was standing guard over this country of ours?

Not us. We knew you couldn't make any money in the service. Who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did, and a lot of other guys. Tough guys, who didn't crack up like Queeg.

You don't work with the captain because of his hairstyle, - but because he's got the job, or you're no good. 

Herman Wouk The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial

NAnonymous said...

When I heard Sen. McCain was speaking at the banquet, i was glad that I brought my suit and was able to get tickets.  The speech was great and was exactly what the JOs in the room needed to hear.

FDNF'er said...

A good friend of mine recently went through the Department Head Leadership course and one of the articles they had to discuss was the report on Capt Honors acting career. While he crossed a line and did go too far with some of the skits, he attempted to lead. I would have followed him anywhere as he inspired his crew and maintained a high morale throughout the ship. He was a leader who made a poor decision 5 years ago and was destroyed by the cult of managers above him. The manager that replaced him destroyed morale to a point where the DoD suicide prevention team (they came out after the E had 2 sucessful and 3 unsucessful attempts over 4 months) said they had never seen a unit with such poor cohesion and morale. Will the new CNO embrace leadership or management? I think we know what to expect.

Stu said...

They absolutely know it.  

Stu said...

As a JO, post Tailhook but not to far after, I had my final FITREP debrief with the Skipper (who was a weasel).  He told me that that I spoke my mind too much, laughed and carried on too much but I was the best in the plane, had the leadership skills and were it a war time environment that I would be the guy he would send to get the mission done without question.  But, since we were in get the picture.

While not on the scale of Senator McCain, I am a legacy as well with few stars in my family and two other Aviators from back in the day.  I'm just happy I don't have to look them in the face considering what has been done to both our Navy and Naval Aviation.  I'd be embarrassed.  It's a damn shame.  

Mark T said...

I would argue none of those heroes would have wanted to stay. One look at the people who were pushing diversity, LCS, or minimum manning, none of which are warfighters btw, would have pushed them to the civilian world in disgust, IMHO...

Mark T said...

Totally concur, I am saddened we have yet to see a new revolt of the flags, the loudest noise in this mess is the hollow ring of senior leaders doing nothing.