Monday, July 16, 2012

Power vs. Stewardship

Packed away in one of my boxes is a speech I outlined back in 2004. It was concerning a concept, a word, that with the last few generations we seem to have forgotten about.

This forgetfulness manifests itself in different ways and in different degrees throughout history’s path. This isn't the first time - but in our living memory it is acute.

It was on a word that is both a concept and a worldview; stewardship. I can’t find my outlined speech, but I was reminded of it Friday when I read this line from David Brooks article, Why Our Elites Stink:
… today’s elite lacks the self-conscious leadership ethos that the … old boys’ network did possess. If you went to Groton a century ago, you knew you were privileged. You were taught how morally precarious privilege was and how much responsibility it entailed. You were housed in a spartan 6-foot-by-9-foot cubicle to prepare you for the rigors of leadership. The best of the WASP elites had a stewardship mentality, that they were temporary caretakers of institutions that would span generations. … they … believe(d) in restraint, reticence and service.

Today’s elite is more talented and open but lacks a self-conscious leadership code. The language of meritocracy (how to succeed) has eclipsed the language of morality (how to be virtuous).
Stewardship in question is defined as;
\ˈstü-ərd-ˌship, ˈstyü-; ˈst(y)u̇rd-\
2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care
Stewardship in practice is something more, something deeper. Stewardship is more often than not a hidden thing, an undercurrent.

A person or an organization who practices good stewardship often does so without being noticed by those looking for the "flash" for the squirrel that is all so interesting. Stewardship isn’t flashy, it isn’t zippy, it isn’t apparent – it just is. Good stewardship is, “what it should be.” One does not see it, as it is expected.

Many failings we see, from painting over rust, to selecting the best case scenario to plan from, to having a command climate that only allows concurrence – all derive from a desire to have the appearance of stewardship, but to not suffer the effort of actually practicing it. It is easier to paint than to do preservation. It is easier to ignore risk than to mitigate it. It is easier to say “yes” and let someone else’s PCS cycle clean up, than say “no” and work towards a better solution for others to enjoy.

That is the difference between being inwardly focused towards self, vice outwardly focused towards the institution. It is the difference between a love of the narcissism of now, vice the respect of the legacy of stewardship.

Where is our focus, and what is the focus of our Commands? Do we have the personnel, funds, and time to properly take care of our equipment – or do we simply slap some paint on it? Are all the spaces well taken care of – or only those that will be seen immediately? Do we have our ships in the best condition for the stage of the cycle they are in, or do we have “Tiger Teams” that rush to get things INSURV ready? Are we in an organization that never wants to CASREP an important item, or one that CASREPS now to make sure those in the future are ready? “Now” doesn’t, as that might imply up the chain of command something negative. “Stewardship” does as they know that it is the future that matters, not the now.

Here and at Midrats, we’ve discussed the General Board and the successful programs of the past. Is a General Board part of a culture of stewardship? Would a new General Board be the answer to the system that brought us the parade of program horrors of the last decade? Perhaps, it all depends though on who is on the board, what their charter is, and what the focus is of the individuals and the board.

Regardless if we have a new General Board or the system we have now, it isn’t the name that is so important, but the mindset of the individuals who make it up. If we have people who are directly or indirectly ear-deep in the food-trough, we will have no improvement. If we have people who continue to promote the plague of buzzwords, repackaged concepts, and a historically ignorant transformationalist mentality, we will have no improvement.

The intellectual adhesions we have accrued over the last few decades must be broken. Just taking the next group off the established conveyor belt that gave us everything else will not get different results.

Let’s get back to Brook’s article. Where is the sense of an ethos of stewardship in some of our decisions? In the 1990s – was a culture of stewardship responsible for the half-baked JFK yard period? Was it stewardship that in both name and concept ignored decades of history in the development of LCS? Was it stewardship that allowed LPD-17 & DDG-1000 cost to saddle future budgets?

What was it then that brought these and others? What is the underlying intellectual basis of our decision making processes? Are our leaders focused on building a legacy for themselves, or for those who follow?

William F. Buckley had a phrase,
“I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.”
He knew his "elites." What about our elites?

What results, priorities, and D&G would you get by pulling the first 40 officers coming through the gate a Norfolk? Would their decisions have been any better or worse than those of the last decade and a half?


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