Your post-military career can be a refreshing change of pace, or an opportunity to put everything you have ever done to use, testing of your faith, and the hopes and dreams of your neighbors and friends, right where you are needed.
A long time ago I was a young sailor. On a couple of occasions I recall seeing a Chief Petty Officer wearing his Dress Blues, and the hash marks (service stripes) on his sleeve ran from cuff to his elbow. One time I saw a Second Class Petty Officer in his dress blues who I joked crewed with Noah, by the years represented on his uniform. More often than not I would see “red” instead of the “gold”. For those who are unfamiliar with hash marks, or Navy uniforms, these once represented four-year periods of service (now they represent 3-years). After twelve years of “good conduct” – we earned a “Good Conduct” medal/ ribbon for each four-year period – we had the right to wear gold-threaded rating badges and hash marks on our service blues – either the “Cracker Jacks” for junior Sailors, or the Chief’s Dress Blues.
The Chief pictured here, and in particular, the Master Chief (the rating badge with two stars, red stripes, and hash marks to his elbow) seems to be a shipmate of mine from the days of Sail. However, he screwed up somewhere. Probably chewing out a junior officer over one of the Sailors – or stupidity that the Officer committed. And he didn’t get punished badly. He just didn’t earn a “Good Conduct” ribbon somewhere in the previous twelve years!
But you do not become a Master Chief Petty Officer by being a screw up. Or a “politician”. We could use a few more of these “Salty Sailors”, particularly in our universities and halls of Government. But then they would never earn gold hash marks. Too much stupidity. Too many opportunities to cuss out kids, professors and politicians for unprofessional conduct.
If we only still used “fan room” counseling.
When I chose to make the military my career, I vowed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Never in my nearly sixty years of age, did I think that, disagreements on policy priorities and governance aside, that our two-hundred forty year old nation would be so divided internally, and so poorly governed.
Since the first Gulf War, in 1991, the members of Congress in particular, and the Government bureaucrats and advisers, generally, with military service -especially wartime combat service have declined. With a world view fueled by lifelong academics with little to no experience abroad, the men and women who are seeking to “fundamentally transform America” ( then-candidate Barack Obama) do not have American interests, nor practical American foreign policy concerns at heart.
Whether it is the shortsighted foreign policy objectives or the politically-encumbered execution of military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, military men and women have been sent into harm’s way. And the bureaucrats, industrial lobbyists, politicians, academics, and news media corporations, all vie for primacy while the American soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and our border enforcement agents all are treated shabbily.
When I heard today that Jeff Bezos of Amazon donated millions to a PAC, With Honor, I started to look into it. The idea that military, particularly combat-veterans, should run for political office and senior bureaucratic offices at all levels of government, cheers me. It sounds intriguing. I have served with some who have held offices in state governments and have brought a lot of wisdom and value to serving their constituents. But with electoral campaigns running into the millions of dollars, few can compete without well-connected benefactors. There needs to be effective support systems that are independent of party affiliation. And with veterans in the workings of government, there may be better opportunity to provide well-earned services to our veterans, and to provide some sober judgement about policies that may send others into harms way.
More to come.
A story I heard today set my jaw, got my dander up, and got me to thinking what sort of incapable hands, and I am speaking of the enlisted Navy khaki community – have my Brothers and Sisters in the CPO Mess (Retired) left behind? In recent years, story after story of accidents, improper behavior (fraternization) and issues with ships, aircraft and installations continue to be reported. The Navy’s top enlisted Sailor, the MCPON, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, resigned due to allegations of improper leadership this year. And I heard today that a Sailor, who happens to be a career top performer and a person who shares my faith (and a member of my congregation), is being allegedly PERSECUTED by the unit CPO Mess for (allegedly) sharing values with another sailor. Honor? Courage? Commitment?
I have to wonder what has happened to the Navy I served for twenty-six years. For as long as people have put to sea, spiritual beliefs have gone to sea with them. For the last two centuries, members of a faith community have been guaranteed the freedom of expression, worship, and other rights, as well as equal protection under the law. I certainly understand that everyone is entitled – and in the military particularly – to believe whatever they want to believe – as long as the mission and the team performance are not negatively affected. A conscientious objector in charge of a weapons system is not expected. A polygamist or adulterer is not expected to respond to policies that define conduct which brings discredit the unit. A person with addiction, particularly to alcohol or prescription drugs, is not the model of reliability in a moment of necessary quick response or judgement.
A search online on the topic of faith and military duty will reveal articles that support that servicemen and women of faith make better and more capable members. And there has been at least one who was convicted at courts martial for refusing to obey orders to remove a display of religious quotes in her workplace. That conviction was based in part on disobedience to a lawful order, and failure to demonstrate that she had taken all the proper steps via the chain of command to remedy her particular issues.
In the case of the Sailor I heard about today, I know that conduct was not the issue. Disobedience and disrespect of a shipmate was not the issue. If good people of faith, technically capable and ethically sound, are forced out of serving in uniform, then the nation as a whole suffers. I do not expect all members of the military to share my Christian faith, nor even to have a belief in a supernatural Deity. But I have known men and women in positions of responsibility whose conduct and attitude demeaned their peers and subordinates. Some of those subordinates chose to leave the service at the end of their contracts.
Honor. Courage. Commitment. Leadership in the armed forces of the United States is a privilege. And respecting the spiritual beliefs of capable, ethical, and valuable members of the team is but one trait that an exceptional member of the Chief Petty Officer Mess can impart.
In the United States Navy, and by extension, the other military services, an individual has fairly equal opportunity to rise up the advancement ladder, and to qualify for challenging assignments. Leadership, as practiced by some I have had the great fortune to be mentored by, has been recognized by their being awarded positions among the highest authority and responsibility in that service. By mentorship I mean, demonstrating integrity, fortitude (in spite of personal hardships), a commitment to excellence and encouraging others to reach beyond “comfort” in doing.
“Every Sailor has the potential to lead. I don’t care if it’s a seaman recruit or someone higher ranking than myself. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. ” (All Hands Call, Norfolk, VA 01 May 2007)
“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other in dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself; while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.”
– LTG John M. Schofield, 1879
Ask people whether they have a dream visceral enough they want accomplished. Material possessions, security, education, or a deeply-committed and loving marital relationship. Then ask those same people if they were willing to do whatever it took, in terms of work, being sleep-deprived, learning difficult lessons, memorizing, practicing, enduring criticism and overcoming obstacles to achieve their dreams. Fewer might push on. Of that reduced number, how many would endure whatever life handed them in the pursuit of that dream, as days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years? Fewer perhaps. In an article in Forbes, a contributor has published eight traits to predict future success. These include delaying gratification, being seriously motivated and organized, believing that they make the choices which affect their outcomes, and having fortitude during adversity. Predictably, past success leads to future success.
To achieve “success”, whatever that may be in terms of the dreams one has, requires steadfast devotion. Integrity. Mental and physical toughness. And determination that there is no “giving up or giving in”. It may be an enlisted member’s goal to become an Officer or senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO). For others, it might be to earn membership into the ranks of the SEALs. The few Navy warriors who complete the BUDS training to become SEALs achieve their first qualifier. Training continues from there. Other services have their special forces as well.
But it can also be the single mother who is raising three young children, in school for a professional certification, who then cares for her children, studies all night, and maintains the family chores all at the same time. And excels. Or it can be the aging sailor with a dream to become a Chief Petty Officer who commits to every training session, early morning fitness challenge, seeks, finds and puts into practice the guidance from others with decades of leadership expertise.
“Success” can be the married young engineer, father of two, one a newborn, who spends time with his children and wife at those critical “family-building” times. Yet he is working early or into late hours, and finding innovative and productive solutions to technical challenges simultaneously.
28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[a] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. – Matthew 19: 28 -29 (NIV)
And then there are the spiritually-rewarding opportunities that define “success”. The young graduate of a university with a business degree, sought by several businesses, who voluntarily goes to aid the victims of a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian earthquake), as an unpaid volunteer for a charitable organization, finds a mission and a calling that becomes a career.
“A business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better.” –Richard Branson
Many of the most-recognized entrepreneurs today did not find instant reward and acceptance when they began. Whether it was Ray Kroc and McDonalds, or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple, or my company’s CEO, Mark Dankberg and his team, it took determination, confidence, a pursuit of excellence, and vision for the people they attracted, and the customers they served. But each built multi-billion dollar, world-changing enterprise.
Do you have the integrity, the guts, and the desire to improve others with a dream you want to achieve. Are you willing to get out of your “comfort zone” to achieve them?
Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile. Vince Lombardi
In the military, in business, school, one’s faith, family, and pursuits, leadership is a challenge that not everyone aspires. However, it is a rewarding opportunity for some who embrace it . While people may naturally recognize a person with the qualities that make a good leader, fewer know that leadership can be developed. Some confuse position with leadership, and other confuse management with leadership. Sometimes opportunity is looking for someone to lead, but fear, doubt, or improper motives get in the way of leading. What are the characteristics that identify individuals as strong leaders?
8 Characteristics of good leadership
Forbes magazine published research that examined what makes a good leader:
- Sincere enthusiasm. Belief in a company, it’s mission, its employees and its products cannot be faked and have that person succeed.
- Integrity. Giving credit where it is due, acknowledging mistakes, and putting quality ahead of the bottom line, is another.
- Excel in communication. Great leaders are effective communicators. They instruct, listen, discipline and motivate those they lead. Weakness in these areas can demotivate and generate sloppiness.
- Loyalty. Leaders are loyal to their people. It is tangible and benefits are seen in the employees having the tools and support to do their work. Leaders protect them in times of conflict or crises. And in turn, that loyalty is given back to the leader.
- Decisiveness. Leaders make decisions, take action, and calculated risks. They know that consensus -building takes much effort, creates indecisiveness and perceived weakness, and results in applying band-aids instead of solutions.
- Competent as managers. Good technicians, business people, or a skilled athlete do not translate into managing people to excel. Competence means people can inspire, mentor and direct others.
- Empowering others. Leaders can recognize and foster in others to perform, possibly make mistakes, take some risks and be creative in achieving the objective.
- Charisma. Good leaders are approachable, friendly, and sincerely care for those they lead. People follow those they respect and like.
The motivational coach who for more than twenty years has helped many succeed in business and life, Tony Robbins , adds confidence and positivity to these principles. A leader generates confidence in non-verbal ways as well, in manner of dress, maintaining eye contact when speaking to another, and practicing self-control (not fidgeting). A leader radiates positivity, focusing on that, and not negative “what ifs”.
The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. Ray Kroc
“Deckplate Leadership” and the Navy Chief
The mentorship I learned as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy underscores these principles. For more than a century, the Navy has relied on the most senior and experienced enlisted Sailors in their particular specialty, the Chief, and the wisdom and expertise of the Chiefs’ Mess, to execute the mission of the officers appointed over them. They were not only mentoring junior enlisted sailors, but also the green junior officers that were appointed in the command or unit. The training I received encompassed these mentioned characteristics. But it adds some important fundamentals:
- When a Sailor was asked “when” he became a Chief Petty Officer (leader) and was confused by the question, the seasoned Chief responded that he, himself, became a “chief” when he decided to act and think as one. He just waited for the uniform (rank) to catch up.
- A leader is not about his or her achievement, but fostering development and leadership skills in others. When a Chief empowers others, so that they succeed, this benefits that individual, the mission, and the community of leaders.
- A leader still requires the mentoring and support from other more-seasoned and successful leaders, whether through study, personal relationship (mentoring) or community of peers. The Navy Chief’s Mess, including former (retired) and current Chief Petty Officers is a community that serves this function in perpetuity.
United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Creed
During the course of this day, you have been caused to humbly accept challenge and face adversity. This you have accomplished with rare good grace. Pointless as some of these challenges may have seemed, there were valid, time-honored reasons behind each pointed barb. It was necessary to meet these hurdles with blind faith in the fellowship of Chief Petty Officers. The goal was to instill in you that trust is inherent with the donning of the uniform of a Chief. It was our intent to impress upon you that challenge is good; a great and necessary reality which cannot mar you ─ which, in fact, strengthens you.
In your future as a Chief Petty Officer, you will be forced to endure adversity far beyond that imposed upon you today. You must face each challenge and adversity with the same dignity and good grace you demonstrated today.
By experience, by performance, and by testing, you have been this day advanced to Chief Petty Officer. In the United States Navy ─ and only in the United States Navy ─ the rank of E7 carries with it unique responsibilities and privileges you are now bound to observe and expected to fulfill.
Your entire way of life is now changed. More will be expected of you; more will be demanded of you. Not because you are an E7 but because you are now a Chief Petty Officer. You have not merely been promoted one paygrade, you have joined an exclusive fellowship and, as in all fellowships, you have a special responsibility to your comrades, even as they have a special responsibility to you. This is why we in the United States Navy may maintain with pride our feelings of accomplishment once we have attained the position of Chief Petty Officer.
Your new responsibilities and privileges do not appear in print. They have no official standing; they cannot be referred to by name, number, nor file. They have existed for over 100 years, Chiefs before you have freely accepted responsibility beyond the call of printed assignment. Their actions and their performance demanded the respect of their seniors as well as their juniors.
It is now required that you be the fountain of wisdom, the ambassador of good will, the authority in personal relations as well as in technical applications. “Ask the Chief” is a household phrase in and out of the Navy. You are now the Chief.
The exalted position you have now achieved ─ and the word exalted is used advisedly ─ exists because of the attitude and performance of the Chiefs before you. It shall exist only as long as you and your fellow Chiefs maintain these standards.
It was our intention that you never forget this day. It was our intention to test you, to try you, and to accept you. Your performance has assured us that you will wear “the hat” with the same pride as your comrades in arms before you.
We take a deep and sincere pleasure in clasping your hand, and accepting you as a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy.
Quotes obtained from http://www.brainyquote.com
Image: (top row, l. to r.): Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandi, John D. Rockefeller; (bottom row, l. to r. ): Steve Jobs, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein.
#2. If you’re gonna be stupid, you’re gonna be strong!
Flashback to 1977
My Navy career had a lot of great life, management, and leadership lessons. Many are undecipherable to those who have not been in military service but range from teamwork, testing physical and mental limits, courage, decision-making, and taking responsibility before being given authority. In Navy boot camp, the first thing learned is obedience to authority. Line up, no talking, do not move, and other commands. A second is quickly having situational awareness, introduced to recruits around 0400 (4 AM) on their first morning with a barracks wakeup. On my first morning, a metal trash can was hurled clattering across the floor. That, and a simultaneous yell of “Get your @#$ up!”, by the Company Commander.
For 9 weeks recruits are converted from civilians into military service men and women. Attention to detail was another lesson. A military uniform is worn is a precise manner and everything from stray threads to “gig lines” – proper alignment – and cleanliness are inspected. Deviations from the expectation often result in exercise – pushups, situps, 8-count body-builders. In addition, some “special attention” is paid, verbally, to the offender. However, everyone in the unit is afforded the same attention. To build cohesion, the expectation is for others in the unit to help their shipmate improve for the good of the unit as a whole. Making one’s bed, or rack, had to be done in an equally precise manner. Proper stowage of uniform items is also according to regulations. It was the proper folding and stowage of underwear that earned me “special attention”. I had reversed the left-right folds prescribed by the company commander. For that and other misunderstandings, I became the “Polack” – an endearing term – to the company commander until I graduated and became a “Shipmate”.
Thirty years later (2005)
Half a lifetime later, I was again in training. This time it was as a Navy Reservist selected for advancement to Chief Petty Officer (CPO). There is a century and a quarter of tradition in the Chief Petty Officer ranks, where these senior enlisted men and women train and mentor enlisted sailors and junior officers. Officers provide the mission and the direction. Chiefs take their direction and delegate the execution to sailors they place in charge of their division. Chiefs oversee their divisional petty officers, and they in turn, place more junior petty officers in charge of division Workcenters made up of several sailors. The purpose is to identify and mentor sailors to gain leadership skills and advance up through the ranks. To be a trusted member of the Chiefs’ Mess, a First Class Petty Officer, who may be technically proficient, has to be trained to think and act, not for self-promotion, but to delegate and mentor more junior sailors. Also, it is a Chief who deflects criticism, rebuke or conflicting directions given by a junior officer to an enlisted person in their division. It is the Chief who relies on advice from the years of expertise within the Chiefs’ Mess, to lead sailors, handle interpersonal conflicts, maintain discipline, and mentor junior officers to perform to the Commanding Officer’s expectation of warfighting proficiency.
As a Chief Petty Officer Selectee, prior to the promotion ceremony each September, each undergoes a period of training (exercise, team-building, lessons in leadership, traditions and CPO history) and builds camaraderie within the Mess. This formally begins when selection results are reported. And there are invitations to Chief Petty Officers, both on Active Duty and Retired to participate in the “Season” to build the sense of identity as a Mess.
To this very day, I still chuckle over the introduction of our trainer, a Chief Petty Officer who carried a bullhorn with a frequently-used siren. He combined exercise with Question and Answer sessions. We had “homework” every day, including Navy lore, songs, and so forth. We were supposed to share everything we learned and help our fellow Selectees with tasks and such. If we “failed” the answer or task, our trainer had a memorable response:
“If yer (sic) gonna be STUPID, yer gonna be STRONG!”
And then, “DOWN and give me twenty (push ups)!”
Everybody laughed, labored, and “suffered” together but everyone learned. And everyone got stronger, leaner and became a member of the Mess. But then, in the last ten years, politics, social pressures, and a lack of clear direction ( a military needs clear objectives), also affected the leadership at the deckplates. But being a member of the CPO Mess, “Chief Petty Officer, United States Navy”, is the recognition I will treasure for life.
I think a lot of the issues that were reported during the last ten or fifteen years within the leadership – the Chiefs and the Officer community – was due to abandonment or at least a minimalist approach, to training the Chief Petty Officers and mentoring junior officers. I hear it is returning to the tried and true.