Professionalism and Leader Development

RADM Gardner Howe, President of the Naval War College, recently sent an email for wide distribution that I thought would make a good professional development blog post. It provides perspectives on command from two different points in history: the eve of WW2 and just a few years ago. There are questions at the end of the post to prompt additional reflection.
I have provided links to the two perspectives provided by RADM Howe as well as the file he included that is a comparison of a profession vs. a bureaucracy. At the end of this post are some questions to consider. Something to consider that I have also come across in my dissertation research is the ways in which value statements like you will read in the attachments are based on unstated assumptions about what it means to be a member of a group (Navy leaders in this case), are often outcome driven and gloss over the complexity and difficulties of relationships within them. We seldom talk about these ambiguities and value conflicts in our profession and leave it to individuals to sort out for themselves. While this is not necessarily a bad thing for personal development, naval officers seldom have opportunities to compare what they think about these things to senior leaders' perspective. I think that is why I often found it fascinating when a senior leader would go "off script" and talk about his or her personal views and sensemaking. I found these very brief episodes, these mental peeks at their "man behind the curtain," fascinating. In my experience, most engineers and senior leaders have to be prompted to go off script, it does not seem to occur naturally for many unless you are a blabber mouth like me, which carries its own risks.

-- CINCLANT Serial 053 of January 21, 1941 “Exercise of Command- Excess of Details in Orders and Instructions” (ADM King)

In 1941, eleven months before the United States entered the Second World War, Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet sent a one-page memo to commanders in his command. He believed that there was too much guidance being given to subordinates resulting in diminished leader development as the Navy faced the likelihood of war.

-- CNO Ser N00/100107 8 Nov 2011 “The Charge of Command” (ADM Greenert)

In 2011, seeking to ensure the highest levels of leadership, professionalism, and exemplary conduct for Navy commanders,  CNOs Admiral Roughhead and Greenert issued “The Charge of Command” that articulated their understanding of the authorities and responsibilities of command universal to all commanding officers: exemplary personal and professional conduct, being trustworthy, and accountability for performance.

-- Profession vs. Bureaucracy Chart (Don Snider, 2005)

The comparison of a profession vs. a bureaucracy is very subjective. The Navy, as with any large organization, is both. It is not clear what the basis of the statements are, if any, beyond the opinion of someone. This is not criticism of what is in the table, but it is hard to critically evaluate the statements from a brief excerpt alone.

Questions to consider (better done in groups after individual reflection):

  • How applicable would those you lead say ADM King's words are to their everyday experience? 
  • How do ADM King's words conflict with other messages Navyleaders send?
  • Is command as an Engineering Duty Officer different than command of a warfighting platform? What does that mean to you and how you intend to exercise command?
  • Do you consider yourself a steward to ensure the professional character of our military remains our primary character? If so, how do you do this?
  • What actions are you taking to further our profession, develop our people, and integrate professionalism with bureaucracy?
  • How will you manage the tension between what you are *required* to do to support the bureaucracy (attending meetings, providing status, meeting administrative requirements) and what you *need* to do to sustain the profession (mentoring, development, letting people make decisions and exercise their discretion)? If you don't have a list of concrete behaviors, then I assert you don't really know.
  • In some aspect of your job for which you alone are accountable (hard to find in many organizations), how does your specific performance demonstrate professional competence worthy of trust?
  • Ten years after you retire, will anyone that served with you say you made a difference? How? 

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