June 28, 2010


Just in time for FOD, another guest post by Ron.

Within two or three years after I joined the Navy, I decided that I could do at least as good a job, if not actually better, as most of the junior officers I encountered. So instead of bitching and moaning about how screwed up things were or how stupid the commissioned and non-commissioned officers above me apparently were, I decided to work within the system and prove it.

When it came to junior officers like enswines and JG's, I used to think that they went to college to learn how to be stupid. Most of the lifers I met, I thought stayed in because they couldn't make it in civilian life. Admittedly, I was in the Gator Navy, and I think they dumped a lot of the dregs there. The only enlisted men that were good in their jobs, with a few exceptions, were the four and out guys like me.

Before long I found myself commissioned, or in other words, one of "them." That was the "put up or shut up" moment, when suddenly I was standing there in front of 23 young men, all highly trained technicians, with two senior non-coms beside me as my assistants.

For the next 15 years, I managed men, money, materials, and missions. The experience taught me many things about responsibility, ethics, accountability, and leadership. Here are a few:

Probably the most fundamental aspect of leadership is making decisions, and sometimes the person in charge simply cannot be expected to have the necessary facts and experience to make certain decisions at crucial moments. In such cases, the only reasonable approach is to ask trained experts who DO have the necessary facts and experience. When they've given their inputs (and several is usually better than just one or two), the leader's job is to assess those inputs, discard the hysterical, the ludicrous, the emotional, and go with the most practical, logical, and promising.

And then, if immediate action is required, the dynamic leader gives the order and takes responsibility for it. If things work out successfully, the effective leader then shares the praise amongst those who gave counsel and those who solved the problem as directed, sooner or later saying something like, "We did a good job on that one" and then tells everybody to finish up their paperwork and go home.

When the decision was flawed, or critical data weren't available at the time it was made, the good leader then says something like, "Well, I blew it on that one, guys, but I won't make that mistake again. Let's get in there and fix it."

All of that assumes that the leader has the proper people, with the proper training, and the proper equipment, and the proper experience, and the proper funding to do what the decision requires for satisfactory completion. The leader's job is not to actually load and fire the artillery, or load and drive the truck, or load and operate the computer, but to make sure the people assigned those tasks have the necessary training, the necessary tools, the necessary practice, and the necessary logistics and hardware to make it all happen.

In other words, the leader's job is to ensure that the supervisors, the technicians, the clerks, the communicators . . . everybody involved, even peripherally . . . have the schools, the experience, the means, the flexibility, the paper clips, the band-aids, the Sharpies, the sim cards and then get the hell out of their way and let them do their jobs. And when the supervisors or middle managers get into turf wars or pissing contests, the leader puts on the striped shirt and blows the ref's whistle to calm them down so things can be untangled and get back on track.

That's the way Reagan ran things. He knew when to play zebra. So did Dubya, except that he didn't pick his advisors as expertly as Reagan did. Nixon tried to micromanage, and he failed. Carter tried to penny-pinch, and he failed. Clinton generally stayed out of the way and basked in bright successes of Reagan's policies.

The person chosen by more than 50% of those who voted in the last general election has surrounded himself with political cronies, tax evaders, professors, and socialists, none of whom have the necessary training, experience, or real-world skills to advise him effectively on handling anything more tricky than a state dinner or photo-op.

Leadership brings with it power over other peoples' lives and assets. It can be like a drug, and the would-be leader must know if that narcotic will be a steadying influence, an enervating downer, or a runaway stimulant that will trigger paranoia and narcissism. Some people feel restricted or ensnared by responsibility; some are elated by it and become giddy and euphoric; others are awed by it and quickly develop a sense of duty and morality just from having it. Some are honored by it, some feel obligated by it, and some decide that they are entitled by it.

I believe that Harry Truman was honored by it, George Bush felt obligated by it, and both Slick and The Halfrican believe it is license to primp and preen and posture and profit by it.

Assessing the effectiveness of a leader is all about achievements and results, not about being popular or entertaining sports figures or making speeches. It's also not about being attractive, or being photogenic, or being able to smoothly and resoundingly read words that someone else has written. The president of the United States of America has more important items on his menu than impressing foreign dignitaries or influencing important people -- that's just simple flattery, and that's what staff members and ambassadors are for anyway.

Leadership is either having or quickly developing the ability to see the "big picture" and know when a decision must be made immediately and when it can be put off until more facts become available. Put another way, any person who rises to head a large organization must be able to recognize and deal with a problem before it deteriorates into a catastrophe. Simply being in the position of authority and telling people to do things is not good enough; the things they're told to do must be the right things, at least most of the time.

What an effective leader does is assign priorities to issues, then assign properly equipped specialists to handle them. The effective manager then becomes a director, a teacher, a counselor, a drill instructor, a coach . . . whatever is necessary to instill the attitudes and discipline necessary for getting the desired results from those specialists taking care of the situations before they become insoluble.

A good leader shouldn't need to give speeches as much as chair discussions. What a truly good and effective leader winds up doing is extracting extraordinary results from what started out as ordinary people.

The person currently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has not yet learned to lead by example, primarily because he has never had to operate, or manage, or lead anything in his life. One day, perhaps, he might have that epiphanic moment in which he understands that management is doing things right, and leadership is doing the right things.

A Truman he is not. A Dubya he is not. A Reagan he is not. In fact, he's not even a Clinton, and it's doubtful he'll accomplish any more than Fillmore, Wilson, or Carter.

Let's hope, since he seems hellbent on destroying this country and its economy.

Posted by denny at June 28, 2010 02:09 PM  

Leadership 101......

Ron, right on as usual.....I had a Director who knew just what you have put out for consideration.He hired the best people to work under him & handle the various people, projects & problems. He was an Indian National who came to this country & stayed , he recognized early on if he let his team do their respective jobs it was logical to assume they would accomplish their assigned tasks & he would recieve the same congratulations for a job well done.

What Uni told me when I was first hired is he knew from my education,training & background I was more then qualified for the position he entrusted me with. He said I would be given the leeway to do this job without micro-management from him looking over my shoulder or second guessing. He asked only that I give 110% , be honest & not give him any nasty surpises. Lastly he said if it was ever neccessary for him to interfere , it would only be because I was not performing to the professional level he was expecting & that would not be good news.

I worked for him 16 years, recieved several promotions with substantial merit based raises each & every year. I respected him greatly & always went above & beyond to meet his expectations. He lead his Department by allowing his people to rise above their expectations & excel thruout the company.

All good things come to an end, he was forced into early retirement when our Company was bought out, several flunkies & professional yes men attempted to fill his shoes unsuccessfully .....eventually all of us in middle management positions were encouraged to accept early retirement ,predictibly the plant closed & ultimately relocated to Mexico. A 100 year company & world leader in its field faded into oblivion.

Uni is gone now, his leadership skills forgotton by many , but those of us who worked with & for him have not forgot.....we owe much of our success to him & never will let his example fade from our memories. Rest in peace my Friend & Mentor.

Posted by: dudley1 on June 28, 2010 07:11 PM

Teddy, Wilson, FDR, Johnson, Carter and now Earflaps accomplished a hell of a lot. As far as the progressive/communist movement is concerned.

Posted by: kerrcarto on June 28, 2010 10:15 PM

Denny, I commend to your attention the phrase "energetic stupidity" or "energetically stupid officer".

Place those phrases in conjunction with Ron's most excellent comment, and you have... our Fearless, Peerless Community Organizer Leader.

Truman (or JF Kennedy, even), he ain't.

Posted by: Ward Gerlach on June 28, 2010 10:26 PM

I enjoy the shit out of Ron's posts. Does he have a blog? If so, can I get the link?

Posted by: Lumpy on June 29, 2010 07:47 AM

Thanks, Denny, for giving some exposure to Ron's thoughts. I'm in awe of his ability to lay it out so clearly that even a dummy such as myself realizes how all the ideas bouncing around in my head should tie together.
This is a great place for a practical education. Maybe after I keep readin' this stuff for another ten years I'll see the world clearly.

Posted by: Inbredredneck on June 29, 2010 09:20 AM

Lumpy -- no, no blog. Just a compulsion to bump nouns and verbs and participles and stuff together when somethin gets stuck in my craw and I gotta spit it out.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending upon your political perspective) Denny's view of our world dovetails neatly with mine, so when I throw stuff out omnidirectionally in my e-mail general addee list, he's one of the few who actually read it.

That he saves it for those days when that ominous cloud parks itself over his milieu and allows me to vent on topics he hasn't yet written about is flattering.

The intertubes have plenty of blogs and commentators and pundits, so this way Denny just picks thru the general rubbish at the foot of my creative molehill and publishes what he already believes in but with a slightly different syle/voice.

Frankly, I think his is easier to read than mine.

Posted by: bocopro on June 29, 2010 09:20 AM

Lumpy - Fortunately for me, Ron does not have a blog. When I'm hungover, and not up to snuff, I can always go into my Ron Archives and find sumpin' to post. He does comment over at SondraK's site.

Posted by: Denny on June 29, 2010 02:20 PM

A smart skipper soon learns, sometimes the hard way, that the officers do not run the ship. The Chiefs do. The Komrade Incompetent will never learn that little truism.

Posted by: Scottiebill on June 29, 2010 02:47 PM

Thanks! I always wondered where they came from. Mystery solved!

Posted by: Lumpy on June 30, 2010 07:15 AM
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