Rear Adm. Yuen Takes the Helm of Navy Supply

An Interview with the 47th Chief of Supply Corps and Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command …

Rear Adm. Jonathan Yuen explains his perception of the Navy Supply Corps and what it takes for a Supply Corps officer to be an effective leader.  (Photo by Jan Derk)

Rear Adm. Jonathan Yuen explains his perception of the Navy Supply Corps and what it takes for a Supply Corps officer to be an effective leader. (Photo by Jan Derk)

     How did your education prepare you for serving as Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command, and the 47th Chief of Supply Corps?

      What prepares anyone to be an effective leader is a combination of education, training, and experience.  How I apply these three elements is what matters most and what has prepared me for my role as Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command and the 47th Chief of Supply Corps.  Beginning with my earliest days as a Naval Academy midshipmen, I have been blessed with many opportunities to further my formal education while serving as a Navy Supply Corps Officer, including studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and other Executive Education Programs.   While these prestigious institutions have been integral to my formal education, my mentors and the people I have worked with, and for, have built the educational foundation from which I am able to lead from today.  It is these encounters and these experiences that help us see things differently, that generate ingenuity through new ways of approaching challenges, and that proliferate the kind of intuitiveness and propensity it takes to be an effective leader who can get the job done and still inspire those around us to flourish.

     I just finished reading Thomas E. Ricks’, “The Generals: American Military Command from WWII to Today.”  The book focuses on leadership and accountability, and I took interest in the concept that, “Training tends to prepare one for known problems, while education prepares one for the unknown, the unpredictable, and the unexpected.”  This statement spurred my thinking about the people and events that have shaped my leadership philosophy.  My formal education and critical thinking skills development, in conjunction with the experiences and perspectives gained from my peers and the leaders throughout my career, have played the largest roles in my preparation for senior leadership positions.

What makes the Supply Corps relevant in 2014?

     First and foremost, we are the Navy’s premiere business professional.  While other communities have developed localized, “stovepiped,” areas of subject matter expertise, our entire community of Supply Corps Officers, enlisted supply ratings and civilian workforce are true experts of business within the Department of Defense logistics network.

     Operating in an austere fiscal environment can be challenging, but the Supply Corps has always operated judiciously with an eye toward maximizing every taxpayer dollar.  In the current environment, our talent to be “ready for sea,” regardless of resource constraints, will be the key to optimizing the Naval Support Network to provide optimal support to the warfighter.  Our record of service to the Fleet is the foundation of the Supply Corps’ heritage—the heritage we have continued to build upon since 1795.   The traditions we uphold are timeless, like the expectation of excellence we deliver.  Our relevance has always been defined by how we fit into the fight.  We know those niches—sometimes even before the Sailors themselves know it.  We understand what is needed at the tip of the spear.  Our foresight is what we bring to the fight.  It generates our adaption to changing needs.  It is what delivers our record of service.

     We are a diverse community of highly educated, operationally focused, and connected business professionals, serving on every operational platform as well as ashore on the Joint Staff, every COCOM and SYSCOM. We are relevant because we are good at what we do.  Our partners know our reputation for service to the Fleet as unsurpassed and rely on us to maintain our superior quality of service every day.

The environment in which we live is changing every day.  How can Supply Corps Officers continue to do a good job without becoming risk adverse?

     In front of every decision must be a focus on our mission—to deliver sustained global logistics and quality-of-life support to the Navy and joint Warfighter.  It is this focus that will help you see the importance of the end result you are working to effect.

     Education and experience provide tools to help understand and mitigate the omnipresent risk inherent in what we do as well as in our changing environment.  Pursue knowledge personally and also as an organization (organizational learning).  Encourage effective communication, collaboration, and organizational cultures/climates that cultivate learning.

     Foster a Socratic Mindset personally and with your teams.  Seek to understand risks and the spectrum of leadership responses.  Know when a “no or low defect” approach is necessary or   where opportunities for “mistakes” are appropriate to promote learning.  As a leader, distinguish between well-intentioned mistakes, which may result in knowledge and wisdom, and fatal flaws such as failures of ethics, character, and/or integrity.  Use a Bedside Manner that is appropriate to the circumstance.

     Know your job and yourself…develop a Servant’s Heart to know your people.  Understand your team’s strengths as well as areas requiring focus or improvement…leverage your understanding in addressing risk and have the courage to accept evaluated risk in decision making.  There is no way to mitigate risk entirely.  But, the more you develop your own ingenuity and intuitiveness through education, training, and knowledge exchange, the more likely it is that your perception of risk is diminished into a realization that have what it takes to tackle challenges that come your way.  Keep your minds and hearts open because every person you encounter and every experience you have is an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.

You’ve said, “I need everyone to know and understand my Commander’s philosophy of knowing how to fight and what you are doing for the warfighter.”  What does that mean?

     Saying this is easy, but doing it is complex.  Regardless of the location or the mission, we fight by providing the warfighter with the enablers needed to accomplish their mission.  From contracting to mail, food, integrated logistics, parts positioning, household goods, ammo, and fuel, we provide the warfighter with responsive and agile support.  We do this by managing the Naval Support Network, a network that encompasses Navy plus all other Joint and sister Service Organizations, DoD, and federal agencies, and coalition and commercial partners in providing logistical and quality-of-life support to Navy customers throughout a constantly shifting global environment.  We must be ready so they are ready.

     We are the conduit and advocate to the “Naval Support Network” on behalf of the warfighter.  In that role, we help define and convey to non-Navy providers within the “Network” our unique support requirements.   We help ensure that a DOD logistics system, optimized to support all services, does not inadvertently sub-optimize support of the Navy Warfighter.

     We work side-by-side with the warfighter in the operational arena.  We are embedded with the aviators, SWO’s, submariners, SEABEES, SEALS, EOD Teams, the Marines, and in many cases, the Army and Air Force.  We pride ourselves on understanding the needs of the operator through first-hand experience.  Having been customers ourselves on the receiving end of supplies, we know the wants and needs at the tip of the spear.

     Strategically, we are embedded and engaged on the Joint Staff, every Combatant Command and Systems Command, as well as DLA.  We are influencing and guiding joint solutions, ensuring Navy equities are addressed in the Joint continuum.

We’re hearing a lot about ethics lately.  How can we define its importance if so many people think the definition of ethics is subjective?

     The NAVSUP and Navy Supply Corps team is composed of 25,000 talented, dedicated and diverse civilian and military business professionals across many facets of service.  Yet, despite our varied backgrounds, we must share a common understanding of ethical principles and moral conduct to underpin our delivery of operational readiness and quality-of-life to our maritime forces globally.  Ethical behavior is critically important to achieve our goals, because as with life, our “currency” is others’ trust in our ethical decision-making capability.  Our steadfast commitment to doing the right thing builds our reputation.   Integrity and moral behavior matter most when no one is watching and when it does not seem to matter.

     But, sometimes people we know and trust are put in situations that pressure them to “get the job done” and to “do whatever it takes” to check the box or make the boss happy.  What if you’re the only person who wants to do things by the rules but 15 other people—your leaders and peers—see no in rules.  Where is the culture of ethics?  Today’s fast-paced environment can put us in these situations.  Ironically, this same environment tracks us more than we ever thought possible—electronic records, cell phones, video cams.  When your personal ethics don’t match the culture set forth in your workplace, bad things happen.   Our supply team must be culture leaders and demonstrate ethical behavior.  At NAVSUP and in the Supply Corps, we are entrusted with financial responsibilities like few others in the Navy, and we must vigilantly protect our “currency.”  The actions of one of our people impact him or her but also the reputation of the entire community.  We must protect the trust put into us as the Navy’s supply chain managers, financial managers, and contracting experts who serve as judicious stewards of taxpayer dollars.  Remember the oath you took about upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States—both military and civilian personnel?  You made a promise and a commitment.

     A few basic questions we should all consider in our decision-making:

* Am I doing the right thing?

* Will my actions bring credit to the United States Navy?

* Am I setting a positive example for those around me?

* Would I be willing to have my decision(s) made public?

Why has so much emphasis been placed on Sexual Assault & Prevention recently?

     Sexual assault is against the law.  Moreover, it harms and affects our service members, our entire workforce, and our families.  Sexual assault destroys morale, degrades our culture, and detracts from our mission.  Several changes in Sexual Assault, Prevention and Response (SAPR) have occurred during the past year both within the Department of the Navy and across the Department of Defense as a whole.  Recent inappropriate incidents involving SAPR Program Mangers, Senior Leaders and Service Academies created a need for a program review.  As a result, numerous changes have taken place over the past year to correct deficiencies, eliminate gaps and inconsistencies and to provide better support to victims and our workforce–both civilian and military.   These actions have resulted in increased awareness and reporting, resulting in the understanding that better communication and support was needed.

Changes include:

– Creating an environment of active bystander intervention by our military and civilian workforce.

– Restricted and unrestricted reporting updates that increase the duration in which evidence is maintained on file, providing civilians the opportunity to receive restricted reporting assistance and ensure that 24/7 Hotlines are established to provide individuals the ability to report.

– Implementing roving barracks patrols to increase safety on base.

– A new Inspector General requirement for NCIS to investigate all allegations of sexual assault brought to their attention regardless of the severity of the allegation. 

– Hiring of additional personnel such as NCIS sexual assault agents, resiliency counselors and more personnel to administer the SAPR program.

– Navy-wide anonymous survey to gather data about sexual assault (ALNAV 070/13), available from now until January 6, 2014.

– Updates to Military Protective Orders and request to be relocated.

– Changes to improve the process with which sexual assault investigations are executed.

     As a result the Department of the Navy implemented numerous training initiatives to include SAPR-L (E7 and above) and SAPR-F (E6 and below) mandatory Military stand-down and mandatory SAPR-C Civilian stand-down trainings were conducted to ensure the widest dissemination of information across the Navy.

What recommendations would you have for strengthening civilian/military & officer/enlisted relationships and why?  Isn’t managing personnel just like managing supply chains?

     Strengthening these relationships is at the core of improving culture.  We are one team with one fight.  We must first understand our common mission and focus, which is Warfighter Support.  Each member must know how they affect this support and the important role they play as part of the NAVSUP team.  With this common focus we can begin to understand and embrace the differences in each other’s cultures.  Embracing differences while focusing on common goals will bring us closer as a Navy supply family.

     There are many similarities and you may have heard that whether it be NSN’s or SSN’s it’s all supply chain.  In a sense this is true; however, the human supply chain is much longer.  The items being managed have to be nurtured, challenged, grown, and respected.  They think, they feel … no other parts we manage do this.  They have to be trained, rewarded, sometimes reprimanded and often mentored to develop throughout this supply chain.  Senior civilians and military are not born into roles they grow into them over time. But, in no way should senior leaders overlook the potential in other employees.  Good ideas, good questions, and good answers come from everyone, everywhere.  Grow the people who work with you and allow them the chance to grow you.  People are our most valuable asset and the lead time to generate them makes this possibly our most important supply chain.  To ensure a thriving supply chain, it is paramount that leaders also nourish their employees’ human needs for growth, autonomy, and respect through job related education, career development opportunities, career ladder billets, mentorship, recognition.

     Another example I’d like to share:  Managing personnel is similar to managing Navy Platforms (Life Cycle Management/Supply Chain Management).  The five primary phases of Lifecycle Management include:  Initiation/Planning/Development/Implementation and Closure are also key aspects of managing our Human Capital.  We must initiate the offer to hire; Plan where they will fit into our organization, develop and train the people so they become subject matter experts, implement their expertise in the daily work environment to support our war-fighter and finally retire/sunset the personnel when they opt to retire.

How can Supply Corps officers be effective leaders?

     Supply Corps Officers must understand and value the entire workforce—both military and civilian.  These professionals complement each other to effectively meet our mission.

     Understanding this relationship and living by three key tenets have helped me hone my leadership skills over the last 30 years as a naval officer.  They are Servant’s Heart, Bedside Manner, and a Socratic mindset.

A servant’s heart – (HUMILITY)

     I’m not talking about servant leadership, but a servant’s heart…and there is a difference.   It’s really about the “attitude” of service … understanding your part of something bigger than yourself and that putting the needs of others first is at the core of every successful Supply Corps leader.   You already have that because you raised your right hand and swore to defend a higher cause in our country…based on your upbringing and schooling building your values, ethics, and morals.

     We support the warfighter 24/7, 365 days a year.   We exist as a Corps to ensure we are ready to fight and win.  We rarely say “no” and when we do, we have an alternative plan to still get to the desired end state.   Our motto is “Ready for Sea” and that motto really translates to mean that we are ready for any challenge that comes our way.   We operate in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world and Supply Corps Officers must be ready to successfully lead in a myriad of situations.

     I recently read General Grant’s autobiography.  I saw a great description of how I define a servant’s heart in Grant’s story about General Meade.   Shortly after his promotion to lead the Union Army, Meade offered to step aside to allow Grant to move Sherman east, to the Army of the Potomac.  Of Meade, Grant says…It was about the mission of winning the war and not about personal accolades and ego.

Bedside manner (GOLDEN RULE)

     This sounds like the medical doctor’s Hippocratic Oath and doing no harm to their patients….but it is really about treating others with dignity and respect.  We have a significant issue with blue on blue sexual assault and it is a problem we all are responsible for trying to eliminate.  We toss around the word “shipmate”, but we need to live out every day the need to look out for one another and do our very best to intervene to diffuse a situation that could potentially harm someone’s mental or physical well being.

     Develop your leadership style…learn who you are.  Each one of us as specific strengths that we bring to the team and it’s important to recognize the type of person you are and what leadership style is most effective.   You have to be authentically yourself to be effective leaders.

     Do your part to create a command climate where everyone’s voice is heard.  I’m not saying you have to agree with everyone’s recommendation, but I am saying you need to listen to your shipmates perspective and then make a final decision that most benefits the mission of the command.  Learn from your Chief Petty Officers … I still learn from them and respect their experience.  Remember,   good answers come from not anywhere, but everywhere!

Socratic mindset – (BIG PICTURE)

     I am looking for people who wonder…who respectfully challenge traditional thought and paradigms…this promotes understanding.  Try to understand the strategic importance of a situation by asking the right question and then attempt to develop that situation into the tactical, then actionable levels.

     Review and think about the CNO’s sailing directions, or your new CDR’s Guidance as you walk aboard, determine how do we best deliver the mission in the most effective and efficient manner. As for application of this concept it’s summed up by this saying, “What interests my boss fascinates me.”

     Finally, I remember an old mentor once told me there were three rules he used to measure his efforts…”Good for the Navy, Good for the Crew and no personal gain.”    It’s really pretty simple, actually, and most leadership principals are, but the complexity comes in the daily execution of your leadership.  We must understand the ripple effect our actions and words have upon all those who we have been entrusted to lead, and do our absolute best to lead well.

The Supply Corps and NAVSUP share the same mission, “To Deliver Sustained Global Logistics and Quality-of-Life Support to the Navy and Joint Warfighter.”  Can you talk about the synergy between the 2 groups?

     The simple answer is that one cannot survive without the other; the two groups constitute the family of active duty and Reserve military, civilians, and contractors who are responsible for all that we do.

     Our Joint mission encompasses not only NAVSUP and other Navy organizations, but all other Joint and sister Service organizations, DOD and federal agencies, and coalition and commercial partners that provide logistics and/or quality-of-life support to Navy customers.  The thread that runs throughout this Network—tying it together—is the Supply Corps.  Because of this, the NAVSUP / Supply Corps team is uniquely qualified and positioned to be the primary optimizer and integrator of the Naval Support Network on behalf of Naval forces.  We know what it’s like to be customers because many of us have been on the receiving end of the supply chain.  For some, that was last year on the receiving end of logistics.  Some civilians are former military personnel who have experienced first-hand the support we provide.  Some civilians have 10 or 20 or more years of service and have been around long enough to write the book on being a great provider.

     The team throughout the NAVSUP enterprise and the Supply Corps are key enablers of the CNO’s Navigation Plan:

Warfighting First.  We are the most sea-going staff corps in the Navy, and at the junior ranks, our Officers’ sea time and operational training are on par with their SWO counterparts and are more sea-going than their aviation peers.  We embody that ethos, and the support infrastructure of the Naval Supply Systems Command has for years been centered on warfighter needs.

Operate Forward.  Ours has been a history of sea and shore support overseas for decades and this remains more relevant today than ever.  

Be Ready.  From every supply chain, but most especially those that center on QOL – Sailor and Family Support – our community has helped ensure our Sailors and their families are ready.  No other community is more engrained in supporting families and their Sailor – at home, at recreation, and at work.  Where you have a Sailor – you have some part of the NAVSUP/Supply Corps family supporting their efforts.