Achieving Success in the Navy Supply Corps “Faithful Leadership”

Capt. J. DavisThe Supply Corps Office of Personnel has initiated a series of interviews, focusing on Supply Corps (SC) career management and what it takes to achieve a successful as a Supply Corps officer. Our 13th article in this series is focused on leadership, values, and inspiration. Supply Corps Career Counselor Lt. Cmdr. Scott Milliet interviewed Capt. Jeff Davis who serves as Deputy Assistant Commander, Financial Management/Comptroller (N8), Naval Supply Systems Command.

SC CC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Capt. Davis: A Louisiana native, I attended Louisiana State University (LSU) where I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and met and married my wife of 25 years, Leah. I received a commission after completing the Southern University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program and launched what has been a rewarding naval career. It has been a career filled with challenges and triumphs that have shaped my views on leadership, commitment, and faith. I’ve been blessed with incredible opportunities to serve with great men and women in each of my sea and shore assignments. I learned a great deal about leadership, planning, and working through operational constraints in my sea tours aboard USS Jacksonville (SSN 699), USS  Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7). My stint working as a member of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Strategic Studies Group (SSG) and my overseas tour as officer- in-charge (OIC) at the former Navy Regional Contracting Center, Dubai Site taught me that the questions we ask are crucial to arriving at meaningful solutions to complex problems. My assignment at the former Joint Forces Command J7, a tour at the former Fleet and Industrial Supply Center (FISC) Norfolk and tours at Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) Headquarters provided practical opportunities to shape supply and logistics policy, doctrine, and execution.

These experiences shaped me professionally and provided the backdrop for learning about myself and how I should measure success as a leader. I’ve come to believe that it comes down to faith—a faith in God and faith in the idea that character and principled living are the foundations of leadership and success. I’ve found this true when dealing with the aftermath of a collision at sea that negatively impacted our submarine wardroom and crew morale. It was just as true when I had to notify shipmates of the unexpected loss of loved ones during extended deployments far from home and support them through the pain of loss. And of course I found it true when dealing with personal loss and adversity that influenced my perspectives and priorities. As I said, I have been blessed. But that blessing isn’t only about professional achievement. It has just as much to do with my faith and how that faith drives my decisions in my professional and personal life.

SC CC: In your current capacity, as the NAVSUP HQ Deputy Comptroller, what are your greatest challenges? How do those challenges compare with challenges of the past?

Capt. Davis: My tour as both comptroller and deputy comptroller at NAVSUP over the past three years has unfolded in a period of tremendous financial upheaval. I arrived just as it became clear that sequestration reductions would be a reality. This resulted in the immediate need to liquidate a $95.2 million reduction to a $550 million operations and maintenance account. This was followed by a partial government shutdown, civilian furlough, ramping up audit readiness and patchwork Congressional budget deals. In isolation each of these would have been significant challenges but occurring in succession has had enduring impacts on operating flexibility and workforce sentiment…all tremendous challenges. However, the greatest challenge is not related to a specific event. It’s really about adjusting our strategic lens to recognize the era of post-911 growth is gone and requires the exercise of greater process discipline. In the business world it is often said that anyone can make money in an up market but in a down market only those that have a clear business strategy and process discipline will flourish. The greatest innovations often arise in an environment of resource constraint. There are incredible opportunities available to our Navy if we encourage measured risk-taking and innovation while placing greater focus on processes. As logisticians and supply professionals, we can contribute to our Navy’s success in the current environment by avoiding the temptation to do the same things less expensively. Instead we must seek to innovate by re-imagining how to achieve desired outcomes.

The scope and pace of the challenges faced today are as great as they have ever been but the fundamental challenge of change management in an environment of resource constraint is the same. I remain optimistic that we will navigate this change successfully because of the talented men and women I work with each day.

SC CC: You have great tour quality. How did you go about selecting those assignments? Which assignment was the most challenging? Most rewarding? Is there a favorite?

Capt. Davis: My experience with tour selection can be described as both intentional and providential. I was taught by one of my early mentors to be intentional about seeking demanding jobs and working hard to excel in those jobs. I’m not advocating that officers seek to punch tickets by bouncing from job to job. I am saying that they should be willing to take on tough jobs and put in the time necessary to gain mastery of the skills and tools available while building positive professional relationships. Balancing strengths and interests is crucial in this process.

I use the term providential because the greatest career opportunities can come packaged as challenges. The knowledge and skills that benefit me the most today are those learned in times of adversity and challenge.

My most challenging tour was my first Supply Officer tour on board USS Jacksonville (SSN 699). I learned first-hand that the terms SUPPO and warfighter are synonyms and the tremendous value that Supply Officers bring to the fight. My time drinking from the fire hose taught me lessons in leadership and professional commitment that I still draw from to this day. Balancing the desire to be a good husband and father with the responsibilities and expectations of the job was a balancing act that began on USS Jacksonville (SSN 699) and remains an important consideration today.

My most rewarding tour was as Naval Regional Contract Center OIC following my time with CNO SSG. The freedom to craft innovative approaches to support warfighter missions based on approaches honed at CNO SSG was particularly rewarding.

090214-N-9671T-159My favorite tour was as SUPPO on board USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7). There is something special about developing a young team into a high performing team while watching them grow in skill and confidence. I enjoyed serving on a great ship with an exceptional crew. This tour stands out because of the perspective that I was able to take with me into that SUPPO tour. I was able to savor the experience and enjoy the opportunity to mentor in the same way I was mentored by my SUPPOs. Seeing members of my USS Iwo Jima team reach new personal and career milestones is a constant reminder of what made that assignment special.

SC CC: How has your leadership style changed as you have become a senior officer?

Capt. Davis: Leaders should be growing in their capacity to apply situational leadership that meets the needs of those they lead. Whether applying a coaching style, pacesetting or applying visionary leadership, each leader comes to grips with how to apply their strengths to bring out the strengths in their team. My leadership style has been a reflection of my deeply held convictions. I find myself thinking less about styles of leadership these days and focusing more on the foundations of leadership. My belief that integrity, wisdom and humility are prerequisites for good leadership has influenced my approach. I have learned over the years that wisdom is the proper application of knowledge and humility is the proper application of authority. This awareness affords me renewed purpose as I seek to focus on people and the opportunity to leave a legacy in those that I am given the privilege to lead.

SC CC: What characteristics do you most value in those who work with you (or, for you)?

Capt. Davis: Integrity and faithfulness are high on my list. When I think of integrity I reflect on my time on the submarine performing checks in the “rig for dive” process. In this process, it was essential that each hull opening was secured and then verified shut by a qualified officer to ensure the “integrity” of the hull before submerging. Lack of integrity in this context could have dire consequences. In the same way, I believe the stakes are also high when it comes to personal integrity.

Similarly, faithfulness is extremely important because it preserves trust in personal and professional relationships. It serves as a practical demonstration of commitment to mission and team outcomes and is reinforced by the ability of the individual to take responsibility for their actions and the actions of their team. Talent and aptitude are important but if I have to choose, I’ll take integrity and faithfulness any day. Over time, integrity and faithfulness will lead to greater competence, stronger teams and better outcomes.

SC CC: Who or what inspires you (military or non-military)?

Capt. Davis: I enjoy reading biographies of great historical figures. There is a long list of men and women who have exhibited great courage, genius, talent, or track records of accomplishment. Over the years, I’ve been inspired by many of these biographies. However, the types of things that inspire me have changed over time. I find myself increasingly inspired by those who are able to demonstrate faithfulness and commitment outside of the lime light. I’m inspired by those who are steady enough to perform tasks that don’t receive praise but do it with excellence day in and day out. I’m inspired by my wife, Leah, who sacrificed much to keep our family strong and provide an environment of love and encouragement. I’m inspired by those who are more interested in the success of the team than they are in the notoriety they receive. I’m inspired by those who endure and overcome insurmountable odds because of faith and hard work. Not very exciting stuff but incredibly important nonetheless.

SC CC: What “tips” might you have on succeeding in the Supply Corps?

Capt. Davis: Begin by spending some time defining success for you… apart from comparison with others around you. Choose a definition that has more to do with your personal and professional growth than your rank or title. Remain teachable and never allow yourself to become intoxicated by your past success. Take some time to celebrate your successes because it will give you energy for the next leg of your journey. Avoid pitching a tent and camping out on some past achievement. Seek to help others be successful…your subordinates, your peers, your bosses, your friends and loved ones…and you’ll find success isn’t about where you’re going but where you stand.

SC CC: This issue is on the History of Supply. How have you seen the Supply Corps change over the years?

Capt. Davis: Past is indeed prologue. When I began my submarine tour as an Ensign we were still using NAVSUP 1114 Stock Record Cards and when we used the term SIM it had nothing to do with cellular technology. Much has changed but the one thing that remains the same is the need for well-defined processes and leaders that understand the importance of preserving a “covenant” with those they lead. I use the term covenant to convey the idea that leading effectively is a calling that demands sacrifice and commitment. Technology has changed dramatically but the success of the Supply Corps and the Supply Community will always rest on the shoulders of dedicated men and women…not systems. The past truly sets the stage for what is to come. As we continue to experience technological gains, men and women committed to service must re-imagine key processes in the context of opportunities available today. As I said before, I remain optimistic. A little over a year ago, Rear Adm. Yuen asked me to coordinate a Supply Corps Senior Leadership Symposium to harness the collective wisdom of Supply Community Flags, Senior Executive Service members and Captains. As an offshoot of that event we launched Supply Advisory Team (SAT) governance to explore important concept areas such as Manpower Readiness, Joint/Expeditionary Logistics, FM/IT/Acquisition, and Future Logistics. These four teams are already building tools and concepts that will be leveraged to increase information sharing and solution development to address supply support vulnerabilities. The Chief’s leadership, in this regard, is just one example of how visionary leadership will set the conditions for innovation and the types of changes that will be required in a resource constrained environment.

The Supply Corps has changed in other visible ways such as diversity. On April 18th, 2013, the Navy Supply Corps School library was dedicated in honor of Rear Adm. William E. Powell Jr. Although I never had the pleasure of knowing Rear Adm. Powell other than by reputation I can recall the day I first saw his photo in the then FISC Norfolk executive conference room. I was shocked to see an African American Supply Corps admiral because at that point in my career (the year 1996), I was only aware of a handful of minorities that had ascended to Commander. Looking back I can recall how that one photo left a deep impression on me and sent a signal about the type of organization I belonged to. Today I can imagine that some of the changes we have seen like introducing female Supply Officers on submarines are also sending a strong signal to young Supply Officers today. I share these anecdotes to highlight just how important inclusion and diversity can be as we address future challenges. The signal sent through visible examples of broadened opportunity encourages all members of our Supply Corps to roll up their sleeves to build a brighter shared future. I think the day I saw that photo I received a signal that changed my perspective in a meaningful way. I can only hope that sharing this story does the same for others.

May/June 2016