As the deputy commander, Navy Supply Systems Command, I’m the senior member of the Supply Corps Reserve component (RC) and work with our full-time support (FTS) officer community to manage the almost 1,000 Supply Corps drilling Reservists. I also provide Rear Adm. Yuen with advice regarding RC solutions to NAVSUP issues. In my civilian career, I’ve worked for many years in state and local government throughout the Mid-Atlantic area and am currently the county administrator for Charles County, Maryland. This article explains how both my civilian and military professions are interrelated in regards to leadership.
[caption id="attachment_2385" align="alignright" width="300"]
Rear Adm. Jonathan Yuen meets and speeks with
Rear Adm. Mark Belton.
There are several similarities between the military and civilian sectors. In order to further examine this, I think it’s helpful to define what leadership is, and a basic definition is the motivation of individuals and groups to achieve shared goals.
I believe there are certain aspects to leadership that are common to all types of work environments and cultures; identifying a vision and being able to clearly communicate that vision across the organization is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Strength of character, particularly as an example for others to emulate, is also a leadership trait that transcends environments. The ability to gather and analyze relevant information as part of an effective decision-making process is key. Being decisive and knowing when to delegate effectively are qualities needed in any career field.
While leadership traits are fairly common, the military and corporate cultures are very different—as are their organizational structures. For example, the military work culture is hierarchical with very strict standards of behavior. Roles are well-defined. Rank and status is important. There is a clearly defined and well-understood career progression and a set of values and beliefs that are largely shared throughout the Joint force—such as patriotism, duty, service, and self-sacrifice. Alternatively, the corporate culture has more of a matrix type structure with flexible roles for employees and rules that are sometimes more implied than doctrine. Career progression is not necessarily so well-defined.
While mission accomplishment is obviously a primary focus of military organizations, leadership development permeates everything we do. We focus on learning how to be leaders from our very first day in uniform. There is a well-traveled path along a continuum of formal academic learning, complemented by a series of professional assignments designed to expose us to a myriad of leadership challenges and new perspectives. In order to maximize those experiences, tour lengths are relatively short. We grow leaders consciously and deliberately in roles from small unit division officers all the way to Department of Defense-wide enterprise executive oversight. Much time is spent by seniors to mentor those more junior.
Conversely, while it would be wrong to imply the corporate world does not focus on leadership development, there is not nearly as much time and money spent on that outcome. Additionally, the civilian corporate environment is more concerned with the bottom line, and that can be a very good thing. Relative to the military, tenure in positions of leadership are longer to make the learning curve less steep and improve organizational performance. There is less emphasis on crisis management.
Though RC members different in some aspects to the active component (AC), RC members meet the same standards for formal training and leadership experiences as the AC. We mentor our junior officers to seek out leadership opportunities everywhere. We have command positions at the 05 and 06 levels that require the same standards for screening as our AC counterparts in the same pay grades. Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) is valued and obtained primarily via distance learning programs so as to maintain balance with family obligations and civilian careers. Warfighting expertise is demonstrated via the attainment of warfare pins, including the recently approved Navy Expeditionary Supply Corps qualification. Procurement qualifications are among the most prized in the RC and require the same standards as AC acquisition professionals.
I wholeheartedly believe in Rear Adm. Yuen’s philosophy of “knowing how to fight.” We can only achieve that goal by working side-by-side with our AC brothers and sisters and with warfighters in the operational arena. We have to know the logistics business and be able to provide seamless support on very short notice with the same level of professional knowledge and make the same sound and ethical business decisions our operating forces have come to expect from Navy Supply Corps officers—whether they are AC or RC Sailors.
I know we’re successful when I see our most senior RC leaders, those whose leadership abilities have been honed by a career filled with professional education and leadership experiences, assigned to vital logistics roles in forward areas, in Joint positions, and in important Fleet support billets. An exciting example is the former Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson’s recent announcement demonstrating the Navy’s trust and confidence in the Supply Corps RC community by announcing that NAVSUP Global Logistics Support (GLS) will be commanded by an RC flag officer.
That announcement marks a particularly important milestone as it represents an ongoing full-time assignment. Up to now, our RC flag roles have either been in a selected Reserve (SELRES) or part-time capacity, filling temporary gaps between AC flag officer assignments, or in Joint tours that could be filled by senior leaders from any service. Our RC flag officer billets have concentrated on the expeditionary and acquisition swim lanes. Permanently filling the NAVSUP GLS billet makes it absolutely critical to ensure our most promising RC 05 and 06 leaders are slated to the most challenging Fleet support and supply chain roles. I look forward to a recurring, meaningful, and robust discussion among our flag officers and civilian executives as we consider the best career path options for our RC leaders.
I’ve stressed the contributions RC supply community members bring to the fight from their respective civilian jobs. But an equally important point to make is how valuable the skills are that RC Sailors bring to their civilian employers over the course of a long career filled with leadership and business education and training. Confidence, focus, decision-making (especially in stressful situations), discipline and logistics expertise are all developed in the military and highly desirable in the civilian sector. Employers who support members of the guard and Reserve are a special breed. It’s often a burden, especially for small companies, to hire and retain employees who frequently are absent—and can depart on short notice for lengthy periods—to serve their country as members of the RC.
The Navy does a terrific job of recognizing and thanking the herculean contribution to readiness and morale our families give us by hosting Navy Family Days, assigning and resourcing ombudsmen, providing tangible benefits, and proactively disseminating important information. We still have a ways to go to adequately display our gratitude to the employers who allow us the time to serve, usually at a detriment to their bottom line. In a very real way, the organizations we work for in our civilian capacities-and the co-workers who pick up our slack when we are absent-are patriots as well. They sacrifice time, money, and effort so that RC Sailors can train and serve our nation. We need to take every opportunity to display our gratitude.
By Rear Adm. Mark Belton, SC, USN; Deputy Commander, Naval Supply Systems Command