BY REAR ADM. PETER STAMATOPOULOS, SC, USN U.S FLEET FORCES COMMAND
This is adapted from a speech presented on July 1 2016 to the Navy Supply Corps School graduating classes from the Basic Qualification Course 2nd Battalion and Basic Qualification Course – Naval Reserve 88th Company.
There is something invigorating about being on the cusp of change. Basic Qualification Course (BQC) graduation certainly marks the most significant professional transition in the students’ lives so far and is a day of transformation for them.
To the students:
Up until today, the focus of your life really has been all about you at BQC – your success, your education, your grade point average, your performance, and your orders. The sum total of your energy, effort and anxiety has, until now, been internally focused.
I ask you to pause for just a moment and thoroughly consider the challenges that will soon be heading your way. I think you will quickly realize that your future existence as a naval officer is no longer all about you. Don’t mistake me. I’m not implying that you won’t have a personal life or many opportunities to excel as an individual. I am simply saying that your objective must be external to your perception of the “personal.”
With your pending assignment, the landscape changes completely. Your standard for success will soon be measured by the accomplishments of your ship, your perception of the “personal.” With your pending assignment, the landscape changes completely. Your standard for success will soon be measured by the accomplishments of your ship, your division and the quality of your supply operation.
So the great question is … how will you deliver success when you, as an individual, are no longer the only variable in the equation? How do you manage success when the other members of your team are having a bad day, a bad week, or a bad year? How will you manage the time, the effort and the performance of a wide range of people – above and below you – and not just yourself?
I hope you’ll allow me to proffer some advice that I hope will help you facilitate the success of others. I have four basic rules for you to consider as you step into the arena of leadership.
Rule #1 – It’s all about the mission.
What, exactly, does that mean? The mission of the Navy is simple – eight words – codified in law: “to conduct prompt, sustained, combat operations at sea.” The Navy is not about you; it is about the mission readiness of the unit and your organizational ability to fulfill your role in the maritime defense of our nation.
In order to earn the respect of your chain of command, you must give the mission your utmost respect and unreserved support. If you, in your vast experience, think your time is better spent second guessing leadership, or serving as a check valve on the department head’s drive for excellence, or acting as a drag on the executive officer’s agenda – then you will NOT be a successful division officer and your career will likely be very short. You must never lose sight of the reality that operational success is paramount, and your role in support of that endeavor cannot be overstated.
Let’s define that role. At the most basic level, your immediate mission is to completely master the functions of your department and division, to become the best watch stander you can be, and to earn your warfare qualifications without delay. These are the individual achievements that will position you to meet your commitments to the Navy and enable you to deliver quality contributions within the operational context.
If you lose focus on the mission – at the operational or personal level – then I can assure you that nothing in your resume, your educational background, or your previous military record – none of it – will overcome an inattentive or self-centered division officer tour.
So, again, rule #1 – It’s all about the mission.
Rule #2 – Know and use the references!
You, as division officers, must do the details. Let’s think about who does what on the ship. The commanding officer (CO) drives, navigates, leads, and communicates the mission – his or her responsibilities dwarf yours to such an extent that a valid comparison is virtually impossible. The executive officer (XO) manages the day-today-life and routine of the unit. The department heads are the foundation of middle management … the lynchpins to operational success who juggle time and resources across organizational boundaries to synchronize events. As division officers, you will likely be serving your inaugural tour. It’s fair to ask … what do you know? The more critical question is … how will you cope?
The BQC instructors have invested a lot of time and energy to expand your knowledge and teach you some invaluable skills. For example, how to prepare food service records, OPTAR and other reports that are so intrinsically part of our business; how to deal with the daily challenges of time and resource management; how to execute port visits with off-ship bill pay; and how to conduct yourself in complex leadership situations.
The quality of your instruction at the Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS) has been superb. I can tell you that, from the Fleet perspective, you have every right to be confident in what you have learned. It’s time to put that knowledge and those skills to work. Remember, as you weave what you’ve learned into your routine, you are building the experience that will serve as the key to your success throughout your career. You are constructing the foundation for your future contributions to the Navy and your country.
As Supply Corps officers and professionals, you are chartered to make sure your products are accomplished and delivered in accordance with current standards. It is the hardest thing you will do – but also the easiest. Hard, because it takes time; it requires unbending commitment and reinforcement. Hard, because it is not always popular with the Sailors. But, easy, because it is all there – in the publications and instructions that will always be at your fingertips. Lean heavily on the references that you came to know and love so well at NSCS. You must also know the Ship’s Organization Manual, the CO’s Standing Orders and the pertinent instructions from the Type Commander (TYCOM) and above.
Consider that one of the more engaging aspects of our existence as naval leaders is this: Regardless of the task, challenge or problem, there is a strong probability that there is a manual or instruction on the shelf somewhere that explains everything you need to know. If it doesn’t, you should never hesitate to reach out to the human references at your disposal.
The Supply Corps has the best mentoring program of any officer community in the Navy. I can assure you that you can get advice and answers from your department head, TYCOM, supporting Fleet Logistics Centers, and a multitude of other sources. I can think of no scenario where a fellow Supply Corps officer would ever refuse advice or assistance to a struggling young officer in need of help.
Rule #2 reiterated – Know and use the references!
Rule #3 – Have some empathy…
for your subordinates, of course, but also for your department head, your fellow division officers and for the XO and CO, as well. Why do I say that? One of my favorite aphorisms is, “my problem isn’t the same as the boss’ problem, even though it looks exactly the same.”
You won’t necessarily know what the department head’s problems are – how he or she is getting along with the XO, or whether he or she is distracted by one of the innumerable responsibilities that lie outside your field of view. Everyone throughout the chain of command is subject to stress, emotions and issues that occasionally influence their levels of patience and tolerance. So, if your department head is short with you, give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Help them with the facts – what you know to be true. Do not assume that they always have the answer in hand. Be judicious but supportive and don’t forget that the department head’s success is your success, as well.
The same is true of those who work for you. Everyone is entitled to a bad day. Will you be empathetic, helpful and understanding of your subordinates when they’re not up to the task? There is a stark difference between a “bad day” and willful disobedience or disregard for standards and conventions. In my experience, and despite what you might think, COs and XOs are incredibly forgiving of division officers when they have an off day. You must offer the same consideration to your folks. The secret to that is communication. Make sure you get to the bottom of the issues. I’m not just talking about someone who might be having a problem at home; I’m talking about a mistake with the gear or a professional or administrative error. You will more quickly solve problems if you communicate effectively, empathize when appropriate and demonstrate your commitment to rules 1 and 2.
So, rule #3 – Have some empathy!
Rule #4 – Integrity ... It’s the gold standard.
All too often we read newspaper articles about naval officers who’ve engaged in misconduct. As you well know, it takes many forms … personal, financial, professional, etc. When this occurs there’s usually a strong reaction in high places to implement process changes that will make recurrences impossible. The hard reality is this: there is no “process improvement” that completely eliminates the possibility of human malfeasance.
So, my final and most important rule is very general.
By virtue of the fact that you’ve completed advanced education, been screened for commissioning and succeeded in a very demanding curriculum here at NSCS, I think it’s safe to assume that you have the intelligence and grounding to understand the basics of right and wrong. I strongly urge you to reflect on this very seriously. There is a huge difference between making a procedural error and performing a calculated act of dishonesty. Your references and mentors can assist you when you make honest, professional mistakes as I described in Rule #2. But, please remember, there is no rule that will save you from lapses in integrity.
Your professional reputation will forever be deeply connected to your character…please remember that. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “The force of character is cumulative.” Let’s think about that.
Your reputation – your personal “brand” – is a dynamic and living entity. It grows or diminishes with every action you take. It is an unscientific, aggregated assessment of your human interactions and personal conduct. It is the most indispensable element in your professional life, and it must be preserved and protected at all costs.
The Navy has established and promulgated core values that, if observed and adhered to, will serve as daily reminders of what we as officers and leaders are all about. Honor, courage and commitment are far more than simple buzzwords. I encourage you to use them as moral guidelines on a daily or even hourly basis. They represent a precious gift from the Navy to us – a gift that most certainly keeps on giving.
So, Rule #4 one more time, with emphasis – Integrity is, and will always be, our gold standard.
That’s it – 4 simple rules:
- It is all about the mission
- Know and use the references
- Practice empathy
- Integrity is the gold standard
If you remember those rules, you will fulfill your professional obligations to your ship, your department, and your division, and you will have performed your duty in support of the Navy’s mission requirements. The collective success of your unit will be YOUR success; one cannot happen without the other. That is the essence of being a naval officer and a professional. It is the difference between your life up until now and the life you are about to embark upon.
You will begin an incredibly challenging and rewarding career in the service of your country. I look forward to seeing you in the Fleet. I know you’ll do great things!