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Benfold was a beautiful fighting machine—a destroyer armed with the navy's most advanced guided missiles, a radar system that could home in on a bird-sized object fifty miles away, and a presumably superb crew of 310 men and women. With four gas turbine engines at my fingertips, I could push this 8,300-ton leviathan to more than thirty knots—at least thirty-three miles an hour—sending up a massive rooster tail in her wake.
My adrenaline was flowing. The moment I had been waiting for my entire career was at hand. The tugboats were alongside, standing by for the order to guide us away from the pier.
Despite all that power and sophisticated machinery, and no matter how good a ship handler the captain may be, we still need tugboats to help steer us into and out of our berth. Mooring to and getting under way from the pier are two of our most difficult maneuvers. Lots of things can go wrong—you can smash into the wharf or into ships behind you, or run the ship aground. If any of those things were to happen, I could get fired almost on the spot; my head would roll even before the investigation started.
Also, right underneath the bow of the ship is a huge, bulbous sonar dome covered by a black rubber protective device.Think of it as a five-million-dollar steel-belted radial tire. If it scrapes the curb (read pier), you can decrease the sonar's ability to detect submarines. Or, worst case, you can puncture the protective shield and deflate it completely. So prudence dictates that we use tugs to move us away from the pier.
Now, with the engines just whispering at idle speed, their vast stores of power bridled, we prepared to shove off. What a kick. I was bursting with pride. I couldn't wait to hit the open sea and order all engines ahead, flank speed.
I gave the order to take in all lines, directed the tugs to start backing us slowly from the pier, and then, like air whooshing out of a balloon, my ego cruise ended before it ever got under way. Benfold suddenly lost power. Her engines quit turning. In an instant, she became nothing but 8,300 tons of steel likely to run aground or crash into another ship. In the eerie silence, red warning lights blinked everywhere. I dashed into the pilothouse, fumbling for emergency phones, demanding information. At that moment, I was enormously relieved and grateful to have the tugboats hovering nearby like watchful parents running alongside a kid on a new bike. I ordered the tugs to push us back to the pier while we investigated the power failure.
When a ship loses power abruptly, you have four chances to avoid disaster. You can kick-start the engines by shooting a jet of high-pressure air into the turbines. Like an old-fashioned hand crank, the air jolt gets everything spinning and firing up again. If the first attempt fails, you have three flasks of emergency air for three more tries. But if those don't work, that's it—your ship is dead in the water, a u and dangerous hulk that has to be towed back to port. That is the ultimate disgrace, rare but not unheard of.
Benfold lost power and unmade my day because at least one of the watch standers had not followed procedure. Whenever a ship is under way, the watch standers constantly monitor dials and gauges on the bridge and in the engine room to make sure all the parts of the huge, complex vessel are in sync. If anything goes wrong, they have to react in time to prevent further damage and engine failure. When Benfold's watch standers failed to respond in time, a cascading series of events was set in train— much like the massive power outage on the East Coast in the summer of 2003—and the engines shut down to prevent serious damage. With the ship about to cast off the tugs in the narrow channel, disaster had been only seconds away.
We were lucky. Members of the engineering crew came to the rescue and got the engines up and running again in about fifty seconds. My mind was racing just as fast: I had been taught that a captain must be always alert, prepared for any disaster that could materialize in a given situation. Before backing away from the pier, I should have envisioned every possible scenario and had a preplanned response to deal with it. Whether from youthful inexperience or plain old cockiness, I didn't. We were just lucky the tugboats were still there to save us from disaster. Luck, though, is not a sound strategy for success.
With time I would come to understand that being the captain when times are good is easy. But true leaders must also prepare for what might happen when times are tough. Sometimes you have to steer a big ship near shoal water and that takes e The captain's biggest challenge is to be able to navigate wisely under any circumstances, expected or not.
Why was I so unready for a thoroughly possible crisis? How should I train myself and my crew for the inevitable next time?
I would soon learn that I could order a mission to be accomplished, but I couldn't order great results. Real leaders lay the cornerstone around which a team comes together to produce superior results. A mission based on luck or hope is not sustainable over the long haul.
Had I been directing Benfold's castoff and departure like a winning leader, I would have behaved very differently. Real leadership is caring so intensely about something under your control—a ship, say—that you prepare for its success in both good times and bad. As Benfold's fledgling captain, I quickly learned the importance of making sure that every sailor on the ship understood that he or she had a stake in guaranteeing Benfold's readiness for war, peace, or anything in between.
As you may have read in my first book, It's Your Ship, I soon learned how tough—and rewarding—it is to turn 310 sailors into teammates who really care about the mission. Not me-firsters, but true collaborators. Winners in any weather. Since leaving the navy almost four years ago, I've learned that the same thing can be accomplished in civilian life if you understand the components needed to ensure success.
First and foremost, you must have a sound business strategy that values technical competence. You may even be able to get by on technical competency alone. But truly great results will only come when all crew members believe not only that what they are doing is important, but also understand tha delivering great results every day serves their own best interests. With the right strategy and first-rate leadership, nearly any human enterprise can become a winner. That's why I wrote this book: to share real stories of unsung leadership derived not only from the U.S. military, but from all kinds of fields and organizations, private and public alike.
My own reeducation as a leader began out of disgust at myself, a sharp reaction to my unreadiness when Benfold lost power that beautiful San Diego morning. From then on, I trained and retrained myself for emergencies, those sudden jolts when there is no time to think and you have to switch to autopilot. To make that shift successfully requires a repertoire of reflexes. Forward planning is essential. To minimize damage, you have to anticipate and rehearse the first few steps to be taken in a crisis. I hadn't done that. Furthermore, I had forgotten that remedial action should begin with the captain—me.
For my entire tour as captain, I constantly tried to visualize worst-case scenarios and what I would do in response. Was I compulsive? Absolutely! But it wasn't because I wanted that next promotion. I could live without getting promoted, but I couldn't live with myself if one of my crew members got seriously injured or killed on my watch because of my failure to be prepared. I know that every other military leader in uniform today feels the same way. I hope and pray that our civilian leaders in the Pentagon share that sentiment.
Always preparing for trouble, I became a walking database of contingency plans for everything from a man or woman overboard to World War III. Missiles, plagues, terrorists, heart attacks—I envisioned and more. One dawn, I even woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming that terrorists had stolen my dress white uniform, leaving me in my skivvies just as the president of the United States was piped aboard to inspect Benfold. I immediately went out and bought a second set of dress whites—just in case.
My sailors sometimes thought I was nuts. The captain's eyes were peeled for terrorists whenever Benfold pulled into a port in the Middle East, so we manned additional watch stations in port for protection. It was 1997, a year after a terrorist bomb had exploded outside the U.S. portion of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen servicemen and wounding hundreds of others, civilians and military personnel alike. Having stood in the four-hundred-foot crater left by the blast, and being ever mindful of the senseless loss of lives, I was determined that we would not be caught unprepared.
Even after receiving an e-mail from a commodore telling me to relax, I couldn't. There was no history of terrorist attacks on a navy ship in port, he reminded me, and no intelligence that would lead the navy to believe an attack was coming. Maybe so, but it wasn't his crew that I was worried about. The deadly attack on USS Cole came three years later.
All this ever ready research did pay off, especially when I asked my ablest sailors how they would handle the nasty situations I imagined. Example: Suppose we're towing a million-dollar array of sonar hydrophones on antisubmarine patrol, and the umbilical line runs too shallow and wraps itself around our propellers. What should we do? The answer: Nothing—it's too late. You must prevent it at all costs. Which means that i lose power while the array is deployed, you have to race to the stern of the ship and manually reel in the cable, which can be up to a mile long, before it has a chance to wrap around the propellers.
Sometimes the crew had answers I hadn't thought of. Sometimes they came up blank. But I made sure that everyone was planning ahead and training to make the best of the worst. The more they got involved, of course, the greater their stake in the outcome. I could see it happening when certain bellwether sailors lost their uncomfortable smiles and instead began offering insightful comments on the challenge at hand. We weren't buddies and never could be. I was their captain. But my crew began to coalesce into a real team, working together on something beyond themselves.
That was a relief. A navy captain can't induce performance by handing out huge bonuses and stock options. The rewards and incentives at my disposal were mainly intangible—more responsibility, public praise, extra liberty, a medal, respect. Nevertheless, these are highly coveted in the closed world of shipboard culture. A captain who keeps rewarding sailors for excellence, instead of punishing them for mediocrity, can gradually tilt the entire crew in the right direction. That's why I was constantly on the lookout for sailors doing something right that I could reward.
Not that it was easy. I couldn't just order my sailors to become paragons. I was dealing with 310 individuals, and they had their share of screwups. I had to do lots of subtle coaxing, stroking, and plain old politicking.
Take one of my chief problems—Benfold's engineering department. With a few bright exceptions, my engineers were far less had assumed they would be when I took over. Before my arrival, the ship had actually flunked its engineering certification, which was virtually unheard of for a top-drawer fighting ship that was practically new. What's more, Benfold had barely passed the recertification test. Had the ship failed again, an already venomous atmosphere would have become even more so.
My ship's weakest link was its engineering department. And to make matters worse, I had never served in the engineering department and did not have much technical expertise to offer. The chief engineer's job is the toughest on the ship. In the best of circumstances, serving in this position aboard a warship is so mentally and physically draining that a rotation normally lasts only eighteen months, at which point the typical chief engineer limps off the ship, shoulders stooped and brain practically fried. But our poor, tormented engineer served on Benfold at a time when the navy was grappling with a severe shortage of engineering officers, causing his tour of duty to be extended to three years. When I first met the man, I saw a chain-smoker with trembling hands and weary eyes. I wasn't entirely sure he would live through the night.
The engineer's main problem, it turned out, was that everyone had long blamed him—unfairly, as I came to realize—for whatever went wrong, notably the inspections that Benfold failed with monotonous regularity. All too often we rush to affix blame instead of fixing the problem. I wanted to fix the problem. Even a cursory examination showed me that the worst trouble lay within a few key positions beneath the chief engineer, staffed by people who lacked the technical skills needed to do their jobs. But was too fine a leader to pass the blame. He took it squarely on his own shoulders.
Imagine all this rancor multiplied by a factor of ten, which was the state of things when recertification loomed. Because the engineers were busy getting the equipment up to speed, they had no time for cleaning the bilge, a filthy job done in the exceedingly cramped bowels of the ship. But no one gives extra points for difficult maneuvering in a limited space. The bilge must be clean to pass inspection, and that's that. With the engineers otherwise engaged, it fell to the rest of the crew to stop working on their own jobs and lend a hand. They spent several weeks, hating every minute of it. As you might imagine, everyone wound up blaming the chief engineer not only for the first certification failure, but for the agony of preparing for the retest.
Benfold did pass its engineering certification the second time because of heroic work by a few indomitable souls. But the outcome was such a squeaker that the ship's engineering reputation sank even further. By the time I came aboard, the engineers had lost any embryonic pride they might have gleaned from their ordeal. They put down their oars, saying in effect, "Whew, we don't have to do that again for another two years." More to the point, and much to their own detriment, they promptly jettisoned whatever knowledge and ambition they had acquired to pass the test.
Unfortunately, that isn't unusual. Many ships tend to give the regulations short shrift until an inspection comes due; then crew members cram 24/7 to get up to speed. In my view, you've got to make your crew see the larger picture: the inspection sets the bar for sailing the ship pro and every day. Instead of peaks and valleys in performance, you need a steady state of excellence. Your goal is to be able to nail any inspection, any day, without prior notice.
And you should never have to depend on one extraordinary person to save the day. The price for such heroics is too high: not only will the standout's foot-dragging shipmates never know the joy of accomplishment, but the whole ship will be left at risk if the hero is injured or transferred. In other words, you need a crew that is totally clear about who owns the ship: they do. And when someone owns something as magnificent as Benfold, they not only guard, fix, paint, polish, and improve it. They also love it.
I clearly needed a reborn engineering team ASAP. I needed it rebuilt from the keel up, or at least from the bilge just over the keel. I wanted engineers obsessed with keeping this complex ship running like a well-tuned Ferrari in any weather, engineers who were respected by their shipmates. And I wanted our chief engineer to live happily ever after (which he has since he got his own ship to command).
Believe it or not, most of my dream actually came true. Benfold eventually became an award- winning ship, a model of combat readiness that raised the bar for the entire Pacific Fleet. A once dysfunctional vessel operated by a sullen, resentful group of sailors developed into a cohesive, smoothly functioning machine with a crew of inspired problem solvers who were gunning to beat every metric in the Pacific Fleet—and usually did. In fact, our extraordinary skill and competence with Tomahawk cruise missiles put us in a class by ourselves and made us the go-to ship in the simmering Middle East tr of the late 1990s. But what was particularly heartening to me was our reenlistment success: contrary to the prevailing trend in the navy, Benfold's sailors reupped at unheard-of rates. And why not? Having been made to understand that it was their ship, not mine, the crew realized the importance of their work and took great pride in their accomplishments. As a result, Benfold could rightfully lay claim to being the best damn ship in the navy.
How did it happen? You can get the full story from It's Your Ship, a best seller that chronicles my navy career. But in this very different book, I will describe leadership lessons gleaned from numerous fields that are applicable to businesses everywhere.
One of the key lessons I learned in the navy is that training—constant training—is crucial for top performance in any enterprise, whether you're a brain surgeon, a concert pianist, or a marine general. To that end, the navy has an excellent system for introducing practices that can make a ship successful. Known as the PB for T (Planning Board for Training), it calls for a weekly meeting of the senior officers and chief petty officers representing every major program on the ship to plan the next week's activities and set priorities. On Benfold, my goal was to convert the PB for T from a perfunctory nuisance to a genuine performance enabler.
If real leadership is largely about spotting and defusing trouble, the navy's PB for T is the perfect exercise. The idea behind it is to anticipate problems before they explode. It's also a powerful antidote to the oft-heard complaint that leaders spend too much time responding to crises they could avoid if only they had the luxury of peering and pla ahead.
PB for T can be as elaborate or as elementary as the captain cares to make it. In my view, Benfold succeeded largely because our program was inclusive and interactive. Chaired by my second in command, the executive officer, the board included all five department heads and representatives of every program, from damage control to drug abuse, that cut across the entire ship. The planning was comprehensive. The engineers, for instance, knew when they had to be ready with extra power because a combat-systems exercise had been scheduled, while the chief corpsman knew when a slack period would allow crew members to schedule medical and dental appointments. People began making short-term plans only in the context of long-range and middle-range goals. The more they got involved, the less we got bogged down by sudden surprises.
But that didn't happen right away. In the first month or so after the power loss, the weekly PB for T often ended up in a squabble because people had their own agendas and couldn't agree on priorities for the ship as a whole. Subordinating individual interests to the common good was hard work. For me, it was a little like settling a new country.
It was tough overcoming old biases about the engineering department. An Aegis-class destroyer like Benfold is sleek and sexy with an array of neat toys, while the engineers, who toil in time-honored fashion, were viewed as a drag on performance. Traditionally, engineering training always came second or third behind training for activities like firing a torpedo or a Tomahawk missile. Ships tend to schedule more glamorous operations during the daylight hours, and the chief engineer gets his training time from 0600. That means his people work all day supporting the other departments' exercises, and then work all night too. Meanwhile, the captain and the executive officer are fast asleep, oblivious to the opportunity to help the engineers improve their training.
A more discouraging, negative atmosphere is hard to imagine. You can't treat engineers like no- accounts and then expect them to perform flawlessly. If you treat people poorly, they will perform poorly. Treat them well and you may be surprised at what they can accomplish. It's so easy to acknowledge their work, their skill, their importance. How can any skipper do less? Without these incredible men and women, your hotshot ship would be a powerless barge stuck in the sand.
It took a while for these perfectly logical sentiments to pierce my own scrambled-egg cap. Like many captains, I was just as glad to leave engineering to the engineers. Looking under the ship's hood wasn't what interested me. The open-air world of combat systems and ship driving was my forte. I let engineering skills slide.
But the loss of power in San Diego Harbor had shaken us all. So early on we decided to set aside sufficient daylight time to allow the engineers to get the maximum benefit from their own training. It was a trade-off: the ship might have to settle for only 99 percent of its possible performance in combat operations, but engineering would rise from its 50 percent rating to 80 percent. The revised schedule also gave me the chance to observe the engineers' training and show a personal interest in what they were doing.
The department had 110 people, a little more than one third of the entire crew, and they controlled all systems. They included electricians, mechanics, generator operators, damage-control teams, even the person who runs the ship's sewage system—and each and every one of them had to be brought up to speed on how to respond quickly and intelligently to every possible contingency.
We developed a mind-boggling sequence of exercises designed to keep identifying, and mastering, worst-case scenarios so as to make it virtually certain we could handle anything less. To test an engineer's alertness on watch, for instance, we programmed a computer to order a sudden plunge in the oil pressure of one of the main engines. If the operator failed to notice and respond correctly, the whole power plant would shut down automatically. (Of course, as a precautionary measure, other people were forewarned and ready to prevent any shutdown. Had a major power fluctuation actually occurred—say, when the radar system was operating—the damage could have been horrendous.) All this training was tedious and time- consuming, but everyone agreed that it was the ship's first priority.
One immediate payoff was the discovery that the engineers doing the training were highly skilled operators, but lousy trainers. After they were shown how to improve their teaching skills, the engineering department progressed in giant leaps. We didn't have bad people, just bad processes. Soon we began working toward the ideal situation in which nearly every specialist would have a backup who could do his or her job in the event of illness, accident, transfer, or other sudden change. It was equivalent to doubling our expertise, a process that steadily improved the crew's readiness for just about anything.
A memorable rewa hard work came several months later when we were being graded on an anchorage exercise off San Diego. This is an operation performed in open water. You pick a point on your chart and see how close you can come to dropping your anchor on that precise spot. It's a major test of seamanship and navigation, requiring knowledge and understanding of wind, tide, the local currents, and the characteristics of your ship. The exercise is so demanding that if a ship successfully approaches an anchorage, it's taken for granted that it can also perform all the lesser mooring tasks, such as maneuvering into a slip or tying up alongside another ship.
As you approach your chosen anchorage, you disengage the propellers about five hundred yards out and float a little past the spot on momentum. Then you back into the spot very slowly because if you are moving forward when the anchor bites, it can damage the sonar dome. Bearing in mind the wind blowing in one direction and the tide moving you in another, the current at the surface and the contrary current fifty feet down, the depth of the water and how fast the anchor will drop, you let it go. Ideally, it will hit bottom within twenty-five yards of the chosen spot. You stop the chain and let the anchor dig into the bottom; then you snug up the chain, set the stoppers to hold it hard, and turn off your engines, safely moored.
But before you reach the anchorage, you have to prepare the anchor for letting go. The anchor is huge— Benfold's weighed ten thousand pounds—and the chain holding it is a lethal string of football- size links, each weighing forty pounds. The chain is divided into fifteen-foot segments called shots that are painted different colors nea the end to indicate the number of links left in the anchor locker as the chain is paid out. The next-to-last shot is yellow and the last is red, which you don't want to ever see because it signals trouble: the chain is out so far that it may foul the ship's hull, or worse yet, break its last link and burst out of the anchor locker with enough force to decapitate anyone in the vicinity.
When the ship is under way, the anchor is secured by several sets of brakes and stoppers to make sure it doesn't accidentally let go. But as you prepare to drop anchor, all these fail-safe devices come off, one by one, until only the main brake on the anchor chain is left.
On this occasion, we were about fifteen hundred yards from the anchorage and steaming at fifteen knots when the main brake failed and the anchor let go. I was watching from the bridge as the anchor suddenly plunged into the water, the chain whipping out behind it. I immediately ordered the helmsman to reverse all engines at full speed to avoid a crash. But the chain was still hurtling out of the locker, and a runaway red end could kill someone as it left the ship.
Relentless training saved us. This was a freak accident, but we had rehearsed what to do. When I gave the order to reverse the engines, everyone leaped in and did his or her job. The helmsman followed my order instantly, and the engineers below prepared to complete the maneuver manually if the automatic controls broke down. Benfold reversed so quickly that the anchor, still dropping, was now ahead of us instead of under the ship.
The man who stopped the anchor was the chief boatswain's mate Scott Moede, a big, hardworking, and likable fellow with forearms Popeye's. Moede ran up right beside the anchor locker and started cranking the manual wheel that acts as an emergency brake. The chain was flying out at fifteen to twenty feet per second, making an awful racket, and Moede was spinning the wheel furiously, with his eyes primed for yellow. The first yellow link was only three or four seconds from emerging when the brake grabbed hold, the chain slowed, and disaster was averted.
Moede was the hero of the day. But even more important, the situation was saved because everyone, including our engineers, knew exactly what to do and did it automatically. Apart from the clatter made by the flying chain, there was dead silence on the ship as everyone concentrated on following the scenario we had rehearsed. And besides saving the anchor and the chain, we prevented the sonar dome under the fo'c'sle from being crushed as the chain ran wild. My commodore was so astonished that navy divers were sent out to investigate our feat, confirming that the ship had suffered no damage. There was really nothing to investigate. It was all thanks to forethought, discipline, and training.
On my ship, success sprang from the magic of motivating ordinary people to buy into a good cause, give it their best shot, and thereby produce extraordinary results. The chief lesson was clear and simple: once your people really know something cold, they become proprietary about it and strive to perform with excellence. My crew became so possessive that they busted their butts to make Benfold the best ship in the entire U.S. Navy. Given where they started, it was miracle enough that they made her—by official citation—the finest ship in the Pacific Fleet.
Could ou be repeated elsewhere? It could and is: every single day hundreds of thousands of people in our armed forces deliver phenomenal performances. Having already published one book about my navy past, I decided there was a lot more to say about leadership in organizations of all kinds, not just the military. I began collecting examples from both military and civilian fields. Soon I discovered that the most refreshing leadership examples involved not the grossly overpaid corporate CEOs whose names dominate the headlines, but, rather, unsung leaders, remarkable people with remarkable stories that never receive the media hype. I hope you will like these people as much as I do. For one thing, their high performance is invariably leavened with self-effacing charm and a lack of pretense, which means they are easy to identify with. They could be us, and vice versa.
What follows is a series of lessons distilled from their experiences and mine. Each chapter briefly introduces one of these exemplary people, then explores his or her most interesting leadership insights and how they came to perceive them. Here's a quick rundown of the unsung leaders I want you to meet.
• Buddy Gengler, age twenty-six, went to Iraq in March of 2003, just as the war began. A West Point graduate and first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Buddy was no stranger to hard work and trying times. But shortly after his arrival in the Middle East, he was confronted with an unexpectedly harrowing challenge: deployed to lead a platoon of rocket launchers, Buddy discovered that the soldiers under his command would, instead, be used as a street-fighting quick-reaction force—an extremely dangerous job for which the scant training. In chapter 1, you'll learn how Buddy met an extreme test of leadership while earning the respect of both his soldiers and his superiors.
• Trish Karter, forty-seven, is cofounder and chief executive of Dancing Deer Baking Company, headquartered in one of Boston's poorest areas. I discovered Dancing Deer while living in Boston. I love its products and became intrigued with the company itself and what makes it so special after I started doing a little digging. Trish switched her career from fine arts to business in order to help people in need. First, when her father's company was being reorganized under Chapter 11 proceedings, she dropped out of Wheaton College and worked side by side with him to get the company back on its feet. Then, when Suzanne Lombardi, the operator of a small bakery Trish and her husband had invested in, got overextended, Trish jumped in. Now Dancing Deer is nationally famous for its distinctive line of all-natural cakes and cookies that munchers find as sinfully tasty as they are environmentally pure. Result: Dancing Deer currently grosses $5 million a year, with annual sales rising rapidly. That's not all: Trish Karter and colleagues give away almost 10 percent of their revenues (that's not a misprint) to the bakery's needy neighbors. For more on Trish Karter's capitalistically incorrect enterprise and what we can learn from it, see chapter 2.
• Roger Valine is a fifty-five-year-old sociologist turned chief executive whose old-fashioned respect and concern for his employees has helped make Vision Service Plan, a Sacramento, California-based benefits provider, a paragon of civilized employer-employee relations. In these days of o and 24/7 workplaces, Roger sees no reason why a company man can't also be a family man, and he encourages his employees to follow his example by providing the kind of perks and benefits that make life easier and help stabilize families. But that doesn't mean he's a pushover for poor performance. On the contrary, Roger demands top-notch performance from every member of his crew and gets it: under his leadership, VSP has gone from a $500 million regional company to a national organization with over $2 billion in sales, and growing. In chapter 3, you'll learn more about the clear-eyed vision of Roger Valine and VSP.
• My friend Captain Al Collins, now forty-eight, was raised poor and black in rural Georgia and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1972. Al stood out from the start, rising rapidly to chief petty officer and handling many duties normally reserved for commissioned officers. He took college courses in his off-duty hours and was commissioned as an officer in a special program. He rose to be skipper of two U.S. Navy warships, one of which, USS Fitzgerald, like USS Benfold before it, won the coveted Spokane Trophy as the most battle-ready ship in the whole Pacific Fleet. Al went on to serve on the Iraq crisis action team of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, preparing the briefs for President George W. Bush on the daily progress of the war. He is one of the best men I've ever known, and a model for leaders everywhere, as you will see in chapter 4.
• Laura Folse, the forty-five-year-old vice president of technology for BP PLC, is a rarity in the decidedly male-dominated world of petroleum and gas exploration. But then Laura has been traveling the unbeaten path since she was a gi small-town Alabama. Freed by her parents from the typical limits placed on women in that place and time, she worked and studied alongside boys and men from an early age. Her intelligence and hard work earned Laura degrees in geology from Auburn University and the University of Alabama, and one in management from Stanford. It takes more than brainpower to succeed, however, and Laura has shown an uncommon talent for a gutsy yet compassionate style of leadership that makes her a standout at BP. "There's nothing better than working with a group of people toward a common goal," Laura told me, and in chapter 5, she shares her methods and philosophy for creating superior cohesive teams.
• Ward Clapham, age forty-five, joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1980. From his first assignment in an isolated backwater in Northern Alberta to his current job as superintendent of the 215- member detachment in the British Columbia city of Richmond, Ward has shown a natural bent for leadership and community interaction. When the Mounties took an official interest in the community policing philosophy back in 1991, Clapham was an early convert and eloquent proselytizer. He has lectured on the topic across three continents and is the author of several related articles. As Ward will tell you, though, no community can be successfully integrated into police work until the leader gains the buy in and respect of the men and women under his or her command. Chapter 6 relates the techniques Ward has used working with those fabled Mounties in a series of operations across Canada.
Now let's weigh anchor and sail at flank speed into the amazing sea of my favorite unsung leaders.
Your platoon the middle of a war zone with inadequate training for its assigned mission. What do you do? You bust your butt to make sure this small band of brothers survives.
WHAT DOES A LEADER LOOK LIKE? WE ALL HAVE OUR OWN preconceived notions. For some people, it's easy to envision the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-oriented person as a leader. Others may unconsciously look for clues that bespeak status—expensive shoes, a good haircut, and well-tailored clothes made of good fabric. But in the U.S. military, where shoes and haircuts and uniforms are all the same, another indicator noted in certain studies on the topic may be the most reliable of all: a steady gaze. We Americans value a gaze that seems to absorb and process everything in sight (and quite a few things that aren't).
I thought about this tricky business of recognizing a leader while watching a homemade DVD sent by First Lieutenant Gabriel J. "Buddy" Gengler III. Made up of still photos and movies taken of Gengler and others in his army unit, it depicts his tour of duty in Iraq—from the time he crossed the berm from Kuwait and rode across the desert to Baghdad, all the way to his return stateside. In the twelve months from March 2003 to March 2004, Buddy captured scenes of tent life, sandstorm-riddled convoys, nighttime rocket attacks, military engagements on the streets of Baghdad, soldiers' softball games, visits with Iraqi schoolchildren, and much more. It's a 360- degree view of the war that TV news can't duplicate.
But for the first three or four minutes of the video, I couldn't pick out Buddy. Scenes moved too fast in the blur of soldiers in desert camouflage for me to identify rank or read a name tag. At that point, I hadn't yet met Buddy in person, and I knew him only through our correspondence. I'd heard tales of his successes as a military leader and the techniques he'd used to build a cohesive fighting unit after he read It's Your Ship. Maybe part of me was looking for that tall football-hero type, or maybe his exploits had given me a mental picture of a much older, more hard-bitten figure. For whatever reason, I didn't spot Buddy Gengler until I really started looking at faces. Then, suddenly, Buddy came into focus—a young spark plug of a guy with a steady gaze, the look of a leader.
And what a leader he is: deployed to Iraq to lead a platoon trained to fire a multiple-launch rocket system, Buddy soon discovered that the army planned instead to use his unit as a street- fighting, quick-reaction force to chase down bad guys, round up illegal weapons, and battle terrorists and insurgents in more than eight major operating locations spanning from Iraq's eastern border near Iran, to the northeast, and across central Iraq. Never mind that neither he nor his troops had received more than the most basic of training for this kind of combat. In the army you can't pick your missions.
Buddy didn't complain or throw up his hands; he just went to work putting his men through simulated raid after raid to build their instincts and improve their chances of surviving what lay ahead. In the end, Buddy's platoon earned a reputation as one of the most successful strike forces around, especially when it came to seizing caches of illegal weapons. Miraculously, not one member of the unit was lost or even seriously injured.
In this chapter are several stories of how Buddy protected his men, won their re helped them excel, and rewarded their success.
Thinking about Buddy Gengler, I have to wonder how often great leaders initially go unnoticed or unappreciated just because they don't fit the prevailing stereotype. I've been guilty of it myself. My heart sank the first time I met my executive officer on Benfold, Lieutenant Commander Jeff Harley (sorry, Jeff). We were among six prospective captains and six prospective executive officers going through the Aegis weapons training course together. It's a four-week course designed to train captains and executive officers for their demanding duties. If I had been told to choose any of the six to be my executive officer, Jeff wouldn't have made the cut. Here was the guy who was going to be my right-hand man, and he didn't look at all like the type you'd pick for football talk over a beer at the corner bar. Mild mannered and bespectacled, he resembled a professor more than a salty seaman. I had a hard time seeing myself teamed with someone so different from me.
The executive officer is sort of the ship's vice president. It's up to the captain to decide if that VP will be weak or strong—a Dan Quayle or a Dick Cheney. If your XO has the right stuff to wield influence, that's a force multiplier for the captain. If not, well, at least you've got someone to handle administrative duties.
Jeff arrived on USS Benfold three months before me because I still had more training to complete. I had immediately judged him to be the administrative type, so my first inclination was to keep him pigeonholed. But before I made that snap decision, I decided to call a close friend, Captain Dallas Bethea, for whom Jeff had previously served on USS Cowpens as operations officer. My first inclination could not have been more wrong. Dallas had nothing but wonderful things to say about Jeff, and his glowing report opened my closed mind just a bit. I am forever grateful to Dallas for that.
When I allowed my mind to open up completely, what I saw changed my entire perception of Jeff. He had the answer to every question I asked, even ones I myself had had to look up back when I was an executive officer. He knew minute details of Benfold's operations and demonstrated an encyclopedic grasp of information about my fellow commanders—which ones were already in the Middle East; which ones, like us, would be deployed soon; and how each of them liked to operate. I had been out of the region and out of the loop for three years, so Jeff's knowledge saved me enormous time and legwork.
Any remaining doubt about whether this rather unassuming man could be an active and influential executive officer who would command the respect of the crew was shortly laid to rest. Jeff had a wonderful way about him that made everyone more than happy to follow him—he was likable and genuine, not to mention technically competent. The crew would bust a gut for Jeff. All he had to do was ask.
In his earlier days as an officer, Jeff had served on USS David R. Ray, a destroyer that had a nasty habit of flunking its engineering certifications. Two chief engineers in a row had been fired before Jeff arrived as number three. At that point, he had no engineering background whatsoever. But he was a warm body with a pulse, which was enough to land him that job. Initially, I think, Jeff's new captain had also made a snap judgment about him. But being the tenacious sort, he just du and got to work, trying to learn everything he could about the job at hand.
One day the commanding officer called Jeff to say his cabin toilet wasn't working. Jeff was ordered to report to the head and stay there until it was fixed. Now the area in question was pretty cramped. Jeff ended up spending the whole day sitting on the CO's toilet, wheel book in his lap, looking up who was supposed to be doing what and when, and using the CO's phone to run the engineering department. (When Jeff describes this scene, he breaks everyone up.) After the needed parts finally arrived and the toilet was fixed, Jeff was set free at last—but only after the CO had test-driven his newly repaired toilet.
After hearing Jeff's story, no one would turn down a chance to work with him—me included.
Jeff Harley turned around the engineering department on David R. Ray and parlayed that achievement into two promotions that brought him to Benfold. Given his depth of knowledge, experience, and leadership skills, I was only too happy to make him both my number- one administrator and my number-two war fighter. It was a decision that paid off enormously, as you'll soon see. But first, let me share with you some of the leadership lessons I discovered in my conversations with Buddy Gengler.
LESSON: Call in the reserves when you need them.
Like any good leader, First Lieutenant Buddy Gengler gives full credit to his troops for their top- notch performance in Iraq. They couldn't have done it without him, of course, but he doesn't let the kudos obscure a hard truth: there are many things Buddy Gengler doesn't know, such as how to turn a band of rocket launchers into a quick-reaction force. his great strengths is his willingness—determination, even—to look for outside expertise.
If that kernel of wisdom seems too obvious to make a fuss over, ask yourself how often you've heard a leader say, "I'm not smart enough to do a real good job of teaching you how to do this. I'm going to find somebody smarter." Because that, in effect, is what Buddy Gengler told his soldiers when they unexpectedly had to take on an entirely new and very dangerous assignment in Iraq.
Truth telling takes guts. It also takes a high level of self-confidence and a willingness to be seen as less than the all-knowing leader—two things many people in authority do not possess. The irony is that underlings can sense that fear of exposure, and once they do, they lose respect for their leaders. By contrast, having the courage to admit ignorance and the wisdom to seek help, as Buddy did, wins the admiration of those you command.
As soon as Buddy learned of his platoon's recalibrated mission, he set out to find someone with solid experience in what the army calls MOUT, military operations in urban terrain. A ranger-trained officer in Buddy's battalion who fit the bill agreed to put the platoon through the necessary exercises, teaching the soldiers how to cover for others under enemy fire and similar combat techniques.
On their first day as quick responders, while nervously awaiting news of a flare-up that would require them to take action, Buddy took the opportunity to talk about how platoon members should process any prisoners. He had received some training at West Point but was far from expert. Waiting alongside Buddy's platoon were the operators of the Bradley armored transport vehicles. One Bradley operators was noticeably listening in, so Buddy asked if he had anything to add. It turned out the man was a former marine MP who had dealt with war prisoners. He gladly pitched in with first-rate advice on how to restrain prisoners, make sure they weren't carrying weapons or explosives, and handle their belongings.
The marine had barely finished when the order came to move in. Buddy's platoon was soon pouring out of the Bradleys on a street corner under siege. "Adrenaline was rushing, shots were being fired," he recalled, "and I saw my soldiers immediately do a job perfectly that they had never done before. It absolutely blew my mind." When the firefight subsided, Buddy's platoon counted thirty-eight prisoners and more than fifty weapons, including mortars, taken in its first mission. Best of all, nobody in the platoon was even injured.
For Buddy, the experience of that first mission reinforced something he already knew: "When there are ideas or expert reference power around you, you've got to be able and willing to use it. I couldn't and wouldn't do anything else in Iraq with my soldiers' lives on the line, but it goes beyond that. A lot of leaders I've been around in other much less dangerous situations were not willing to [ask for help]. They put their own pride first. It's a big mistake."
I battled my own vanity one dark night in January of 1998 when Benfold was tracking an Iraqi smuggler down the coast of Iran. It turned out to be the one and only night when I was, by necessity, not in command of the situation.
We were looking for a 125-to-150-foot Iraqi ship, a minitanker of sorts, that was smuggling fuel oil to avoid the sanctions plac the United Nations. Typically, these outlaws off-loaded their oil at a port in the United Arab Emirates. After leaving Iranian territorial waters near the Strait of Hormuz, it was only about a ten-mile jaunt through international waters into UAE territory. That's where the cat-and-mouse game of trying to intercept a smuggler's ship was played.
On this particular night we knew exactly where the smuggler was, but we didn't know when he was going to leave Iranian waters and make his dash for the UAE. When he suddenly made his move, Benfold and a British cruiser were ordered to give chase.
I ran to the bridge, knowing we had one chance, and one chance only, to get this guy. As I went topside to oversee things amid all the confusion, I found myself positively blinded. I had no idea where we were in relation to land and couldn't see a thing because of a full moon and the paralyzing glare of background light from land and the other ships in the area. Until my eyes adjusted, I experienced a spatial disorientation that I had never felt before—like a pilot who can't tell air from water or stars from city lights. It must have been similar to the pilot's vertigo that in 1999 caused John F. Kennedy Jr. to accidentally plunge his plane into the Atlantic waters off the coast of Massachusetts near Martha's Vineyard.
Making matters worse was the anxiety I felt. It was my job to catch that smuggler before he escaped into UAE waters, which he could do in less than thirty minutes. Each passing second of disorientation made me more panicky, and the more I panicked, the longer it took to reorient myself.
Finally, I realized I needed help, so I swallowed my pride and turned to Jeff Harley, my "It's your baby," I told him. "You've got the conn"—meaning that he had control over Benfold's maneuvering. "Take responsibility...because I can't right now."
Night vision is crucial when you're navigating a ship, and you don't always have the couple of minutes it takes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. The navy tries to counteract the problem by installing red lights in cabins and passageways. After dark, the white lights go down and the red ones come up. I usually spent evenings in my cabin under very subdued red lights just in case I had to go up to the bridge. That way, my eyes would adjust quickly.
On this particular night I had been doing just that. Ironically, I was too well prepared for the dark. The full moon and the glare from the land made the outside world a lot brighter than I had expected—certainly brighter than my cabin. Jeff had been on the bridge for hours, so he was fine. I wasn't happy at being temporarily incapacitated and unable to lead at that moment, but I was proud to have such a worthy leader to fill in for me. It was unconventional to turn over command to my executive officer—it was the first and last time I had to let someone else take charge. But it was absolutely the right thing to do.
I'd like to be able to end the story by saying that Jeff performed flawlessly and we caught the smuggler, but that would be only half right. Jeff did perform flawlessly, but the smuggler got away. The only way we could have stopped the guy was to ram him, and we weren't going to risk a billion-dollar ship on a rust bucket. So the British cruiser started firing warning shots at the smuggler. Unfortunately, Benfold was in the line of fire on the other side. I th picking up the phone and saying to the Brits, "I surrender, so stop shooting at us." But I didn't want to be the first modern U.S. warship to surrender to the Brits—even in jest. We had little choice but to drop back and watch the smuggler steam off to bootleg another day.
When I think back on incidents like that one, I thank my lucky stars that I had the good sense not to judge Jeff Harley on first impressions. Fortunately, I took the time to see not only who he was, but who he could be. In a host of small and not-so-small ways, I groomed my XO for the authority I wanted him to be able to assume. Leaders owe it to their organizations to prepare others for command. If we were refueling from an oiler, for example, I would turn to him for advice on our position. In public, when others were watching and waiting for me to make a decision, I'd turn to Jeff and say, "What do you think?" In these ways, I increased Jeff's stature on the ship. Saying he was second in command wasn't enough; I had to live those words every day if I wanted the crew to believe that Jeff was, in fact, my right-hand man.
I put my faith in writing too. The glowing evaluations I wrote for Jeff helped him get his own ship, USS Milius, which has become the best destroyer based in San Diego. What did I say in those evaluations? Simply that Jeff Harley was the best officer I had observed in my entire career. And that's true. He has now been selected for full-bird captain and will command his own cruiser. And what is more, I would have a beer with him any day.
LESSON: Dare your crew to be the best, and they will deliver.
Have you ever noticed how a lot of folks seem to divide the world into two kinds of people, a small group of serious overachievers, which naturally includes themselves, and a large majority of slackers, those doing the very minimum to get by? In the view of the overachievers, the slackers simply accept their fate and put in their time on some menial job. They may bitch and moan, but it won't do them any good. After all, they have no special talents and little or no ambition. All of that resides in the achiever class.
Fair warning: if you espouse this worldview and behave accordingly toward the people under your command, you will create a self-fulfilling prophecy—and you and your company will be the worse for it. Why? Because enormous energy and inventiveness lie fallow within some of those so-called slackers, just waiting to be activated by a leader who will challenge and inspire them to step out and accept greater responsibility.
Sure there's risk, both for you and for the people you push ahead—failure can be embarrassing and frustrating. But, believe me, the rewards far outweigh the downside.
Buddy Gengler has seen it go both ways. He has dared others to prove themselves, and been dared himself. He has seen some people rise to meet his expectations, and some fall short. But out of it all has emerged a champion of the challenge process who has notched numerous victories on his belt. Indeed, the order Buddy most enjoys giving contains just four words: "You are in charge."
As the leader of a platoon charged with firing a multiple-launch rocket system, Buddy's primary battle task was to perform forward reconnaissance and ensure a safe operating area (meaning no enemy are present) for the launchers to move ahead. In convoys, Gengler's vehicle first, in front of even his commanders, and it was equipped with its own weapon system, a gunner, and a sergeant who drove. The sergeant was also responsible for making sure that both the vehicle and weapon system were in good repair, and that his soldiers were always ready for any contingency mission.
Buddy gave the sergeant so-so marks—a good soldier but far from outstanding in the performance of his not-very-demanding duties. The vehicle wasn't always ready when needed; the ammunition can occasionally went missing from its place beside the weapon system; a dirty windshield often clouded Buddy's view—not an ideal situation for an officer on reconnaissance. "The sergeant should have been better at his job," Buddy told me. But then Buddy added: "I don't think he was challenged by it."
So Buddy found him a challenge.
When the platoon was reassigned to street-fighting duty shortly after arriving in Iraq, Buddy had to split the platoon in half to cover a twenty-four-hour period. He planned to lead one group himself and had a platoon sergeant in mind to lead the other. But first Buddy had to find someone to handle the platoon sergeant's substantial and complex duties at the operating base, which entailed getting food, water, and everything else to soldiers in the field so that they could operate at peak efficiency. The replacement would also have to guarantee round-the-clock security, since the base was vulnerable to attack at any moment.
Thinking that his lackadaisical sergeant-driver had unrealized potential, Buddy asked him to assume the role of acting platoon sergeant. "I know this is not your job," Buddy told him, "but I need you to take it on and make sure ever going right back here so I can focus on getting ready for the next mission."
Buddy was not disappointed. Within days, the base was operating smoothly. In fact, supplies started arriving at their destinations earlier and weapons and vehicles were cleaner and in better repair—all this from a guy who couldn't seem to maintain just one vehicle only a short time before. Suddenly, the sergeant was "walking around with a new air of confidence I'd never seen," Buddy said. "His reputation within the platoon changed completely."
The nearly miraculous thing was the effect the temporary platoon sergeant had on the rest of the team, whose morale had been devastatingly low. Mail was arriving irregularly if at all, water was so scarce that the soldiers marked lines on their water bottles to ration it, and the troops were being subjected to broiling temperatures. When they returned from a patrol, drenched in sweat and exhausted, the only thing most wanted to do was sack out. But, somehow, the sergeant, having taken complete responsibility for his own job, managed to motivate the soldiers to do the same. He had them cleaning their weapons and otherwise staying in a state of readiness for a possible attack. There's nothing like a new convert to inspire the masses.
The sergeant's amazing performance would never have happened if Buddy had not given him a chance to excel. He challenged the sergeant to reach higher than he'd ever reached before, and the sergeant rose to the occasion. That sergeant has since gone on to win a promotion.
Once a leader recognizes someone's potential to do more, Buddy said, it's the leader's duty to help the underachiever excel. The former slacker may be e nervous about being out in front, and it's up to the leader to supply the confidence the person needs to step up.
As I mentioned, Buddy has been on both ends of the challenge. His commanding officer asked him to take over the quick-response duties after he came to Iraq primed for another mission. But Buddy didn't hesitate, even though he was being asked to move outside his area of expertise. He was ready and eager to learn something new and to assume a larger leadership role, which, in itself, is the mark of a great leader.
"It was a gutsy call," he said of the CO's decision to place an inexperienced young officer in the role. "It might not have worked out. In business, if you make a bad decision, you lose money. You make a bad decision in the military—you put somebody on a post at the wrong time or the wrong place—and the next thing you know, you're writing a letter to their parents."
But in or out of the military, challenging your team members to take on larger roles is a vital and necessary part of leading and of forging new leaders. For Buddy, the commanding officer's decision to widen his responsibilities changed his life. "Because he gave me those experiences, now whatever I'm faced with as a leader," Buddy said, "I have a bedrock confidence because I know nothing will be more difficult than what I achieved in Iraq." And because of what was done for him, he has become more willing to delegate power and trust to his soldiers. "I know full well that it's my shoes that will be smoking in front of my superior's desk if it doesn't work out," he said, "but I will do it because that's what good leaders do."
I did a similar thing on Benfold when I allowed all qualified wa standers, regardless of rank, to have access to the radio telephones—the ship-to-ship receiving-and- transmitting radio system that allows members of a carrier battle group to communicate with one another. Previously, only officers could use the R/T nets on Benfold. But I thought every watch stander should have access to ship-to-ship communication links if his or her duties required it.
However, I was extremely demanding about what was said. No one on my ship was going to key the microphone and say something dumb, such as "Hey Nimitz, this is Bob here on Benfold." Of all the traditions that I sought to uphold, speaking clearly and concisely on the R/T net was the one with no room for compromise. I expected superior performance from everyone. You represented USS Benfold every time you keyed that radio, so you had better know exactly what you were going to say beforehand.
The captain's cabin on Benfold was its own little nerve center. I could watch the radar, monitor the flight deck, and, yes, tune in to the R/T nets. I had rigged up extra circuits (contrary to navy regulations, actually) so I could monitor conversations on three radios at the same time. And if I heard something I didn't like, something that didn't sound polished and professional, I was swift and merciless. Keying up my intercom, I'd simply intone my displeasure, sounding like the voice of God.
No one ever did anything awful. But they didn't always put Benfold's best foot forward. You know how a flight attendant will sometimes key the microphone on a plane, having every intention of saying something intelligent, only to end up sounding like a complete idiot— with all the passengers snickering? That's what hap some of my crew members. I remember one in particular, a fantastic sonar technician named Drew Martinez. Great as he was at tracking submarines, he had not been trained to be a gifted communicator. When speaking on the net, he went on and on and round and round, taking far too long to get where he wanted to go. That's when I would break in and share my displeasure. "Chief Martinez," I'd intone, "I was not impressed with your last transmission." Sailors sitting at their consoles with headsets dreaded hearing the captain come on to critique their transmissions publicly. And, normally, I was not one to criticize publicly. However, the outside world forms its opinion of your organization based on your spokespeople. I wanted those watch standers to know they we re our spokespeople.
Clear, crisp, and concise professional communication is an indicator of your commitment to your job. I believe that if you pay attention to the way you communicate, the chances are good that you're also paying attention to every other aspect of your work. Poor communication is not an absolute indicator of other job-related problems, but often, once you start connecting the dots, you do discover other areas that need work. Sloppy speaking habits were one of my pet peeves, and, interestingly enough, my crew soon felt the same way. Martinez eventually became a first- rate R/T net communicator, and he was only too happy to join the rest of the crew in heckling other ships when their messages were unclear or just plain stupid.
In their heart of hearts, however, my sailors apparently still wished I'd quit hassling them. Here's how I know: The bridge kept a top-ten list of most-favorite and least-favorite words an phrases employed by their dear captain, me. Right at the top of the favorites was my nightly request on the intercom: "Bridge, would you please turn down the volume on my radios?" That told them that I was going to sleep and wouldn't be listening for a few hours. The ship would breathe a collective sigh of relief. The least favorite phrase? "Bridge, would you please turn up the volume on my radios?" That meant that it was a new day and the captain was listening again.
Posted April 4, 2005
Concept actualized! In this follow-up to It's Your Ship, Abrashoff tells of six leaders who embody the ideals of grassroots leadership. This book allowed me to see how the concepts described in the first book could prove invaluable to any setting - be it battleships or bakeries! Abrashoff also weaves in more personal experiences, rounding out what is a must read for any leader in today¿s business world! Since embracing Abrashoff's leadership techniques in my own business and passing out copies of his books to my employees, I have never seen so much productivity and PRIDE on daily basis! I have empowered my team and challenged them to be their best. I never could have imagined how incredible their best would be. Abrashoff's ideas have permanently changed my view of leadership and improved my business!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2005
I found the unsung heros in this second book by Abrashoff to be deeply inspirational and further evidence that there are many ways to lead. Chapter 5 about Laura Folse and her views on authenticity is particularly inspiring.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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