Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Getting respect: Sometimes you just need to do

The last few months, I keep hearing about "respect," typically as in "someone is not respecting me as a (chief/division officer/naval officer/petty officer/whatever)." I am told that Millenials don't respect their chain of command, and that if we could only harken back to the old days, we would be far better for it.

To that I say, bullshit.

The reason Millenials (or any other generation) have a problem respecting their chain of command has nothing to do with their generation and everything to do with how leaders are earning that respect. I explained this in a long conversation over some beverages to a friend, where we focused less on what Millenials/Xenials/(insert stupid generation name here) expect, and more on the shortfalls of our current leaders. Together, we came up with three shortfalls:

- Leaders don't "do" anymore.
- Leaders don't differentiate between people.
- Leaders don't communicate well.

Let's tackle the first one. In general, leaders don't "do" anymore. And by "do," I mean actually perform actions that make something happen.

When I was going through nuclear prototype school, one of the requirements was to take a primary sample, where you sample the water that circulates directly around the reactor. It's a delicate process, because you have to be quick or else you get exposed longer to radionuclides than you might want. To make studying easier, the prototype had a replica sample sink in our training room that we could practice on. So I did, running through the procedure over and over again until I could do it fairly well.

I went to schedule time with our leading Engineering Laboratory Technician (ELT), who looked at me funny, but said we could do the midnight sample. So I showed up a bit before midnight, we did the sample, and with some corrections from him, I did OK. Afterwards, he told me that a lot of the students don't actually do a sample, they just sit back and watch a sample.

This wasn't the first time I would encounter this. At my various jobs, I would stick my hands in a motor generator for maintenance, put together Tomahawk missile packages, start the Auxiliary Power Unit on an EP-3, fight fires, build intelligence products, solder wires and shoot studs. As an officer, I didn't do these things often, because that wasn't my primary job. But since my Sailors did them, I made sure I did them at least once.

This does a few things for you. First, you get an appreciation for what your Sailors do. Ever clean a bilge before? It sucks. It's a tight space, smells horrible, and has all sorts of goop in it. I hated cleaning bilges, but I jumped in a few over the years, and I never forgot them. It made me appreciate when my Sailors did some nasty job, and I made sure to thank them after for it.

Second, you score points with your Sailors. I went on a midshipman cruise with three Naval Academy Midshipmen. Since it was my "Second Class" cruise, I was supposed to be experiencing being an enlisted Sailor, so I wore enlisted uniforms and ran around with my running mate. This experience included cleaning up oil in the torpedo room. The TMC was shocked to see a midshipman cleaning up his torpedo room, especially since the other mids were on the same cruise but not doing anything. After that day, I never had a problem getting help from anyone on the boat, since I was the midshipman that cleaned.

Your Sailors notice when you "do." You instantly break the stereotype of the leader that orders people around, but is otherwise incompetent. You don't even have to "do" very well. I'm not great with tools or good at cleaning, but I can do a decent job when I apply myself for an hour.


Now, you can't be "doing" all the time, because you're a leader, and you have things Like leave chits. And EVALs. And other sort of paperwork.

Guess what? Here's the second part of "do:" Do the easy things well. And do them quickly.

Leave chits are easy, and yet routinely people can't get them approved quickly. EVALs happen the same time every year, and yet every year people struggle to sign them and debrief them before the end of the month they are due. I've had people shocked when I simply read the chit brought to me and sign it that very minute (normally for something really simple). I just see no reason for paperwork to sit around a few days.

As a leader, your "doing" is often a lot of paperwork. Too many times you find excuses to not "do." You don't check NSIPS on a regular schedule for leave chits. You don't plan for EVALs. You routinely ignore what the boss puts out, then make everyone scramble because you can't meet deadlines.

And you are surprised when Sailors won't clean well, or do their jobs well, while you flounder at your own?

And you wonder why Sailors (both below and above you) don't respect you?

Part of it is because you simply can't "do."

So start doing. You'd be surprised how that changes things.


  1. While serving on the LINCOLN, I observed two of my Sailors trying to clean the grease off the bulkhead outside the cat room. They were lightly running rags over the grease, which of course did nothing to dislodge it. I grabbed a rag and demonstrated how to do it properly, cleaning about a square foot of bulkhead to give them an area to compare with and judge how well they were doing.

    My Department Head walked by as I did this, and I received my biggest ass-chewing of my tour. He thought it demeaned the title of officer to be seen cleaning. The fact that I was training and setting expectations was irrelevant to him.

  2. What I found most effective was to read every tech manual for the gear my divisions or departments worked on. I could short circuit a hundred manhour task by pointing out that the solution to the problem was in Chapter 7 and a complete tear down and rebuild or class b overhaul was not required.
    Be smarter than the problems by getting ahead of the problems.