Leadership: Navy Style

This posting is dedicated to all the men and women of the United States Military.  Perhaps it was the 4th of July or reading about Major Dick Williams (Commander, Easy Company), but I feel a dept of gratitude to those individuals, past and present, that have served our county.  Throughout my travels and airport adventures, I have had the privilege of meeting individuals from all branches of the United States Armed Forces.  I make it a point to thank them for their service and commitment to the United States.

While watching CARRIER, the PBS show that follows the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz on a six month deployment, I was awestruck by the Navy’s chain of command, disciple, and work-hard-play-hard mentality.  For the USS Nimitz to function properly, each and every individual on that ship must be on-the-same-page, motivated, and committed to excellence. 

As an exercise, I decided to compare the leadership of the USS Nimitz to a typical enterprise.  After-all, my career has been fraught with leadership and sales training that centered on military tactics and terminology. Can today’s businesses learn from the military’s chain of command?  Do we want to?

The Captain is the CEO of the ship.  They are responsible for the overall success or failure of the mission and have the ultimate responsibility for all the men and women aboard their ship.    The Captain must balance the demands from above with the reality of the capabilities of those under their command.  For some reason, I find this role to be somewhat lonely as the Captain knows things they cannot talk about and have few people to share their thoughts and ideas.

While the Captain is important to the ship, they cannot possibly maintain complete control of every aspect of the ship.  Therefore the Captain has Officers that set direction and maintain disciple.  The Captain has an Executive Officer who is their right hand person and may be equated with a Chief Operating Officer or President.  The officers give orders for what has to be done and the Chiefs make it happen.

I’ll stop there as my knowledge of the Navy’s line of command is similar to my knowledge of plumbing (the best tool in my box is my checkbook).   However, I would like to offer one more observation.  The carrier is organized into divisions/groups of individuals that have specific roles aboard the ship.  While a pilot may not socialize with an ordinance technician, they work together in perfect harmony throughout the deployment. 

Similarly IT is usually organized into different departments that have specific roles to complete; networking, security, tools group, storage, servers, etc.   While each department is important, no one department is above the rest, and the company depends on the interworking of these different roles for success.  Does your company operate this way?  Do networking and security get along?  Do you fight with the server group for administrative rights on your servers? 

In the end, Leadership is an important factor in the success or failure of an Enterprise.  While it may be impossible for the commercial world to implement the type of disciple in the Military, we can learn from their command structure, commitment to excellence, teamwork, and pride.  For now, let us take the time to thank those men and women who proudly wear or have worn the uniform and keep us safe.