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Captain Ryan commanded USS PHILADELPHIA and USS L.Y. SPEAR

I recently had the pleasure of commissioning Ensign Bill Donnell, a nuclear Machinist Mate who had served with me ten years ago when I commanded USS PHILADELPHIA. I chose this opportunity to talk about people and leadership, passing on to the next generation some very basic leadership insights that I’ve developed over the last twenty-five years, and that we so often tend to forget.

  • Get to know your people. Take time to talk to them about their past, about what they’re doing now, and about their plans for the future. Each sailor and officer is a unique individual and should be treated as such. Many times leaders mouth the phrase “people are our most important asset,” without taking action commensurate with that belief. People really are the most important asset we have in the Navy, and we need to give that concept more than just lip-service.
  • Encourage your people to improve themselves through additional qualifications and off duty education. Most people join the military for skill training or education. Encourage them to get it and periodically provide relevant information. Let your people know about in-service college programs and special programs they may be eligible for, like the Naval Academy Prep School, BOOST, etc. The more senior you are, the greater access you have to information resources. Pass the information to those who might be able to use it.
  • Take time to recognize superior performance and pay attention to those guys and gals who work hard in supporting roles: Repair Parts Petty Officers, cooks, midnight bakers, etc. There are many ways to recognize people: letters of commendation, Sailor of the Quarter/Year, letters to spouses and parents, special liberty, and finally, personal awards. Awards are cheap. Unlike industry, we can’t reward good performance with cash bonuses. The typical ribbon costs about 59 cents, but it’s worth its weight in gold to the person who receives it. Leaders just need to take the time to write the letter of commendation or fill out the award form.
  • Be sensitive to the needs or your subordinates and take care of them. One wise old Prospective Commanding Officer instructor once told his class: “Remember, the Captain’s the only guy on board who gets excited about going to sea.” Translate that down to your department, division or work center: everybody’s not as excited about their jobs as you are. Make sure you recognize their individual needs and give your sailors, and officers, periodic rope-yam Wednesdays, occasional long weekends, compensatory time off after exams, etc. It’s a small way of saying thanks for your hard work.
  • Lead from the deck plates or use an our and about leadership style. In the computer age there’s an increasing tendency to communicate via e-mail. E-mail has its place, but a leader needs to be seen and heard to lead effectively. Get out of your office or stateroom, walk around your spaces, and talk to your assigned personnel. It’s easy on a submarine, but harder on a large ship like a submarine tender. You need to do it anyhow and you ‘II be amazed at what you learn sometimes.
  • Practice what you preach. Your subordinates will watch what you do and how you behave. There should only be one standard, and everyone should adhere to it. Keep your credibility intact.

In summary. people really are the most important asset we have in our Navy. As we become more senior. whether in the officer or enlisted ranks, we’ll have an even greater impact on the sailors and officers we come into contact with. Take good care of them, they are the Navy’s future.

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