Dr. Monroe-Jones is an Industrial Psychologist consulting in Organizational Development and Labor Relations. He is also the Director of the Submarine Research Center in Bangor, Washington. He qualified in Submarines twice: as an enlisted man on STERLET and as an Officer in SIRAGO. He is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW.
Job competence has proven to be the one indispensible factor of submarine leadership. Whatever leadership qualities a submarine commissioned officer or petty officer may have possessed, they counted for little if the person lacked a level of competence, that by itself was worthy of admiration.
Leadership has been the subject of analysis by psychologists and executives in the military and private industry. The many-sided subject has often taken on the particular bias of the person claiming to have discovered the true nature of what makes a good leader. Most such pundits have spoken of personal charisma as an essential element of effective leadership. Charisma has defied real definition, but has been most often referred to in terms of a supervisor’s charm which generates a positive feeling by subordinates toward the supervisor. One authority suggested that a profound belief in one’s own power produced an irresistible charm and grace. Robert House, Ph.D., stated that, “Charismatic leaders exhibit greater self-confidence, persistence, determination, passion and optimism than their run-of-the-mill counterparts.”
This description might have fit a Second World War German submarine commanding officer who displayed the quality of supreme self confidence, but who failed the test of competency and became a model of ineffective leadership which ultimately led to his death. Peter Zschech had served with the famous Jochen Mohr in U-124. He became commanding officer of U-505 and went aboard with high expectations of himself. Hans Goebeler, a crew member, described his new captain as follows, “Zschech also seemed very eager, perhaps a bit too eager, to get at the enemy. He actually had the cheek to criticize his mentor, Jochen Mohr for being too timid. This we took with a grain of salt since Mohr was universally regarded as one of our greatest U-boat commanders. We suspected Zschech had a bad case of Halsschmerttzen, or sore throat, a condition common to many young officers and one that could only be cured by wearing a Knight’s Cross around the neck. Later, Goebeler saw his captain going to pieces, “Our skipper seemed especially troubled by our situation. With each malfunction, Zschech’s behavior became more erratic, alternating between morose introversion and sadistic outbursts of aggression.
Equating charisma and real leadership is overly simplistic. Dr. House’s prescription falls short of applicability to submarines. Practical-minded officers and petty officers who have been submarine crew members have tended to trust their own experience in identifying persons who were looked upon as, good leaders or ineffective leaders. The problem of such a practical approach has been the difficulty of pin-pointing those qualities or behaviors that have contributed to the person’s reputation. Were they born leaders or were they what the Navy produced by training? The Navy has traditionally assumed that any competent submariner could learn the skills and attributes of a good leader. In effect, a submarine officer/petty officer who articulated with subordinates in a pre-defined manner would be regarded as having the qualities of good leadership.
The 2004 Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England, addressed this issue within the United States Naval Academy’s Forrestal Lecture Series. He identified key leadership concepts which appeared in the Spring, 2004 issue of Undersea Warfare.5 His speech continues to be applicable to submarine officers and is particularly poignant as changes in Submarine Force mission demand ever more command competency. The honorable Mr. England suggested 15 specifics that represented the framework of leadership in submarines. They are paraphrased as follows:
- Provide an environment for every person to excel.
- Treat every person with dignity and respect
- Be forthright, honest and direct.
- Improve effectiveness to gain efficiency.
- Respect the time of others.
- Identify the critical problems that need solution for the organization to succeed.
- Describe complex issues and problems simply.
- Never stop learning.
- Encourage constructive criticism.
- Surround yourself with great people and delegate to them full authority and responsibility.
- Make ethical standards more important than legal requirements.
- Strive for team-based wins.
- Emphasize capability, not organization.
- Incorporate measures and metrics everywhere.
- Concentrate on core functions and outsource all others.
The Secretary’s comments were in answer to questions coming from submariners who looked for some behavioral changing axioms; however, his constructs were open to variable interpretation in their application to the submarine environment.
In contrast to the Secretary’s suggestions were those of a Second World War German submarine officer who advised his prospective commanders to look at leadership from the perspective of day-to-day problems peculiar to the lives of submariners. Wolfgang Lueth’s (spelled Lueth, providing for the umlauted u) practical applications were of value at a time when submariners endured living conditions much more severe than modern American submarines. Never-the-less, his suggestions may have merit when looking at the historically illusive subject of leadership in submarines.
While receiving the oak leaves, swords and diamonds to his Knight’s Cross from Adolf Hitler, Lueth, the second highest scoring U-boat skipper, was asked the secret of his success. Lueth’s reply was, “I care about my men.” Lueth was a remarkable submarine commander, having sunk 47 Allied ships for a total of 225,756 tons had commanded U-13, U-9, U-138, U-43 and U-181 before being assigned as commandant of the Marineschule-Muerwik in 1943. History would have been denied Lueth’s insights, were it not for a lecture he gave on 17 December, 1943.
The lecture to prospective commanding officers of U-boats was intended to illustrate the behaviors of effective submarine leadership. It dwelled on the two dimensions of submarine warfare; boredom and stamina to withstand the pressures of undersea combat. He described submarine warfare as a war of nerves, not only from depth charging, but the isolation from the outside world which demanded much of a man’s sanity. Lueth’s suggestions were essentially a check-list for submarine leadership taken from his experience as commanding officer of several type IX German submarines. Paraphrasing his lecture, he said,
“Life aboard a submarine on patrol lacks the natural rhythm of life on land. Sleep cycles are set by the submarine’s routine and have no relation to day and night. These demands also produce dependency on caffeine in strong coffee for stamina in watch standing. Smoking’s narcotic affect together with coffee are most adverse when fatigue from lack of sleep drains men’s alertness. Lack of exercise in confined living, together with a limited diet produce long-lasting physical problems.”
These ailments have subsequently been well-recognized by submarine physicians, but in Lueth’s day every man was expected to deal with boredom, constipation, fatigue, skin problems and lack of hygiene as a part of being a stalwart submariner. In combating these conditions Lueth saw the importance of discipline, sense of mission, daily routine, officer attitudes, and spiritual leadership as key to a boat’s success.
He continued his address, “Discipline and punishment for infractions or incompetence is a matter of the special conditions brought on by life in a submarine. For example, withholding leave or liberty is not appropriate since the time laps between the infraction and punishment is too great. A number of bunkless days where the steel plates of the torpedo room are most inhospitable brings home the point far better. The errant seaman may be assigned to sorting rotten potatoes, or cleaning bilges. The worst is to place a man “in Conventry” for a week or so and this peer pressure is far more severe than withholding pay or liberty.
Antithetical to today’s views was his suggestion that a man’s infraction and punishment should be known to the crew. This information was to be placed on the bulletin board and in the ship’s paper. But, Lueth’s over-riding concept to prospective commanding officers was to prevent a condition that might lead to incompetence, an error in judgment, a lack of alertness or other action or lack thereof which might place the submarine in jeopardy. Punishment was intended to educate. According to Lueth, when each crew member knows his responsibility to his fellow submariners, each man becomes a leader in his own right. To this end, he proposed the following tenets of a commanding officer’s discretion: As he used his fingers to emphasize each concept:
- “Insist that watches be relieved on time. It is a matter of personal honor.”
- “Respect includes recognition of the captain when he enters a compartment.”
- “Lookouts may be allowed to talk while surface cruising providing alertness is maintained.”
- “Let the crew share in the mission’s success. Pass the word as to what’s up tactically to every man in the crew.”
- When a job is well done, create a ceremony to recognize a man’s or team contribution.”
- “Share the bridge with off-watch crew members not normally involved in the central operation of the boat.”
- “Keep a well regulated daily routine without too much regimentation. Leave a little slack for spontaneity.”
- “A man’s bunk and sleep time are inviolable except in emergency.”
- “Evening half-hour of crew member-created entertainment is a morale booster.”
- “Holidays are occasions for special events and recognition. Preparation is the focus of the fun.”
- “Keep a clean ship. Saturday is devoted to clean sweep-downs.”
- “Daily CO conferences with key petty officers keep the CO aware of brewing problems.”
- “Keep a reign on poor taste, be it profanity, pornography or sense of humor.”
- ” Insist on courtesy in the wardroom, crews mess and passageways.”
- “Give the officers access to the wardroom so they can grumble about the captain in private.”
- “Test diving officer and conning officers by asking “what-if’ questions pertaining to emergency procedures.”
- “Keep calm under the most trying circumstances.”
- “Hold tournaments and competition- singing, chess, etc.- give prizes such as a day off without duty.”
- “Recognize birthdays in the crew’s mess with first servings.”
- “Give lectures and classes on nautical issues that all seamen should know.”
Elsewhere in the speech Lueth made more subtle suggestions
- “Listen to the gripes of your crew and take action when necessary.”
- “Organization for its sake is of little value. Concentrate on performance improvement.”
- “Make every subordinate feel indispensable to the mission of the submarine.”
- “Never compromise your ethical standards. Expect your subordinates to live their lives ashore within the reasonable bounds of Naval tradition.
- “Let your subordinates know where they stand in your judgment of their performance. A ‘Well done’ is all that is needed.”
While much of Wolfgang Lueth’s suggestions may have been vested in the peculiar demands of the German submarine service, his comments should not be ignored in an examination of submarine leadership history.