Why It’s a Bad Idea to Run a Ship Aground

You probably know I was a Naval Officer early in my career.

Well, did you know the Navy has a zero-tolerance policy for running a ship aground?

That’s the funny thing about the Navy. They want their billion-dollar warships operating in liquids, not solids. If there’s a collision, usually the Officer of the Deck AND the Captain both lose their jobs.

And get this. Even if the Captain wasn’t standing watch at the time, he or she is still liable.

You’re probably thinking, how is that fair?

How is it fair that the Captain, who isn’t even driving the boat or giving orders at the time, can still be liable if something bad happens?

Well, the answer deals with how the Navy views responsibility.

In the Navy, the Captain is fully responsible for everything that happens onboard. If the ship runs aground, ultimately, it’s the Captain’s fault for not training the crew and supervising them properly.

This is how the Navy viewed responsibility.

As a Naval Officer, we were always taught that you can delegate authority but you can never delegate responsibility.

You can delegate authority but you can never delegate responsibility. Click To Tweet

What does that mean?

It means, you can give people under your command the authority to get something done but if anything goes wrong, the leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on their watch.

They are responsible for everything that happens under their command – good or bad.

If a ship runs aground, the Captain will have to answer for it.

Because of this reason, U.S. Navy Captains take the job of training and developing their crews very seriously.

They require competent teams because they are literally staking their career on it.

So, let’s contrast this with Corporate America.

In most companies, I see the opposite behavior. I see bosses who regularly delegate responsibility but they keep all the authority to themselves.

I see bosses who regularly delegate responsibility but they keep all the authority to themselves. Click To Tweet

Employees aren’t given the authority to get things done but they are still held accountable for the results. If anything goes wrong, it’s usually the employee who takes all the blame.

…and the boss never faces any consequences.

You’re probably shaking your head in agreement right now. I’m sure you’ve seen this behavior as well. Bad bosses tend to delegate responsibility but not authority.

And this is incredibly frustrating for employees.

When authority and responsibility are not in balance, employees are left discouraged and disillusioned.

So, think about your organization.

How are you dealing with these two important aspects of leadership?

Are you using the Navy model where you delegate authority but not responsibility?

Or, are you following the Corporate America model where you delegate responsibility but not authority?

How you manage these two leadership aspects is the difference between engaged employees who love their jobs or those who are frustrated and are looking to leave.

I talk about this issue in a lot more detail on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast.

Deep Leadership Podcast


P.S. If you like this leadership concept and you want to learn more, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas like this on how you can become a more effective leader.

leadership book

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