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

My Interview on The Leadership Update Brief

Today I appeared on the Leadership Update Brief to talk about my latest book, I Have the Watch. During this podcast, I talk about the origins of my leadership story and the genesis for my new book.

The Leadership Update Brief on C-Suite Radio with Ed Brzychcy is a podcast for today’s entrepreneurs and business leaders who want to accelerate their growth towards next level success.

This is a great back-and-forth discussion on the importance of leadership and the role of the leader. So, listen in and enjoy my conversation with Ed!

For those of you who have been asking, I Have the Watch is now available on Audible.

Calm Under Pressure

“Losing your head in a crisis is a good way to become the crisis.” C.J. Redwine

Dealing with Bad News

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

We had just landed a large order for a new product and we didn’t have the parts to build it. Our engineering manager was briefing the head of sales and me. He estimated it would take 10 weeks before we received the critical parts. The problem was that the customer needed the product next week.

Sales had worked hard to book this order. It was from a customer we had been pursuing for months. If we failed to deliver, we would likely lose this customer forever. The stakes couldn’t be higher. I was frustrated but I was trying not to show it. I asked a few questions to explore various options and then it happened, our sales manager lost his cool. He said, “this is totally unacceptable!” and he stormed off.

Even though I agreed with him, I stayed calm and continued to ask questions. I finally asked the engineering manager to send me the drawings so I could consider other options. Little did I know, I was exhibiting a leadership trait called temperance.

The Importance of Temperance

Plato defined temperance as “moderation in action, thought, or feeling; restraint.” Temperance is voluntary self-restraint from excessive anger or craving for something. It shows up in the form of calmness and self-control. It’s the idea of holding back on your natural reaction to circumstances. Temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues and it is an important leadership trait. In fact, it probably saved the world.

In 1962, during the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis, one Soviet Submarine Officer, Vasily Arkhipov, displayed the ultimate example of leadership temperance.

The Fog of War

Arkhipov was the second-in-command of the Soviet Foxtrot-class diesel submarine B-59 and the commander of the small submarine flotilla operating near Cuba. On October 27th, B-59 was detected by several U.S. Navy destroyers. As was the protocol at the time, the U.S. ships started dropping signaling depth charges to get the Soviet boat to come to the surface and identify themselves.

Since B-59 had been operating at a deep depth, they were out of radio contact with Moscow and unaware of the status of the standoff with the U.S. Navy. The commanding officer of B-59 assumed the war had begun and they were under attack. He began planning a counter-attack which would include launching a nuclear-tipped torpedo at the U.S. fleet.

The Decision

Soviet procedures required three officers to approve the launch of a nuclear weapon. The commanding officer, the second-in-command, and the political officer all had to agree to launch the deadly weapon. Both the commanding officer and the political officer thought they were at war so they pressured Arkhipov to approve the launch of the nuclear torpedo.

The conditions in the boat were grim. B-59 had been submerged for far too long and the battery was losing power. The air conditioning had failed and it was close to 140 degrees in some areas on the boat. In the stale, stifling conditions on the sub, Arkhipov was faced with a tough decision. He could yield to the pressure and fire the torpedo which would likely lead to WWIII or he could maintain self-restraint and calmly think through the problem.

In an act of extreme temperance, Arkhipov calmly ordered B-59 to surface and establish radio contact with Moscow where they quickly learned they were not at war. Arkhipov’s calmness and self-control in the midst of dire circumstances likely saved the world from an all-out nuclear war.

Calm Under Pressure

As a leader, we are often faced with tough decisions and it’s easy to cave to peer pressure, get caught up in the moment, or become emotional. Our people, however, need us to be calm and exhibit temperance and self-restraint. We need to remain calm under pressure and make the right decisions for our organizations.

“Remaining calm in the midst of chaos is a superpower.” Clyde Lee Dennis

In my case, I was able to think through our parts shortage problem and, after talking with our manufacturing engineering manager, we developed a plan to rework some existing inventory to meet our needs. In the end, we would be able to produce the product and meet our customer’s needs.

You may never be called on to make a decision like Vasily Arkhipov but you will face many difficult situations where you will need to exhibit self-restraint. Temperance is an important leadership trait that allows us to remain calm, cool, and rational in the face of uncertain and chaotic circumstances. Temperate leadership is critical especially during times of uncertainty. People want a calm and steady hand on the rudder during a rough storm.

Practicing temperance can help you to be a better leader and, you never know, it might just save the world.

Learn more about how to be a more effective leader in my new book, I have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following.