Who’s to Blame When a $3 Billion Submarine Runs Aground?

On October 2, the U.S. nuclear attack submarine USS Connecticut hit an unknown underwater object while operating submerged in the South China Sea. 11 sailors were injured in the collision forcing the Connecticut to limp back to Guam on the surface to assess the damage to the $3 billion warship.

As a submarine veteran connected to the submarine community, I heard a lot of speculation about what might have happened. Was it a collision with another submarine? Were they operating in the shallow waters near the coast of a foreign nation?

Most of the submarine veterans I spoke to came to the same conclusion – it was probably an uncharted seamount, something we all feared.

Seamounts are significant geologic landforms that rise from the ocean floor but do not reach the surface. They are formed by extinct volcanoes and rise abruptly to more than 13,000 feet, as tall as the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

Despite having detailed charts of the ocean floor, many seamounts are unknown. Driving a submarine into one of them at high speed is the equivalent of flying an airplane into the side of a mountain shrouded in fog – it can be deadly.

In 2005, the USS San Francisco struck an uncharted seamount at full speed near Guam. One sailor died in the collision.

So, who is to blame when a nuclear submarine slams into one of these uncharted sea mountains?

Everyone in the U.S. Navy knows the answer to that question – it’s the Captain.

The Navy has a zero-tolerance policy for running a ship aground.

Not surprisingly, the Navy just announced that the Captain of the Connecticut was relieved of command due to a “loss of confidence.” The Navy wants their billion-dollar warships operating in liquids, not solids. When there’s a collision, the Captain always loses their job.

Even if the Captain wasn’t standing watch at the time, they are still liable.

You’re probably thinking, how is this 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 wrong happens?

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

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

This is how the Navy views responsibility – the leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on their watch.

The leader is ultimately responsible for everything that happens on their watch. Click To Tweet

It’s a refreshing view of leadership.

Too often, we hear stories of politicians and corporate bosses ducking their responsibilities. They try to point the finger of blame on others in their organizations when things go wrong.

President Truman had it right when he famously said, “the buck stops here.” He had a no-nonsense approach to accepting responsibility for any decisions he made as President. He knew that he was ultimately responsible for everything that happened on his watch.

Accepting responsibility is a sign of a mature leader. People want to work for a leader who stands up for their team and doesn’t try to pass the blame when things go wrong.

People want to work for a leader who stands up for their team and doesn’t try to pass the blame when things go wrong. Click To Tweet

Leadership is more than just the title, the perks, and the paycheck. It’s about being responsible for the mission and the people under our care.

Leadership is difficult.

As leaders, we cannot pass the blame.

We must always be responsible and accountable, especially when things go wrong.

If you want to learn what it’s like living and leading on a nuclear submarine at sea, check out my new book, All in the Same Boat.

[Photo: The USS San Francisco in drydock after the collision. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Mark Allen Leonesio]

Who’s Gonna Carry the Boats?

Have you seen the video of former Navy SEAL David Goggins working out with endurance athlete Cameron Hanes?

In the video, Goggins is bench-pressing after what looks like a long workout. As he struggles, he yells out, “You don’t know me, son!” multiple times and pushes through a few more reps. As he continues to weaken, he stares at the camera intensely and screams out, “Who’s gonna carry the boats?”

Goggins reaches deep into his soul at his breaking point and pulls out a mantra that he developed in the Navy during BUD/S training.

He asks the question, “Who’s gonna carry the boats?”

Navy BUD/S training is basic training for Navy SEALs. Located in Coronado, California, it’s considered the toughest physical military training in the world. As part of that training, candidates are assigned to crews and carry inflatable boats that weigh more than 200 pounds through deep sand.

They do this for hours on end until candidates collapse from sheer exhaustion.

Goggins developed this mantra to keep his boat crew motivated as they suffered together. As teammates would drop off, the boat became heavier, and the remaining candidates would feel frustrated, depressed, and mentally fatigued. They all wanted to quit.

He would yell out, “Who’s gonna carry the boats?” to spur the remaining team forward and encourage those who dropped out to get back into the fight.

As I thought of this question, I considered it from a leadership perspective.

On that beach, Goggins led by example. He wasn’t just encouraging his crew with his words; he was leading them with his actions as well. He could only motivate those exhausted sailors on that lonely beach because he was physically, mentally, and emotionally strong.

He answered the question of “who’s gonna carry the boats” by his actions.

His actions said, “I will. Who’s with me?”

As leaders, we can’t expect people to do things we are unable or unwilling to do ourselves. Our people need to see us lead by example.

As leaders, we can’t expect people to do things we are unable or unwilling to do ourselves Click To Tweet

When things get tough, people will look to us to see how we’re dealing with the challenge. If we wilt under pressure, our team will as well. This is why leaders need to train themselves to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong.

Leaders need to train themselves to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong. Click To Tweet

The stronger we are, the more able we are to lead, especially in tough times. And in business, there will always be tough times.

Think about this in your leadership journey.

Are you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong?

Are you preparing yourself to lead in the tough times?

How will you answer the question, “Who’s gonna carry the boats?”

The only correct answer as a leader is, “I will. Who’s with me?”

If you want to become a better leader, order my latest book You Have the Watch: A Guided Journal to Become a Leader Worth Following.

This guided journal provides daily leadership guidance and reflection for an entire year. Each week, you will learn a new leadership skill. Each day, you will explore a new facet of that skill. As you do the work and put in the reps as a leader, this journal will be your constant companion. By the end of the year, you will master fifty of the most important leadership skills.

 

 

[Photo Nelvin C. Cepeda]

Overcoming Life’s Obstacles with Consistent Persistence

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew you were in trouble?

It happened to me on my first day at Nuclear Power School. I found myself surrounded by graduates of top engineering schools like MIT, Stanford, and Georgia Tech. These were the brightest technical minds in the country assembled in one place for one reason – to become nuclear engineers in the U.S. Navy.

It didn’t take long to realize; I was in over my head.

Growing up during the Cold War, my dream was to one day become a Nuclear Submarine Officer. I was fascinated with the idea of undersea warfare.

The problem was, I needed to be technically strong to get into this elite service.

I did well enough in High School to get into a decent Engineering School. I had even graduated with honors, but there was a dirty little secret.

I wasn’t that smart.

All my academic achievements had come through hard workperseverance, and stubborn persistence.

All my academic achievements had come through hard work, perseverance, and stubborn persistence. Click To Tweet

I walked into the military’s most challenging technical school – one with a 40% failure rate – as a fraud.

This school was a place for the best and the brightest, and I knew I was neither. I was just a blue-collar kid with a big dream. I also feared that hard work, the one thing I had relied on for years, wouldn’t be enough to get through this challenge.

I started well. My grades were decent, and I began to think I could make it. But soon, the depth and pace of the training took its toll. My GPA started to slip.

It was clear I was in a fight for my life.

I consider the alternatives. What would happen if I failed?

For one thing, it would crush my dream. I would probably get assigned to some rusty, reserve frigate out of Long Beach, and spend my Navy career hunting for drug smugglers.

The Cold War was on, and I wanted to chase Soviet submarines.

I made a decision then and there – I would do whatever it took to get through this school.

Failure was not an option.

I doubled down on the only thing I knew, hard work. I studied my notes from every lecture and completed extra assignments every day. I sought out tutoring and spent my nights in the study room, ensuring I fully understood every concept.

I attacked this challenge with the same stubborn persistence I had used my whole life.

And it worked.

I graduated from Nuclear Power School, and I achieved my dream of becoming a Nuclear Submarine Officer.

It was the most formidable challenge I have ever faced, and I almost failed. I almost gave in to the overwhelming feeling that I didn’t belong there, I wasn’t smart enough, and I couldn’t do it.

I achieved my goal by not giving up.

I achieved my goal by not giving up. Click To Tweet

I tell you this story because I recently had a guest on my podcast, Dean Bundschu, who talked about this concept.

He explained that military veterans are well-suited to become entrepreneurs because they display one crucial characteristic – consistent persistence. When things get tough, they work harder to overcome the challenge.

It reminded me of the Babe Ruth quote, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

Whatever you face today, understand you can overcome even the most challenging situation through daily, consistent effort and refusing to quit.

I have the watch book

 

Listen to my full interview with Dean Bundschu here.

And for more stories like this,  pick up a copy of my bestselling leadership book, I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following here.