Who’s Your Chief?

When I was just 23 years old, fresh out of submarine school, I was given my first leadership job.

I was assigned to lead the team of sailors who maintained and operated the complex systems that controlled the nuclear reactor on the USS Tennessee. It was a small group led by a senior enlisted sailor, a Chief Petty Officer, who had come up through the ranks.

The Chief Petty Officer was not only skilled, but he was also highly experienced. He had been in the Navy for almost as many years as I had been alive. He was older than me and had infinitely more knowledge in the maintenance and operation of nuclear reactor controls. And the team looked to him for guidance.

Yet, I was in charge.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees.

Many new leaders find themselves in this exact situation. They are asked to lead teams of older, more experienced employees. Click To Tweet

So, how can you be an effective leader if you’re young and inexperienced? It’s simple.

Find your Chief and learn from them.

You’re probably thinking – How do I find my Chief? In the Navy it was easy but how do I find my Chief in a business environment? Look for the person in the organization who is the opinion leader. Usually, they are a senior employee and a technical expert.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers.

Find out who the team naturally goes to for all the answers. Click To Tweet

That person is your Chief.

That’s the person you want to build a relationship with and learn from. In most cases, they don’t want your job, they are happy being the senior, technical expert. If you show them respect and learn from them, you will become a more effective leader for the team.

Deep Leadership PodcastListen to my conversation with retired Chief Petty Officer, Chuck Whitworth on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast to understand the important relationship between the Leader and the Chief.

And, if you need more ideas on how to be an effective leader, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas on how you can become a more effective leader.

 

Photo: USS Key West Chief of the Boat Master Chief Nicholas Harr (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey J. Hockenberger)

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.