Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chiefs on Deck -- Reality vs. Myth

Hey Shipmates, I want to talk today about reality vs. myth when it comes to deckplate leadership.

Our recollections of the way things were done will often determine how things are done in the future. These recollections or stories can have either a positive or negative effect on what we do and who we are. If they’re serving our needs well, there’s no need to change them. However, when the story is a myth and has become so much a part of our unconscious being that it drives our behavior, then it’s time to break the myth and bring the story back to its true reality.

I’m talking about “chiefs on deck!”

First let me state the myth: “Back in the day, if I ever saw my chief out of the goat locker, it meant I or one of my shipmates was going to get his or her butt chewed.”

Now the reality: “My chiefs were always in the spaces.” They were constantly checking the cleanliness and preservation of the equipment and ensuring the spaces they were responsible for were properly maintained. They were routinely seen with the division officer (DIVO) or the leading petty officer (LPO), wheelbook in hand, pointing at things and writing stuff down, presumably adding to the laundry list of things that needed to be done.

They were “mentoring” before any of us knew what the word meant and certainly before it became part of our Navy terminology. They were helping develop the young junior officer into a good officer who could become a great DIVO with the tools to be a successful department head and beyond. To the LPO who had seen this going on for years as he came up through the ranks, he was finding our exactly what the chief was writing down in his wheelbook. They were finding out how things were prioritized based on the operational schedule and maintenance requirements.

The good LPO only needed to do this a few times with the chief before he realized that if he did these things himself, he would be doing the things “the chief did” and subconsciously preparing himself to put on anchors. The great LPO never waited for the chief to ask how things were going or what the status was on a specific work project, he provided the chief routine updates. The chief in turn provided updates to the DIVO so he too could provide the same to the department head. It’s a well-maintained capstan of information going round and round.

The thought that if the chief is always on deck she was considered micro-managing the LPO, never crossed anyone’s mind because the chief was ALWAYS on deck. If my job was to work with one or two other seamen to repaint a bulkhead, I knew either the chief or my supervisor was going to be inspecting the progress at every juncture. When we finished needle-gunning, someone was going to inspect to see if the job was ready to sand. When we finished sanding, someone was going to inspect to see if we were ready to prep. Once that was done, we were ready to prime. When the chief or LPO was sure that all these steps were completed satisfactorily, like had been done for years before, we painted it and then, that too, was inspected for holidays. Were we micro-managed? Nope! We were being taught the proper ways to do our jobs. In reality, we were being mentored on what was needed to do to be ready to put on a chevron of a petty officer.

As it pertains to our myths, I’ve heard it stated this way: the more we repeat them to ourselves, the more powerful they become; the more powerful they become, the more they determine our behavior; the more we behave as if they are true, the more they will become self-sustaining prophecies.

So to all our chiefs, flush the myth down the crapper and get back on deck. Your Sailors need you and our Navy expects it. If you’re in the goat locker, I expect it’s for a cup of coffee, chow or you’re telling one of your fellow chiefs that his spaces look like they haven’t seen a broom since Moby Dick was a minnow!

1 comment:

Delta said...

FLTCM Howard your article about Chiefs on deck hit the nail on the head. I just had a conversation with one of my DIVO's from the 1979 period and we were saying the same thing. Good luck and congrats on being selected for Atlantic Fleet FLTCM.
Delta L. Hinson