Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dumbing Down

WARNING notice! This post may be uninteresting if you have not had naval experience.......

I was having a conversation in my frustration (and between hacking up a lung) with a friend who is an experienced LDO with 25 years experience in the Navy. He came up the hard way, through the ranks, had been a chief, made LDO and had served in all the "hard" LDO jobs. I asked him why did he think that we have so many leaders these days that are afraid to take responsibility and do the right thing for their troops?

He said," We have dumbed down the mid grade leadership. Micromanagement and technology which enables micromanagement; coupled with a "zero defect" climate have made intitative a bad thing. We talk about empowerment, but real empowerment comes from senior leaders learning when to sit on their hands."

I thought about that and I have to agree with him. Technology has made it far too easy for seniors to become involved in the "weeds" of an issue. Senior leadership would be better off if it would learn to stay focused on the higher level vision things, learn how to clearly enunciate a goal, then learn to turn off the cell phone ,blackberry, or computer for a while and go out an play some golf, drink a beer or 4, or hit the rack and let juniors do what they are tasked to do. Thanks to technology and the fear of getting hammered, it’s too easy to jump in where you are neither wanted nor belong.

Or as I heard once, "Not everything is worth doing to perfection. Some things are worth doing only just good enough, and some things are not worth doing at all. The trick was to know which was which.

It’s been a bad week for the US Navy here in Japan. As result of yet more boneheads getting drunk and deciding "what the hell, I should just embarrass my country". Another rape, another breaking and entering, another guy deciding that it’s better to steal an item than pay for it. The result, as Eddie documents is the beginning of Korea style liberty here in Japan. Curfews ( that are not called a curfew); issuance of general orders which , because of the SOFA catch all are placed on dependents and civilians (thus affecting everyone) and general hand wringing in general. Examination of the root causes of such behavior seems to be in the background, or so it seems to me.

My friend believes that part of what he calls this dumbing down process is the lack of respect for traditions of the United States Navy. He in particular derides the “all the animals are equal mentality” instead of real class and privilege distinctions between Officers, Chiefs, and Petty Officers, lack of empowerment of said CPO’s and kinder and gentler detailing which inadvertently does not equally distribute the best talent among commands. He also has a dim view of the current Chief’s initiation process. I’m not qualified to comment on that since I was never a chief. However his view is the old and supposedly silly rituals were a way to teach you that regardless of involvement, if you were the division chief then you were responsible for your division. He felt the old way taught that. I’ll leave it for others to comment if he is right or wrong.

However I would like to expand on some his other tenants.

1) I think that if you treat people like children then they behave like children. Treat them like adults with adult responsibilities, rewards and consequences and most will rise to the occasion. Those that don’t, well Donald Trump has a word for that. Those that do, leave them alone!

2) Because of all the fears about sexual harassment and fraternization these days, people are tending to stay away from each other except in the line of work. Add to that the increasing amount of married folks in the force and the old days where the old hands kind of brought you along and showed you where the boundaries were, as well as getting you back to the ship before things went south are not there anymore. Now it’s the blind leading the blind…..in many cases straight down hill.

3) There is too much of a tendency among senior personnel to think they have a right to regulate every aspect of a Sailor's private life. Trying to turn every Sailor into a good, monogamous, God fearing, pious , non smoking, teetotaler Casper Milquetoast is simply ludicrous. Does the Sailor show up for work on time, sober and ready to go to work? Those that do great. Those that don’t, well they can be dealt with. Violate civilian laws , well those folks can be dealt with too. That’s why its called the law.

4) We still do not understand how structurally, “corporate Navy” sets some folks up for failure by the hidden messages that are sent in our policies. I’ll say one thing for the Air Force, they do know how to build quality facilities for people and know what reasonable working hours are. The Navy despite a lot of progress is still about doing whatever it takes for however long it takes. Given a choice between ships or facilities, ships win every time. The point is we need to have enough money to buy both.

5) We still are not grasping the fact that the folks entering today in our young enlisted ranks are not coming from the same value systems that folks from previous generations were. There is some merit to the argument that proper upbringing , as well as a tough , adversarial based, rite of entry that helps weed out the unsuitable quickly is of better value for the armed services.

6) Gangs and gang mentality including all of the gang paraphernalia that is present in society today needs to be attacked and driven out ruthlessly. When guys think its ok to steal and rob someone, there is a real problem there. I’ll bet if you pull the string on the worst offenders there is gang involvement. Which is reinforced by today’s music and media and other items. Its not racist to demand that Sailors dress like real men, not sacks of cloth.

I still maintain that the military is not getting a good cross section of society and that the emphasis on youth and money has made those of privilege more inclined to simply avoid the obligation of national service as I discussed earlier here. Also they are way off track about sex. The process of teaching Sailors about boundaries is not about keeping them from having sex, its about keeping them from f**king other Sailors. And learning that no, means no. This is about the who, not about the what.......... Phrased another way, does the relationship get in the way? Sailors dating Sailors tends to do that IMHO.

The law 0f predictable consequences is at play here.

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