Officers and Leadership

Discussion in 'Joining the Royal Navy' started by alfred_the_great, Apr 30, 2017.

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  1. "Leadership is just plain you"
    Field Marshal Slim​

    I've been asked by PM about what RN Officers do in terms of leadership and their people. The following is my thoughts after nearly two decades in the Navy; take it solely as my musings and not the irrevocable truth. However, the long term benefits of suncreen have been medically proven (especially in the Gulf), and if I could offer just one piece of advice, it would be to wear suncreeen*...

    We do 3 main types of leadership in the RN, but only one of them is really "taught" at BRNC. Those types are Collaborative, Delegative and Directional - the latter is the one taught at BRNC, and the one that immediately springs to mind when people talk about "leadership".

    Directive - Hand chopping, "you are my time keeper", "you do this, now" style of leadership. For most Officers, this is the least used one. In a Frigate, likely the only time most junior Officers will use this is at their Action Station or when acting as Officer of the Day during a fire/flood (albeit probably only in the early stages of the incident). How you "do" this style of leadership you will decide, but it is typified by a one way communication flow, and an expectation of pretty quick reaction(s) to your commands. This is style taught at BRNC - mainly because it's easy to assess, and a flat experience level within hte group, likely to get the result quickly.

    Collaborative - This is how you should lead - 90%+ of the time - in the RN. It's about setting the end point and working with your team around you to come up with a solution. Your sailors will, in general, have far more experience than you in a particular task, and you need to make best use of that. It's not fluffy and huggy (all the time) and generally brings everyone into a similar mindset and allows the team to function at a higher level. Most junior Officers will use this on a day to day basis - DWEOs will use it when they're working out the way forward on a defect with their PO and LET (and probably the Warrant); DMEOs will use it when they're coming up with a way forward during a Machinery Breakdown (after the immediate actions are complete); you get the picture. You will still "own" the solution, but it will generally come to the surface organically, and you'll simply re-state it to ensure everyone is driving forwards in the same direction.

    Delegative - to start off with, you won't have enough experience or authority to achieve this. Your CO, XO and HoDs however, will work in this way on a hourly basis. I tell my team what I want achieved, when it is to be complete and any boundaries to their effort, and let them crack on. Depending on who I've tasked off, I'll check on progress more or less frequently.

    As I've said, collabrative is the main way leadership works, but there are two important exceptions for junior Officers: the Officer of the Watch and the ME OOW. In both cases, their leadership is Directive. And many junior Officers struggle with the balance between being directive (you do this now) and their inexperience in passing the message. Being directive does not automatically mean you have to be a twat about it; likewise, everyone understands you are in charge and will expect you to give firm and precise orders. The worst OsOW/MEOsOW are those who are flimsy and never give a firm or concise order. Likewise, those who are unable to grasp the span of their responsibility and grip those functionally subordinate despite their superiority in knowledge and/or rank. The OOW in particular is functionally superior to everyone apart from the CO and XO - HoDs have to ask their permission to come onto the bridge, and at the end of the day, the OOW's (legal) orders are the ones that stand on the bridge. I won't pretend it's not difficult and lonely at times, as everything is coming straight at the OOW with very little filter to stop it all, but the very best OsOW are the ones who thrive in such a situation.

    As an aside, there is a huge difference in the way a junior RN Officer and a junior Army (especially Combat) Officer does his/her leadership. They are significantly more autonomous but at the same time much narrower than we are. It is not better or worse, simply different. Don't think you'll be waving your arm and shouting "follow me" much in the RN (although I have, once, and nearly got myself killed for the good it did me!).

    Anyway, those are my thoughts, like or lump em.

    *Yes, thank you, I know. If you're old enough, reminicse, if you've no idea, watch this
    • Like Like x 16
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  2. Ninja_Stoker

    Ninja_Stoker War Hero Moderator

    Nice one Alf. Thank you, Sire.
  3. Purple_twiglet

    Purple_twiglet War Hero Moderator

    Excellent article.

    Alsp never forget aspiring Officers that the point whenyou really earn your pay is when the shit is going down, people are shit scared and your people look to you and go 'what now Sir'?
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  4. Of course if you do not know what to do next take the CPO to one side and surreptitiously seek advice;)
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  5. Yes, however, those sorts of situations happen maybe once or twice a career.

    Convincing your Dept to turn to on a Friday afternoon happens far more frequently; getting your Dept self-motivated so that they complete their work by Friday lunch is the test of a true leader...
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  6. When I was a section head the words "make-a-mend" and "extenders" worked quite well ;)
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  7. I simply said that they could go when the work was done to the right standard. Giving one Dept leave from Thurs afternoon, and keeping another one there until Friday 1700 quickly got the message across...
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  8. This was worth a read just for the Baz Luhrmann reference alone. Took about ten years to get that ear worm out of my head and now its back.
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  9. We laugh because it's funny, we laugh because it's true...
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  10. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Icy calm in time of danger comes into it too

    "If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.." etc
  11. wave_dodger

    wave_dodger War Hero Book Reviewer

    If you'd opened your wallet when you got through the crowd to the bar, it might have ended better!

    Interesting post. I'm surprised you didn't include enthuse, nurture, engage, support and discipline - all important parts of our leadership. As you say, we practise a very different, in some ways less practical, form compared to other Services.
  12. Ninja_Stoker

    Ninja_Stoker War Hero Moderator

    " won't remember anything"


    "Back in the're back in the room"
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  13. Seadog

    Seadog War Hero Moderator

    I posted this recently but worth repeating.

    General Mattis on leadership.

    There is a paper/essay in The Naval Review on the subject of Mission Command and its demise. It will be 10 years old and released to the public domain -NR website - at the end of the year '.
  14. I'll be honest, it wasn't a very considered post, inasmuch I had zero intention of covering every facet of our leadership process: far too much guff has been postulated on that, not least in that awful book published a few years ago.

    It was, at very best, a tiny bit of a skim over some of the stuff we do.
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  16. The reason the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines bicker amongst themselves is that they don’t speak the same language. For instance, Take the simple phrase “secure the building”. The Army will post guards around the place. The Navy will turn out the lights and lock the doors. The Marines will kill everybody inside and set up a headquarters. The Air Force will take out a 5 year lease with an option to buy.
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  17. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    A recent birthday book - lots on leadership in:

    The first third of The RN Officer's Pocket Book 1944 is just that, produced in belated recognition that three months was not enough for a newly selected Hostilities Only rating luffed in from civvy street at 18 to absorb the entirety of the Admiralty Manuals of seamanship and navigation, he needed a much stripped down version as he embarked in his first ship, or maybe MTB or Landing Craft, as an officer. This part contains some excellent teaching on leadership, repeated in a different sense later on in 'Your Ship', notes and advice to an officer newly promoted to Command. In between are 'Notes to Medical Officers' boarding their first sip after being barely taught how to wear uniform and how to salute, together with the fairly poignant 'Treatment of Battle Casualties'. Also included are (later vice admiral, whose early death deprived the RN of a potential top-flight 1SL) Peter Gretton's Captain's Standing Orders from the pre-war destroyer HMS Duncan (including more stuff on leadership from one of its true masters) and 'Home Fleet Destroyer Orders', addressed to COs at Scapa (again including more on leadership). The book closes with the then Confidential 'Notes on Mutiny' (1944) as the war is won in Europe but clearly will need the HOs to sailor on out East while soldiers from there come home for demob (after this was written there was a nasty outbreak in HMS Lothian, see Wiki). The whole, put together by Brian Lavery together with always informative and often amusing b/w illustrations provides a picture of how to run a battle-winning navy using an officer corps of whom 85% were amateurs of one sort and another.

    Still, I submit, relevant reading for today's young NOs.
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  18. Seaweed

    Seaweed War Hero Book Reviewer

    Next thing - you don't know when it will be YOUR turn. In 1940 when the bridge and wheelhouse of HMS Hardy were hit during the Battle of Narvik and all the occupants of both either killed or wounded, it was Captain D's Secretary, a Paymaster Lieutenant who, although himself injured, had to take charge.
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  19. My current job is working with the RN as a civilian. My predecessor (ex RM officer) warned me that I'd find working with Navy officers to be a real challenge. In particular he suggested that getting one to make a decision would be an interesting experience ..... and so it has been.

    I'm ex-Army and have always found that my former colleagues loved to make decisions, accept risks and give direction. By comparison, I've found that the RN culture is much more of collaborative decisions, shared risk and a considered approach. Obviously both have their place and the latter is definitely more appropriate for a peacetime bureaucracy which is what the military has been for a long time. Should we ever face a conflict where battle winning risk taking is needed, it would be interesting to see if behaviour could be amended.
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  20. Comparisons are odious.
    John Lydgate in his Debate between the horse, goose, and sheep, circa 1440:

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