Officers and Leadership

"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
 

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'?
 

slim

War Hero
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'?


Of course if you do not know what to do next take the CPO to one side and surreptitiously seek advice;)
 
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'?

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...
 

WreckerL

War Hero
Super Moderator
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...
When I was a section head the words "make-a-mend" and "extenders" worked quite well ;)
 

adxh

Newbie
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.
 

Seaweed

RIP
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
 

wave_dodger

MIA
Book Reviewer
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!).

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.
 
Top