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Chief of Naval Operations Stresses Leader Responsibility

ARLINGTON, Va. --

To improve the Navy, the service must turn to commanders at all levels, the Chief of Naval Operations told the Surface Navy Association here Jan. 9.

Like the rest of the military, command is what all officers should aspire to, Navy Adm. John M. Richardson said at the association’s annual meeting.

The collision incidents last year involving the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain called attention to the need for leadership, the admiral said.

Valuing Leadership, Command

“As we craft our way forward, we must revolve around a Navy that values and treasures command -- never lose sight of that,” Richardson said.

Service members, he added, must discuss, “the preparation, the support, the execution, indeed, the celebration of command.”

Good leadership propels the military forward, said Richardson, who added that all leaders must understand that they are in a competitive environment, and there is no trophy for second place in war.

The Navy in 2018 is in a different environment than just a few years ago, he said. Russia and China are competitors now. Both countries have made significant investments in their militaries and the United States is, again, involved in great power competition, not seen since the Cold War.

Developing Winning Leaders

The Navy must “develop leaders, especially commanders, who know how to go out into that great power competition and come back winners,” the admiral said.

The top leaders or commanders “inspire their teams to perform at or near their theoretical limits, and by making their team stronger, they relentlessly chase best-ever performance,” Richardson said. “They study every text, they try every method, seize every moment and expend every effort to out-fox their competition.”

The best commanders challenge their teams and themselves, he said. “They routinely seek out feedback and are ready to be shown their errors in the interest of learning and getting better. When they win, they are grateful, they are humble, and generally [feel] spent from their efforts. And by doing all these things, great leaders bring their teams to a deeply shared commitment to each other in the pursuit of victory.”

Victory and winning must be the focus, Richardson said. “Today’s [commanders] must be prepared for winning in a great power competition war at sea,” he said. “They must be preparing their teams on the bridge, in combat, in engineering, at their guns, to win in combat.”

This means commanders must be ready to lead teams into combat against a competent and advanced enemy and win, the admiral said. In naval terms, they must be the ones “to sail away with their crew and leave the enemy out of action, slipping beneath the waves. It’s a stark test, but anything else, anything less, is negligence.”

Confident, Humble Leaders

Commanders must be confident enough to lead and humble enough to understand they are not the font of all wisdom, Richardson said. “In combat, the best idea is the only thing that matters,” he said. “[Commanders ask] people to challenge their thinking, their ideas, because they know it’s much better to find a weakness, much better to find a flaw in the discussion in the ward room or with the Chief’s quarters, or in the crew’s mess and adjust before finding that flaw in combat. And combat will find that flaw.”

Commanders must have complete devotion to their teams, he said. “They bring their teams into their obsession with winning, constantly communicating, constantly building them up, challenging them,” the admiral said.

The best commanders always test their teams, the admiral said. “These leaders are always stretching their teams -- stretching them to achieve their theoretical limits,” Richardson said. “[Then the team] starts to push themselves and one another, and they build toughness into themselves -- toughness focused on defeating an enemy, not toughness as focused on tearing each other down.”

Through these efforts, commanders achieve a combination or a shared vision of winning, and a shared commitment to that goal, the admiral said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)