Culture of Excellence

There’s quite the interesting post on “Culture of Excellence” over at the USNI blog by a Marine Corps Captain (oorah). I was going to add my comments to the thread but figured that rather than being a comment hog I’d make it a post of it’s own. That being said, go read the original post and then come back.

It’s ok…. I’ll wait.

(Cue Jeopardy Theme)


It’s a great piece, but I fear it will fall mainly on deaf ears. One aspect in common between the piece itself and many of the follow on comments is this singular aspect:


If necessity is the mother of invention, than combat is the mother of necessity as well as the grim reaper for useless b.s.

However, since most people in the Navy are not actively involved in combat, the two page CO’s intents, in-the-box (i would argue ‘checking the box’) thinking, and lack of flexibility will continue unabated.

Grandpa gave a great history lesson on WWII sub skippers (heroes all):

LCDR Dudley “Mush” Morton reportedly loved combat. Aggression personified. Very successful until KIA.

Tactically, CDR Dick OKane probably never met a limit he didn’t push, at the genius level. Analyzed, thought thru, studied, put in on castors (so to speak) and moved it where ever he wanted it. Reportedly utterly fearless. When Morton had him as XO, he put OKane on the scope during the attack (unheard of before or since). Just trusted him utterly, I guess. OKane’s ship, Wahoo, was sunk by its own last torpedo of the patrol, which malfunctioned and made a circular run. At the time he was on the surface at night and very close to the target to assure a hit. Tread water all night, captured, almost died as a POW in Japan. MOH. Fate.

But he left out the important part. A lot of sub skippers who were great in peacetime got killed, or were completely ineffective, at the beginning of the war because it turned out that the game wasn’t being played the way they’d practiced. Not their fault, the game they were playing at the time was just different then the one they were thrown into. Kind of tough to go from kickball to baseball. The rules are similar, but the game is much, much different.

The point being that when you are in a combat zone, the rules are different. It also seems that arm chair quarterbacking is less prevalent (or when it does happen, it’s from those who have been in combat) and the tolerance/reward for innovative thinking is higher. However, when doing peacetime evaluations (JTFX, TRE, ASWIP, etc), reward is achieved through checking the appropriate number of boxes that have been determined essential by those who haven’t had to apply the boxes to actual combat.

No fault on the part of those being evaluated or those doing the evaluating. It’s simply the way things were then. More importantly, it’s how they are now. I’d have to think that your mindset fundamentally shifts when there’s no chance to insert a quarter and give it another go round.

The problem is, we’re not there. We’re in garrison.

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7 Responses to Culture of Excellence

  1. Niall says:

    Very thoughtful analysis of leadership. I think almost all of it applies outside the military as well. In my career I’ve seen two basic failure patterns for leaders. The first is micromanagement – where the boss is trying to do everyone else’s job except his or her own. The second is passive/aggressive drift, where the boss doesn’t seem to have a handle on anything and doesn’t much care.

    In my experience, good leaders have a crystal clear understanding of what *they* are responsible for that no one else can do, what they cannot ever delegate to another. This has to be accompanied by an equally crystal clear sense of what it is their subordinates should be responsible for.

    The micromanaging boss is threatened by talent in his subordinates, and is actively competing with them, which destroys morale. The passive aggressive boss loses respect by default.

    Another key success factor is the ability to manage indirectly, through others. This is a very, very difficult trick to learn, and I’ve known CEOs who have not learned.

    Slightly OT: I’ve hired more than a few ex-Marine officers in my career, and they’ve all been exceptional leaders in the corporate world, even though you would think the culture would be completely different. And that their training as Marine officers would make them less, not better, suited to civilian management. Not true, as I discovered.

    • Khaliq says:

      i’m so jealous you get to watch colegle football games and have your own sections and everything. i’m a colegle football freak and i have to live in stupid colegle football-less canada.

  2. Grandpa Bluewater says:

    Nice to be quoted. Wish you would have fixed my sticky relay, swiss cheese memory brain screw up.

    To wit: Wahoo was Morton’s ship.
    Okane was just his XO. Tang was OKane’s ship and your quote of my
    (very embarassing) mistake should cite Tang not Wahoo.

    As a side note, Tang had 9 survivors, Wahoo none. Sailors rest your oars.

    And congrats for extending and clarifying my post. I tried to make the point by comparing and contrasting S38 and her CO with Sailfish and hers on their first patrols of the war.

    It’s an important point, because – as you noted – combat isn’t like a video game or a fleetex…in combat there is no quarter.

    My two bits worth.

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