10 LIFE LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY CHIEF

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My Dad, a retired Navy officer, gave me one piece of advice many years ago as I was preparing to enter the Navy, “Rachael, just remember, Chiefs run the Navy”. I didn’t completely understand what he meant at the time. I just knew not to cross my Chief, and if I had a genuine problem, I needed a Chief to help me. I have worked with some great Chiefs and some not-so-great ones. But from the great ones, I have come to understand exactly what my Dad was talking about. Part of a Chief’s role is to mentor the junior officers. Here are some things I have learned over the past several years from my Chief mentors:

  1. Lead from the front. Get your shit done first, then ask others to get theirs done. You are an incredibly ineffective leader when you try to force others to do things you apparently don’t find important enough to do yourself. You have no grounds of enforcement when you are not doing what you are asking your crew to do. Do it first, and they will follow a whole lot easier because they will see it is important to you.
  2. Get to know your juniors. Your sailors will respect you more if you know their wife’s name or what they are studying in school. They feel more important when they are recognized for what they do and who they are. They will respond better to someone they believe cares about their well-being. Everyone works harder when they feel they are valued and noticed.
  3. Take care of your sailors, and they will take care of you. If your sailors see you go to bat for them or go the extra step to help them with something, they will be apt to work harder when you need something done. They will protect someone that they know would also protect them. Would you want to go to battle under someone you don’t think will have your back?
  4. You are part of a team. You may be an officer. You may be the only officer. But you are not better than any of your sailors. Each member brings unique experiences and talents to the team. Being a team is important in mission accomplishment. As the leader, it is your job to figure out how to optimize these talents to make the team the most successful.
  5. If the Chief gives you a vague task, he is trying to teach you something. When the Chief sends you a text asking the meaning of an acronym or asking for information about an instruction, they already know the answer. They think it is important that you know this answer too. For whatever reason, it will help develop you as a leader or you are royally screwing up. This is their way of telling you slyly you need to learn this particular thing right now.
  6. When in doubt, Google it first.  A good Chief doesn’t mind questions. But do not go to a Chief without at least attempting to find the answer first. And in today’s world you can find most answers on Google. Search almost any term with “+ Navy” and you will probably find what you are looking for. If not, then ask your Chief.
  7. Read a book. A good leader is continually learning and growing.  Reading books to develop leadership and military knowledge is important to gaining respect of those around you.  You have new information to share and understand important events that shape where the military has been and where it is going.  The Chief of Naval Operations Reading List is published every year to help develop sailors’ professionalism.
  8. If you need something done, ask a Chief. The Chief network is like the largest fraternity of bulldogs in the world. If you legitimately need something done and done quickly, these are the people to make it happen. This is important in a military world where it takes years to accomplish the most basic tasks. If you have a problem that needs immediate attention, your Chief should be your go-to person to help figure out a way to solve it. It is sometimes best not to know how “it” gets done so don’t ask.
  9. Develop your OWN leadership style. As you progress through your career and are placed in positions of higher authority, you must consciously decide what type of leader you will be come.  Use the leaders you don’t like to teach you what things  you want to avoid doing.  Use the ones you respect as models for how you want to act. You will not always see eye to eye with your Chief and that is okay. Just be respectful of their position over your juniors when you don’t agree with them and discuss in private.  Always present a unified front to your sailors. You do not have to like every aspect of someone’s leadership style in order to learn from them and work cohesively with them.
  10. Having a good Chief mentor is essential.  I have been around Chiefs who are not strong performers or are just riding out until retirement and don’t really care much about anything. These are not the ones you want on your team. You want someone who is interested in teaching and helping grow your leadership skills. Someone who is open to questions while you are figuring out what the hell you are doing but won’t hesitate to call you out when you screw up. Someone who will let you bounce ideas around when faced with a tough leadership decision, but will stand beside you as you execute your decision with a united front. Not all Chiefs you work with will become a Chief mentor. It doesn’t even have to be a Chief in your unit to be a mentor. When you are lucky enough to work with a worthy Chief, learn as much as you can from them.

 

 

 

 

 

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