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It is essential to outline lofty expectations for the future, but even well-thought-out strategies based on important insights about the long-term future can fail to produce meaningful or desired results if they lack realism and detail in the near term. To successfully implement even the best strategy, we need to encourage open and honest discussion, decide on a grounded approach, and then drive collective implementation. Our young leaders will embrace such an approach, because it gives them a role and a stake in the process.

And we have to remember that even the best strategy can’t tell us the future. As time passes, we’re undoubtedly going to encounter things that we simply can’t foresee at present, so we need to keep our eyes open, and that applies especially to the younger members of the Force. We need to imbue our young people with the ability to imagine themselves and their organizations in new roles, the ability to develop compelling visions of the future beyond what we currently see. If we can do that, we will create leaders who can communicate well and help create positive change. These people will make the Design better than it is today!

Al and Japanese officers

Vice Adm. Konetzni (ret.) with the wardroom of JDS Oyashio (SS 590):
“To successfully implement even the best strategy, we need to encourage
open and honest discussion, decide on a grounded approach, and then
drive collective implementation.” Photo courtesy of Vice Adm. Konetzni

If self-control is about mastering our profession and taking responsibility, self-discipline is about doing our jobs correctly, both as individuals and in groups. It is making sure we undertake every task we are given in a way that ensures success. That means learning the fundamental principles that have ensured success in the past and following these principles until they become second nature. As leaders, we take responsibility not only for performing our own tasks properly, but also for helping our shipmates observe the correct procedures, and we must be willing to accept their help in return. Success requires teamwork, and teamwork requires constructive give and take among peers and also between subordinates and superiors. Everyone is responsible for the group’s success.

Where do we find the fundamental principles of our work as Submariners? The principles Adm. Hyman Rickover followed in building the nuclear Submarine Force have kept our Force safe and successful for half a century. Rickover didn’t invent these principles, which have been around for a long time, but he had a way of bringing them to life and instilling them in the people he led.

The following list from the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program contains the basic principles that all of our young leaders need to absorb early in their careers to ensure that the Force remains safe and effective as we evolve and grow:

That last principle—about dissenting views—is particularly important. The willingness and the patience to encourage minority opinions and never to penalize honest and thoughtful dissent is an integral part of the self-control and self-discipline we expect in a leader.

In short, self-discipline builds a command culture that:

As we move forward, we will require excellence in communication across the Force. Leaders at every level must appreciate how important it is to spend time with those they lead. They will need to hone their listening skills, which will increasingly be put to the test in an era of rapid change. They will have to develop a strong understanding of body language, which is one of the most important ways of listening and communicating. It’s important that the young leaders now joining the Submarine Force learn the skills of listening and communicating.

It is equally important that more senior leaders continue to maintain and improve their proficiency as communicators. We have to listen to our young people and learn from them if we are to instill them with the faith and confidence in themselves that will empower them to meet our high standards and expectations. We must select and train the right people for the job, give them broad, clear guidance, and let them get on with their business. Only those who are inspired to believe in themselves will achieve great things.

As our young leaders mature and grow to believe in themselves, their ability to project themselves and communicate goals to all stakeholders will become an important aspect of their overall professional success. Training in communication skills will become an increasingly important part of a Submariner’s education. Giving leaders the confidence to engage in technical discussions without fear; teaching them what questions to ask and whether answers make sense, will give them a firm foundation for discussions of a broader nature later on—discussions with other Navy communities, with other services, and with leaders in the executive and legislative branches of government. In the end, it will also equip them to educate the American public about the Submarine Force and its vital missions.

The Management–Leadership Continuum
What makes a good leader? Background, personality, training, and environment all play a part. Nothing, however, is more important than a good command culture. Those in authority now instill the traits of leadership in those who will come after. How well we lead now determines how well young people lead once they assume our responsibilities. What is good leadership? The answer lies in the traits that have made the officers and enlisted personnel of the Submarine Force respected around the world. A document from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations entitled Leadership Traits of the Exceptional Nuclear Leader lists these attributes:

Why is good leadership so essential to the Submarine Force? Nothing is without risk. Society at large accepts that a given number of fatal automobile accidents and even a few major airline crashes will happen every year. But the Submarine Force is rightfully held to a higher standard when it comes to safety. Nuclear power has enabled us to play a central role in an incredible variety of military operations around the world, but one significant nuclear incident could eradicate much of the good we have been able to do over more than half a century.

Ensuring safe operations requires extremely careful management focused on eliminating risk. On the other hand, we are warfighters, and warfighting requires bold risk-taking. So our leaders must be prudent, diligent, detail-oriented managers, and at the same time, they must be prepared to put everything at risk to accomplish the mission. Only the best leaders can be careful managers as well as bold leaders—and know which one is required in any given situation.

That’s a lot to ask, but the Submarine Force has for many years produced leaders who were adept at moving along the continuum between peacetime management and combat leadership. The Design for Undersea Warfare reminds us that we must have both. We have certainly had them in the past, and there is absolutely no reason we can’t continue to do so for the foreseeable future. All it takes is to remember who we are, and how we got that way.

Vice Adm. Al Konetzni Jr. (ret.), known to many Submariners as “Big Al, the Sailor’s Pal,” served from 1998 to 2001 as Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet. He retired in 2004 as Deputy Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces.

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