Congratulations! You have just been promoted to a top leadership position in your organization. You have over 3,000 people working for you in four different states. Your budget is in excess of $25 million. Good luck, and remember, don’t screw this up.
You didn’t get to this position because you’ve been a slacker – you’re a proven leader and experienced manager. It feels good at the top, as they say, and you’re excited to start making things happen! The amazing acceleration of technology and globalization sets a scene ripe for new opportunities and growth. You know in order to flourish and grow an organization needs creativity and innovation. How many organizations have you seen be marginalized or even fail as a result of stifling change or new ideas?
A large part of your past success has been your natural encouragement of new concepts and your ability to drive fear out of your organization. Like preparing a garden for the seeds, you set conditions for creativity to thrive. Things are a little different now, though. You have people who work for you that you have never met, some are even located hundreds of miles away. There are several layers of management between you and those employees who are in contact with the customer on a day-to-day basis. You know most of your middle managers are solid leaders but you are wise enough to know some may, knowingly or unknowingly, be placing barriers up which block creativity and innovation. Can your passion for encouraging creativity and innovation successfully permeate down through the layers of management? Will ideas and recommendations be able to percolate up to your level?
This article will examine some methods top leaders can use to help free an organization of destructive barriers to creativity and innovation. Organizational design expert Jay Galbraith’s Star Model will be used to provide a practical framework helping to ensure no major areas are left out. The Star Model is designed with five points; strategy, people, structure, processes, and rewards. The key point of the model is strategy as it drives the overall organization. If the other four points of the star don’t align or support the strategy, chances for organizational success are greatly reduced. Galbraith puts it this way, “if a company chooses a structure and a set of management processes that require integration across countries, it must also select and develop people who have cross-cultural skills, as well as a reward system that motivates them.”
“Creativity without strategy is called art” - Jeff I. Richards
Some may argue that strategies may restrict innovation and creativity rather than encourage it. However, if innovation and creativity are an inherent part of the strategy employees will be encouraged to contribute their ideas and middle managers will be less likely to block them. McCrae (2014) suggests successful business strategies should include research, creativity, and strategic planning during their development. Once developed, it should influence the behavior of everyone in the organization to positively contribute to that strategy. In order for this to happen, the other four points of the star model must support the strategy. It cannot succeed if there are hidden barriers which prevent employees with ideas to bring them to the attention of leaders. Let’s say, for example, your strategy is to expand your business into additional states or countries. Do your personnel policies encourage those employees who are face-to-face with the customer to provide suggestions and feedback? How can you be sure there is not a middle manager whose tyrannical ways discourage lower level employees from contributing ideas? Top leaders must actively look for barriers which block creativity, dismantle them, and make innovation part of a holistic management system. By carefully considering the overall strategy and how the other four points of the Star Model support that strategy, barriers to creativity and innovation can be identified and appropriately addressed.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader." – John Quincy Adams
Everyone is on their toes when a new top leader comes into an organization. “What will he or she be like,” “what changes will occur,” and “are jobs secure” are just a few among many of the questions employees will have. When a new leader takes over a military command, there is a formal change of command ceremony which all personnel attend. Here, leaders can put out their vision and what is important to them. New civilian leaders should arrange for a similar opportunity to address all employees in person. A clear, well-articulated vision which includes a strong belief in people, participation, innovation, fairness, security, and learning will go far in warding off fear and organizational politics (Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002, p. 49). Letting everyone know what you stand for, what will not be tolerated, your vision for the future of the organization, and the important role of all employees to get there will set the stage for the growth of creativity and innovation at all organizational levels. Reiterating that vision at every opportunity will promote a more consistent relationship between the leader and all employees (p. 49). By letting all employees hear it from the horse’s mouth, as they say, middle managers are less likely to put their own spin on your vision.
Leaders must create a culture of trust which encourages people to try new ideas without a fear of what may happen if the idea bombs. An organization’s capacity for innovation increases if it can tolerate failure and accept change. Once again, this must come from the top. Even if middle managers encourage employees to innovate and try new ideas, they will be hesitant to do so if don’t feel the top leadership supports it.
There will be times when a new leader will find there are people in management or other positions whose actions do not support the organizational vision or strategies. Dr. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, notes good leaders may have to remove some people and “in most cases, it is kinder to terminate people who are not performing adequately than to let them continue as deadweight, dragging down the organization as well as themselves.”
“The pyramids are solidly built, have a nice view from the top,
and serve as a resting place for the dead.”
– Gerald Michaelson
Existing organizational structures should be examined to determine how they support the strategy. If creativity and innovation are important to the strategy, organizational structure expert Sabina Jeschke recommends an organic structure. This type of structure veers away from an ivory tower makeup instead leaning towards minimal hierarchical and bureaucratic tendencies and a strong focus on quality. Cooperation between departments or divisions is frequent and friendly and there is “an interactive, communication-friendly corporate culture.”
Google, Inc. is an example of a successful company with an organic organizational structure with minimal hierarchy. Communications are strong throughout the organization and the work is organized by projects, allowing different employees to take the lead on different projects. Each team is responsible for self-organizing, deciding how to accomplish the goals, and identifying and fixing problems. Perhaps the most unusual feature of Google’s organizational structure is it not only permits flexibility in hours and workplace, it encourages new ideas and experimentation by allowing employees to use 20% of their work time on self-directed projects. The organic organizational structure Google, Inc. uses directly supports their corporate strategy of using innovation and new acquisitions in order to support their position as the market leader.
On the other hand, an organization which has many levels of management and is highly bureaucratic will have difficulty promoting innovation and creativity from below. This type of organization provides fertile ground for all kinds of barriers to grow in and is usually resistant to risk-taking. Lower- and middle-level managers may retain strict control over their areas, blocking employees from expressing or trying new ideas. Top leaders need to understand how different organizational structures can create barriers and, using this understanding, examine if the current structure will support their organizational strategy.
“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder,
friction, and malperforformance" – Peter Drucker
Processes within an organization consist of a set of activities performed by employees which result in a desired outcome. These processes are guided by organizational norms, regulations, policies, and procedures. There are two types of processes that are important when considering barriers to creativity and innovation; business processes and administrative processes.
Employees normally follow the steps outlined in the process workflow in order to accomplish the desired outcome. Many leaders are familiar with Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s famous advice to reduce variation in business processes in order to increase quality. However, if these processes are not properly developed, they can easily crush employee’s creativity. An impressive example of encouraging ingenuity is the U.S. Navy’s Beneficial Suggestion Program. The Navy is by nature hierarchical and bureaucratic and most processes are tightly controlled leaving little room for innovation. The BeneSug Program, as is it called, provides a forum and encourages military and civil service members to submit suggestions to reduce costs. Those personnel whose ideas, inventions, or scientific achievements are accepted receive a hefty cash award. Millions are saved annually through this popular program. If not already in place, implementing a similar program in a large organization can facilitate bringing innovative ideas to the attention of top leaders.
Another way to increase creativity within business processes is to periodically examine them in an effort to see how they can be improved and to ensure they are properly aligned with other processes and the overall strategy. This kind of review should involve all stakeholders including lower level employees working in the process and suppliers. A few years ago, Hallmark Cards reviewed their process of card production. After their artists, writers, and editors examined the process they recommended complete restructuring. Instead of these three groups working separately, they suggested reorganizing as cross-functional teams which would focus on a certain kind of card (i.e. Mother’s Day, birthday, etc.). By encouraging creativity in examining the process, Hallmark increased performance and to reduced production time of a new card from years to months.
Most people don’t like paperwork but it is important to have organizational policies in writing. If not already in place, clear directives on equal opportunity, sexual harassment, and bullying should be developed along with a credible process to be followed if an issue occurs. This type of destructive behavior can be easily hid if top leadership does not take a strong stand. Discrimination, harassment, and bullying not only crush creativity and hurt the victim, they take an enormous toll on the bottom line as well. The estimated costs to companies range from $64 billion reported by CBS Moneywatch to $200 billion reported by Psychology Today. These estimates include the costs of excessive absenteeism, reduced productivity, reduced loyalty, workers compensation, high turnover, and associated hiring and training costs. What is harder to estimate is the cost of the barriers which these behaviors have on creativity and innovation. Top leaders must verbally express their commitment to a working environment free of any type of discrimination or harassment and ensure all personnel are educated on their rights. You cannot assume everyone has the same understanding of what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable, or what fairness means unless it is made perfectly clear. The processes to address incidents must be unambiguous, trustworthy, and have the clear backing of top leadership. Processes for redress which are not fairly enforced and credible can be hijacked by unscrupulous managers and result in continued organizational losses.
“The most neglected form of compensation is the six-letter word thanks."
– Robert Townsend
It is no surprise what gets rewarded or recognized gets repeated. If you want creativity and innovation to thrive in your organization, your rewards system must align with that strategy. A reward system should have both monetary and non-monetary components. There has been much discussion over the years about how much money really motivates people after their basic needs are met. However, most agree that receiving less compensation than others doing the same job is a definite de-motivator. An unfair and unaligned compensation system can be a barrier to creativity and innovation as people feel they are not valued. Discouraged employees are not as likely to come up with new ideas or to voice them. A consistent monetary rewards system helps to prevent one manager from playing favorites or usurping the system.
Thomas Jefferson one said, “The glow of one warm thought is worth more to me than money.” Recognition is an inexpensive and simple way to motivate people. One-on-one “thanks,” newsletter highlights, t-shirts, mugs, etc. can go far to encourage and motivate. Once again, the key is ensuring the recognition is properly aligned with the strategy. If the strategy is encouraging innovation and creativity, then all sincere attempts should be recognized whether they are successful or not. Grey Advertising does this with their “heroic failure” awards while Yum Brands awards a “rubber chicken” to those willing to step out and innovate even if their efforts are not successful. As with other components of the Star Model, top leaders have to set the stage for the whole organization. It is critical that middle managers understand the importance of providing recognition and that any perceived “punishment” of failures can put a chill on creativity and innovation.
“Trust, but verify” -Ronald Reagan
You feel good celebrating your one year anniversary with your new organization. Using the Star Model, you compared your strategy with the other points of the star and made adjustments as appropriate. Processes and policies have been put into place which you believe have banished those barriers which blocked your employee’s creativity and innovation. You have shaped and created a healthy work environment where people are free to contribute to their full potential unimpeded by discrimination, harassment, or bullying. New ideas and risk-taking are encouraged at all levels. At least you think so…but every now and then you hear a little nagging voice asking if the points of the star are really aligned? How do you know what you don’t know?
You may want to take a tip from the U.S. Navy. Over forty Navy officers or senior enlisted personnel were fired from their leadership positions in 2012 for not upholding the Navy’s core values. Almost all of these cases came to light through an annual anonymous command climate survey or hotline complaint. A work climate survey provides feedback on the organization’s work environment which influences employee’s behavior and their ability to do a job. How much effort and money could the Navy have lost if they did not have these safeguards in place? Many civilian businesses are implementing similar surveys to identify negative attitudes and behaviors which create barriers and negatively impact work performance. Other methods of determining employees concerns include hotlines, 360 degree evaluations, town halls, focus groups, and leader “walk-arounds.” Having some of these safeguards in place can help quiet that little voice!
Barriers to creativity and innovation in large organizations can fester in many areas not obvious to top leadership. The Star Model provides an organizational framework from which to examine various areas where barriers may be lurking. If your strategy is to encourage creativity and innovation, the other points of the star must be aligned properly to support that strategy. First, the right people need to be in place to convey the vision and strategy and set the conditions which encourages new ideas and risk-taking. Bureaucratic and hierarchal organizational structures support the creation and maintenance of barriers and should be avoided. Processes should be in place which encourage sharing of information and provide for a healthy working environment. Lastly, your reward system must be designed to encourage the behavior you want and have both a monetary and non-monetary component. How many barriers to creativity and innovation will you be able to knock down by following this shooting star?
*image courtesy of PinkBlue/freedigitalphots.net
Badal, S. (2012, September 25). Building corporate entrepreneurship is hard work. Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
Carone, C. (2013, September 12). Want to Inspire Innovation? Reward Risk Takers. Forbes. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christacarone/2013/09/12/rewardrisktakers/
Cash Awards for suggestions, inventions, scientific achievements, and disclosures. (2007, April 26). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000 Military Personnel Support/01-600 Performance and Discipline Programs/1650.8D.pdf
Clemmer, J. (1992). Firing on all cylinders. New York, NY: Irwin Professional Publishing.
Commanding officer, XO and senior enlisted firings. (2013, February 13). Navy Times. Retrieved from http://www.navytimes.com/article/99999999/CAREERS/302050309/Commanding-officer-XO-senior-enlisted-firings
Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hill, C., & Jones, G. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed., p. 452). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
Holland, C. (2008, October 27). The costs of the workplace bully. CBS Moneywatch. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30940457/the-costs-of-the-workplace-bully/
Jeschke, S. (2011). Enabling innovation: Innovative capability - German and international views. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
Johnston, J., Bradley, P., Charbonneau, D., & Campbell, S. (2003). The Army culture - climate survey. Informally published manuscript, Royal Military College of Canada, Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.iamps.org/10_Johnston_paper_IAMPS_2003.pdf
Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I., (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
McDonnell, J. (2013). A strategic conversation with Dr. Pat Robertson. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), Spring 2013, 26-34.
Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behavior: Google corporate culture in perspective. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
Weske, M. (2007). Business process management: Concepts, languages, architectures. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Williams, R. (2011, May 11). The silent epidemic: Workplace bullying. Psychology Today, Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201105/the-silent-epidemic-workplace-bullying
 Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. (pp. 9-10) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I., (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. (p. 248). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
 Badal, S. (2012, September 25). Building corporate entrepreneurship is hard work. Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
 McDonnell, J. (2013). A strategic conversation with Dr. Pat Robertson. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), Spring 2013, 26-34.
 Jeschke, S. (2011). Enabling innovation innovative capability - German and international views. (p. 39). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
 Ibid. (p. 39).
 Ibid. (p. 39).
 Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behavior: Google corporate culture in perspective (p. 5). München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
 Ibid. (p. 5).
 Ibid. (p. 5).
 Ibid. (p. 3).
 Ibid. (p. 3).
 Weske, M. (2007). Business process management concepts, languages, architectures (p. 5). Berlin, Germany: Springer.
 Ibid. (p. 6).
 Cash Awards for suggestions, inventions, scientific achievements, and disclosures. (2007, April 26). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000 Military Personnel Support/01-600 Performance and Discipline Programs/1650.8D.pdf
 Hill, C., & Jones, G. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed., p. 452). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
 Holland, C. (2008, October 27). The costs of the workplace bully. CBS Moneywatch. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30940457/the-costs-of-the-workplace-bully/
 Williams, R. (2011, May 11). The silent epidemic: Workplace bullying. Psychology Today, Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201105/the-silent-epidemic-workplace-bullying
 Clemmer, J. (1992). Firing on all cylinders. (p. 226). New York, NY: Irwin Professional Publishing.
 Ibid. (p. 229).
 Ibid. (p. 231).
 Carone, C. (2013, September 12). Want to Inspire Innovation? Reward Risk Takers. Forbes. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christacarone/2013/09/12/rewardrisktakers/
 Commanding officer, XO and senior enlisted firings. (2013, February 13). Navy Times. Retrieved from http://www.navytimes.com/article/99999999/CAREERS/302050309/Commanding-officer-XO-senior-enlisted-firings
 Johnston, J., Bradley, P., Charbonneau, D., & Campbell, S. (2003). The Army culture - climate survey. Informally published manuscript, Royal Military College of Canada, Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.iamps.org/10_Johnston_paper_IAMPS_2003.pdf
 Ibid. (p. 2).
Author Bio: Captain Jeanne McDonnell (ret.) served on active duty for over 25 years. Assignments included command of Naval Support Activity Norfolk and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk, and service on the Joint Staff, the Navy Staff, Commander Surface Warfare Atlantic Staff, and Joint Forces Staff College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
Congratulations! You have just been promoted to a top leadership position in your organization. You have over 3,000 people working for you in four different states. Your budget is in excess of $25 million. Good luck, and remember, don’t screw this up. Read More >Jeanne M. McDonnell Articles
The Navy – it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure! Get technical training, see the world, earn educational benefits, and be part of the fight against global terrorism! These are just a few of the reasons people are motivated to join the Navy. The Navy experience varies from sailor to sailor causing some to leave the Navy after a few years and others to make it a career. After their duty station, the biggest influence on a sailor’s Navy experience is typically their leader and that person’s leadership style. Leadership styles in the Navy can be compared to a Clint Eastwood movie; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Generally when a Sailor or Navy veteran is asked who their best leader was, it won’t take them much time to identify the good. Similarly, when ask who their worst Navy leader was, they can identify the bad almost immediately. Then there are those sailors who have experienced the ugly Navy leader. These are sailor’s who have survived bosses whose leadership styles are so toxic, the leader is often relieved from their position.
What leads to these people in authority to act the way they do, whether good, bad, or ugly? It has been suggested that a leaders inner motives, combined with their competencies, drives leadership style. The leader chooses their leadership style to help them best achieve their motives. This article explores what motivates one subsection of the military, naval leaders, and how that motivation influences the specific leadership style or styles they use.
Honor, Courage, and Commitment
All sailors are required to know and expected to live the Navy’s Core Values of “Honor, Courage, and Commitment.” Honor requires truthfulness, honesty, integrity, respect for others, knowing right from wrong, and acting in an ethical manner. Courage is the personal and moral fortitude to do what is right whether facing anything from enemy fire to a temptation. Commitment means staying the course regarding the oath to ‘defend and protect,’ personal behavior, technical skills, and respect for others. The core values give all sailors the fortitude to fulfill their duty to their followers and their country.
These core values were not arbitrarily arrived at. Being honest was rated the top characteristic of admired leaders in repeated studies. Even though the studies were conducted with non-military personnel, courage was also ranked high. These values drive commitment and without commitment, a leader’s credibility diminishes.
Navy Leadership Training
The Navy has long recognized that leadership styles and skill levels have an impact on mission accomplishment, retention, and morale. For years, the Navy has had the Naval Leadership Continuum which provides career-long leadership training from E-4 to the flag officer level. The top three leaders of any Navy command are expected to attend leadership training at the commanding officer, executive officer, or command master chief level as appropriate. Navy leadership training is not only for senior leaders but is also targeted at far more junior personnel. Navy leadership training has such a good reputation Forbes magazine reported that many of the top corporations in the nation have studied it “…to see what they can learn and adapt from the Navy, to weave into their own cultures of leadership learning and development.”
Sounds good, right? Despite the majority of Navy leaders who uphold the highest traditions of our nation, other Navy leaders continue to make headlines for leadership failures. Regrettably, these incidents greatly damage the leader’s career and normally reflect poorly on his or her family, service, and country. What motivates these leaders to stray from the sound leadership principles which they have been taught? And can their leadership style predict hidden motivations?
In reality, it is difficult to know what truly motivates an individual, but with most leaders there are indications of what motivates them. Going back to Clint Eastwood’s outline, let’s look at some well-known naval leaders, their leadership styles, and what may have motivated them.
While stationed on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon in the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to serve with two great naval leaders, General Peter Pace, USMC, and Admiral Vernon Clark, USN. At the time, they were both three-star flag officers and served in key positions on the staff. Both were strategic thinkers with stellar reputations as intelligent, honest, hard working, and selfless leaders who cared strongly not only for the mission but for their people. There was never a question that both men loved their country and were ready to do whatever needed to be done to get the mission accomplished. Their motivation was to serve not only their leaders and followers but their country and fellow countrymen.
Both of these gentlemen had similar leadership styles – a combination of servant leadership and transformational leadership. Servant leadership has been described as a style where the leader places others at the center instead of themselves and who view their task as serving others. A transformational leadership style is evident when the leader dismisses using their position or rank to get something done and “…instead attempts to motivate and mobilize followers by persuading them to take ownership of their roles in a more grand mission that is shared by all members of the organization.” There are some who would suggest these leadership styles are “touchy-feely” or not goal-oriented enough, but this is not the case. It should be noted that both these men were fiercely dedicated to the mission of national defense and their leadership style prompted others to emulate that dedication to the mission despite danger, family separation, low pay, and difficult living conditions. These two exemplary leaders each had 30+ years of service to their country. Through these years, there were countless examples of actions that personified the type of leader they were. An example from each helps to show their true colors.
Admiral Clark continued to excel after his tour on the Joint Staff and rose to become the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), the Navy’s top position, in July 2000. A quick review of his CNO guidance to his leaders demonstrates his commitment to the mission and to his people.
Winning the Global War on Terrorism is our number one priority… Last year I told you I wanted every leader to be evaluated on two things, their commitment to the growth and development of their people and above all to mission accomplishment…I want each of you to understand that mission accomplishment means both warfighting effectiveness and resourcefulness. It has been said that great leaders do the right thing, and great managers do things right—we need to do both…People remain at the heart of all we do; they are capital assets in our Navy. We have invested heavily to do what is right for our people. As we look to the future, we will build on the impressive progress we have made in recruiting, assigning, and retaining our military and civilian professionals. "Growth and development" is our byline and I expect every leader to be deeply involved in developing their shipmates. Active leadership is making it happen today and will do so in 2003.
Admiral Clark didn’t just talk the leadership talk – he walked the walk. In January 2002, he traveled half way around the world to reenlist sailors onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. His words following the ceremony demonstrated his commitment to his sailors, “I came out here to look you in the eye, and tell you something that I couldn't tell you if I just sent you a message. I came out here to look at you and tell you that the American people are so proud of what you're doing.”
General Pace also was clear in what he thought was important – the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen that he led in the nation’s highest military position. In 2007, while serving as the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), he was told that he would not be renominated for the CJCS position. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested to Pace that he voluntarily retire to reduce awkwardness with the Bush Administration. He refused. After a speech at the Joint Forces Staff College, he was asked why he did not voluntarily step down.
“I said I could not do it for one very fundamental reason, and that is that ‘Pfc. Pace’ in Baghdad should not think ever that his chairman, whoever that person is, could have stayed in the battle and voluntarily walked off the battlefield,” he said. Out of his sense of leadership, he could not even consider the idea, Pace said. Therefore, he did not submit his retirement papers until after it became publicly known that he was not going to be renominated. “The other piece for me personally was that some 40 years ago I left some guys on the battlefield in Vietnam who lost their lives following Second Lieutenant Pace,” he said. “I promised myself then that I will serve this country until I was no longer needed. I need to be told that I’m done. I’ve been told I’m done.”
Both Clark and Pace were motivated by love for country, their countrymen, and those they led. Their leadership styles clearly reflected and promoted achievement of their motives.
Not all successful military officers are necessarily good leaders. Most career officers have seen leaders “that eat their young” and wondered how it happens when a poor leader gets promoted or put into a position of power. Retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Mark Johnson noted, “Anyone can try to impress and fool the boss and peers and actually be successful doing it…But the true test, the true mark of your respect and character comes from below, not above.” What motivates this negative type of leadership style could range from anything from insecurity to over-confidence. An interesting case is that of Admiral Earnest J. King, who some consider one of the greatest Naval heroes of the 20th century.
Admiral King served as both the Commander in Chief and the Chief of Naval Operations in World War II. He was an extraordinarily intelligent risk-taker who quickly climbed the ranks after graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. In a biography of King, Thomas Buell noted his primary motivation, “King had but one aim in his life during his first forty years of naval service; to become the Chief of Naval Operations…He made no secret of it. He would tell anyone who would listen…”
As his primary motivation was self-interest, it is not surprising to find that many subordinates found his leadership style abrasive and uncompromising. As the Navy Commander in Chief, King worked his staff to the point where there were illnesses including heart attacks and even a suicide. One officer who worked for King reported he did not tolerate errors and that “Censure was swift, devastating, and before a cloud of witnesses.” Another officer noted that filled rooms would clear out when he entered, “No one seemed to want to be where King was.”
Admiral King was an extraordinarily successful naval officer who contributed to the Navy mission, but his brusque leadership style was clearly not appreciated by his Sailors. It is interesting to ponder if King’s abrasive leadership style would have been tolerated in today’s environment where command climate is a consideration. As King’s motivation to become Chief of Naval Operations was so strong, today he may have very well adapted his leadership style into something more acceptable.
It is disturbing that 39 senior Navy leaders were relieved for professional or personal incidents or indiscretions in 2011. Equally concerning is so far in 2012, 26 senior Navy leaders have been fired. Sexual harassment, hazing, drunk driving, adultery, incompetence, inappropriate relationships, cruelty, and maltreatment are some of the behaviors that these leaders were fired for. It is unlikely that these leaders intentionally wanted to end their careers in disgrace. What was their motivation for this poor leadership behavior? Each of these leaders was required to go through leadership training before they took their positions – training that reinforced that any of these behaviors would most likely lead to dismissal for cause. Training that also highlighted the difficult spot that this type of dismissal put their family, their command, their Navy, and their country in.
Possible motives were personal gain, sexual gratification, and a quest for power. Other contributors included stupidity and poor judgment. These motivations contrast sharply against motivations such as service to country, service to fellow service members, and mission accomplishment. When a leader is committed and motivated to their mission and their people, they intentionally avoid situations that encourage or facilitate poor decision making.
Although less than one percent of commanding officers are relieved each year, it would be wise to remember these are only the ones who were caught and reported. How many sailors are out there trying to hold on and waiting for a transfer date for their boss or themselves? Besides the personal embarrassment to the leader and the Navy, there are significant costs to the taxpayer for these leadership failures. One of the primary symptoms of dysfunctional leadership behavior is lower productivity due to low morale. Gallup estimates it can cost an organization approximately 1/3 of its payroll cost. Additionally, retention can be negatively affected resulting in increased costs for the Navy. Then there is the obvious cost of having to find and train qualified reliefs for those who are dismissed.
One solution may be to go through these cases and analyze what were the motives of the leader that prompted the incident or incidents that ended their careers? When we understand one’s motives, we can better understand their behavior. And could an analysis of leadership styles help to predict poor behavior? If so, who would be best to conduct an analysis of leadership styles?
A study on destructive leadership behavior in the Swedish military was recently completed which could have bearing on this problem. The study provided a survey to subordinates of military leaders and asked them to answer “How well do the following statements fit with regard to your immediate supervisor/commander?” Twenty statements were rated including: uses threats to get their way, has violent tendencies, put’s own needs ahead of the group, gives unclear instructions, etc. The survey could be completed in a short time and the results proved statistically reliable. This instrument also fits nicely into a 360-degree evaluation. Although some officers and senior enlisted would be threatened by a system such as this, those leaders who have the right motives and right leadership styles should welcome one. As Lt. Col. Mark Johnson noted it is easy to trick your leaders and peers into thinking you are a great leader. It is not so easy to trick your subordinates – our service members are smart and know a good leader when they see one.
Personal motivations do impact leadership styles for the simple reason that in order to get what they want people naturally adopt those characteristics that will help them achieve their goal. When motivations fall outside of the Navy’s core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment, leadership styles also fall outside of the acceptable boundaries the Navy has tried to instill not only through its leadership training but culture as well.
About the author:
Captain Jeanne McDonnell (ret.) served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years. Command assignments included Naval Support Activity Norfolk, Naval Administrative Command, and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk. She also served in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff and Navy Staff. Jeanne has a Masters Degree in Education from Old Dominion University and another in Military Studies from U.S. Marine Corps University. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
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The Navy – it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure! Get technical training, see the world, earn educational benefits, and be part of the fight against global terrorism! These are just a few of the reasons people are motivated to join the Navy. The Navy experience varies from sailor to sailor causing some to leave the Navy after a few years and others to make it a career. After their duty station, the biggest influence on a sailor’s Navy experience is typically their leader and that person’s leadership style. Read More >Jeanne M. McDonnell Articles