Naval Officer: Manager or Leader?

Naval Officer: Manager or Leader?
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(Editor’s Note: The below is an excerpt from the new volume The U.S. Naval Institute on Naval Leadership, part of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Wheel Books series, now available from Naval Institute Press. This article was originally published in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, December 1975, p. 64-67.)

Within the Navy today, two philosophical paradigms are competing. Each views the relationship between management and leadership differently and, because they do, they are planting the seeds for a potential identity crisis in the mind of the young naval officer caught between them. One, the management paradigm, asserts that the effective management of scarce resources within the command is the primary objective. Leadership in this model is considered only as an important element of the management process. The management paradigm is prevalent in the civilian establishment. The military establishment, conversely, adheres predominantly to the philosophy that leadership is the principal means to an end, citing the ability to manage as one of several secondary traits the successful leader exhibits. Is this difference in the relationship between management and leadership, as offered by the two paradigms, important to the naval officer of today? For the confused young officer who cannot answer the question, "Am I a manager or a leader first?" we think the difference is important. And for the middle grade officer who finds himself working side by side with a civilian counterpart, an understanding of the difference between the two management/ leadership relationships is also important.

Our purpose in this essay is not to provide a checklist whereby the manager can become a good leader or the leader a good manager. Rather we seek to aid the junior officer in recognizing the conflicting paradigms and their origins, to explain their differences and similarities, and to orient the individual officer in such a manner that he can successfully bridge the philosophical gap between management and leadership. In short, we are attempting to develop an acceptable internal consensus regarding the relationship between management and leadership for the Navy of today.

This management-versus-leadership incompatibility, which we have said lies at the foundation of our identity crisis, did not develop overnight. The necessity for strong and capable leadership has always been a hallmark of our service. Leadership grasps the human element. In the evolution of our Navy, weapon systems have come and gone, but the sailor alone has remained. Indeed the sailor of the Seventies is a more socially aware, better-educated individual than his predecessor of even 20 to 30 years ago. This does not eliminate the need for leadership; rather, it strengthens the requirement and demands the naval leader of the Seventies be more sensitive as well as better educated than his Predecessors. In any case, where one finds sailors behaving and thinking Individually, the need exists for leadership to control and mold them into a combat-capable team. The leadership Paradigm, in which men mean more than guns, then, is the traditional naval Philosophy.

Challenging the leadership paradigm is that of management—by no means unimportant. Before World War II, management per se was not widely recognized as a distinct profession or calling. Management suffered then as a euphemism for "getting the job done." Since World War II, however, the near exponential technological advances have produced similar increases in the complexity of "getting the job done." This, in turn, has generated the need for skilled men whose sole function is to manage effectively. The growth in the field of scientific management alone demonstrates this need. Such disciplines as operations research, systems analysis, and computer systems management demand as managers bright young naval officers if our Navy hopes to keep abreast of the advancing technological wave.

As the Navy's demand for managers increases—while its relative training resources dwindle—the Navy cannot be expected to completely provide in-house facilities to develop its own managers. The solution is to capitalize on the management knowledge, gained at a civilian university or institution, of the Incoming junior officer; or to interrupt the short career of the officer already in the service and either send him to a civilian school for a management-related degree or to a Navy school to be educated in civilian concepts of management. Because of resource restrictions, therefore, we find that the management techniques employed in the Navy are predominantly borrowed from the civilian sector. The end result is that the Young naval manager and his civilian counterpart are often performing the same tasks, save for the "labels." Herein lies the crux of the identity crisis. Framed in the philosophy of the civilian management paradigm, the young naval manager is taught to emphasize the final two elements of the "men-money-materials" triad and to focus foremost on the goals of the organization. But from an omnipotent voice in the sky (the ghost of naval officers past?), he is admonished to, above all else, know and care for his men—to lead them.

Emphasis on management is not solely a civilian by-product. It stems from our own house too. Then Secretary of the Navy, Fred Korth, in an August 1963 Proceedings article titled "The Challenge to Navy Management," wrote of his and his immediate subordinates' functions: ". . . I manage the Department of the Navy; the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps manage their respective armed services [our italics] . . .” Throughout the article, virtually no mention is made of the leadership that is the putative hallmark of the naval service. Can anyone doubt, therefore, why the junior officer would genuinely pose the question, "Am I a manager or a leader first?"

Conflicting philosophies, conflicting requirements, and conflicting responsibilities confront the individual officer almost daily. If a naval officer is no more than a manager wearing shoulder boards, so be it, and let us say so. But if a naval officer, as a manager, is something unique then let us say that. The young naval officer nearing the end of his term of obligated service, trying to make the crucial decision whether to stay in or depart the service, tends to wax philosophic and is especially vulnerable to such soul-searching questions. We believe this essay will help him answer this question.

To bring into focus the question of the relationship between management and leadership as it relates to the naval officer, we will consider in succession the management-leadership relationship in the civilian sector, the military relationship, a comparison and contrast between the peacetime military manager and his civilian counterpart, and, finally, a comparison and contrast between military and civilian managers in wartime.

In James J. Cribbin's Effective Managerial Leadership (New York: American Management Association, 1972), we find management defined as ". . . the scientific art of attaining intended organizational objectives by working effectively with and through the human and material resources of the firm." Cribbin also proffers a lengthy definition of leadership, but we will present a military-oriented definition of leadership later. It is important to note in his discussion of management—and this is typical of many management texts —Cribbin clearly indicates that leadership is but an element of the overall management process. In other words, while the outstanding manager is most likely an effective leader, it does not necessarily follow that the effective leader is an outstanding manager. Thus we see that, according to the current civilian management philosophy, leadership is clearly subservient to managership. Again from Cribbin, "Management always has a strong element of the logical, the rational, the financial, the impersonal, the analytical, and the quantitative. Leadership, in contrast, always involves the chemistry that exists between the alpha fish and those he leads." For the young naval manager then, through his civilian-oriented management training, is told that leadership is secondary in importance to the "scientific art of attaining intended organizational objectives" because it is intangible, subjective, and nonmeasurable.

From the military establishment, we hear a different drummer. One of the most widely read professional books by junior naval officers, Captain John V. Noel's Division Officer's Guide (Sixth Edition, Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1972), defines leadership (taken from General Order 21) as ". . . the art of accomplishing the Navy's mission through people. It is the sum of those qualities of intellect, of human understanding, and of moral character that enable a man to inspire and to manage a group of people successfully. Effective leadership, therefore, is based on personal example, good management practices, and moral responsibility." Notice that in this military-oriented definition, at least, the function of managing is viewed as but one element of the overall leadership function. The civilian management paradigm would charge the military of putting the leadership cart before the management horse.

The difference in viewpoints is obvious. Civilian doctrine, in which many of our naval officers are schooled, emphasizes the management function, while military doctrine, which is taught to those same officers, emphasizes the leadership function. From this basic contradiction rises a fundamental question: why are they different? Is the military definition simply antiquated, a product of tradition that has fallen behind the times? (Certainly this would not be the first time the military has been accused of committing that particular sin.) Or is there a plausible reason why the Navy and the other armed services emphasize the leadership side of the coin? We maintain the latter to be true. The conflicting views of the management- leadership relationship, when placed in the proper context, are not incompatible for the naval officer who is asked to manage and to lead with energy and effectiveness. This compatibility can be understood by investigating the roles and functions of the civilian and military manager in peacetime and in wartime.

Since the naval officer may spend most or all of his career in a peacetime environment, it is natural to compare first the roles of the civilian and naval managers in peacetime. In comparing the naval manager with the civilian manager, and in later citing some differences, we emphasize that we are not denigrating either one. Each is indispensable to his respective organization.

In peacetime, whether the naval manager be ashore or afloat, many similarities exist between him and a civilian manager. Both are, in a broad sense, trying to use their scarce resources— men, money, and materials—in the most efficient manner possible to accomplish the goals of their respective organizations. Admittedly, the measures of performance are different. The civilian manager is first and foremost trying to maximize profits. His gauge of success is that which appears on the "bottom line." In the Navy, our benchmark is the elusive goal of "battle readiness." We have not managed effectively if we cannot put to sea a well-trained, well-supplied combat capable ship, squadron, or submarine. Nevertheless, the essence of the managing function in both environments is the same, that of getting the job done in the best possible manner, with the resources available. Is there a great difference between the destroyer commanding officer who attempts— with diminishing OpTars, continuing personnel shortages, and reduced operating time—to prepare his ship for deployment and the beleaguered civilian plant manager who tries to steer his charge through perilous, uncharted economic waters? In many ways, no, as both sound the clarion call for increased productivity, be it in the form of improved engineering reliability, or a more reliable widget off the assembly line.

The civilian manager and the peacetime military manager ashore exhibit the greatest similarities as they perform almost indistinguishable functions. It must be noted, however, that most unrestricted line naval officers serving in shore billets are either working in their subspecialities or merely between their primary assignments as seagoing naval officers.

It is as a manager in the fleet, attached to a ship, squadron, or submarine, that more pronounced differences begin to appear between the naval manager and his civilian counterpart. We note such possible differences as longer working hours, stricter accountability, and more responsibility but reject them as compelling differences because we feel the civilian manager faces many of the same conditions, albeit in different forms. We believe the single most compelling difference between civilian and seagoing managers is the more total relationship that exists between "the management and the employees" at sea. Especially on a deployment, management, in concert with leadership, is a 24-hour-a-day job for prolonged periods of time. For the manager at sea, a primary objective is optimum performance from each individual on board. Therefore, he must be concerned about everything that affects the sailor's performance, such as his food, habitability, training, liberty, personal appearance, financial status, and family. How many civilian managers have stood next to their men in a court of law? Many division officers have. A paternal watchful care for the comfort and welfare of his men is required to a far greater extent from the naval manager than from his civilian counterpart.

As an aside, the authors believe another significant, though smaller difference between the civilian and the naval manager is that the naval officer "going down to the sea in ships" simply has more plain, unadulterated fun. While we admit that some civilian jobs may be as enjoyable as going to sea, we seriously doubt it. Nevertheless, this belief shouldn't detract from the cogency of our thesis.

In summary, within the peacetime environment, although differences do exist especially for those managers at Sea, the differences are a matter of degree and certainly not overwhelming. In peacetime, therefore, we conclude that the management paradigm prevails, and leadership can be considered an element of the overall management process.

But what about wartime? Just as in discussing a fireman's profession in which he may spend most of his time performing fire prevention duties but exists primarily to extinguish fires, any similar discussion of a naval officer, who may indeed spend most of his career performing war prevention duties, would be woefully incomplete unless the wartime dimensions of his profession were fully addressed.

When the focus of our attention shifts to wartime, the differences between the civilian and naval manager become more acute. As long as force and violence are the arbiters of national destiny, be it ours or that of any other nation, a need for the military shall exist. It cannot nor must not be forgotten that despite the degree of detente or the dialogue between past and present enemies, war remains the raison d'etre of the military. Although easily forgotten, the stark reality of future war underscores everything the naval officer does. No reasonable naval officer hopes for war because he will be among the first to enter the arena of battle. Nevertheless, we must prepare for the worst because it can occur with little warning.

Why is wartime managing different? The goal for the civilian manager remains largely the same—maximum productivity. For the naval manager, the Measure of performance is that plus something more. It is life itself, his own and, more importantly, the lives of the Men entrusted to him. And ultimately the stakes are the survival of our country, way of life, and families.

In wartime, management is not forgotten, but it is leadership which rises to dominate the wartime environment. The management process can prepare the military for war, and the importance of this should not be underestimated. But because of the sheer pressure and unpredictability of war, leadership must prevail. To condition subordinates to unhesitatingly risk their lives if need be, effective personal leadership is required, no—demanded! Management simply will not do this. In short then, leadership becomes the whole with management but an important subelement. It must be kept in mind that as leadership dominates the management process at sea in time of war, it also, although to a lesser extent, will gain in importance for the naval manager ashore.

In conclusion, it is not difficult for the young naval officer to comprehend the management and leadership paradigms and why each defines the management-leadership relationship as it does. As already mentioned, we think that in peacetime the relationship between management and leadership is nearly the same for civilian and naval Managers. There would be no great harm in accepting the civilian viewpoint that leadership is a subelement of the management process—as long as we did not have to go to war again. But war (or the expectation of war) is the reason for the Navy's existence. War, or rather war Prevention, is our business. And for that reason, leadership for the naval officer must be first in peacetime as well as in wartime. Just as an appendage long neglected will readily atrophy, the Navy cannot neglect the preeminence of leadership just because it happens to be operating in a peacetime environment. No switch exists that when pushed will automatically change the way the individual officer views himself, as a manager first or as a leader first. The Navy is culpable if the manager-leader identity crisis develops. It must be made clear to the young naval officer that he must, at all times, be a leader first.

This is not an easy task, for officers may spend 95% of their careers being peacetime civilian-type managers. Yet they must be prepared to be wartime leaders. How can the Navy prepare them? Leadership is not impersonal, analytical, or quantifiable and is therefore difficult to teach. Probably the best that can be hoped for is to emphasize its importance and to keep it uppermost in the minds of young naval officers. At the various schools where leadership is a part of the curriculum, visiting speakers should be invited to discuss leadership qualities and situations with the students. The young naval officer should be emphatically urged to take advantage of visiting speaker programs such as those sponsored by the Naval Institute or the Naval War College where great leaders of the past, both military and civilian, are often invited to speak. Commanding officers and executive officers should encourage discussions about leadership with their junior officers. Whatever the method of underscoring the importance of leadership, the essential thing is that the junior officer crystallize in his mind the relationship between management and leadership. This should be done at the expense of learning exotic new civilian management techniques.

Of course, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink, meaning that we doubt a mandatory, lockstep leadership program would be effective. The most the Navy can realistically do is foster the proper atmosphere in which the study of leadership is cultivated and encouraged. Each junior officer must take it upon his own initiative to read and study leadership- related works. To quote Admiral Arleigh Burke, in the January 1975 Proceedings, "The easiest way to find what those {leadership] traits are and learn how to acquire them is by studying the leaders who have gone before." Certainly studying the lives of past great leaders, both military and civilian, would be of great benefit to every young naval officer.

In closing, we emphasize that we are not belittling management or those who specialize in the management field. We are not de-emphasizing the importance of the management process or of modern management techniques. On the contrary, we believe the Navy should avail itself of even more civilian management techniques, so long as they help us to better accomplish our mission. Nor are we saying that the function of the naval manager is inherently more important than that of the civilian manager, that we are somehow "better" than our civilian counterparts. But the naval manager is unique. He works in a very special environment toward very special ends. It is through a knowledge and understanding of his special raison d'etre that the junior naval officer can recognize that the management and leadership relationships in the two paradigms, though different, are not incompatible.

The young naval officer should always keep in mind, to paraphrase the opening lines of "Qualifications of a Naval Officer," often attributed to John Paul Jones, "It is by no means enough that a naval officer be a qualified manager, he must be that of course, but also a great deal more—he must be a leader."

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