Leadership Development in the U.S. Navy (Europe 2021)

A note from Admiral John Richardson during the live airing of his talk: I had a really terrific time speaking with you today about leader development. It was a real honor to be part of this discussion, and I'm grateful to Gene for including me. I intend to continue to develop and sharpen the ideas I touched on to make them more useful to leaders in business. If you'd like to participate in that, it's super easy and I'd be privileged to include you. Just send an email to BrinyDeep@SendYourSlides.com with the subject "leaders" — you'll get an automated response that will loop you in and give you access to a few products that I put together in the Navy. ------ Admiral John Richardson served as the Chief of Naval Operations for four years, which is the professional head of the US Navy. While in the Navy, Richardson served in the submarine force and commanded the attack submarine USS Honolulu in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for which he was awarded the Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale Inspirational Leadership Award. He also served as the Director of Naval Reactors, responsible for the design, safety, certification, operating standards, material control, maintenance, disposal, and regulatory oversight of over 100 nuclear power plants operating on nuclear-powered warships deployed around the world. Since his retirement in August 2019, he has joined the boards of several major corporations and other organizations, including Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, and Exelon, a Fortune 100 company that operates the largest fleet of nuclear plants in America and delivers power to over 10 million customers.


(No slides available)


Admiral John Richardson

Admiral, USN (Ret)



Thank you, Leanne and mark. So over the years, Admiral John Richardson's name has come up over and over again in my conversation with Dr. Steven spear. And I was so delighted that I was able to finally meet him last year. I had the privilege of interviewing him for four hours on my podcast, the ideal cast earlier this year, and I learned so much from him and so much of what he talked about. I thought it was relevant to not just every technology leader, but every leader I'm so delighted that he was willing to give a talk here, to teach us about leadership development. I can't think of a better person to teach us this because Admiral Richardson served as the chief of Naval operations for four years, which is a highest ranking officer in the us Navy overseeing the efforts of over 600,000 people. And in that role, he worked with the chiefs of navies from almost every European country. Before that he served as a director of us Naval reactors, which is comprehensively responsible for the safe and reliable operation of the U S Navy nuclear propulsion program, which Dr. Spear has written about. So extensively in his book, the high-velocity edge, now that he's retired from the us Navy, he serves on the board of directors for numerous companies, including Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company and Exelon a fortune 100 company, which operates the largest fleet of nuclear plants in America. Here's Admiral Richardson.


Well, Gina, thank you very much for that terrific introduction. I thanks for asking me to be here for this, uh, unbelievable forum. Um, as you, as Jane said, I just finished a 37 year career in the Navy. I retired about 18 months ago. Uh, during that career, I was a submariner by trade. And when we did the math, after I retired, it, it turned out I've spent more than 11 years underwater. And so I've got that going for me. Uh, I commanded at pretty much every level in the Navy, including the commander of the U S submarine force. I was the director of Naval reactors, which was Admiral Rick overs job. If you, uh, if you know about him and then, uh, finished my time in the Navy as the chief of Naval operations and since retiring, I've, uh, been part of a number of different, uh, corporate boards, uh, doing some consulting and helping other teams, uh, really kind of deal with this, uh, you know, quickly accelerating situation.


In fact, one of the, the, the couple of questions that I get asked most often are, you know, how can we achieve, uh, objectives or results at speed? And then how as a leader, uh, might we address both leader and worker fatigue, particularly as, uh, COVID has gone on much, much longer than any us anticipated. And, uh, you know, my answer to both of those questions is roughly the same and the answer, uh, involves kind of a radical pushing of ownership of the mission out to the farthest capable edge of your organization. You know, this, this radical delegation, if you will, is really the essence of effective Naval power, where, you know, the Navy will send a captain and his or her crew over the horizon with a mission with very little oversight, give you a, you know, a big, a chunk of assigned water and expect you to come back with that mission accomplished, and also come back with a team that is better in every respect than the team that you left stronger in every respect.


And so maybe to illustrate that, I thought I'd start with a C story. And, uh, there was a one-week period in October of 2016, where the United States that sort of the highest levels of government had decided to send a destroyer from the east coast of the United States to the middle east. And part of that journey was a transit through the straits of Baba men dev at the, at the Southern end of the red sea. This was an early bird class destroyer, very advanced warship. And as the, uh, destroyer went through the straits of Baba men, Deb on the Northern side of that Strait was the coast of Yemen. And the destroyer was attacked by coastal cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen. In fact, they were attacked not once, but three times. And, you know, this involves really reaction times in seconds and this ship, uh, successfully defended herself, you know, not once but three times.


And in one of those times, uh, put together an effective counter attack. Now this combination of defense and counter attack is, is it takes tremendous coordination, uh, by the crew, right? The crew onboard the ship and also a coordination of the ship with its task force. And also that task force with the larger command and, and leadership elements of the nation, it requires really a full team approach from the strategic all the way down to the very tactical edge. And it eventually even onboard the ship, involves several teams working really in a symphony of coordination. And, you know, another thing that's noteworthy is that even onboard the ship, you know, the actions onboard that ship were not directed by the ship's commanding officer on a number of, uh, on a couple of those, uh, attacks. Uh, but they were, uh, the entire response to the ship was coordinated by a much more junior leader, the officer of the deck who was controlling the ship at that time.


And it's just the way that a, we do 24 7 high impact operations onboard a ship, right. We've got to, uh, be operating, uh, all hours of the day, uh, while we're underway. And, uh, so we put, you know, junior officers on duty so that on the captain can perform the other duties that, uh, he or she is responsible for. And also of course, importantly get some rest. And so even though we had, uh, delegated that a mission to a junior officer, uh, we had also given him, uh, that officer, you know, full ownership of the situation that officer had, the expertise and the authority, uh, to execute, uh, the responsibilities to defend the ship. And you can imagine that if that ship had failed in any regard, and one of those attacks have been successful, how quickly that would situation would have escalated, you know, from the very tactical situation in that straight all the way up to become a global crisis.


And so, you know, I thought it would be illustrative to think about how our young people navigate their way through these trying circumstances. And, uh, what are the conditions, uh, that that must pertain to allow this successful execution of such an important mission way out on the edge of the organization of the United States Navy and the United States itself and for a non-military listener, you know, for all of you on this call. Uh, I think that this story has relevance. It really, uh, the same, uh, question that I get, how can we achieve our objectives at speed and how can we do so at tempo over time, uh, without, you know, experiencing chronic fatigue. Okay. What are the essential elements, uh, both in and out of the government, uh, that, uh, that allow you to do this successfully? And for us, it came down to the fundamental matter of leader development.


All right. And as I've talked to a lot of teams, both in and outside of the government, what I have found is that there is a, uh, a lack of a very deliberate approach to developing the leaders that would be able to act throughout the organization at that level of confidence and, and responsiveness. So I thought I'd spend today about how we approach developing those leaders. You know, the United States Navy really is a leadership factory. Uh, we bring in about 40,000 sailors every year from all over the country, in fact, all over the, and you know, as junior as they are and inexperienced as they are, when they joined in a very, very short period of time, they are leading other sailors almost before they know it. And you know, my message in this talk is that if you want to be competitive, if you want to be achieving objectives at speed, if you want to be seizing every fleeting opportunity that comes your way, your organization must think deliberately about how it develops its leaders.


This is not something that happens on its own. Okay. So the framework for achieving this, as we thought through, it was a first, we wanted to, uh, determine, you know, what were the attributes that we wanted our leaders to have, right? And that's going to differ for every one of the, uh, every different organization, right? The, the, the, the essential qualities of your leader are going to be highly dependent upon the mission of your organization. You know, what you want to do, it's very specific, but that's the goal that your system has to be tuned for. And then, you know, if that's the objective, we sort of, uh, conceived of a road leading to that objective that has three lanes. The first lane, uh, involves competence. And I would think that there would be very little in terms of arguing that competence is absolutely essential to being an effective leader.


You've got to know your job, uh, otherwise as sincere and dedicated as you are. You're not going to know right from wrong when you see it. So competence absolutely necessary. We also spent a tremendous amount of time, uh, understanding and building the character and integrity of our leaders. You know, it was important that, uh, as we delegated and push this authority out to the edge of the organization, remote from any kind of central, uh, uh, command and control that we knew that those leaders would be acting consistent with the values of the organization. And so we spent a lot of time on character development. And then finally, the, uh, the third lane involves the idea of connections so that, uh, we had a co a sense of confidence that those leaders, if they ran into a problem, if they ran into a situation that they didn't recognize that perhaps their training hadn't prepared them for that they would reach back.


They wouldn't hesitate to reach back, to get more information, perhaps more guidance, more support to, in order to execute their mission effectively. And so it was by virtue of, you know, this, this three lane path towards, uh, developing our leaders through competence, through character and through connections that really developed the sense of trust and confidence that allowed the superior leaders, the, the, the top leaders to work with the leadership team and push that, that authority out to push that ownership of the mission out to the furthest possible edge. Now, this sharing is also very important, right? Uh, and what we tried to, uh, train our leaders is that, you know, as you walk in, as the, as the leader of that team, there is no doubt in any of your team's mind, who's the boss. You don't have to worry about stressing your and emphasizing your authority.


Uh, just to the contrary, you need to, uh, think hard about how you're going to provide guidance to your team that would allow them now to go out with full ownership of their mission and execute, uh, without having to come back and, and, and, and borrow from your authority. You want to do that radical delegation. You want to give them full ownership. And we thought of ownership in terms of, you know, having four components, you know, one goes back to that idea of competence, right, though, in order to own something that mission, you've got to understand what it's about. So enough said about that. You've also got to have responsibility, and I think that everybody on this call would agree with that. Uh, certainly there's going to be an element of accountability, uh, in ownership. And, but the most difficult thing to achieve is actually delegating the authority that's necessary to execute the mission.


And I think, uh, well, how many of us have been in a situation where we've been given a mission and perhaps that, uh, that, that situation didn't go well, right? It didn't turn out the way that we wanted, and we were held responsible for that result, but when we reviewed it, you know, we never really got delegated the authority to do the mission and the way that we wanted. And so that's the toughest thing really to, uh, to let go as a senior leader, is that sense of authority. You've got to have a lot of trust and confidence in order to achieve that, uh, and really delegate ownership at that mission to your leadership team. And so, uh, you know, by virtue of doing that by, by developing deliberately developing leaders, right, with the, with the attributes that are tuned to your organization, by building their competence, by building their character and ensuring that they're appropriately connected, that will give you the trust and confidence that will permit you to then push ownership of the mission out to the, to the most capable and furthest edge of your organization.


And by doing so, you know, what you'll find, and it's been a consistent result of mine is that by giving them that commander's guidance, if you will, that guidance of what you hope to, for them to achieve telling them what you want to achieve, but how they will achieve it. You will find that you will unleash their creativity, that they will come back to you with ideas that you never would have dreamed of on your own, but there are far more effective than, uh, whatever you might've had in mind. And you, the whole team will just rise up on the shoulders of all these creative leaders, who, with this trust and confidence and full ownership of their mission. We'll do it in super creative ways. Now, as I bring to close, I, I have a question for you and I'm asking for your help. And I'd like to continue to refine and sharpen these ideas, particularly as they might apply to a corporate context. And if you're willing, I'd like to invite you to join me in being part of that process. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to build a mailing list. I'm going to start a mailing list. I'll post the details on slack right now. And if you're interested in kind of coming along with me on this journey, sharpening these things into something that would be even more useful for leaders in corporations, in the private sector, please sign up and, uh, I'll be happy to have you aboard. Thank you all very much.