Navy Times website just published an article describing a command leadership crisis on the USS Shiloh and rock-bottom morale coupled with safety and combat effectiveness shortcomings.
Shiloh, by the way, is attached to the 7th Fleet – the same fleet
that has experienced multiple collisions and groundings recently. It all ties in, doesn’t it? You read this article and can’t help but come
away with the impression of a ship on the verge of mutiny being run by an incompetent
despot of a captain backed up by wholly incompetent fleet leadership.
However, before we form up the lynch mob, let’s take a brief moment and look just a little bit closer at this. If you actually read the article and look at the survey results, you'll note that roughly a third of the crew respondents indicted that they were motivated, proud of their ship, and trusted their leadership. That doesn't quite jibe with a ship on the verge of mutiny and crew being uniformly oppressed by their Captain. How do we explain the contradictory results?
The situation may be just as portrayed by the article - a ship being badly lead and falling into despair and ineffectiveness.
On the other hand, an alternative explanation might be that the previous Captain was far too lenient and the crew came to believe that low standards, lack of discipline, and lack of performance were acceptable and normal and now, with a new Captain demanding actual performance and holding the crew accountable, we see a bunch of whiny, spoiled malcontents. The third that responded as motivated, proud, and trusting are the ones who had wanted to do a good job and now have a Captain that is trying to whip a poor performing ship into shape and they fully support that effort. People who have been cruising along with little expected of them will naturally rebel when forced to perform to standard again. It’s human nature. We get lazy and resist attempts to make us better.
As a general statement, most people will not perform to the highest expectations but will, instead, perform to the lowest standard.
No, you say! Our crews are highly motivated, gung-ho perfectionists who aspire to the highest levels. Well, some are but most are human and will perform as I’ve described. No, ComNavOps, we don’t believe you. You’re wrong!
Perhaps. But consider the bits of evidence we have.
Recall the Iranian incident in which
seized two of our boats and crews without a fight
even though we heavily outnumbered and outgunned them? Clearly, those crews were not performing at a
high level. Heck, they weren’t even
performing at a minimally acceptable level.
The list of things they did wrong is almost endless. They had been skating by for quite some time. Even when faced with a potentially
life-threatening situation they failed to perform. The same applies to the entire chain of
command above them. Iran
Recall the recent collisions. Clearly multiple people at all levels failed to meet even the minimal standards of performance.
I’m not going to bother reciting more examples. The point has been made. There is more than ample evidence that our personnel are not performing to standard and are not being held accountable.
With that in mind, is it all that hard to imagine a situation in which a Captain takes over a lazy ship, tries to whip it into shape, and is perceived by two thirds of the crew as a tyrant just because he now expects minimal standards of performance?
The article could be completely right in their take on the situation. On the other hand, my alternative explanation is potentially just as valid. Without being there, I have no basis to make an assessment and that is not the point of this post. The point is that we need to read these articles with an objective perspective while being mindful of the relevant background (the widespread failures of performance that have been documented).
You’ll note that the article presented lots of survey quotes from disgruntled sailors but not one quote from any of the third of the crew that was happy. Is that a balanced article, informative, investigative article or a hit piece? There was no comment from the ship’s Captain although to be fair, he was presented the opportunity and declined for obvious reasons. This was a lazy, one-sided, slipshod article that made no effort to actually investigate the situation. The article went straight for sensationalism. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong but it does cast doubt.
I have insufficient information to make a judgment about this incident but I do note the one third of respondents who claimed to be motivated, proud, and trusting of leadership and I can’t reconcile that with the situation as the article paints it. I remain non-committal but dubious about the article as it’s written and presented – and so should you.
I’ve written this post because I witnessed exactly the scenario I described occur in an industrial setting and a good leader was punished for demanding performance rather than making his people happy. I’d hate to see that happen in this case, if that turns out to be the case.
(1)Navy Times website, “‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser
Shiloh”, Geoff Ziezulewicz,