Crazy Ivans and the Ethic of Entrepreneurship

crazy ivan

“Is this another one of your Crazy Ivans?” my Senior Enlisted Advisor asked me with a skeptical smile. “If so, I think I’ll go ahead and sit down.”

Made famous by the movie Hunt for Red October, a Crazy Ivan is, according to, a “quick unexpected and radical change in direction, literally or metaphorically.”

As a CO, I loved the ability to infuse fresh, new ideas to make positive change. To me, that has always been one of the greatest joys of being a leader – having a positive impact on peoples’ lives. The CO has a unique ability and freedom to affect positive changes on a crew and I didn’t want to waste an opportunity.

I never thought of what we did on the ship as “entrepreneurial” in nature, but I read something the other day that challenged this notion. In Jim Collins’ best seller Good to Great, he writes:

“Avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a culture of discipline. When you put these two complementary forces together – a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship – you get a magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results.”

Ethic of entrepreneurship. Do we have that in the military? Can we have that? While we certainly have our share of bureaucracy, you can also find a culture of discipline. But you’d be hard pressed to find an ethic of entrepreneurship. If you buy what Collins is saying – you need a culture of discipline and an ethic of entrepreneurship if you want superior performance and sustained results – the military has some work to do.

What is it? Entrepreneurship is something military folks don’t talk about. We tend to link the entrepreneurial spirit with building a business or starting a company. Not necessarily so. It is a way of thinking. An organization that has the entrepreneurial ethic is one where fresh, innovative ideas are implemented with little resistance. People are excited to work there because they can experiment and take risks without fear of failure.

We can’t be afraid of embracing the ethic of entrepreneurship. It’s that spirit and ethic that can drive change in our organizations.

The Entrepreneurial Ethic is There – Sort Of. At the lower echelons, you may see it. On his submarine, David Marquet challenged the status quo and stopped giving orders – instead, he asked for peoples’ intentions. In getting the crew to think and not just react to orders, he forced Sailors to come up with their own problem solving solutions. The crew of USS Benfold (DDG 65) started the Athena Project, “a platform for Sailors to pitch innovative ideas to improve their command or the Navy in an open forum to fellow Sailors as well as leaders of industry, academia and government.”

In my own command experience, I was always on the lookout for different and more effective ways to operate. We experimented with combined watch stations in order to create efficiencies and flexibility. Sailors designed training and drills that were more realistic and challenging – I loathe the run-of-the-mill drill scenario. On one deployment to Bahrain, we employed a modified work schedule in port that resulted in maximized time off for the crew but did not sacrifice readiness. My successor instituted a wildly popular and effective program where a “night shift” was created while in port, Bahrain. He credits this initiative as a key success factor in their superior INSURV inspection.

We need an ethic of entrepreneurship – who will lead it? The entrepreneurial ethic yields positive results when you have the right people and a culture of discipline. David Marquet and USS Benfold are prime examples. The problem with these examples is that they are isolated. While positive change was affected, it was only realized at the lower echelons. Think about how our military could change for the better if these examples were applied across the whole military.

Don’t fret. There is hope! The Athena Project is gaining traction across the Navy. Recently, a forum for the Athena Project was held in the Pacific Northwest where Sailors pitched their innovative ideas. The CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) is an example of how the Navy is trying to embrace the entrepreneurial ethic at a more institutional level. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) is a grassroots organization run by active duty and former military members. DEF aims to “build a cadre of creative leaders who foster the adaptation and innovation required to solve 21st century national security problems.”

The problem with these initiatives is that the Navy and military still operate as a giant, sluggish bureaucracy. Our acquisition process is a nightmare. From an institutional perspective, risk taking is frowned upon. Incentives aren’t embedded in processes and procedures in order to inspire innovation. Innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit shouldn’t be confined to individual commands, Athena Projects or the CRIC. We need to unleash this spirit across the military and realize the positive change on a grander scale.

I think the next generation of leaders will not only bring the ethic of entrepreneurship to the military culture, but to imbue the military with that ethic. Looking ahead at the fiscal pressures we face in budgets and appropriations, we will need a new way to build and sustain our military if we are to continue as the world’s most capable force. As long as they stay the course and continue to serve, the guys and girls of the CRIC, Athena Project and DEF are the future of the military. They know we need to create the ethic of entrepreneurship on a broad scope in order to achieve sustained and superior results.  And when they’re at the helm, I can’t wait to hear about their Crazy Ivans.


Keep It Positive


“If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” – Lucy Pledger (My Mom)

A mentor of mine taught me that a team with a positive attitude is a winner. This mantra has since become a cornerstone of my leadership philosophy. If you want a winning team, you must lead with a positive attitude.
Keeping a positive attitude is not always easy. Life is tough and we all have our bad days. Over the years, I’ve come up with some thoughts on building a team with a positive attitude.

The Mondays. We all get a case of the Mondays. No matter how hard you try to be positive and see the glass half full, you will be grumpy, grouchy and frustrated from time to time. Do not let your negativity poison your team. There will be occasions where the situation is dire and your Sailors need to know you are not happy. This should be the exception, though. You will have your bad days, but if your bad days are every day, then your team will have a bad day every day.

I struggled with this at times. Command can be lonely and there were occasions where I felt isolated and frustrated. I let my negative attitude seep out and it was obvious to my crew. The last thing I wanted was the crew to become unhappy and feel like they weren’t doing a good job. They were working hard and generally doing their best – I couldn’t let my case of the Mondays persist. If I did, the crew’s attitude would turn sour, ultimately having a negative impact on its performance.

Build People Up. In winning teams, teammates build each other up. They don’t tear each other down. This is true between peers, but especially in junior-senior relationships. I’m certainly not advocating for all positive, all the time. There is a time and place for everything. Coach John Wooden said you give people pats on the back – but sometimes the pats on the back need to be a little lower and a little harder.

I try to employ numerous tactics in my attempt to build a team with a positive attitude. Smile. Shake hands. Say thank you at every opportunity. If I see someone doing something good or trying hard, I tell them they’re doing a great job – publicly and privately. Even things like sweeping – no, especially things like sweeping – those efforts deserve a pat on the back and a thank you. Excellence in mundane yet critical tasks are the foundation for a culture of high standards and a winning team. Reinforcing good actions with a positive attitude will make the team even better.

Keep It Real. First off, Sailors are smart and can easily spot a phony. You must be sincere and honest or you risk destroying your relationship with your Sailors. Be positive, but not to the point where you are insincere.
In addition to being genuine, you have to acknowledge your current reality. If the glass is 10% full and you insist on saying its half-full, you are ignoring the cold, hard facts. Unbridled and unfounded optimism risks your credibility and sets you and the team up for failure. This was the case with the Vietnam War POWs would always thought they’d be home by Christmas – only to have their hopes crushed year after year. You must be realistic and confront the harsh reality your team faces.

In the Navy, we have difficult jobs where we encounter adversity on a constant basis. We cannot ignore the difficulty we face, but we also cannot let this drive our attitude to the negative end of the spectrum. We have to acknowledge the challenging reality, but rise above and overcome no matter how adverse the conditions. Jim Collins calls this the “Stockdale Paradox” named after VADM James Stockdale, who won the Medal of Honor for his service as a POW in Vietnam. The Stockdale Paradox states “you must retain faith that you will prevail in the end and you must also confront the most brutal facts of your reality.”

If things are tough, I’m not afraid to acknowledge it – “man, this ten month deployment sucks, doesn’t it Petty Officer Schmotz?” There’s nothing wrong with being honest about the situation. But don’t just leave it at that. Acknowledge the positive, too – “…but we’re doing a pretty damn good job and I couldn’t be more proud of how hard the crew is working.”

Never underestimate the impact your attitude has on Sailors. Put aside your own gripes, hand out compliments where deserved and be genuine – and you will have the foundation for a winning team.

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

wardroom mohawks

So there I was. Underway one morning on USS Warrior (MCM 10) eating breakfast alone in the wardroom. Two of the Junior Officers (JOs) came in and joined me for breakfast. They had freshly shaved mohawks. Neither said a word. They just sat there for a few minutes, giggling like school girls, waiting for my reaction.

Clearly, having a mohawk is not within the Navy’s grooming standards. I had no idea what possessed these guys to do this. But they obviously thought it was great fun. Then another JO walked in. Mohawk. Something was going on here. Command Leadership School did not cover this scenario in its curriculum.

After a few awkward minutes, I broke the ice and asked what was going on. The answer – just looking to change things up and have fun. Then, the inevitable question asked by every kid who wants something they can’t have – “can we keep ‘em?”

Command decision time. I could say no, go fix yourselves and get back to within regulations. This would ensure the good order and discipline I aggressively sought as Captain, but crushing enthusiasm in the process. Or I could say yes, letting these guys have their fun, build esprit d’corps and camaraderie within the officer ranks – but risk having the rest of the crew upset about a perceived double standard.

“Ok. But only for today.” Smiles all around.

One thing I try to do is create an environment where people like coming to work. A big part of that is having fun. As the leader, you have direct control over whether or not your crew will have fun. You don’t necessarily have to be the instigator of fun, but you can allow and encourage it. Incorporating fun and enjoyment into work will create positive feeling within the ranks, build morale, trust and loyalty.

In the Navy, especially in Surface Warfare, we have fun jobs. We lose sight of that in the daily grind of administrative tasks and endless cycles of inspections. But there are infinite opportunities to create a fun climate – and you don’t have to look very hard.

swim call

Swim calls. One of the cool aspects of being in the Navy is getting to take a dip in the middle of the ocean (or the middle of the Persian Gulf). When properly planned and executed, swim calls can be fun and safe and will provide fun memories that will last a lifetime.

Gun shoots. Recruiters are very good at selling the Navy. Many talk about shooting guns and blowing stuff up. Unfortunately, the reality is that life on a ship doesn’t exactly match the recruiter’s depiction. Most Sailors would agree shooting guns is fun. I made it a point to offer opportunities to shoot as much as possible. Sailors that needed the weapons qualifications had priority, but we typically opened up the shoots for the entire crew.

Not only is this fun for the crew – getting to shoot .50 cal machine guns, grenade launchers and various small arms – but this instills overall weapons proficiency and familiarity. It also has the added benefit of exercising your weapons on a regular basis, ensuring readiness when the time comes.

CO for a day. Every time I did this as CO, it turned out to be great fun and the crew had a blast. MWR raffled off CO/XO/Senior Enlisted for a day (we made a ton of money) and the winner spent one day as the captain of the ship. The winning Sailor got to be the CO and I turned over to him. He got my cabin, sat in my chair on the bridge, received all reports. While I did not abdicate any of the responsibility (I continued to receive all reports), I spent my day cleaning, washing dishes, and standing watch (as did most of the officers). The rules were simple – nothing unsafe, everything had to be within the bounds of good taste, ethical, etc., and the ship had to continue to meet mission requirements.

You would be amazed at the ideas Sailors can generate when you turn the reins over to them (or maybe not). The Sailors who were the CO had great fun and enlisted the help of their buddies in leading the crew. Needless to say, the “new COs” had different and creative ways of running the ship – and that was fine (only for a day!). The crew thoroughly enjoyed the change in routine and we all had a blast in what can be a monotonous grind.


In all of these cases, keeping balance between fun and high standards is critical. Establishing the high standards is the most important piece. You need that culture of discipline and professionalism. When you have that, you can let loose a little bit. I think leaders are hesitant to have fun because they think there’s too much risk.

Letting a junior Sailor run the ship for a day could unravel and undermine the good order and discipline leadership worked so hard to establish. If you already have that strong foundation of high standards consistently communicated through your words and actions, I believe you can mitigate the risk when it comes to letting Sailors have a little fun. Sailors are professionals and understand they’re expected to maintain good order and discipline. But sometimes they just want to have a mohawk for a day.

Defining Success

 Wooden-319“Success may result in winning, but winning does not necessarily make you a success.” – John Wooden


How do you define success?

Consider these scenarios when thinking about success and failure:

– A Sailor goes on emergency leave right before a certification event. That Sailor, a key member of a watch-team, is replaced by someone who is qualified but not as experienced. The watch-team fails a drill because the replacement Sailor missed a step in a procedure. Despite the crew’s superb overall effort, the failed drill directly contributes to a failed certification. The failed certification precludes the ship from winning the “Battle E,” awarded to the “best overall” ship in the squadron. Is the crew a loser because it didn’t win the Battle E?

– You are going through a drill where you have to defend the ship from attack. Those grading the drill are from the Afloat Training Group (ATG) and the grade will help determine your ship’s deployment readiness. The ATG graders give your crew a passing grade, but you think the drill was unsatisfactory. You don’t think the graders were very stringent and in a real attack, your ship would not have won the engagement. The scoreboard says you “won.” Do you slap high fives, pat your Sailors on the back and declare success?

I thought I knew what success was. Success was based on a score or how well my team compared to others. A few years ago, I read The Essential Wooden by legendary basketball coach John Wooden and co-author Steve Jamison. The book rocked my world and changed how I define success.

Coach Wooden is arguably the best coach of all time. He was the UCLA men’s basketball coach from 1948-1975. A short list of his accomplishments includes:

10 national championships

7 national championships in a row

88 game winning streak

38 game winning streak in national championship tournament play

12 Final Four appearances in 14 years

4 undefeated seasons

In over 40 years of coaching, only one losing season; his first as a high school basketball coach (’32-’33)

Amazingly, Coach Wooden never told his teams to win. Winning was never the goal and wins/losses did not determine success.

Wait. What?

The winningest, most dominant coach in college basketball, maybe even all time, never talked about winning? How is this possible?

Coach Wooden defined success as: …peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made every effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.

In short – success is doing your absolute very best.

After studying Coach Wooden’s philosophy, I have adopted his definition of success. This definition applies both in my personal life and professional life. I like this definition for a few reasons:

– You have direct control over success and failure

– Focuses your efforts

– You can still “play to win”

Control of Success and Failure. It is impossible to control everything in life. This drives control freaks crazy. In competition, be it combat or the basketball court, these uncontrollable factors – the Fog of War – will factor into the final score. Because of this, you simply cannot win every game forever.

By acknowledging success is independent of uncontrollable factors, you and your team have complete control over success. You can sleep well at night and have peace of mind knowing you did everything you could to prepare for the competition. This peace of mind is a direct result of your success.

Focused Effort. If winning determines your success, you tend to focus on things like scoring more points or what the other team will do. You may be able to influence these things – how many points the other team scores or what your opponent may do – but you cannot directly control them. If you accept that you cannot control these things, then you can focus your energy and preparation on what you can control. Some people might call this “taking care of the little things.” If you do your best to take care of the little things – never accepting mediocrity and striving for excellence – you will create a consistent competitive advantage.

Coach Wooden was intensely focused on the little things. In their very first lesson as UCLA basketball players, he famously taught his freshmen players how to wear their socks and lace their shoes. This, Coach Wooden explained, would prevent blisters from forming. If you got blisters, you couldn’t perform at a top level and may even miss games, thus hurting the team. Success in wearing your shoes and socks directly impacted the outcome of game.

You Can Still Play to Win. I struggled initially with Coach Wooden’s definition of success. In the military, we are trained to win in combat. As Jester famously pointed out in the movie Top Gun, “there are no points for second place.” Losing is simply not an option. Our shipmates and our country expect us to win decisively in combat and settle for nothing less. How do you reconcile Coach Wooden’s definition of success with our ethos of not accepting defeat?

Coach Wooden never said he wasn’t interested in winning. He was a fierce competitor who wanted to win every game. “I wanted to win every single game I ever played or coached. Who would think otherwise? We play to win.” Coach Wooden discovered that the best way to win was to achieve maximum effort. Doing your very best, more than anything, will tilt the odds in your favor. You may not win every game, but giving your best effort will put you in a position to win a lot.


Letting inspection grades or number of accolades alone determine your command’s success are simplistic and dangerous measures. They ignore important factors that will ultimately decide your unit’s combat readiness. We need a military that will win. We can’t guarantee victory, but we can create a competitive advantage by building a culture of excellence and focusing on the little things that we can control. If you maximize your team’s potential, achieve maximum effort and never settle for mediocrity – you will have achieved success. And like Coach Wooden’s teams, probably get a few wins along the way.

Good to Great

EXU TriadMCM Crew Exultant – Command Triad

Great commands have great CO-XO-Command Master Chief (CMC) teams. In the Navy, we typically define this team as the triad. You can still have a very good command with just one or two individuals functioning well. But a truly exceptional command requires a highly functioning triad with all three members working together.

Before going further, let’s define what great triads and great commands look like. It’s important to know “what right looks like.” Great commands are the ones Sailors will hold up as the best in their career. 30 years down the line, a Sailor will remember a particular command for the leadership’s unrelenting focus on mission accomplishment AND Sailor welfare. Great commands have cultures of high standards along with tremendous pride. Great triads have three people who embrace a shared vision, communicate effectively and understand their respective roles. Individual talent is not as much a factor in having a successful triad as the ability to work with each other. That Sailor looking back 30 years will not only remember a great command, he will remember a great CO/XO/CMC team.

Now that we know what a highly functioning triad looks like, here are some critical elements to consider in building the team:

Shared Vision. All three members of the team must not only share the same vision but they must embrace it. The vision requires total buy in. Vision is important because it provides the end state on which Sailors and leadership can focus their energy. If the leaders don’t share a vision for where they want to take the command, then the focus isn’t clear, Sailors will get frustrated and you won’t achieve unity of effort.

Communication. Effective communication is the lubricant that enables teamwork. Talking between the three leaders will facilitate the sharing of ideas, provide insights, and inform decisions. Open, honest communication builds trust. A leadership team that communicates well with each other is synced and operates as a cohesive unit.

The CO, XO and CMC can’t communicate with each other enough. Frequency of communication must be a priority. 15 minute BS sessions over morning coffee, 10 minute chats between meetings, working lunches or happy hour – whatever the time or place, find a good battle rhythm that allows for friendly, informal conversation where everyone can talk openly and easily.

In my experience, the location of the leadership discussions changed based on personality, but the frequency was always high. The XO and CMC would typically talk every morning for 5-10 minutes after the morning XO meeting with Department Heads. Sometimes they would both join me for a cup of coffee after their talk, sometimes only the CMC would. We would talk about everything – what was in store for the day, current frustrations, family matters. One CMC had a habit of visiting me for a chat on the bridge at the conclusion of special evolutions. Once a quarter, we had dinner and drinks as a triad and discussed long term goals and vision. The close communication we had with each other enabled us to work effectively as a team and have a greater impact on the command rather than the impact of one individual.

Establish Roles. In Colin Powell’s autobiography, he wonderfully articulate the required leadership roles of successful military organizations: the “visionary,” “whip” and “chaplain.” The triad is perfectly suited to accommodate these roles.

– Visionary. This person has the big ideas on where to take the organization. As previously mentioned, vision is important in guiding the command to success. Someone in the leadership team must be responsible for providing that vision.

– Whip. Vision is key, but the visionary needs someone to enforce the ideas. The whip clearly understands the vision and works tirelessly to make the vision a reality. “Whip” can be seen as a negative word, and this person’s task is not easy. The whip drives the crew, providing the discipline and rigor required to achieve greatness.

– Chaplain. The visionary and whip can be relentless task masters. The “chaplain” is not a traditional chaplain in the religious sense, but a person that serves as a flywheel to the visionary and whip and provides “stability, coolness and common sense” to the triad.

A natural tension will exist between the three roles. Honesty and transparency between the three people will help mitigate this tension from becoming something toxic.

One of the great things about the triad is that it can be employed on all levels of organizational leadership. This model is formally established at the traditional command level – CO/XO/CMC. But it also works at lower levels like departments and divisions. Department Heads, you probably have an LDO and senior enlisted in your department that can form your “triad.” Just like your command triad, you can leverage this model and use it to run your department.

Whatever your role in the leadership team, spend time working on your relationships within your own triad. Make this team great and your organization will follow suit.

Officer Training


Junior Officers are hungry for professional development and intellectual stimulation. Officer training should satisfy this hunger. Unfortunately, we typically miss the mark in the Fleet, killing JO’s with power point on ships, aircraft or Rules of the Road.

My journey to have a functioning and enjoyable officer training program has evolved. Last year, as part of MCM Crew Spartan, we did the following on a weekly basis.

Monday – Rules of the Road Training. All officers, enlisted bridge watch standers, CIC Watch Officers and CIC Watch Supervisors assembled and took a short Rules of the Road quiz. The Navigator administered the quiz. Once complete, we went through the answers as a group. When appropriate, we’d discuss the nuances of the answers in order to build a deeper understanding. The training lasted no more than 30 minutes.

Repetition breeds recognition. Eventually, the material would sink in. Also, the focused training and detailed discussions facilitated a culture where watch standers firmly grasped the rules and understood their importance. Lastly, the bridge-CIC team’s level of knowledge was increased, adding a level of safety and awareness to our underway operations.

Wednesday – CO’s Seminar. During lunch, I led a wardroom discussion on whatever topic I chose. The topic was something I thought would add value to the lives and careers of the officers, but also something they would enjoy discussing.

Topics ranged from current events to ethics to officer career progression. Occasionally, I used readings from my Leadership courses at the Army Command and General Staff College (the role of stress – good and bad – was a particularly interesting discussion) as a basis for the session. One time we talked about communications in the context of how to effectively communicate up, down and across the chain of command. The CO’s seminar was sometimes a practical lesson (how to do a zone inspection), sometimes a philosophical discussion (what does discipline mean to you?). Sometimes, I would invite a guest like the Commodore or a former CO of mine to join us.

My role as CO was to facilitate and generate discussion among the group. It was easy for me to do a lot of the talking, but my goal was to maximize participation and ensure a rich and meaningful hour of conversation.

Friday – SWO Training. This was the traditional SWO training we are used to seeing. We added some twists, though.

Based on wardroom feedback, we started using acronyms as a cornerstone in our officer training. We kept a giant whiteboard in the wardroom and maintained a running list of acronyms on it. At any time, anyone could write an acronym on the whiteboard. By Friday, the list was substantial. During the hour long training, we would go down the list, defining the acronym and discussing all aspects of it. The unqualified JO’s would furiously take notes while the qualified officers “led” the training.

We used this format every other Friday. The Fridays in between were presentations made by JO’s. Each unqualified JO was paired with a qualified officer, and they were charged with making a presentation. There were three phases of presentations. Each phase lasted several weeks.

Phase I – basic; training topics were platforms. Ships, submarines and aircraft.

Phase II – intermediate; warfare areas and understanding how the platforms are employed (e.g., OPTASKs, etc.).

Phase III – advanced: the presentation was a scenario where the JO’s were given a geographic location, order of battle and mission. They then had to use their assets and plan the operation given the threat and current events.

For greater context, the “alphabet soup” (as we called the acronym discussions) and scenario presentation were the basis for SWO boards. Friday’s training not only was meant to build knowledge, but to prepare JO’s for their qualification boards.


The framework I put forth is not the final answer. It may not work for your command. I offer it as an example in the hope that it may spark an idea or generate some discussion as how you can make improvements in your own training program. There will always be an insatiable desire in the Fleet for quality training – developing and executing an exceptional officer training program is well worth your effort.

Saying Thank You


…He should be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, kindness, and charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, even if the reward is only a word of approval…

– “Qualifications of a Naval Officer” by John Paul Jones

How do you thank your Sailors?

John Paul Jones, the father of our Navy figured out over 225 years ago – it is critical we salute the hard work of our Sailors. Meritorious acts happen frequently and we are duty bound to recognize and appreciate them.

During my two command tours, we took every opportunity we could to say thank you and recognize our crews’ hard work. We wanted to build a culture within the ship where we valued industriousness and high standards. We were always looking for ways to recognize Sailors who did little things right, did their job at a consistently high level, or came to work with a positive attitude every day. We saw behaviors that would make our culture positive and one of excellence and rewarded those actions.

I’ve always been impressed by Sailors and what they do every day. When I was in command, I didn’t want to hand out Navy Achievement Medals all the time (that can be the topic of a separate post!), but I wanted to give more than a pat on the back. So here’s what we did:

What: Impact Award (given on MCM Crew Exultant) and Spartan Award (given on MCM Crew Spartan). Sailors received a small pin that they could wear on their command ball cap (see picture above). They also received a 24 hour liberty chit. Sailors treasure time off, so I felt giving a day off as a good way to show appreciation.

Who: E-6 and below were eligible to win the award. Over time, in addition to recognizing superior individual efforts, I began to see the value in giving the awards to teams or groups of Sailors. Teamwork is essential. By recognizing teams, we could reinforce and build that culture of teamwork.

Why: The criteria was very loose. If anyone in a leadership position felt a Sailor had done anything deserving, then the Sailor could be nominated. The awards were given for everything from emergent equipment repairs to maintaining a clean and neat work area.

The goal was to give the award out about once per week, but this was only loosely followed. I wanted to keep the momentum of the award going, so we were always on the lookout to recognize Sailors. Sometimes a few Sailors were recognized in a week, sometimes we’d go a couple of weeks between awards. Bottom line, there were ALWAYS Sailors doing great things; if we as leaders failed to see that, then shame on us.

I wanted Sailors to know I appreciated their efforts. If we were going to do the little things right and be excellent in everything we did, I knew we had to reward the behavior that would lead to excellence.

How: The nomination process was informal. I wanted to make it simple and easy for leaders to nominate their Sailors. Typically, a Chief, Division Officer or Department Head would tell me (verbally or by email – it didn’t matter) what their Sailor did to deserve the award. I’d consult with the XO and Senior Enlisted Advisor, then usually present the award as soon as possible. Very rarely did I not concur with the leader’s nomination.

Where & When. The timing and location of presenting the award varied. Sometimes I would call the Sailor and his chain of command to my cabin or the bridge and make the presentation there. Or I would wait until the next All Hands Call if we had one in the near future. Or I’d present the award at morning quarters in front of the Sailor’s division. I’d immediately follow the presentation with an announcement over the 1MC (ship’s announcing system). Lastly, we’d take the Sailors picture and post it on the command’s facebook page. The key to all of this was acting quickly. I didn’t want to waste time in giving the award or letting the process get bogged down.

Before instituting this award program, I thought hard about the risks. If done carefully and thoughtfully, this could be a low risk, high reward program. We were careful to ensure not one department received the majority of the awards, or one or two super star Sailors received all the glory. The top notch departments and super star Sailors are there, but you must maintain balance. It is important to remember even your “average” Sailors are capable of great things – and that was the point of Impact and Spartan Awards: to thank those hard working Sailors for the great work they do but may not always get the recognition they deserve.

In the end, I received very positive feedback on these awards programs. Sailors took their days off and wore their pins with pride. For me, there was nothing more fun and fulfilling than presenting the award and thanking the Sailor for his hard work.