OpX Insights

The Impact of Strong Leadership

written By Mike Leigh

During my last tour of duty as an officer in the navy, I was assigned to the USS Wadsworth, a frigate based in San Diego.  The ship was average.  We completed what we needed to do, and we had a competent commanding officer in charge.  That was until a new commanding officer took over the ship.

Captain Doug Keiler was not the typical senior navy officer.  He arrived each morning in shorts and sandals, and began eliminating many of the rules and the strict formality his predecessor had put in place.  But almost immediately, the ship began to transform.  We went from average to extraordinary and became the best ship in the squadron.

Captain Keiler was the best leader I ever worked for.  He showed me first-hand how strong leadership can have a huge impact on an organization, and he inspired me to now help other organizations develop their leaders to do the same.  How did he do it?

There are many different behaviors that strong leaders should exhibit, but these are the key ones that Captain Keiler demonstrated.

  • Set clear expectations.  Instead of creating and enforcing rules, he eliminated many of the stringent rules set by his predecessor, and clearly communicated the results he expected.  The crew developed greater self-responsibility, empowerment, and pride.  Almost immediately, performance went up, and crew discipline issues plummeted.
  • Encourage team work.  He told the crew, “We are a team.  We will only succeed as a team.  If a shipmate needs help or makes a mistake, it is your responsibility to help him.”  He made it clear that not helping a fellow shipmate in need was just as bad, if not worse, than making a mistake yourself.
  • Be approachable.  From day one, Captain Keiler frequently walked around the ship and talked with everyone.  He was friendly, approachable, and supportive.  He was well-liked, but he never showed favoritism, and everyone still knew he was the boss and knew his expectations.  His calm, positive demeanor put everyone at ease and improved morale.
  • Be a coach and mentor.  In the truest sense, discipline means “to teach or instruct”.  Captain Keiler made this his highest priority.  He approached every shipboard evolution as a learning opportunity, and every mistake as a teaching moment.

Captain Keiler showed me the huge impact an effective leader can have to improve the performance of an organization.  Any leader can develop these behaviors, and what’s equally exciting is that only a small change in a few behaviors can yield significant results.  Make a commitment today to develop yourself into a more effective leader in 2016!  And as we say in the navy, may your leadership journey have “fair winds and following seas.”