Vice Admiral (Retired) William R. Merz, USN – At 1000 Feet, Leadership Can Crush You
SPECIAL THANKS TO MATT MIRANDA AND JEREMY KOFSKY FOR EDITING AND SHOW NOTES SUPPORTIn this episode of Moments in Leadership, retired Vice Admiral William (Bill) Merz and host David B. Armstrong discuss how life can take strange turns to making capable leaders, oftentimes through hard times and rough seas. VADM Merz has seen the depths of the ocean and the heights of a superiorly led organization. His insights are valuable to all those who don’t want to be crushed under the everlasting burdens of leadership and ownership. Learning the ‘personality’ of an organization is similar to understanding the ‘personality’ of a submarine, especially one as temperamental as the Thresher class submarine VADM Merz started on. Organizations that place a priority on the importance of the mission, expect professionalism in all duties, and have tangible results all work to produce leaders that all pull in the same direction. Setting a standard, and holding people to that standard, provides a way for people to see their potential and sets the conditions for them to operate at their best. The standards of the submarine fleet are set by the accountability foisted upon the submarine’s commanding officer. They are absolutely responsible and accountable for everything on the submarine, to include the safe and effective use of the nuclear powerplant. This stringent adherence to accountability, and the training/certification elements of a submarine officer’s career has created the paradigm wherein, as VADM Merz states, ‘there will never be a second nuclear issue in the Navy, because after the first, the whole program will be shut down’. To enforce accountability, and a learning culture, VADM Merz states one needs to celebrate mistakes, while this seems counterintuitive, the ability to distill failures to the procedural reason they occurred ultimately reinforces the accountability and ownership of the group. Conversely, good things happening by accident also needs to be investigated as procedures should result in predictable outcomes that can be repeatable. A command climate that can foster this ‘celebration of mistakes’ is one that empowers all within and displays consistency. A leader who yells all the time can be fine, as long as their yelling is consistent in its application. When the yelling has no purpose other than to get frustrations out, then the command climate will falter. A good command climate is also one in which junior leaders feel respected enough to stand up to senior leadership and tell them when things are not working in proper order. VADM Merz gives examples throughout his career of the good and bad coming out of these situations, including a time or two when he himself was the ‘bad’ boss. The wanting to be with the ‘best’ can lead people away from their best instincts in a poor command influence. VADM Merz provides stories of working operations with Navy SEALs and how arguments between SEALs and submariners about tactics and rigging would be immediately smashed by senior SEALs, who would tell these highly proficient warriors they need to understand submarines are not their specialty and to let those who are experts in their areas execute the best way to support the mission. The best person is always the best person, you need the right person to perform the task. Once the experts are identified in an area, an appropriate command climate is fostered, and mistakes can be celebrated, the didactic nature in which the submarine community approaches problems can be applied to any other number of problem sets. VADM Merz provides the example of his time as the 7th Fleet Commander having the lowest suicide rate in decades and being able to uncover unconscious bias within the ranks. VADM Merz’s concludes with the importance of gaining the trust of subordinates and using the tools available to a commander, namely mast as a tool to correct and provide guidance to those who are accountable for carrying out the national-level high risk missions of the Submarine Service. For those who are looking for insights into the Silent Service or just want a more effective organization, this is a great conversation to be apart of. Thank you for supporting the project (below) Please consider supporting this project on Supercast: Moments In Leadership Supercast Want to support the project AND look cool at the gym or when you take your blouse off for a working party? Grab a cool tee shirt here from Mission Essential Gear, where every order supports this project AND donates back to Patrol Base Abbate Relevant Resources & Other Mentioned Episodes: Admiral Rickover Principles: Ownership – A person doing a job – any job – must feel that he owns it and that he will remain on the job indefinitely. …Lack of commitment to the present job will be perceived by those who work for him and they also will tend not to care. If he feels he owns his job and acts accordingly, he need not worry about his next job.Responsibility – Along with ownership comes the need for acceptance of full responsibility for the work. Shared responsibility means that no one is responsible. Unless one person who is truly responsible can be identified when something goes wrong, then no one has really been responsible.Attention to Detail – A tendency among managers, particularly as they move to higher positions, is to think they no longer need to be concerned with details. If the boss is not concerned about details, his subordinates also will not consider them important.Priorities – If you are to manage your job, you must set priorities. Too many people let the job set the priorities. You must apply self-discipline to ensure your energy is applied where it is most needed.Know What is Going On – You must establish simple and direct means to find out what is going on in detail in the area of your responsibility. I require regular, periodic reports directly to me from the personnel throughout my program.Hard Work – For this, there is no substitute. A manager who does not work hard or devote extra effort cannot expect his people to do so. You must set the example. Hard work compensates for many shortcomings. You may not be the smartest or most knowledgeable person, but if you dedicate yourself to the job and put in the required effort, your people will follow your lead.Checking Up – An essential element of carrying out my work is the need to have it checked by an independent source. Even the most dedicated individual make mistakes.Facing the Facts – Another principle for managing a successful program is to resist the natural human inclination to hope things will work out, despite evidence or doubt to the contrary. It is not easy to admit that what you thought was correct did not turn out that way. If conditions require it, one must face the facts and brutally make needed changes despite considerable cost and schedule delays. The man in charge must personally set the example in this area.” Moments in Leadership - Ron Boxall, VADM, US Navy (themiloffice.com) Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr: Top Gun, Gender Equality, & The Best Parts of Commanding a Warship (themiloffice.com) What is Moments in Leadership?Moments in Leadership is a podcast where you will hear firsthand about the careers of senior military leaders as they share their unique and individual experiences. Moments in Leadership will immerse you in real-life stories where you will learn about the challenging situations these accomplished leaders faced and discover the lessons they learned early in their careers that were the most influential in developing their overall leadership style. Conceptualized by a group of friends who served together as young officers in the early to mid-1990s sitting around a firepit telling funny leadership stories, Moments in Leadership is designed to provide some relatable context to the formal leadership training leaders of all ranks and services receive throughout their military careers through the power of storytelling. Why Should You Support this project? I realize all of the leaders who listen to the episodes are at different levels of life, and my goal is to be able to have this project remain free and available to anyone who wants it and your donations help go towards that. Your donations go towards offsetting my costs of producing high-quality episodes. Additionally, since this is a part-time hobby project for me, I'm forced to outsource a good deal of work to others to maintain a regular publishing schedule. Your donations help offset these costs as well. Check out my Supercast site and see if any level is a good fit for helping: Connect with Us:Visit the Moments in Leadership website: Follow us on Instagram: Follow us on Twitter: Email us: email@example.com Other Podcasts Interviews with David B. ArmstrongScuttlebutt Podcast EP 38Former Action Guys Podcast EP 161 Former Action Guys Podcast EP 141 Former Action Guys Podcast EP 60 Former Action Guys Podcast EP 54 About the Host:David B. Armstrong, CFA, is President and Co-Founder of Monument Wealth Management, an independent wealth management firm he started in 2008 in Alexandria, Va. David received his BA from the University of South Carolina in Government & International Relations and his MBA at the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business in International Finance. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant through the Navy ROTC program and served on Active Duty in the Marine Corps from 1990-1997 as an Artillery Officer and then received a secondary MOS as a Tank Officer. He re-entered the Selected Marine Corps Reserves in 2003 and served in several billets across the Artillery, Tank, and Light Armored Reconnaissance communities. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in late 2018.