Monday, February 15, 2016

The Words of a Real Leader

The late 60's and early 70's were a tumultuous time for everyone. The country was changing dramatically and painfully for us all.

We had a "police action" in Vietnam that had turned into a full blown war and was tearing the country apart. There was a sexual revolution underway. Women were asserting their place and worth in the workforce and the civil rights movement was kicking into full swing, with all its associated trauma.

Through all this, the 'great generation' of hero's who had fought and won the Second World War stood on the sidelines and watched as our youth called our service men "Baby Killers" and burned Old Glory in the streets while the ACLU defended their right to do it.

Yes, painful was just exactly what is was, but we managed to live through it and pull the country back a little from the edge of a moral abyss.

My life was just as chaotic. You see, my parents had raised me on apple pie, God and Country. At 13 years old I joined the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps and by the late 60's I had managed to go from lowly cadet to Lieutenant (junior grade) in the Corps. I used that to get myself an appointment to the NROTC (Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps) at the University of California at Berkeley. --That's right, I was a short-haired Midshipman in Berkeley in the 60's.

In the summer of 1972 I went aboard the USS Perkins, DD-877, a World War II, Fletcher Class Destroyer operating out of Treasure Island in the San Fransisco Bay. The same day I reported we departed on a NORPAC (Northern Pacific) cruise. I really loved that time. I was finally a "man". I was standing bridge watches as JOOD (junior officer of the deck) and later as OOD (officer of the deck) and getting qualified as a Conning Officer, giving orders to the helm and feeling like I was really hot stuff.

We put in at Seattle to take part in their "Fleet Week" celebrations. That's when I had a small problem.

When I had been assigned to the ship I knew it was going to the Northern Pacific. I had packed my Khaki's, my Blue's and my foul weather gear, but I had left my white uniforms at home. After all, who wears 'whites' in the Aleutians? 

-Yep, they did on the Perkins.

When we got to Seattle the word came down that the Uniform of the Day would be --Tropical Whites!

Nothing makes you stand out like a rookie as much as being in the wrong uniform.

Fortunately for me, the Commanding Officer had taken a liking for me and was very, very patient with my numerous little shortcomings. One day he called me to the wardroom and told me he was going across Puget Sound to Bremerton to have dinner with an old friend that he thought I should meet and if I wanted to go we could stop at the exchange where I could get the proper uniforms.

No kidding. Dinner with the Captain at the 'O' club! I almost fell down trying to calmly say "please".

When we arrived at the 'O' club, the Captain walked me into the main dining room and over to a tall, slender gentleman in a Dress Blue uniform. As he made the introductions I found myself staring at a man with a chest full of ribbons, including 4 (that's right -four) Navy Crosses, the gold Dolphins of a Submariner, and 3 inches of solid gold with 2 stripes on his sleeves. He was Rear Admiral Eugene Bennett Fluckey and he had just taken over as Commander, Submarines Pacific!

I was completely dumbfounded and totally speechless! Just as I was getting my voice back enough to say, "Sir", my eyes caught something even more impressive. The top ribbon on his chest was the blue field and white stars of the Congressional Medal of Honor!

I do not remember eating, or even how long the dinner lasted, but to this day I can remember every word that man said.

We talked a lot about leadership and that was when I developed my first passion for the subject.

He leaned across the table and said to me, "Always, always lead from the front. If it's a dirty job, be the first to get your hands soiled. If it's dangerous, you go in first, not last."

Later he told me there are 3 steps in getting people to achieve. First you ask. Ask them to do it. Ask them as a favor. If that doesn't get it done, make sure they know how and what to do, then tell them to do it. Last, if all else fails, order them to do it --"but remember, every time you have to give them an order to get something done you have failed as a leader. Take the time to think it through and figure out how you can do it better next time -then do it better!".

Dinner with that special man was a rare privilege for which I have always been grateful. His words were, have always been, and will always be something I try to live up too.

Live Long and Prosper...

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