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VCNO addresses Women, Peace and Security Conference at NWC

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Naval War College advances CNO’s leader development strategy


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NEWPORT, R.I. – At a presentation to the Navy Flag Officer and Senior Executive Service Symposium in Washington, D.C., Rear Adm. P. Gardner Howe III took the next step to advance the Navy Leader Development Strategy.

Howe, as U.S. Naval War College (NWC) president, has been tasked by the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathon W. Greenert, with implementing a cultural shift in leader and ethics development for the Navy.

In his presentation, Howe stressed that today’s armed forces function as both a bureaucracy and profession. While both are required, these competing identities have very different characteristics and are often in tension.

“The characteristics of both identities are needed to execute the wide variety of daily activities across the Navy,” he said. “Our challenge is to keep our primary identity that of a military profession. And here’s why: a bureaucratic organization won’t succeed in combat; a professional organization will.”

Successful professions need autonomy that is built on trust at every level of the organization, he said. And that trust needs to be present for the profession of arms to be successful.

“Trust in a profession is built upon each member's core identity being associated with the profession, and each member's actions being guided by an ethic shared across the profession,” Howe noted. “Trust is the central characteristic of a professional organization.”

Acting ethically and professionally are vital to accomplishing the Navy’s mission, according to Howe.

“There is an operational imperative to thinking, seeing and being a professional,” he said. “Such an identity engenders the trust necessary to fight and win in today’s operational environment.”

Howe, like many members of the Navy, had advanced through the ranks with an incomplete understanding of what it meant to be a professional – an understanding that emphasized tactical competence or technical expertise, not membership in the profession of arms.

“This idea of being a professional is renewed in me,” Howe reflected. “This framework for thinking about the profession of arms and our professional ethic has clarified and refined my thinking, and created and reinforced a mindset that has positively influenced my behavior and decisions. The Navy Ethos has new meaning for me.

“As I reflect on the years gone by, I'm convinced I would have been a better naval officer and leader if I had this framework for thinking about professionalism earlier in my career, and I know now that I’m better prepared for the challenges I may still face.”

Howe sees the ethic of professionalism as a guide for Navy culture.

“In a complex world, our ethic helps us understand not only what we can or what we must do, but more importantly what we should do,” said Howe.

Howe went on to address the challenge of instilling the mindset of being a professional as an operational imperative.

As head of the CNO’s leader development effort, Howe has changed his views on leader development.

“For almost all of my career, I too understood that leader development was important, and an inherent part of my job. But it was just that, an inherent part of my job,” said Howe. “I saw it as an ancillary task, and that my primary responsibility was to serve as a good role model as I executed my job, provide counseling when required, and get my juniors leadership training opportunities.

“Since I wasn’t a leadership expert, I remember often feeling I wasn’t qualified in leading a discussion on leadership. So I stayed in my comfort zone, tried to be a good role model, and hoped that this was sufficient. This seemed to be the approach of most of the leaders I observed, and from what I could tell, it seemed to work. Over the years, my focus was primarily on getting my work done.”

In a changing world, Howe realized that this leader development method was not sufficient.

“The world is changing at an increasing rate, and the operational environment continues to grow more violent, uncertain, complex and ambiguous,” he said. “We can’t rely only on experience and observation to develop our future leaders.

“The single most effective means of improving leadership across the Navy is leaders engaging leaders.”

This idea of leaders engaging leaders struck a chord with Rear Adm. Robert P. Girrier, deputy commander, Pacific Fleet, and member of the Leader Development Continuum Council which Howe chairs.

Reacting to the speech, Girrier stressed the need for ongoing development.

“Leaders are developed actively, an iterative process combining education, instruction, experience and most importantly – direct leader involvement,” said Girrier. “There is nothing passive about it and the job is never finished.”

Developing future leaders should be the goal of every current leader, according to Howe.

“Leaders at all levels must be actively involved in development of those in their charge, and their preparation for the challenges of the future,” he said.

“Leaders engaging leaders – this is the key,” he added.

Navy leader development is currently a priority of NWC at the Naval Leadership and Ethic Center and at the Senior Enlisted Academy, according to Howe.

Girrier agrees that leaders are vital to winning in warfighting situations.

"What our Navy is executing to move CNO's vision forward is about how we thoughtfully and systematically develop leaders over the course of one's career – from E-1 to O-10,” Girrier said.

“All communities synchronized to a common framework. There's broad appreciation that effective leaders in our warfighting profession are central to success in every endeavor. It's what makes abilities in our joint force such as mission command a winner; and when fused with our technology, an unbeatable combination in an increasingly violent, unpredictable and ambiguous world.

“Each leader is hand crafted by one’s own focus and discipline as much as by fellow leaders’ influence, example and direct intervention. In the profession of arms, leadership is a warfighting skill and strong leaders are the indispensable key warfighting system – the edge essential for success in combat.”

In his remarks, Howe went on to underscore how important a new approach is to the service.

“There is nothing more important to the health of our Navy, to the health of our profession, than leader development,” he said.

NWC is a one-year resident program that graduates about 600 students and about 1,000 distance learning students a year carrying out four missions: educate and develop leaders, help define the future of the Navy, support combat readiness, and strengthen maritime partnerships. Students earn Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) credit and either a diploma or a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. Established in 1884, U.S. Naval War College is the oldest institution of its kind in the world. More than 50,000 students have graduated since its first class of nine students in 1885 and about 300 of today’s active duty admirals, generals and senior executive service leaders are alumni.

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