Good Habits #35: Prioritize the Important

By | July 15, 2017

[July 15, 2017]  “Everything’s a priority!” yelled the commander of the U.S. Navy frigate.  The story was from my uncle who sailed on an Anti-Submarine Warfare ship during the last months of World War II and so the story goes – as he told us children – the events that led to the sinking of his ship and rescue at sea.

It is the most successful leaders who practice good habits; in particular the habit of prioritizing important things.  As the family’s small children heard the story of the sinking, we were captivated by the men who fought in the “big war” where evil threaten to destroy us.  My uncle was a storyteller first rate.  From his telling us about the ship, the morale was poor, the food okay, and the duty monotonous.

Being a Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class had its advantages with the other sailors but not so much with the ship’s Captain.  Apparently the frigate’s anti-ship guns were in need of repair and the work was not getting done as quickly as my uncle would have liked it.  My uncle was meticulous about the mechanics of “his guns” and the ammunition that feed them.  Problems arose early after departure from a port in England late that January 1945.

After getting nowhere with the junior officers on board, my uncle went to the ship’s Captain to explain problems with the guns and what needed to be done to make repairs and necessary maintenance on them that had been ignored.  As I remember the story, the Captain yelled so that everyone on the bridge could hear that the guns were a priority but that everything was a priority.

As we all know today (but not as a child hearing the storytelling) that when everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.  That is how it went with the anti-ship guns.  They never received the required parts to get them all fully mission capable.  When the convoy returning from Europe was attacked by submarines, the guns failed to engage at least one of them on the surface.

Shortly after a torpedo entered the ship’s stern, it sank within minutes.  Loss of life was tragic and quick.  Fortunate for my family, a sailor pulled my uncle from one of the gun turrets and they were rescued shortly after.  He was told that the lives of the men in uniform was a priority but so was the ability of a ship to protect itself.  The ship’s Captain had failed and many of the sailors aboard paid the ultimate sacrifice.

A leader who practices good prioritization of important tasks and duties can be assured that when the time comes, all will be in proper order.  When my uncle died, many years after the war, there was nothing that was not done for his arrangements.  The “kids,” all of us, always admired him for his service and for being our uncle.

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