[February 11, 2020] A tradition in the U.S. Navy upon the retirement of a sailor is to give a paddle as a gift. The paddle (or oar) is symbolic of the naval team on which that sailor gave their time and devotion. It is also a long-standing tradition for naval leaders to be responsible for training their crew. As such, leaders do more than give orders; they lead by training those in their direct responsibility.
A good friend of mine in the U.S. Navy recently retired as a Captain. I drove from my home down to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to witness the event and, more importantly, to show my appreciation for what he had done for our nation. The event was inspiring. Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, we were treated to full honors by the ship’s captain and his crew. I’d not forgotten how impressive the U.S. Navy can be when conducting any operation.
An old naval engineers lament about “going ashore” for the last time brings this tradition into focus.
“But like the morning fog and dew, we’ll endeavor to remember you, and when morning sun lifts the haze, and we sail again for many days you’ll remember us as we will you, until the years leave only a few to recall the good old days, of sailing men o’re the waves.” – Navy Engineers “Lament Going Ashore”
Leaders are accountable for the care of their team and also for accomplishing the mission assigned to them. This dual responsibility is no easy task and is, ultimately, the big challenge for leaders. In fact, the very best leaders are those that live the role of leader; it’s not a 9 to 5 job. Rarely is there a competent leader who takes their responsibilities lightly.1 For a military leader to ensure people are cared for, and the mission is completed correctly means training their team to do the job correctly.
Remember that leadership is about getting people to do things they would not ordinarily do. That is accomplished by training them in how to be a fully-functioning team member.