Admirals Advice

Dignity and Respect

People know their place in the U.S. Navy. Admirals outrank lieutenants, who outrank ensigns, who outrank enlisted personnel.

People know their place in the U.S. Navy. Admirals outrank lieutenants, who outrank ensigns, who outrank enlisted personnel. Although we don’t wear uniforms, it’s similar in corporate America as well. But every individual in any organization — no matter how rigid the hierarchy — deserves dignity and respect.

In this sense we all are independent equals regardless of the position, uniform or stripes displayed. I quickly discovered that sailors aboard the USS Truett had forgotten this principle when I assumed command of the frigate in 1977.

Some supervisors saw an opportunity to flaunt their authority on occasion when a subordinate submitted a special request. Rather than deny or grant the petition, some with veto power would withhold the decision to keep their direct reports guessing.

Others did not even bother submitting the requests up the chain of command. In this way they could increase their power by making others more dependent on them, thus creating opportunities for exploitation and coercion.

Similar abuses occur in all walks of life, whenever one person depends on another for necessary resources or goal attainment. The problem starts when rank or power goes to a person’s head, and he or she forgets the humanity of others and their co-equal status in terms of dignity and respect.

I am reminded of the service academy professor who added a bonus question worth 10% of the grade on the final exam. The question: What is the name of the janitor who cleans our classroom and restroom so efficiently and has been doing so for more than 20 years? No cadet knew the answer. The professor then informed them that the janitor had been awarded the Medal of Honor in WWII. He was a true hero and enjoyed his work because he felt he was still serving, yet no cadet took the time to say hello or learn his name.

School teachers and administrators sometimes forget the humanity of students. Police officers sometimes forget the humanity of crime suspects and victims. And bosses sometimes forget the humanity of their employees.

They see objects that can be controlled rather than people who can be influenced. This behavior can become contagious and many times this is passed to future generations. When this happens, a cultural shift must occur; starting with a new way of thinking about power and prestige.

To change this aboard the USS Truett, I implemented a three-pronged policy for special requests.

First, petitions would be handled in a timely, expeditious manner. Whether the answer is yes or no, people deserve and appreciate a quick response. So, we set a limit of 24 hours. To expedite the process, officers and petty officers in the chain of command were empowered to grant approval at the lowest rank possible. Rejections were automatically appealed to next level, until ultimately reaching my desk. The disapproval with the corresponding rationale was then returned to the requesting party via the chain of command, all within the 24-hour time limit.

Second, petitions would be evaluated, and approval granted or disapproved based on objective data and standards. Opportunities for abuse creep into any system when final determinations are based on a whim or personal preference rather than observable behavior.

Finally, the process would be transparent. If the answer was no, supervisors had a duty to explain why. In many cases this open dialogue often turned negative situations into something positive.

We made other changes during my command to promote mutual respect, and the results were dramatic. By 1980 the USS Truett was recognized as the most improved ship in the Atlantic fleet and, most importantly, the ship with the highest retention rate.

We are seeing comparable results based on the same principles of dignity and respect at NewDay USA. Our managers listen and respond to requests in a timely manner. They set objective standards. And they provide honest feedback.

Rank and seniority matter. But dignity and respect start on day #1 for us all.

Rear Admiral Thomas C. Lynch (USN, Ret.) is Executive Chairman of the Board of Advisors at NewDay USA, a mortgage lender in Fulton, Md., that specializes in VA-guaranteed loans. As Chairman, the Admiral instills military values in every member of his team.

To learn more about NewDay USA and see the Admiral’s leadership in action, call us today. It is our mission to help you get the financial security you deserve.