Admirals Advice

Leading with Kindness, Not Niceness

Being nice is easy. Servant leaders must be kind instead.

Being nice is easy. Servant leaders must be kind instead. The difference is huge on a U.S. Navy frigate, which I learned quickly during my first command in 1977. While preparing the USS Truett for deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, I discovered a problem with one of my chief petty officers. He was incompetent.

Somehow, he had managed to slide along for 17-and-a-half years of service, qualifying on paper for promotions and increased levels of responsibility. Now, during his final tour before retirement, he was in a prominent position with nobody around him to compensate for his deficiencies.

One telegram to Washington and I could end his military career. I had the authority. But this man was not just an interchangeable part on my ship, like a bearing in a pump. He was a husband and father with two children. And he was a likable person.

Maybe I should look the other way as others had obviously done? Nobody would blame me; after all, it was not my fault, and some might even praise me for showing mercy.

This being my first at sea command, my lack of experience added to my angst. I was probably the most junior commanding officer in the Atlantic Fleet. Did I really want to start this phase of my career by sacking a senior enlisted man so close to retirement?

I wanted to be a nice guy and let him slide. But ultimately, I had to think about the other 250 sailors aboard the Truett. I had to consider ship morale, safety, and battle readiness but most importantly, I had to acknowledge my responsibility to each of them. So, I drafted a message describing the situation to the Navy personnel bureau in Washington DC.

Things moved quickly after that. Within 24 hours the chief petty officer had separation orders, effective the following Monday, and his replacement had orders to report to the USS Truett no later than Tuesday.

On that Monday, before departing the ship, the Chief Petty Officer requested a private meeting with me. I braced for an ugly confrontation. But rather than castigating me, the man sat down and thanked me for my kindness. He said he understood the dilemma I faced and, although he realized, he would now lose all retirement benefits, he was relieved.

“Captain,” he told me, “I respect you for making this decision. You have taken a load off my shoulders. I knew I couldn’t do the job. I knew I wasn’t doing right by the men here. I feel so relieved.” He left my quarters with a spring in his step, looking forward to a new job and a new life.

Nice leaders have good intentions. They make compromises, soften their criticism of others and avoid confrontation — whatever it takes to keep the peace and have everyone think nicely of them. But their seeming compassion is not kind. It is motivated instead by insecurity, weakness, and fear of rejection.

Kind leaders must show courage. They do what is right regardless of what other people may think. They put their ship first, then their shipmates and only then, themselves. By doing so, everybody wins.

There’s a naval saying: RHIP and RHIR. Rank Has Its Privilege but never forget, Rank Has Its Responsibility. The responsible action is to consider the effect each decision or action may have on the entire command.

At NewDay USA kindness means honest, candid performance evaluations for employees and honest, candid conversations about financial options for our veteran clients. It means setting and maintaining high standards, high expectations and having the necessary integrity at every level to hold one another accountable.

Nobody wins when problems are left to fester.

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.