The Submarine Leadership Tour- Eighth Stop: Missile Control Center!Dave Forman
Our last stop was the Battery Well, where we discussed the need to have a “battery backup” to keep your business running when the unusual processes or people are unavailable and the leadership team needs time to respond.
To get to the Missile Control Center from the Battery Well, head up two ladders and walk aft towards the end of the forward compartment. Then ask permission to enter.
Missile Control Center: It doesn’t “look” incredibly exciting, but it’s incredibly important.
You have to ask permission to enter because it’s a controlled area. We treat that part of the submarine extremely seriously, and we do that because it’s the whole reason we exist.
As Captain of a fully operational ballistic missile submarine at sea, I had it easy when it came to focusing my team. I didn’t have to look far to find a news headline that conveyed to my crew the critical role we played in national security.
If we supported our leg of the nuclear triad, then no country could ever reasonably consider trying to win a war against our country. We made it unwinnable, all stop.
With such a crystal clear focus, other important aspects of our crew fell into place naturally: training, certification, qualifications, and maintenance.
But at other times during my naval service, our mission wasn’t as clear. It was at these ambiguous times when leadership was needed most; good leaders clarify competing priorities for their teams.
Sea Story: My first assignment was to an old Sturgeon-class submarine, and she was older than I was! After only a year on board, we entered the shipyard to take her apart and decommission. We had left Norfolk, VA, went under the ice to the North Pole, and came through the Bering Strait to moor in Bremerton, WA.
The shipyard requirements for painstakingly slow speed and triple-checking were different than what we were used to at sea. The priority of safe operation at sea shifted to safe decommissioning in an industrial environment, but we missed the turn, and it quickly showed.
We lost some time due to our errors, but eventually recovered. In hindsight, clarifying the shift in priorities would have saved everyone a lot of angst. Our “one thing” that everyone aligned behind changed, and no organization can last that way for long.
When these shifts happen, the leader needs the ability to clear the way through competing priorities and distractions to say “It’s about deterrence, dummy!”
Of course the “dummy” part is light-hearted, and swap out “deterrence” for the one main thing your team is responsible for.
When the team aligns behind a clear mission or objective, it’s much easier to achieve success! This is a successful test of an unarmed submarine-launched ballistic missile.
And that concludes our time in the Missile Control Center! To recap, good leaders must know their absolute top priority and communicate it to their team; they must know what cannot be sacrificed at the expense of anything else. What part of your organization is not up for negotiation?
The Engineroom is up next week! If there is a critical component in an organization, would it make sense to have only one? Have you developed flexibility in your people so you can keep functioning when one person goes down?