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July 27, 2017

Leadership: An All Call For Leaders


During my US Naval service, my job onboard submarines was to make sure the combat systems were fully functional at all times.  Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA) played a very important role in enabling those successes.  NAVSEA is a force of 70,000 civilian, military and contract support personnel that engineers, builds, buys and maintains the Navy’s ships and submarines and their combat systems.  However, it wasn’t just about the combat systems working properly…it was about the whole submarine working properly.  Being members of a crew aboard a vessel that is “designed to sink”, we often joked that as long as the number of surfaces = dives, everything else was minor.  In order to ensure this, there was an incredible amount of engineering put into designing submarines and an incredible amount of training put into the people that operated and maintained them.  

A couple of years ago, I met Ron Munden and earned great respect for him when I learned that he had coordinated the Engineering Computer Applications (ECA) Program for NAVSEA.  I first learned about Ron when I had been making trips back to Marshall to help plan the 35th Year Reunion for Marshall High School Class of 1980 and had stumbled across a web site called EastTexasTowns.com.   I contacted Ron and arranged to meet him for coffee at Central Perks one afternoon so that we could get to know each other.   From that meeting, even though we had differences about how life in Marshall, TX could be improved, we have been friends ever since.

Recently, Ron published “OPINION: DEAD IN THE WATER” on his web site EastTexasTowns.com.   In this article, Ron metaphorically wrote about the City of Marshall as being a ship without propulsion and dead in the water.   This caused me to think and start drawing analogies and comparisons to the City based upon my own submarine sea-going experiences.  I began wondering things like – Who’s the Commanding Officer (CO)?  Who’s the Executive Officer (XO)?   Do we report up to Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) or Commander, Submarine Force Pacific (COMSUBPAC)?  COMSUBLANT and COMSUBPAC are the commanding Admirals whose principal responsibility is to operate, maintain, train, and equip submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

As Ron draws comparison to the City of Marshall being like a ship that is adrift, he states, “Arguably the most dangerous condition a ship can find itself in is without propulsion and dead in the water.”  While I understand what he means, I must take exception to it being “the most dangerous condition” that a ship can find itself in.   I would find that if my submarine was uncontrollably taking on water, or the submarine’s nuclear power plant was beginning to meltdown, or if we had a hot-run torpedo onboard (a torpedo that has its main engine running inside the torpedo room or a torpedo tube), then we would have a far more serious and dangerous condition than simply being dead in the water.  While there would be many immediate actions that could be taken in any of these more dangerous conditions, my first instinct would be to start praying…quickly, I might add, since we probably had very little time left to live.  However, if we are just dead in water, then we should all find great relief knowing that we actually have a bit more time left to overcome being adrift.  This is not the end of Marshall!  I do wonder, though.  What actions are going to be taken in order to overcome this dangerous situation?  Viewing the video “What is leadership?” will help you understand my perspective on this.

If the City of Marshall is a ship that is adrift, then the Commanding Officer should be taking input from everyone onboard, making several assessments from that input, and taking specific corrective actions based upon those assessments.  If I was the Commanding Officer, here is what I would want to know.  What’s the sounding (how deep is the water)?  How far are we from land?  How long before we are in real danger of collision (bottoming out on rocks or being struck by another vessel)?  Why do we not have control over the ship?  Is it the rudder?  Is it the main engine(s)?   If it is the main engine(s), what is wrong with them?  What needs to be done to repair them?  Can we make repairs at sea?  Are communications functioning properly?  Do we need to radio for help?  How long would it take for help to arrive?

Those are just the immediate questions that come to my mind, but I am very sure there are many other questions to be asked, topics discussed, and then through assessment by the leadership, a proper course of action is determined and set in motion utilizing the available resources.  The immediately available resources would be the actual materials and individuals onboard, any conference rooms or other locations in which individuals could meet and discuss the situation and plan a course of action, and time necessary to accomplish everything on a schedule.  The materials would be the parts and tools available, while the resources for individuals would be each of a person’s skills based upon their own training and education, as well as the number of years of experience that each person has.  Let’s not forget that any onboard location they used to meet, discuss, and plan actions would also be considered a resource.  Additionally, time is a resource.  Like materials and labor, physical locations and time resources be needed and should be planned for and managed according to their availability.  For example, it would be futile to undertake a 12 hour course of action to repair the engines if it going to be just 6 hours before the adrift ship would be smashed on a rocky shore.   In a dangerous situation like that, a better course of action would be spending the time to make sure individuals were able to safely abandon ship prior to it being smashed on the rocks.

Now, I do agree with Ron on a couple of his assertions.  The first is that “Marshall is stagnant.” – dull and sluggish showing little activity or growth would be a good way to describe Marshall and its economy.  The second is that “The City needs effective leadership to restart the engine.” – effective leadership is indeed needed.  We need effective leadership not only from the city commission, but also from the city’s staff, local businesses, and the citizens in order to restart this ship’s engine.  

It would be incredibly unfair to blame the current city commission for city’s problems, many of which go back generations.  They did not create them…they inherited them and it is going to take time to fix them.  Five of our seven city commissioners have 18 months or less of experience being a city commissioner.  However, during the past 18 months we have seen some achievements from the current commissioners’ leadership that most certainly would not have happened had these new commissioners not made a run for their posts.  Their efforts have already produced a more fiscally responsible city operating budget, city streets that have been repaved, a reconstituted Chamber of Commerce, plans for addressing some of the infrastructure and flooding issues, and a strategic plan that outlines 5 specific goals for charting our path forward.  The 5 specific goals the city commissioners have adopted are as follows:

  1. The City of Marshall will be a safe and secure community.
  2. The City of Marshall will have a strong, diverse, and viable local economy.
  3. The City of Marshall will have unity and purpose in its leadership as it works to maintain a financially stable organization.
  4. The City of Marshall will be designed to include high quality and effective infrastructure.  
  5. The City of Marshall will be a highly desirable place to live, work, and play with thriving neighborhoods and high quality of life for all residents.

 

We could all sit around and claim that we are victims of our circumstances and (continue to) look to city government to fix the problems, or we can all become leaders in our own areas and work together to get our engines restarted and turn our ship around.  It is our ship. Let’s take some ownership for that.  This city commission cannot do this alone.  We all have core competencies that when each of us do our own part…that’s lead in the areas that we know and are willing to take responsibility for…we can overcome anything that is preventing us from repairing this ship and setting a new course for ourselves and our future generations.  I am challenging each of us to become leaders in our own destiny.

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