By Lieutenant Commander Cathal O'Connor and Lieutenant Commander Bill Parker, U.S. Navy
Whether you will serve as executive officer (XO) at sea or ashore, on a big deck, greyhound, or gator, congratulations! You have signed on to one of the most challenging and demanding assignments in the Navy. Your work will shape the future operations andcapabilities of our fleet. Do not underestimate the powerful impact your tour will have on the lives of the men and women who really count: our officer and enlisted sailors at sea.
The following suggestions are based on our experiences ashore and at sea. Your situation probably will differ, but these hints might make your tour more enjoyable and productive.
Philosophies for Success
• Know YourJob. You are the number two war fighter on board your ship. You are the commanding officer's (CO's) number one trainer, motivator, maintainer, and career manager. You are the CO's principal advisor, his conscience, and his relief valve. Along with the command master chief (CMC), you complete the CO's leadership team.
• Time Can Be Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy. As the XO you must be an expertat prioritization. You should ask yourself two questions before committing time, manpower, money, or equipment to a task: Does it contribute to the mission of the unit? Does it contribute to the advancement of the people who work for you? If the answer is an unequivocal yes to either of these questions you should press forward on that task. Otherwise, your efforts are better allocated elsewhere.• Learn from Failure, and Press On. When your sailors stop failing, they have stopped trying. Failure is part of life. As the XO, you set the tone for how those who fail will be treated. Failure is a time for encouragement and training. Laugh with them in private and tell them to make a different mistake next time. Rebuild their sense of confidence and self-worth. Have them bring you a plan tofix the problem and then hold them to it. Public shaming can send good people into an inverted flat spin of lost self-confidence, panic, and self-doubt—and they might not escape.
• Deal with Adversity. As XO, you have a duty to put things into perspective. Your positional authority gives you a chance to shape the challenges that your crew faces as opportunities to achieve. How you act andreact to situations will set the tone for the crew. Do the right thing. In addition, attitude is everything. If you believe you will succeed, or believe you will fail, you probably are correct. But never underestimate the learning potential that exists from honestly and openly examining failures. Be brave and ask the hard questions of your wardroom, chief's mess, and messdecks. The answers often willsurprise you.
• Always Tell the Truth. The good, the bad, and especially the ugly, both up and down the chain. Don't ever hide bad news: the truth always comes out. Don't be on the receiving end of a thunderbolt that starts when a four-star learns from the press what you should have reported. And the same principle applies for telling your sailors the truth about their performance. If youcannot tell a department head that he isn't cutting it, and that his chance of screening for his next career milestone is marginal (given his current level of performance), then you fail the gut check of your XO tour.
Know Your People
• Interview the Crew. It will absorb an incredible amount of time, but if you don't do it at the beginning, you never will. You will miss the opportunity to hearwhat they like and dislike about the command. Then, as new check-ins arrive, have their sponsors bring them by your stateroom to say hi. After they've left, read their service records cover-to-cover and then have an in-depth interview the next business day. Listen carefully and learn where they came from and what their dreams and goals are. Your sponsor program and initial interviews will set...