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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Transitions – Respect for subordinates

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by Roger Blomquist for Barbara Blomquist

I was reminded recently how important respect is – not just respect, but mutual respect.

In the 1970s, a friend of ours served on a large amphibious ship in the Pacific. Our friend was an E-5, a mid-grade petty officer – NCO, for you Army/Air Force, and USMC types. Navy ships perform constant training and lots of emergency drills, including combat, fire, flooding, etc. Because the Captain is presumed to be focusing on combat, he delegates his authority to a low-ranking crew member who has been trained to know everything about the ship.

Our friend’s job was to coordinate the crew’s response to emergencies by directing damage control and firefighting teams, tracking their progress, and keeping the Captain informed.
Once during a drill, a “new hire” Lieutenant repeatedly attempted to take over the E-5’s responsibilities and authorities. As it happened, the Captain observed this unwarranted and condescending interference. Because it disrupted the skilled functioning of his crew, he “ripped the Lieutenant a new one,” if I may use the naval term.

The Captain’s support for his subordinate E-5 is a major motivator and a key leadership concept. It fosters the loyalty, initiative, and teamwork essential to complex missions in a fluid environment. This is one reason military veterans make prized employees in civilian companies. They understand leadership and mutual respect, and they seek to understand an organization’s mission.

This subject was explored beautifully in Steven Ambrose’s book, “Citizen Soldiers,” about the value of low-ranking soldiers’ initiatives in defeating Germany in World War II. That the soldiers felt empowered to bring up their ideas was unique to the Allied armies of the day and a reflection of America’s (imperfect) equality ethic.

As a civil society, even one engaged in political power struggles, corporate competitions, etc., we should honor this principle in practice because it is right, but also in our self-interest. Rank isn’t everything.

Roger Blomquist served four years in nuclear submarine engineering. He’s now retired from the Navy Reserves as a Captain. Roger earned his PhD, Nuclear Engineering from Northwestern University. And he has worked 44 years in nuclear energy research and development at Argonne, including computing methods, research reactor design, and nuclear non-proliferation. Roger also has experience in public affairs and media relations. He’s available to speak with civic, religious and professional groups. His presentation is titled “Learn about the research and development at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, with a focus on nuclear technology, and bring your questions for extended Q&A, aimed at the non-technical audience.”

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Barbara Blomquist
Barbara Blomquist
Barbara Blomquist is a Naperville resident, wife, mother, quilter, and screenwriter. Contact her at BWBLomquist@aol.com.
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