Tuesday, September 29, 2015


My sister suggested I write about how decisions get made onboard. She said, "A good theme to think about is, how do decisions get made, what information goes into each one? Since you must make a million decisions a day, that's a lot of posts." 

I can't really talk about specific decisions, though. The interesting ones are too operational or too personal to individuals. But there are a kadjillion decisions made every day onboard; some are easy, some require art, some require science, and some are just plain hard.

The Conning Officer has to decide on a boat launch course. Mostly environmental conditions factor into that decision -- where are the winds from? Where are the seas from? What course best shields the boat from both those things? Are the seas high enough to worry about shock-loading the lines as the boat initially goes into the water, or comes out of the water? Are we within launch parameters? How fast should we be going? Do we need a little more speed on to keep up with the movement of the water from the seas and swells, or should we slow down more to give the boat a better ride? If we go slower, we'll need to use more rudder to turn -- who is on the helm? How are they steering? Do they need to shift from auto mode to hand mode?

The Deck Officer has to decide when we're ready to launch the boat. Is the boat deck manned and ready? Has the coxswain briefed the CO about what the plan is for why we're launching the boat? Who is on the davit controls? Is it the right person for the conditions? How many new line handlers do we have? Has CIC done radio checks with the small boat? Do they all have their correct PPE (personal protective equipment) on? Are line handlers wearing watches, rings or other shiny things that might get caught in a runaway line and rip skin or digits off their hands?

The Deck and the Conn then have to work together to make sure the boat is safely put into the water. Communications, communications, communications. I don't know that anyone of the watchstanders break it down into such distinct and obvious pieces -- it's probably much more of the art for finding a boat launch course and actually getting the boat in the water.

Easy decision -- we authorize football jerseys on Sundays underway (but not at watchstations) so people can show a little team pride. Someone asked me today, what if my team is playing Monday Night Football? Can I wear my jersey then? Easy answer -- no. Why? Because I said so. We're already bending the rules a little about letting folks wear jerseys at all. 

Hard decision -- when and how is the right time to tell someone their performance or behavior is not up to standards? Do I have my information in order? Can I give them specific examples of what needs to change? Do I understand the situation well enough to even be able to judge if their actions are not good enough? What pieces am I missing that would help me understand what is keeping them from better performance? Do I have the time right now to get into it with them? Is it important enough to confront them with? What are the consequences if I don't? Is there a better person to do this?

I'm re-reading The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, by Steven B. Sample. It's been a while since I read it, and I'm just finished the part about thinking grey. Suspending judgment on something until a decision has to be made, or maybe never making a judgment on something if you don't have to. His point is to take time to make decisions where time can be taken, which takes practice because we're schooled to think that making decisions quickly and decisively is the only way to succeed as leaders. It's a very yogic way of looking at things -- suspending judgment. I've had the opportunity to try it recently. I think I did ok. I could have done better.

There will be another decision tomorrow I can practice on.

LCDR Charlotte Mundy
Executive Officer

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