As our boat was touching the floor depth of our limits, there was a loud thud and sound of gushing water in the machinery space
Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people working either in a small team, a compact unit or a large organization to act toward achieving a common goal to accomplish a successful outcome. The underlying principle being, “Lead to Win”.
Leaders should be dynamic, exciting, inspiring and are required to guide others to do the right things. They should be able to set direction, build an inspiring vision and be creative. A great leader is one who can lead his team in a wide variety of circumstances and over a prolonged period of time. He should not be abusive, or threaten harm to his subordinates in his dealings in order to get things done. Looking for potential in others is good leadership. To achieve success in the long term, you must continue to create an environment by developing leadership skills within your team. Instead of taking control and attracting more followers, one should give control and create new leaders. Leaders who bank on a ‘one man show’ … ‘themselves’, can never be successful in the long run. A good leader would be someone who has the best interests of his team in mind rather than indulging in self-promotion. He should be ever willing to lend his shoulder to the wheel. The very fact that he also experiences all the same hardships as the men makes him more acceptable to the crew. Bad leaders are like slave drivers who do not give respect to team members. Respect has to be earned and never demanded. The “I, me, myself” specialist could never earn the respect of the team thus leading them to decreased efficiency in the long run. A good leader would always give credit for any task but a bad one would try to hog the limelight every time.
Military leaders are not only responsible for accomplishment of the mission but in the larger perspective, the nation’s defense and they are equally responsible for the lives of personnel they command. The qualities of a modern military leader apart from the core attributes should additionally include enthusiasm, political maturity, command presence, composure and managerial ability. Leaders must set the direction using management skills to guide their team to the right destination in a smooth and efficient manner. Discipline in any uniformed service comes first and hence breaches in discipline should be dealt with swiftly and justly. Justice should not only be done, but also seen to have been done.
As leaders, Submarine Captains create an indelible impression on their subordinates, good or bad. Important activities carried out by transformational leaders should include individual and team development. To develop a team, leaders must first understand how teams function. Wardrooms are abundant with stories of “My Captain did this …” and “My first captain did that …” etc. They are subjects of hero worship. Hence their actions should be proper as they are always under the watchful eye of the crew. Submarine Captains should indicate their intention clearly to their subordinates. Ambiguity in declaring one’s intent points towards hesitation on the Captain’s part and impedes the crew to take split second decisions thereby leading to what in naval parlance is called “suspended animation”. Rather than being a single point decision maker belting out orders for the others to follow blindly, it would be much better to delegate routine tasks to capable subordinates such that important tasks like launch of weapons or other vital evolutions can be given the concentration they deserve.
In naval environments particularly the submarine, the call by the Officer of the Watch announcing “Captain on the Bridge” makes the watch keepers and crew members in that compartment stiffen to attention with redoubled responsiveness to the job in hand. During dived condition, this call is modified suitably as “Captain in CIC” (Combat Information Centre). Good submarine Captains exude an aura about themselves. They are quick to assess the current scenario unfolding and the overall situation as in domain awareness. After adequate adjustment to night vision they indicate their readiness to assume control by clearly signifying to the Officer on duty (OOW), “I have the con”. Above all they are kind and considerate never losing the human touch.
The Submarine Captain must ensure that personnel are endowed with a spirit that provides the inner structure, dynamic drive and creative response to cope with the demands they encounter. The characteristics of spirit, such as enthusiasm, vivacity, energy, cheerfulness, ardor and firmness must be focused in support of the organization’s primary goal. Captains trying to do all tasks themselves eventually come to grief in some form or the other. Such a task at hand may be carried out with élan but the casting of the foundation for making another officer competent to perform similar duties would become frail and weak. In a submarine, the Captain plays a very important role since he is visible to the entire crew, also operating shoulder to shoulder with them and undergoing the same hardships that they undergo.
This takes me to the scene in my submarine, when I was an Executive Officer working shoulder to shoulder with an illustrious Captain. He was, whom I jocularly referred to as “A pram pushing Commander”, or “a Commander with a Lieutenant’s problems”, meaning, having tied the knot rather late in life and having had his first child when he was a Commander, he was often seen in the Naval colony pushing a pram on rare evenings that he was in harbour. Humour is an essential ingredient in the work environment in order to be successful. Our relationship was based on pure respect for each other’s professional acumen and total trust.
On one such occasion, being in the patrol area and the nocturnal machines that all submarines are, he called me from my cabin and indicated his intension to make a deep dive to check the bathymetric conditions in our area in anticipation of an approaching target. He said, “Aspi, let’s do a deep dive now with the duty crew, as I don’t want to disturb the crew now at this time of the night. They will require to conserve their energy the whole of next day”. I told him, “No sir, it is advisable to get the crew to battle stations for this dangerous evolution”. On listening to my contrary advice, he immediately accepted it and ordered sounding of Battle stations. Within a couple of minutes, the body of men awakened by the blaring klaxon came running to their positions to undertake anything that was ordered of them. The submarine went into the process of diving deep to maximum permissible depth in order to get the bathymetric profile which would aid the Captain to man oeuvre the submarine into sound illuminated or shadow zones.
Our damage control teams were already struggling to contain the leak of water at that increasing tremendous pressure which could flatten and kill a man in seconds
As our boat was touching the floor depth of our limits, there was a loud thud and sound of gushing water in the machinery space. Instantaneously, this was followed by a report from the affected compartment that there was a pipe burst and that water was gushing in. Within seconds, we had isolated all compartments and had taken all relevant actions to reduce depth by propelling full speed ahead on the main propulsion motor, all alarms bells were ringing, including the fire and smoke alarm which later we discovered got activated by the fine sea water spray mistaken by the sensors for smoke into the compartment from the burst pipe. In the meantime, our boat continued her downward descent as it takes a couple of minutes for thrust forces to act. Our damage control teams were already struggling to contain the leak of water at that increasing tremendous pressure which could flatten and kill a man in seconds. During the two minutes which felt like two years that it took to contain the flooding and the sluggish response of the boat, the crew was totally matter of fact with no traces of panic showing at all. Their behavior is based on the facial expressions of their officers mainly the Captain and Executive Officer. If these two remain calm, then the crew remains calm.
Later in harbor, over a drink at his residence, we shuddered together to think about the consequences
By this time, the damage control teams reported reduction in the ingress of water and the boat’s response of upward motion was called out by the helmsman, I knew that the worst was over and that we had contained the minor leak which at that pressure felt like a one-way trip to the “Davy Jones” locker. We quickly reduced depth to safe depth and inspected all compartments for any other damages. There were none except for the small burst pipe in the machinery space which had triggered off all the flooding, fire and smoke alarms. During the immediate debrief with all concerned, our gracious Captain, brought out the lesson learnt yet again, of performing all dangerous evolutions with full strength of the crew present, and unabashedly acknowledged my correct advice rendered. Such incidents increase our trust and confidence in each other as I saluted his humility in acknowledging this fact. We then repeated the deep dive evolution to eradicate all fear and remove doubts from the minds of the crew. Later in harbor, over a drink at his residence, we shuddered together to think about the consequences, as to what could have happened had we not closed up the entire crew to conduct that deep diving evolution.
There are two types of Captains that one can possibly see. The first type is that of a dashing, bold courageous person exuding confidence; he is the apple of the eye of the crew and widely respected by all the officers. He has the experience, is professionally confident and has been to sea for a prolonged period. He feels that it is his responsibility to train the Executive Officer so that the Navy can benefit from his expertise gained. Inevitably, when one analyses such a person, it is always revealed that he is the product or protégé of another dashing bold and courageous man of yore. Such Captains are few and far in between and their breed requires to grow rapidly.
The second type is that of an under-confident person who himself has had very little responsibility thrust upon him during his younger days. He is unsure of himself and fears to give any dangerous tasks to subordinates for fear of failure. By such behavior he would only be successful in producing clones that would operate in the same slot as they have been groomed to. The crew would recognize this person’s abilities or lack of them and give rise to galley murmur ultimately resulting in lack of respect. Life in submarines is all about honour, trust and respect for each other.
Observation is an excellent way for officers to develop their own style of leadership. One should have two imaginary bins in one’s mind, one for acceptable styles and the other for unacceptable style. After early years of duty and subsequently as life progresses, experiences and observations should be put in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bins, subsequently, officers can reach into the ‘good’ bin to adopt those styles and reject the material in the ‘bad’ bin, which though unused should never be forgotten. In this manner, an officer develops his own style of leadership suitable and acceptable to himself based on his moral compass.
Leadership cannot be just taught in a classroom, it has to be imbibed through a combination of theory, practice and years of observation of senior and subordinate leaders in the hierarchy. The mere presence of the Captain should instill emotions of respect, reverence, positive attitude, genuineness and visualization of an amiable and kind person possessing a sense of humour amongst the crew, a form of a mental salute to their professional leader’s capability and dynamism when they hear the call,
“Captain on the Bridge”.
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