Late last month Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, the Commander of the US Seventh (Pacific) Fleet, was relieved of his duties - suspended following a number of incidents (including two fatal collisions) in the preceding fortnight.
At the time of his removal the Vice Admiral was overseeing one of the largest and longest deployments of US Naval forces since.... well.... ever. With increased posturing across the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula, terrorist activity along the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos, commitments to key allies in Australia and Japan and protection of sovereign territories in Hawaii and Guam - the Pacific Fleet was, and remains, stretched.
The US navy typically works to the 33.3% strategy - a third of a fleet's time is usually divided into three phases:
a third to operations,
a third to maintenance,
and a third to training & practice.
With the aforementioned pressures it's now clear that the seventh fleet had struggled to maintain the 33.3% strategy as these (external) factors came to bear.
There are important lessons here for individuals and business: asking ourselves and our employees to constantly perform & deliver is unrealistic and, frankly, impossible. Like the US Navy, people need real & quality time to train and improve their skills and they need time to maintain (rest) themselves (physically, mentally and spiritually) before they can perform (operate) in building their business.
Real leaders set aside no more than a third of time for active operations (for a business this is typically 'growing the business') - this is potentially a high reward activity (for the business) BUT can be an exhausting activity (for the individual).
Real leaders know that delivery of effective operations can only come from training & development. Encouraging, funding and expecting time for people to undertake real, meaningful, repetitive and growth-based learning is absolutely critical. Ensuring leaders at all levels have the skills to coach, develop and test their people is paramount. One of the most successful military team, The USA Navy Seals, live by the quote:
"Under pressure, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training"
Real leaders set an expectation that a third of time is spent on maintenance - for the individual AND for the business.
Individual employees need to be acknowledged for their loyalty and their efforts not just their results. They need a real work/life balance, to be challenged & supported.
For a business, "maintenance" means taking care of existing customers. Regular contact, getting the little things right, and showing gratitude for your customer are all crucial elements to maintaining existing relationships.
Failure to balance the needs of an individual or an operation - a third of time on delivery/operations, a third of time on training/learning/development and a third of time on protecting what you already have - will disturb the equilibrium and likely lead to failure overall.
The Navy, our lives and our businesses (as with our natural environment) can only be sustained in balance between growth, rest & reflection and adaptation (operations, maintenance and training). At times we are asked (perhaps unrealistically) to compromise this balance .... and there is ALWAYS a consequence .... as Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin has now experienced.
The question, for me atleast, is when do you stand up and push back?