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Empowering Our People: Our Privilege and Responsibility

By MC1 (SW) Sarah Villegas
Deputy communications director, Office of the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy

“Leadership is about empowering others to do what they did not think was possible.” This comes from author Simon Sinek.

As we continuously look for ways to improve as the Navy the nation needs, it’s important that we look within our own ranks to find new and innovative ways to do just that. With the great privilege of serving in an office that advocates for enlisted Sailors, it’s something I’m passionate about because I believe it’s not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

Sailors stand in formation on the flight deck during an all-hands call aboard the Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) May 27, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jessica L. Dowell/Released)


The average Sailor might surprise you with their talent, education, and technical competency. It’s up to our Navy to leverage that, so we can maintain our readiness in efficient ways – through the vested interest of those who serve within our ranks. Taking a step back and letting go of the reigns lets our junior personnel earn their stripes, step into their own and it also lets you know you’ve given them the tools they need.

By giving them a seat at the table, you’re giving them a chance to show you what they can really bring to it. A seat at the table means the chance to share new perspectives and ideas that our older, more seasoned leadership might not be aware of.

In addition to many being tech-savvy and social media friendly, one in four enlisted personnel have completed at least an associate’s degree, according to the Navy Advancement Center. Combined with their diverse experiences on the deck plates, they’re bringing a new wave of communication and thinking, which can be an asset to the experienced Sailors at the helm.

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Hayden Hamblin from Clinton, Utah, assigned to USS Dewey (DDG 105) takes a picture on his cell phone during an evening concert featuring The Beach Boys during Los Angeles Fleet Week (LAFW). LAFW is an opportunity for the American public to meet their Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard teams and experience America’s sea services.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Janine F. Jones/Released)


Delegation is one of the best ways for us to empower the young men and women who serve in our organization. When Sailors are included and considered, they’re more likely to rise to the challenge and contribute in meaningful ways. Whether it’s trusting them to manage a watch bill, being on the forefront of planning an important event, or briefing an admiral – as a junior Sailor – it’s an experience that makes them look inward to push past comfort zones and work harder to prove to themselves, their shipmates and their leadership that they can do it.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson recently entrusted a working group of young Sailors to influence policy that would affect all females Navy-wide. During an all hands call, he spoke with them in mind and said, “A good idea with the right research and the right authority is the only way we can make change in our Navy.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson, center left, and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Robert P. Burke, center right, and Sailors assigned to the Pentagon announce new grooming standards on camera during a live all-hands call. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Raymond D. Diaz III/Released)


After several months of doing their homework and getting involved in process and policy, they affected change that celebrated diversity in our force. The addition of locs, ponytails, and bigger buns might seem arbitrary to some, but in many ways it enabled our Navy to retain talent and ease the burden of costs for many shipmates. This is credited to a group of young Sailors who rose to the challenge and fought for what they believed in.

Since the Navy is all about training its reliefs, what better way to do this than by actively mentoring and molding Sailors early on so they can lead the way when the time is right. When we mentor our junior Sailors we’re telling them “You are worthwhile and you have potential. I see that in you.”

Positively investing in Sailors boosts morale, confidence and their willingness to participate in the commands in which they serve – which ultimately makes the job easier when there is open flow of communication. This is where you’ll see the go getters who want to come to work and make a difference, instead of waiting around and being told what to do. Usually this is associated with strong leadership who talk with them, instead of at them.

Seaman Samantha Braband fights a simulated aircraft fire aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64), Sept. 15, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan U. Kledzik/Released)


This mutually beneficial mentorship is a means of exchanging ideas to improve performance and behavior in our organization. I say mutually beneficial because it’s a great opportunity to pass ideas laterally. While mentors will always lead the way for protégées, it’s not to say that they can’t inspire the leaders who are in their charge.

There are many ways to cultivate the next generation of leaders in our organization and the success that it breeds. But the best way of all is to trust and empower them.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

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