The Opinionated Manager

learning to trust my own opinions and expertise



Once upon a time, when I was a junior Navy officer,  I started work at Maritime Headquarters and inherited a sailor who I was told was useless, and that his Retention was Not in the Interest of the Navy (RNIN).  My predecessor, an officer of only one year more seniority and experience than myself, informed me that this sailor was to be performance managed out of the Navy, and that the process had already been started – in three months time the sailor would receive a performance review that showed no improvement and three more months after that, his employment would be terminated.

And that is EXACTLY what happened.

The sailor was, by no stretch of the imagination, a star.  He had not really much go-getter about him.  He was probably also about 19 years old.  Just a kid.

The thing is, I quite simply cannot tell you that he was so bad at his work that he was irredeemable, because I don’t know that.  To my eternal shame, I never  paid more than scant regard to that sailor, or tried to make any difference to him through training, guidance, support, supervision or management.

Maybe my predecessor had tried to do those things with him.  Maybe he really was pretty useless.  But he was my responsibility and I shirked it completely and totally.

Being kicked out of the Navy isn’t like losing a job.  It is losing your friends and your home and your community and your support all at once.  It is being told that you are not good enough, not just for a job, but not good enough to be a part of this great big thing that is the Defence Force.  I think of this with horror, because at the time I’m not sure that I really ever considered him as a person – just a sailor, a thing that the Navy could do with as it pleased, and at its convenience.  I have much good to say about the Navy, but also this – it is too too easy to lose sight of the fact that you are dealing with people’s lives.  Sailors, officers, all of us, were just cogs in a big wheel, and when the people managing you see you like that it is too easy to make decisions without a necessary view to the impact on the person.B

But that is not an excuse, this is a failure that I own.  I should have been a better person and a better manager.

And now I can say that I am.

Linking up with The Lounge at Falling Face First, and Talk to us Thursday at Blogs & PR


18 comments on “Failure

  1. Me
    July 4, 2013

    I think it is great that you acknowledge your part in what happened to him but even better is that you learned for what you did and made sure to improve on that in the future !!! That is all we can ask of ourselves – to learn from our mistakes as we move forward.
    Have the best day !

    • Katyberry
      July 4, 2013

      Yeah, it is all about learning. In many ways I am really surprised at myself – I am genuinely a compassionate, caring person, so it seems very out of character that I behaved that way. Without wanting to make excuses, I truly think that that Navy way of not seeing people as people is the reason I behaved like that. I’m glad that I don’t have too many examples of that kind of behaviour. I think I learnt reasonably quickly that it wasn’t OK.

  2. Me
    July 4, 2013

    PS – I much prefer the new layout of your blog – so much easier to read !!! When I opened it I thought “Hey, I’m at the wrong blog” and then after I had commented realised that you had changed it !!! #sometimesalittleslow

    • Katyberry
      July 4, 2013

      Yes! I’m so happy with some of the changes I’ve made! Now must stop playing and either start writing, or get back to work!

  3. Pingback: Moving on up | The (Mildly) Opinionated Manager

  4. Sarah @ SLapdash Mama
    July 4, 2013

    Far out. How awful. I find the culture of the armed forces really intimidating for this sort of reason. Poor bugger. It’s not something you should feel totally responsible for, I think it is probably a cultural thing. I wouldn’t last 2 seconds I am sure.

    • The Tunnel
      July 4, 2013

      We want to see the TV show where Slapdash Mama is in the armed forces!

      • Katyberry
        July 4, 2013

        Ha! Reality TV at its finest! I’d watch….

    • Katyberry
      July 4, 2013

      I really do think it is a cultural thing, because it is certainly not at all like me now, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t changed that dramatically.
      The thing is, you do adapt REALLY quickly to the Defence Force way of doing things – and there’s a reason why they get you young – you are so mold-able. It is with age and experience, and distance, that you start to see things more clearly.

  5. The Tunnel
    July 4, 2013

    You look to have ended a young man’s career, rather than ruined it. Was it your fault that he was marked RNIN before you arrived? There’s nothing wrong with feeling guilty about not doing more – and learning from the experience – but it looks like the snowball was rolling down the hill well before you got there. (Of course, my perspective might change if there is suddenly a post on The Lounge entitled “How I got unfairly kicked out of the Navy at age 19”)

    • Katyberry
      July 4, 2013

      True, it is really about learning from these things, and yes, there probably was good reasons that he was marked for RNIN in the first place. I just wish I had done the “right” thing, and you know, maybe that still would have been to kick him out of the Navy.

  6. This Charming Mum
    July 4, 2013

    I think it must be quite a stressful environment in the forces too – and being a manager means making the tough decisions unfortunately. It’s good that you’re able to reflect on it and think about ways you might handle it differently if something similar came up again. But don’t beat yourself up about it either.

    • Katyberry
      July 4, 2013

      Reflecting on these things is really important. I wouldn’t behave like that AT ALL these days, but I did have to fire someone earlier this year, and there are still small things that I would have handled differently if I had my time over. It’s all about learning and moving forward and doing better the next time.

  7. I really appreciate your honesty in this post. I think we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. I know I once failed to stand up for someone and I think about it often, and how I don’t wish to do that again.
    We learn lessons along the way.

    • Katyberry
      July 4, 2013

      Thanks. It’s not something that I think about much, but it came to my head quite quickly when thinking of leadership fails. They just sort of stick with you.
      I am finding that writing about all sorts of things is a really good way to reflect on the what and why of things I have done. And that does help with the learning process.

  8. Tegan Churchill
    July 4, 2013

    I love your honestly and your ability to reflect without a huge amount of blame. It’s great that you are able to use it as a point to learn from and be a better manager now.

  9. robomum
    July 5, 2013

    Stressful and sad. But sometimes kids of that age need a good kick up the patootie to work themselves out. The aspect of losing friends/lifestyle is not ideal but I’m sure the kid moved on to greener pastures.

  10. Kim
    July 7, 2013

    Awesome honesty, but I think maybe you’ve taken the burden of responsibility a bit too squarely on your shoulders here. The RNIN was decided before you. And the NAvy and its culture is such a force to be reckoned with. To have turned this thing around, even if this sailor did show some glimmer of promise, would have been like pushing a boulder up a mountain in some ways. Reflection always helps make us manage people better down the track though you say. Love your new look btw.

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This entry was posted on July 3, 2013 by in Leadership & Management and tagged , , , , , , .

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