May/June 2001 Issue Number 23
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the area of sexual harassment, diversity management and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Executive Development: May 21-June 1, NFA in Emmitsburg, MD. The first course of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program. Linda Willing and Toby Drabczyk will be facilitating this class at NFA in Emmitsburg, MD.
Women Chief Officers' Luncheon: August 25, 2001 at Fire-Rescue International in New Orleans. Call 630-990-2390 for more information.
Speaking Up: The Reality
On February 9, 2001, the American submarine, Greeneville, accidentally surfaced directly under a Japanese trawler, the Ehime Maru. The fishing boat quickly sank, and nine lives were lost, including four high school students. The captain of the submarine, Commander Scott Waddle, has seen his military career ended as a result. Bitterness remains among the grieving Japanese families.
Many factors led to this tragedy. Many opportunities existed for junior officers to express their concern about the way things were going that day aboard the submarine. In fact, at least one junior officer did speak up to his superiors. But no action resulted from this communication.
What went wrong? The Greenville, like many Navy submarines, had a policy in place that encouraged subordinates to speak to their supervisors, even if the supervisor might not like what he would hear. "This was not a ship where you would be shot for talking to the commanding officer," said the admiral in charge of the investigation. In fact, the sub's captain, Commander Waddle, was highly respected among his peers and crew members, and also well-liked.
The policy told the crew to speak up if something seemed wrong. One officer did so, and the answer he received was, "I have it under control." None of the other junior officers said anything, despite their misgivings. Had even one person insisted on being heard, it might have averted this terrible accident.
Why didn't anyone follow through? Was it because the one person who did speak up was ignored? Was it because, despite the official policy, such confrontation with a superior officer in the military simply isn't done? Was it because the sub's commander was so well-liked and respected that no one imagined he could be wrong?
Telling people that they can speak up in opposition to their superiors is one thing. Actually creating a climate and culture where that is possible is quite another. The Navy has good intentions with its "speak up" policy aboard submarines. But good intentions will never translate into action without fundamental changes in organizational culture and expectations.
Source: The New York Times, March 12, 2001