Back to the Basics

Leaning on frontline leaders is expected during “normal” operations and critical during uncertain times. During my days in the Navy, frontline leaders were also referred to as “deckplate” leaders, those Sailors who had demonstrated the reliability and personal responsibility to lead small work teams through maintenance and operational tasks.

Frontline leaders had the flexibility to complete a task based on their “work DNA.”  General George Patton was once quoted as saying, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”  We would often use the idiom of “blocking and tackling” to ensure procedural discipline and compliance was maintained during these tasks. That blocking and tackling was simply the basic, fundamental skills necessary for the safe and efficient completion of a task. In essence, it’s performing the basics exceptionally well which are critically important to the team as a whole.

When our ships would go into an extended maintenance overhaul in which hundreds of subject matter experts would be contracted to come aboard and perform much of the maintenance, our crews may have been reduced to fill critical gaps on deploying units. As we came out of the overhaul, manning levels would be increased to prepare for pre-deployment – a critical time for frontline leaders to ensure that their teams were retrained or received refresher training to maintain the strict disciplinary compliance to procedures.

Over the 7+ years I’ve had the honor of working around the globe providing safety, performance and leadership coaching in support of the oil & gas industry, I have worked with frontline leaders that are in positions much like those in the military. Their day to day interactions with their team members ensure that the “blocking and tackling” is performed meticulously, thus confirming the safe and efficient completion of even the most mundane tasks.  This is critical to the overall mission success of the crew. When the basic tasks are performed in this manner, habit patterns are created for the next generation of oil field workers where even the greatest of distractions such as COVID-19 are mitigated.

Tom Howard
Fleet Master Chief – Pacific Fleet and Atlantic Fleet
USN (ret.)
Safety, Performance and Leadership Coach, CAVU-Intl.

Tom Howard is a former Fleet Master Chief (Senior Enlisted Advisor) to both the Pacific Fleet and United States Fleet Forces Command (Atlantic Fleet) 4-star Admirals on matters affecting Sailors, their families and issues impacting operations. He is one of only two Master Chiefs that have been selected to the position of Fleet Master Chief for both fleets.

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