Making of coast guard flag officer

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In the military services, the concern is to maintain promotion opportunity throughout a hierarchy of 10 grades through which officers can achieve. This promotion flow, especially for the middle management grades of O-4 through O-6, gets very competitive. As a Lieutenant Commander (0-4) with 13 years of military service, it is normal to analyze your promotion potential for future ranks. Most would like to aspire to become a Flag Officer (O-7 to O-10) but often the question is posed, "What does it take to become a Flag Officer?" I feel the best way to answer that question is to analysis the attributes and background of the current officer corps.

At the level of Flag officer, it is assume that you hold the key traits of a transformational leader. You are singled out among your peers as a Coast Guard Flag Officer because less than 1 percent of career officers are promoted to flag rank. However, it is often said in senior level ranks of the naval services that "Ducks pick ducks." This means that when it is time to select the Flag Officers of the military service, the current Flag Officers often gravitate to members with similar career traits as theirs. In Junge (2009), "What Does a Duck Look Like?" article, he states those personalities are shaped by many factors which include: where one grew up, went to college, the course of instruction, tour patterns, supervisors, and even subordinates. As a Coast Guard officer with different career traits than the norm, my project focused on analyzing the biographies of current Coast Guard Flag Officers to determine the key factors in what makes a Coast Guard Flag Officer.

Coast Guard Flag officers greatly influence the success and the future of the Coast Guard. They serve as the Commandant's senior field representatives, Coast Guard program directors, and in positions of significant responsibility in other agencies and military services. Flag officers are members of the Commandant's senior leadership team and must contribute substantially to the advancement of Service goals. They increasingly represent not only the Coast Guard but the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and federal government at all levels of government and internationally. During the first part of my project, I had the opportunity to attend the Coast Guard's 2009 Fall Senior Executive Leadership Conference. During this conference, all the Coast Guard's Flags and Senior Executive Service meet for a week to network and collaborate in on strategic organizational objectives. During this time, I spoke to several flag officers about the journey through the Coast Guard. This was a very enlighten experience because it is rare to have all the Flags and SESs members in one place. I received a wealth of knowledge from their experiences and advice. Below are a summary of the 5 key points from my discussions:

  1. In addition to mastery of the technical or specialized aspects of your assignments, you must demonstrate the leadership, management, and professional skills necessary to obtain optimal performance.
  2. As you move into senior ranks, you must have an understanding of the major issues facing the Coast Guard as a whole in order to best contribute to the overall needs of the Service.
  3. Joint/interagency expertise is highly recommended with an aggressive pursuit of educational opportunities
  4. Career path should show diversity in assignments, less geographic constraints and be equally comfortable in the Coast Guard operational environment as well as the DOD and interagency community.
  5. Must be able to make the leap from hands on management of the day-to-day details to empowering people to perform to being able to take a strategic view, including a broad understanding of the joint, interagency, inter-governmental, not for profit and private sectors.

The key points from my discussions at the Senior Executive Leadership Conference directly tied in to our leadership responsibilities and the difference between leaders and managers class discussion. There is a time when you are an officer that you truly have to differentiate between the two but have characteristics of both. As Kotter (2001) stated, both are necessary for success in an increasing complex and volatile business. As a midgrade officer (O-4), there is a time where you have to display more characteristic of a leader than a manager, this also includes going from more of a transactional leadership style to a transformational leadership style. Being able to make this transition is often what separates the Captains from the Admirals. What is required of an officer as she/he excels through the ranks is less of an "exchange" between subordinates and more of a process that engages and empowers those around you to perform at their maximum potential.

Selection to Flag Officer in any service is a hard rigorous process regardless of the military service. In conducting the second part of my project, I found that a lot of similarities between the other four services when it comes to the promotion of Flag/General Officers. It requires a high aptitude for military discipline, dedication to the service, political savvy and the ability to continually make the right choices in difficult times. It's a consensus across the services that attending a service academy increase your chance of becoming a Flag Officer. For example, 56 percent of Navy Admirals graduated from the Naval Academy and 75 percent of Coast Guard Admirals graduated from the Coast Guard Academy. The average time it takes to make O-7 in the services is between 25.2 and 27.7 ( (Harrell, Thie, Schirmer, & Brancato, 2004). Over 90% have technical degrees and all have at least one Master degree. In addition to the above, the current CG Flag Corps demographics are as follows:

In reviewing the data from my research I have reason to be optimistic and pessimistic regarding my chances to of becoming a flag officer. I have become a master of my craft with a specialty in Ashore Operations and have invested in life-long learning earning my second masters in the spring. On the other hand, my accession point into the Coast Guard is through OCS versus the Academy and I am a minority female. Currently, the highest ranking African-American female is a (O-5) and only three African-American females have received that rank in the history of the Coast Guard. Despite the outlook, I know that the statistics do not define my future. The Coast Guard is an ever changing organization where history is made every day. As Phillips (2003) points the Coast Guard lives and breathes leadership and this leadership has no boundaries.

In addition to what I learned during my project research, I want to highlight a very inspirational lesson where I learned to be "relentless in my optimism" despite the challenges of transformational leadership. This was the class visit by Admiral Stillman and our case study on Deepwater (Kee & Newcomer, 2008). Admiral Stillman led the Coast Guard through a tumultuous time with the Deepwater program. His discussion during class was very motivating and provided essential guidance for future leaders in any sector be it public, private, or non-profit. This was an important lesson in change leadership because it forced you to recognize the negative side of change leadership and how strong culture plays a part in change. Some of his most powerful take-aways from his discussion were:

  1. Be passionate in measuring: You have to be able to measure your success and failures. You have to master the art of simplification and be able to effectively measure outcomes and outputs as a leader. Measurement of performance is the key to success in stewardship.
  2. Identifying metaphors to simplifying things; Steal shamelessly to not reinvent the wheel. Major issue for companies is knowledge management
  3. Do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Do not waste money in attempt to achieve perfection.
  4. Culture always win. Culture does not lend itself to change.
  5. Be relentless in your optimism

My professional goals are to further my professional development as a Coast Guard officer and establish an expertise in public administration. Being a military officer is different from any other occupation. Each officer receives a commission, stating that the President has "special trust and confidence" in the ability of this person to act for the Nation. The words in that commission center on leadership and followership, and the oath that each officer takes makes clear that their highest allegiance is to the Constitution. Similarly, to the fundamentals of public administration and public service, the military compels sacrifice for the greater good. In analyzing my personal and professional development while in the MPA program, it would be most appropriate to apply criteria similar to what I used doing my research on "What Makes a Coast Guard Flag Officer. It is the same criteria that is used to consider who are "best qualified" from among their peers for promotion as an officer in the Coast Guard and is centered on performance, professionalism, leadership, and education. The main document that is used is the Officer Evaluation Report (OER). Those officers who continually develop and demonstrate their capabilities against this criterion, position themselves to be among those best qualified for continuous promotion to ultimately Flag Officer.

The Officer Evaluation Report is an ideal way to assess my strengths and weaknesses and development through the program against my professional goals. The OER is divided into four evaluation areas that included several performance dimensions. The four evaluation areas that I will assess my experience against are Performance of Duties, Communication, Leadership Skills, and Personal and Professional Qualities. The Performance of Duties evaluation area measures an officer's ability to manage and get things done. The second is Communication Skills, which measures an officer's ability to communicate in a positive, clear, and convincing manner. Third is Leadership Skills, which measures an officer's ability to support, develop, direct, and influence other in performing work. The last evaluation area is Personal and Professional Qualities, which measures selected qualities that illustrate the individual's character.

The Performance of Duties evaluation area includes performance dimensions of planning/preparedness, using resources, results/effectiveness, adaptability, and professional competence. My first semester as a student challenged every dimension in this area. I took four classes and a lab, which required me to adjust quickly to my new life style. I was no longer waking up at 0530 to go into my office as the Supervisor of the Port of Miami and manage day-to-day operations. As a student, I woke up at my leisure and was just a manager of my time, class schedule, and homework. Every ounce of planning and preparedness had to go into reading and organizing notes for classes. I had to adapt quickly to an environment where I was totally out of my element. Once I got over the initial shock, I excelled at performing my duties as a student. The core classes taken during my first semester laid the foundation for a career in public administration, especially PAD 200.

The evaluation area of Communication Skill, which includes the performance dimensions of speaking, listening, and writing proved to be my biggest weakness. Speaking will probably always be a weakness because I think it is natural to be nervous when speaking in front of an audience. However, I have embraced it more over the years due to the number of presentation and the array of topics that I have had the opportunity to deliver presentation on in classes. Despite the amount of writing that I did in my regular job in the Coast Guard, the transition to academic writing proved somewhat difficult. Major of the writing required in the military is very short, concise and to the point. Writing has always been a weakness that I had continued to work on over the years. Due to the amount of writing required in several of the classes, I took it upon myself to frequent the Writing Center. The center is an underutilized resource that I feel more students should take advantage of while at George Washington. My time there proved to be a wonderful experience that has extremely helped me during my tenure.

My strengthens over the semester proved to be in the evaluation area of Leadership Skills, which covers the performance dimensions of looking out for others, developing others, directing others, teamwork, workplace climate and evaluations. In majority of my classes I was provide the opportunity to work in teams and complete team assignment. Throughout my career, I have had opportunities to manage teams as well as to work in teams; however, the experience during some of my classes did prove to be quite different. During class this semester, I enjoy taking the Motivation and Leadership Self-Assessment. It complimented the Myers-Briggs instrument that I had the opportunity to take in PAD 201. The Motivation and Leadership Assessment showed an interesting trend with power being my highest category followed by stewardship, achievement, and affiliation. I personally felt that these assessments made the experience of working in a group more intriguing. Despite my ISTJ nature, I made a conscience effort to not to be imperious due to my experience or my normal position in of being the "boss". My dominant introverted sensing allowed me to be more self-reflecting on my role in the team through analyzing the group dynamics and taking into account my team members MBTI type. After understanding the personalities in the group, I was able be more of leader and address issues or conflicts that arose appropriately.

The evaluation area where I felt I improved the most was in Personal and Professional qualities. This evaluation area included dimensions in initiative, judgment, responsibilities, professional presence and health and well-being. My experience at George Washington sparked my initiative to do and achieve more in regards to my professional and personal goals and becoming a transformational leader. After deciding to attend George Washington, I thought it would be my last educational experience in which I would earn a degree; however, I decided due to my experience over the last year to pursue a doctorate degree. In addition to my pursuit of a doctorate degree, I have dedicated a lot of time over the last two semesters assisting the Coast Guard with its Diversity Outreach mission. Currently, Congress is holding the Coast Guard to the highest level of accountability in every aspect of their missions including diversity. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard has fallen short of these standards recently when it was reported that nooses had been placed among the personal effects of an African-American student and then of a white female officer who was conducting race relations training in response to the discovery of the first noose. Such sheer racism and hatred is completely unacceptable-especially among those who are training to be leaders. Therefore, over the last year while in school, I have championed several major initiatives that have improved race relations as well as diversity in the Coast Guard. These initiatives have created policies that allow the public to see that the Coast Guard is dedicated to have a diversity workforce that represents the American people.

I know that I am in a unique situation compared to the other students in class because I have acted in my role in public service and leadership as a member of the military in the United States Coast Guard for nearly 13 years. This class was a wonderful experience because it allowed me to learn more about leadership on a theoretical level as well as share my leadership experience with others. In re-reading Character in Action, I made me realized blessed I am to be a leader in such an amazing organization. Our work and responsibilities are like no other. We deal with situations like the "Distance Command" on a everyday bases and are better leaders for it.

Works Cited

  • Harrell, M. C., Thie, H. J., Schirmer, P., & Brancato, K. (2004). Aligning the stars : improvements to general and flag officer management. Arlington: RAND Corporation.
  • Johnson, C. E. (2001). Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
  • Junge, M. (2009, 05 21). What Does a Duck Look Like? Naval Flag Officers in 2002. Retrieved 10 13, 2009, from Information Dissemination:
  • Kee, J. E., & Newcomer, K. E. (2008). Transforming Public and Nonprofit Organizations: Stewardship for Leading Change. Vienna: Management Concepts.
  • Kotter, J. (2001). What Leaders Really Do. Harvard Business Review , RO11F.
  • Phillips, D., & Loy, J. (2003). Character in Action: The US Coast Guard on Leadership. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.