Leadership Proficiency -- by Tom Atkin, RADM, USCG (Ret.)

In the last newsletter, we had the honor to hear from CMC Darrick Dewitt on what it means to be a “proficient” Tactical Law Enforcement operator. It was not surprising that Master Chief Dewitt’s article “nailed it” in terms of understanding the areas required to improve proficiency. It is not just a notion of simply being “qualified” but rather getting to where we embody all aspects of what it means to be a Coast Guard tactical law enforcement operator 24/7.

As Master Chief Dewitt mentioned, it is more than just knowledge and experience, it is “attitude, character and most importantly leadership.” The concepts of leadership have a broad application across all ranks and rates…from the most junior to the most senior – ac-tive, reserve, and retired. We all have an obligation to lead despite the level of our subject matter expertise. Remember that leadership is not just about being out front, it is also about listening and following…a good leader knows the right time for each.

The simple act of leading from the front is really about demonstrating the attitude and character that others want to emulate. Every team needs a leader, someone they can proud of and brag about. There are those that lead through positional power, those that lead through personal power and those that use a combination of both to lead the team.

Leading from the front involves being the first to meetings and formation, having a sharp uniform and haircut, being professional and courteous, and pushing hard in PT. This attitude is a basic of military leadership. If you are the last one to formation, are being reminded by your Chief to shave, or are not giving your all during PT, you are not leading. There should never be an excuse to be negligent in any of these areas.

You don’t have to be the best in every aspect, but you should be committed to doing your best in everything you do. Those mem-bers of your team will see your commitment as a demonstration of your character and devotion to duty.

Another aspect of leadership is recognition and accountability – simple terms with far reaching definitions for a leader. It is reward-ing positive behavior and results while holding people accountable for actions that are inappropriate, unethical, illegal, immoral or just wrong. To call someone out (good or bad) requires you to know the details of our profession, that means knowing and follow-ing the policies, tactics, techniques, and procedures laid out in manuals, instructions and publications.

Positive recognition is the more desired course for any leader. Sounds pretty simple, see positive behavior or results and reward the member…unfortunately it does not happen enough. Leaders make the time to recognize others, it is an imperative.

Accountability is more difficult and unpleasant…it is not easy but it is a requirement. Whether it is a subordinate, peer or senior we have an obligation to hold each other accountable in an open, fair and honest way. However a leader must realize that with accountability comes “second-chances”…the opportunity to correct behavior and improve.

No leader should engage in a unilateral decision making process. Sure, there are some urgent tactical decisions that do not always provide the time to consult with your team; however most decisions can be reached through a deliberative process. Take advantage of time and incorporate the ideas and input of your team. Get the team together to discuss the problem and ways to improve it. People that have the opportunity to have their input heard will more likely consider themselves as owners of the decision and will execute that decision in a more committed fashion.

As leaders of the Tactical Law Enforcement Community and the Coast Guard, we must understand the strategic views and positions of the Coast Guard, the Department and our Nation. The idea of developing “strategic thought” begins with an understanding of the tradecraft (proficiency) and carries over into gaining tactical and operational experiences. Understanding and appreciating the stra-tegic perspective will make you a better operator. Your ability to think strategically and gain field level expertise and leadership experiences will enable you to understand and influence change at the higher levels of our organization. Some simple ways so broaden your strategic perspective and improve your leadership skills include:

  • Challenge yourself with your career assignments that broaden your experiences and leadership opportunities;
  • Look for opportunities to work outside the Coast Guard and gain insight into other organizations;
  • Visit other Coast Guard commands including Sector and District command centers;
  • Engage in professional conversations with subordinates, peers and seniors on how your team and your unit fit in the strategic direction;
  • Find opportunities to write – unit policy, articles, white papers; and
  • Read, read, and read some more.

This was not meant to be a definitive discussion on leadership but rather a jumping off point for each of you to grow and learn – to be more proficient. Some final areas to think about as a leader:

  • Complacency - do not let this sink into anything you do.
  • Truth to Power – speak honestly to seniors about challenges and requirements.
  • Loyalty - do not let this get in the way of accountability.
  • Common Practice - this is only acceptable if it is consistent with policy and TTP.
  • Risk - is acceptable and should be encouraged when appropriate.
  • Initiative - accept and encourage pushing new ideas forward to improve.

The CGTLEA and this newsletter provide a forum for us to discuss our profession. I’m proud to be a CGTLEA member and appreciate the Association’s impressive work on be-half of our community. Although retired, I look forward to hearing about the DSFs and encourage you to continue the professional discussion to improve our community and enhance our brotherhood.

Thank You.