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Deckplate Leadership


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My first two years in the Navy were less than productive.   As a young 18 year old, I was  loud, obnoxious, and thought many things were funny that my supervisors didn't.    On the opposite end, I was also smart, eager and enthusiastic - but I asked a lot of questions and wanted to know the “why?" of what we were doing.   This wasn't very popular with the crowd I was working for.   Most of them had grown up in the Navy during the Viet Nam War and were not used to some “punk kid" asking why.   My job was to do.   My job was to take orders.   I knew this but still wanted to know why it was we did things the way we did.   As a result of a lack of “connection" with my supervisors, I was moved around from department to department because no one wanted this “kid" to work for  them.   My morale suffered, my productivity suffered and I was on my way out of the organization.   That was until Chief Petty Officer Denny Higgins checked onboard.   Denny was a “Deckplate Leader. "  He took on the challenge of readying a young Sailor for future success.   He was sometimes tough, pushed me to my limits, and always maintained the integrity needed to secure and maintain my trust.   He was the turning point in my career and proved to be the catalyst for other successes I was able to accomplish.   Are you a deckplate leader?  Here's how to tell:

They Know Themselves

Deckplate leaders know what makes their own machine operate.   They have a clear vision of where they are going, how they fit in and what value they can provide to other people.   This isn't by chance.   Deckplate leaders objectively reflect on what has been working, what hasn't been working and how things can be improved upon.   Chief Higgins knew what made his own machine operate and he stood firm in his values.    His actions modeled integrity, confidence, and a willingness to connect as people versus supervisor and subordinate.   He had nothing to prove by barking orders, he knew who he was and it showed in all he did.

They Know Their People

Deckplate leaders aren't afraid to get dirty.   When there is a job to be done, they model the way.    When, as a Deckplate leader, you work alongside your people you get to know them.   You learn what motivates them, what inspires them, what scares them, and how their machine  operates.   More importantly, you build a covenant of trust.   A covenant that says that, no matter what, I've got your back.   Chief Higgins worked alongside me, showing how to make the most of the talents I had and pushed me to explore new possibilities.   This couldn't have been accomplished from behind a desk.   Deckplate leaders jump in with gusto, serve their team, and build that covenant.

They Know the Situation

For the division, department, or for the entire organization, Deckplate leaders know how their team fits in.   They keep the lines of communication open at all levels - letting others and their team members know the value they provide in getting the mission accomplished.   Before Chief Higgins, I went through the motions of doing what I needed to do to get the job done and operated at minimum efficiency and effectiveness.   After his arrival, I knew how what I was doing helped so many others.   That it wasn't menial work - it was important work.   My work was something that needed to be done so that others could build on it and do their part.   It motivated me to work smarter, harder, and perform at my best - each and every time.   This wasn't by chance, it was a deliberative effort on his part to connect me to my work and it worked!

Are you a Deckplate leader?  Do these three descriptions resonate with you?  No matter where we fall in the wheel of the organization, everyone can benefit from Deckplate leadership.   You don't need a fancy title, position, or office to do it.   All you need is reflective spirit, a want to serve others, and a willingness to help your team move to the next level in creativity, productivity, and engagement.   Like I said, Chief Higgins was the turning point in my career.   Without him, I wouldn't have stayed in the Navy and I wouldn't have served others in the capacity that I did.   Don't hesitate on being a Deckplate leader, there is someone out there counting on you to step up today.

Chip Lutz is a professional speaker, trainer, and retired Navy Officer with 22 years leadership experience. He speaks and trains on the power of positive leadership and the infusion of humor in the workplace to increase morale, productivity, and teamwork. He served as Commanding Officer of two separate Navy Facilities and was the Director of Security for Naval District Washington, DC during September 11th, 2001. Additionally, he is adjunct faculty for two colleges where he teaches classes in leadership, teamwork, and organizational behavior. Find our more about his work at or email him at to be put on his weekly newsletter distribution.


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