As a watch officer on a submarine, I got to “drive the boat.” During my six-hour watch (shift), I led the team that charted course, controlled direction and depth, coordinated atmosphere controls, and a number of other activities.
A submarine at sea never sleeps. There was always someone on watch both before and after me.
When I took the watch, I reviewed logs, looked at instrument settings, and discussed with my predecessor what happened during his watch. We then looked over the Night Orders to see what the Captain wanted my team to accomplish during my watch.
During my watch, I consulted with the Quartermaster (he tracks position and course), the Diving Officer (he controls direction and depth), the Chief of the Watch (he controls many systems), and others. It was exciting, tiring, interesting, frustrating, scary, and fun. And, it taught me a whole lot about how to work with a team.
The Quartermaster and I spoke about our position and our intended course. We used a chart that showed where we were and where we were going.
The Diving Officer told me what he observed in the way the submarine handled. We talked about trimming the boat and course and depth corrections.
The Chief of the Watch told me what he saw in the systems he monitored. With his help, I made decisions and gave instructions about announcements to the crew, changes in system settings, and other watch management issues.
At the end of my watch, I had a conversation with the person relieving me that was similar to one I had with the person I had relieved earlier.
In reflecting on those many conversations that led to hundreds of decisions, I see a common thread running through all of them that illustrates a powerful concept for leaders.
Once you know where you are; chart a course for where you want to go, and keep moving forward.
We might take a moment to figure out how we got where we were, but we didn’t focus on that. Every conversation quickly turned to the future: where are we going, what do we want it to be, etc.
We were all different: college boys, college dropouts, farm boys, inner city boys, high school honor students, and high school trouble-makers. We were a team of people from nearly every state, educational background, and race.
We did not care where we had been; we only cared where we were going. That common focus on the future drove us together so that we could get past our many differences and work together productively.