The Cream Still Rises

Too often I have seen the wrong people ascend to the top of an organization. By wrong, I mean charismatic but inept, valuing results over integrity,

VAdm Bill Gortney, 'Shortney'

VAdm Bill Gortney, 'Shortney'

favored by seniors but held in contempt by peers, and all too often administratively fluent but operationally bankrupt.

The past week has put two names on the front pages that are truly deserving of their ascendancy to leadership in a large organization. I am lucky enough to count them both primarily as friends and secondly as former colleagues.

 Having been a card carrying member of Corporate America for more than 25 years I must admit to having become jaded when it comes to the subjects of merit, promotions, and personality types that are chosen to lead. Too often I have seen the wrong people ascend to the top of an organization. By wrong, I mean charismatic but inept, valuing results over integrity, favored by seniors but held in contempt by peers, and all too often administratively fluent but operationally bankrupt. One of the biggest assets any leader can have when entering a job is a wide ranging, healthy reputation that precedes him or her.

The past week has put two names on the front pages that are truly deserving of their ascendancy to leadership in a large organization. I am lucky enough to count them both primarily as friends and secondly as former colleagues.

Back in the day, I knew them as ‘Shortney’ and ‘Twig’, but only a few call them that now. Today they are called Vice Admiral Bill Gortney and Rear Admiral Ted Branch. Both Naval Officers are high profile agents in the Somali piracy issue.

Why would BasicMan point these two out? Their service deserves it. And frankly, the Navy deserves a lot of credit for assessing talent, aptitude, and leadership qualities by grooming these two characters to the point where they represent you and me in world affairs.  Captain Richard Phillips is fortunate to have had Gortney in his corner last week.  

In the late 80’s the Navy had a real leadership problem following the infamous Tailhook Convention fiasco. Many young, dynamic, up and coming leaders were purged unnecessarily from the officer ranks, others became disparaged with the perceived post-tailhook leadership paralysis, and too many of those that stayed around to assume new leadership roles left much to be desired in terms of character and personality traits that hard charging officer and enlisted  personnel look for in their commanders.

Bill Gortney and Ted Branch were two that stuck it out through those dark days.  The Navy and our national defense effort is better off because of it.

Rear Admiral Ted Branch, 'Twig'

RAdm Ted Branch, 'Twig'

Few people outside of military circles truly understand the sacrifice a career Navy person and their family makes. It is safe to assume that Gortney and Branch have spent as much time away from their families on the nations’ behalf as they have with them over the course of their 30+ year careers.

One of the things that BasicMan loves to see is exemplary leadership whether it be in business, politics, athletics, or simply in life itself. What makes this post so enjoyable to write is that these two naval leaders are really good at what they do from the perspectives of those senior and junior to them. They are ‘salt of the earth’ warriors that are more comfortable having sliders in the Chief Petty Officer’s Mess aboard an aircraft carrier than they are having a filet mignon at The Mayflower while trying to educate a politician on some issue. The Pentagon loves them because they consistently produce positive results. Their sailors love them because these leaders acknowledge and take care of their subordinates first.

Did Admirals’ Gortney and Branch actually have to walk on water to get to where they are today? No, and I have the laughable testimony from our days as junior officers to prove otherwise. But that is what has endeared them to not only their peers, but to anyone that has worked for, and with them. Sure, they made their mark with hard work, sacrifice, and integrity but by retaining a sense of humor, not being afraid to take a stand on issues, and considering the human element in their decisions made them leaders worthy of attention.  They are disciplined, loyal, and respectful of the positions they hold. Corporate America would do well to research what makes these two men tick and find a way to model it in their own environment.

Well done, ‘Shortney’ and ‘Twig’.  It’s good to see the cream still rises to the top every so often.

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