As vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Bill Owens was the second-highest-ranking military officer in the United States. But before he took that job, he aced a tough assignment in downsizing the U.S. Navy during the early 1990s.
Owens was assigned to reorganize the Navy for a post-Cold War world. In making drastic cuts to the defense budget, he decommissioned roughly half of the Navy over a two-year period.
Now 75, Owens knew he needed to make hard decisions to cut naval operations. He emphasized that his job was to prepare the Navy to thrive with new technologies and streamlined systems. To show that he didn’t play favorites, the former submarine commander authorized cuts that hit close to home.
“My own submarine force took a much bigger hit than the Army, Marine Corps or the rest of the Navy,” he says.
From his experience serving in nuclear submarines for almost 20 years, Owens learned the importance of. When he commanded a group of over 40 subs, he noticed that whenever a captain left a sub and a new one took charge, the attitude and behavior of the crew changed.
“The tone that is set at the top is enormously important,” he concludes.
He also found that he had to act boldly. His earlier participation in a Navy program, the Strategic Studies Group, gave him exposure to wide-ranging military operations around the world. Observing the most successful units, he realized that true change only comes from making decisive, revolutionary moves.
— Adapted from “Leadership Lessons,” www.leadersmag.com.