Take the Initiative

You know what needs to be done, do it. Start the project on your own. Take the extra assignment. Put first things first (primary job, daily tasks, urgent matters, etc.); then apply yourself — take the initiative.

The U.S. Navy is notorious for Standard Operating Procedures, Maintenance Requirement Cards, and test packages that provide step-by-step instructions. The goal is to ensure no mistakes are made, and we call it Sailor proofing. Nevertheless, I’ve witnessed a shift in expectations. In contrast, Officers and Chiefs have always been expected to contribute based on their initiative; now, everyone, down to the lowest ranking Seaman Recruit, is expected to take the initiative. I forecast the U.S. will continue toward an economy — regardless of the field, government, and private — that requires individuals to contribute and take on extra assignments based on their initiative rather than awaiting instruction.

During one of my first sea tours, I volunteered to be the Mail Petty Officer (PO). It was my first extra assignment (collateral duty) onboard. The year was 2002, and in addition to care packages, many still received personal letters. Before I took the job, many Sailors wouldn’t pick up their mail from the office, and the Mail PO didn’t routinely pick up mail from Supply on time. I took the job and delivered all of the old mail. I picked up the mail on time, and whenever I picked up new mail, I sent an email to the recipients. I loaded the email with comments ranging from casual to extreme: 

You’ve got mail.

  • The mail Gods have blessed you with mail.
  • You lucky bastards have mail; pick it up.
  • I haven’t received shit in a month, but you fuckers have mail, get yo shit out of the office.
  • (Name) hasn’t picked up his/her mail, it’s about to be trashed if not picked up by X.

The Chief Petty Officer and Lead Petty Officer (LPO, second in charge after the Chief) was Cc on all emails and often found the emails funny, and the extreme comments were intended to be. The Sailors knew when they had mail; thus, no more disappointing trips to the office only find they didn’t have mail. My performance in my primary job was excellent. Still, my performance as Mail PO influenced my Chief to select me to become the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) Coordinator. He stated my enthusiasm as Mail PO, in what he deemed my above and beyond approach to what was considered an insignificant job, assured him I was the right person. ESWS Coordinator was and still is a highly sought after collateral duty. I asked to continue as Mail PO only to be told bigger things were in store for me, and there were.

While on my first shore tour at a major staff command, I had the opportunity to serve as LPO. Unlike LPO at sea, this job required little beyond administration. I expanded the scope and duties of the job. I wasn’t asked. I wasn’t told. I just did. I took the initiative. Rewards: Sailor of the Quarter, Sailor of the Year, Navy Commendation MedalNavy Achievement Medal, advancement, and satisfaction. 

During my first Division Officer sea tour, a Wardroom Food Service Attendant (FSA) complained to me that the Education Services Officer (ESO) wasn’t providing him an opportunity to complete his college exam for his online class (the ESO is required to administer exams to prevent cheating). I looked into the FSA’s claim and found the Officer was too busy to tend to his collateral duty; I further found that he had not started a Navy College Program for Afloat Education (NCPACE) semester in over a year. I too didn’t have the time to spare on the collateral duty, but I made time by cutting back on some of my personal time. I was enlisted and understand the value of pursuing education. I took over as the ESO and revamped the education program. My favorite moment as ESO: When we offered and had max participation in the first-ever instructor-led Japanese Language class onboard (the instructor lived onboard, which is extremely rare on DDGs, and the class was worth 3 semester hours). The Japanese Language course was extremely useful to the Sailors living in Japan – 日本. I left my ship with a fully self-sustaining NCPACE program. Rewards: Only Division Officer to receive the Commendation Medal end of tour award, influence, and satisfaction.

I have more examples, but I believe you get the point. You may or may not be rewarded with awards or trophies for starting something on your own or taking the extra assignment. I can recall numerous events and situations for which I was NOT publicly acknowledged or even privately thanked for my extra efforts, and that’s ok because the best reward is job satisfaction; the rest will take care of itself. What are you waiting for?

Take the initiative.

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