It is possible to be too nice, too tolerant, to the point of not being good enough and maybe even being dangerous.

By Steve Moran

If you are any kind of a news junkie you know that in last couple of years the United States Navy has had two fatal ship collisions. Where it was conclusively determined that they were avoidable. These two events have left just about everyone shaking their head wondering how in the world this could happen in the US military, where there has historically been so much professionalism and competence. 

Serious Self Examination

The Navy just completed a 3-month self-assessment and the results were terrible. They did a random competency check of first tour “Officer of the Day”-qualified officers and found most were not competent. It looked like this:

  • 164 officers were evaluated

  • Only 27 passed with no concerns

  • 108 had some concerns

  • 29 had significant concerns

The issues were serious and included:

  • “Officers struggled with operating radars and the associated tools at hand, an issue that emerged in the wake of the Fitzgerald accident.”

  • “Officers had a firm grasp of the international rules of the road for navigating ships at sea, but struggled to apply them practically during watch standing, especially in low-visibility situations.”

  • “Most officers were able to keep clear of close encounters with other ships in the simulator” but those that found themselves in extremis were “often ill-equipped to take immediate action to avoid collisions” — a factor that was a direct contributor to the loss of life in both the John S. McCain and Fitzgerald collisions in 2017.”

As a result, the Navy is revamping both their training and evaluation processes.  

What About Us?

As I was reading the article I found myself wondering if we are willing and able to do that kind of brutal assessment of our competencies. Don’t get me wrong. We have not had any big incidents that have killed dozens of people in a single incident. And yet, we know stuff happens.  

What is most fascinating to me is how it got this way. I am sure it was a slow almost imperceptible acceptance of little things that were not right, but no big deal, and over time, those little things become big things.   

We have this really tough balance we need to maintain. On one hand, we know that treating team members with respect and kindness, not being harsh, makes for, at least, happier team members and we think more effective team members.  

And yet, it is possible to be too nice, too tolerant, to the point of not being good enough and maybe even being dangerous. 

For sure we need to make sure we are striking the right balance.