The United States Coast Guard is one of the five military services of the United States. The Coast Guard is, by far, the smallest of the five services – which also includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps – with just 39,000 active duty military members, some 8,000 reserve military members, and just 7,000 civilian employees. The Coast Guard traces its roots back to the early days of the Nation to the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service in 1790. Today, the Coast Guard is on the front lines in the protection of the United States as the maritime component of the Department of Homeland Security. The Coast Guard's missions are diverse and include maritime search & rescue, marine environmental protection, and national defense; the Coast Guard's eleven mission areas all revolve around the maritime environment. As the Coast Guard's fact file tells us,
Its core roles are to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic and security interests in any maritime region in which those interests may be at risk, including international waters and America's coasts, ports, and inland waterways....The Coast Guard provides unique benefits to the nation because of its distinctive blend of military, humanitarian, and civilian law-enforcement capabilities.While the Coast Guard faces many challenges, one of the key internal challenges identified over the last several years is leadership development. Within the last decade, the Coast Guard has established a Leadership Development Center housed on the campus of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The Leadership Development Center is responsible for providing leadership development to all “Team Coast Guard” members: every military member and every civilian employee. The Coast Guard has generally approached leadership from a perspective of “situational leadership,” at least in providing leadership development training to military members and civilian employees. The Leadership Development Center, until recently, has taught Ken Blanchard's Situational Leadership II model; due to a copyright infringement, the Coast Guard has moved to another, but similar model which still provides a situational approach. The Leadership Development Center ensures that all courses, whether taught to cadets or officer candidates, to students in basic and technical training, to mid-level personnel through “road show” training sessions, or to more senior personnel at longer classes at the Leadership Development Center, receive leadership content which is in alignment throughout so that members and employees in the Service can all “speak the same language.” In addition to the situational approach to leadership, the Coast Guard uses a competency-based approach. The service has identified 29 leadership competencies necessary for Coast Guard leaders, including military members and civilian employees, which can be grouped into four clusters: leading self, leading others, leading performance & change, and leading the Coast Guard. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2004b)
Beyond the Leadership Development Center, the Coast Guard just recently created a leadership institute at the Coast Guard Academy, not as a part of the Leadership Development Center but, rather, as a part of the academic departments for undergraduate, cadet education. Within the last six months, the Commandant of the Coast Guard – the Service's senior officer, reporting directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security – approved a recommendation by the staff of the Leadership Development Center to institute a Coast Guard-wide, web-based, leadership development program. Contrary to the staff's initial recommendations to have this program offered as an optional, adjunct initiative, the Commandant decided that, to ensure deployment throughout all of the Coast Guard, he would mandate the program. Announced just several months ago, the program became mandatory for all Coast Guard units at the start of June 2005.
The Unit Leadership Development Program is composed of three main parts. A primary component is the program's website, found at http://learning.uscg.mil/uldp. A conscious decision was made to place this site on the Intranet, accessible to anyone on the World Wide Web, rather than on the Coast Guard's own Intranet, accessible only inside the Coast Guard Data Network. The website has two primary parts: a listing of leadership interventions for each of the Coast Guard's leadership Competencies, and an assessment tool which unit leaders can deploy electronically to receive feedback on members' and employees' perceptions on the overall deployment of the leadership competencies within the unit. A second primary component of the Unit Leadership Program is a corps of “coaches” who assist unit leaders in deploying the Program. These coaches are based throughout the nation and coordinated by regional “coach coordinators.” Coaches include performance consultants, who in their normal world of work focus on leadership and management issues and who programmatically fall under the Leadership Development Center, and command master chiefs, senior enlisted members who are designated advisors to flag officers and serve as advocates for the enlisted force. The third primary component is the Leadership Development Center staff who support the entire program including web site maintenance and coach training.
The Coast Guard's Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic, based in Norfolk, Virginia, is responsible for a wide range of maintenance and logistics services at all Coast Guard units east of the Rockies. While the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic community has more than 4000 military members and civilian employees spread throughout 40 states, more than 450 personnel are located at the staff in Norfolk. These personnel include program managers, as well as direct service providers, in the fields of administration, law, naval engineering, civil engineering, electronic engineering, health & safety services, and logistics. The staff's home is a modern office building in downtown Norfolk where they moved in 1996 following the closure of Governor's Island in New York City. The staff occupies seven floors of this tower in the heart of downtown. Roughly half the employees are civilian employees, and half are military members. A challenge for the Maintenance & Logistics Command staff is the deployment of the Unit Leadership Development Program. While it is easy to define the staff, it is not so easy to get them all on page; all-hands sessions are cumbersome while division meetings are both sometimes too large and also too unique for adequate standardization. A mid-grade staff member, Kathy Nash – who happens to be a doctoral graduate of the Fischler School of Education and Human Services – has been designated as the project officer for the deployment of the Unit Leadership Development Program for the entire staff. Her primary function is the Training and Education Officer for the staff. She has tapped the performance consultant detailed to the staff to provide counsel; this consultant serves as the coach coordinator for the mid-Atlantic region and is, coincidently, a current student at the Fischler School.
At all levels of the Coast Guard, and at every unit of the Coast Guard, there is an acknowledgment that every military member and every civilian employee is different. Leadership development must be crafted for the individual. Certainly, there are universals, skills and knowledge that applies across the board, but in developing each leader, the Service cannot take a cookie-cutter approach. Development of the individual can truly only be created one person at a time. (Rossicone, n.d., p. 1)
Nash's task is simple to define, but not so simple to implement. The Commandant's direction is three-fold. All units must complete a “command assessment” every six to nine months. Each command is to then review the results of that assessment. Following the review, each command is to develop an action plan to specify the unit's senior leaders' direction and initiatives to bridge the gaps within specific leadership competencies. These expectations are similar to other Coast Guard initiatives including implementing a leadership and management framework based on the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This direction for the Unit Leadership Development Program is, however, focused on the leadership competencies. Interestingly, while the program's website has a computer-aided assessment tool, that tool is not mandated in the Commandant's direction. Many units have for the last several years been using either a regular assessment tool taken from Buckingham & Coffman's research with Gallop – using an assessment tool commonly referred to at the “Q-12” – or an assessment tool developed by the Office of Personnel Management which measures similar items but with questions in the public domain; this tool is referred by many to as the “Crew-11.” The assessment included with the Unit Leadership Development Program, sometimes referred to as the “ULDP-36,” was developed using questions from the Crew-11, a Baldrige-based assessment called “Are We Making Progress,” and other questions which provide organizational data based on the leadership competencies.
The task for the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic staff is to implement the mandated program and at least minimally meeting the three required taskers. More broadly, the task is to increase the level of leadership competencies for all members of the staff.
In implementing the Commandant's mandates Unit Leadership Development Program, the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic staff will work to satisfy four things. The first goal is the staff-wide assessment using a single tool which allows for analysis by leadership competencies. The second goal is the completion of an analysis of the assessment results. The third goal is the development of an action plan to provide specific initiatives to the staff. The fourth goal is to raise the level of leadership competency throughout the staff.
One of the issues with the first goal is deciding what assessment tool to use. The ULDP-36 tool, while easy to set up and administer, does not provide the ability to collect any demographic information. It is possible to set up several assessment sites and provide the unique Uniform Resource Locator (URL) to different segments of employees. However, the data would be segmented in large chunks; certainly smaller chunks than providing a single URL to the entire command, but large chunks nonetheless. Fairly easily, the staff could be broken down to civilian employees and military members, or men and women; using the current ULDP-36 tool, however, there would be no way to segment military women in one cut and minority civilian employees in another cut. The point here is that the ULDP-36 tool provides no demographic information allowing for analysis. While this may be satisfactory in a small Coast Guard unit of a dozen or two dozen members and employees, it is likely not satisfactory for a large staff with 450 military members and civilian employees. A second issue with the ULDP-36 is that with its current format, the results are not kept for tracking purposes. When a unit starts the second assessment, the data from the first assessment is cleared from the database. The only way to maintain assessment results for tracking is to print a hard copy of the report. The report, however, only provides the score for each specific leadership competency based on a formula taking into account the arithmetic means of questions associated with that particular competency. The tool does not allow to drill down to the specific question; nor does it allow for an analysis based on the mode of responses for a particular question in the ULDP-36. A third issue with the ULDP-36 is that the assessment instrument, while it uses some questions from assessment tools currently used by Coast Guard units, it does not use all the questions from any single tool. Units which have used the Crew-11 and have been tracking trends using this tool, will not be able to convert to the ULDP-36 and continue tracking all questions and results; units will either need to drop current assessment tool data and transition to the ULDP-36, create their own assessment tool based on two or more current assessment tools, or use a tool other than the ULDP-36 and analyze that data through the prism of the leadership competencies.
In a unit the size of the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic, being able to segment responses during the analysis is paramount. Data from 450 individuals, without being able to determine statistically significant differences between key segments of employees and members, will not serve the leaders well. In addition, the staff has more than five years of trend data which has been analyzed and acted on; moving to a new tool will push that work and that initiative through the scupper, making it disappear for good. A possible solution is for the staff to add certain questions to the current tool which is used, questions which allow for analysis through the leadership competencies paradigm. The Leadership Development Center can provide information on how each of the 36 questions relates to each leadership competency so that a valid assessment tool can be developed.
One of the strengths with the Unit Leadership Development Program is the library of interventions. For each leadership competency, the Leadership Development Center has identified interventions which would help build up that particular competency. Most of the interventions are in the public domain and can be assessed by anyone on the Unit Leadership Development Program's website. Some of the interventions are copyrighted material for which the Coast Guard has purchased a license. For those materials, only registered Coast Guard users – usually the designated unit point-of-contact – may access the materials. While most of the interventions are training interventions, usually short hour or two sessions, the Leadership Development Center is working to create interventions which are not training-based, such as proven practices. Many of the training-based interventions involve discussions or exercises around books or movies; some interventions are video productions from firms such as CRM Learning, a video-training firm which develops films for business and government settings. Development of non-training interventions is an acknowledgment that learning doesn't just happen in a training or education environment; learning can happen in nearly every setting. (Banks, n.d., p. 2)
All interventions should be tied to a specific leadership competency or set of competencies. The mode of delivery is difficult since the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic staff is large and diverse. Interventions which might work in a smaller command – such as all hands-meetings or brown bag learning lunch sessions – are difficult in a larger command such as the staff. They're difficult if the goal is to reach every employee and member; the staff has too many personnel to provide those sorts of interventions and expect to reach every staff member. November (n.d.) would suggest the use of electronics, such as the Internet, to deliver content to a wide variety of employees. Using some form of electronic delivery would help ensure consistency of message, but it would not delivery personalized content to participants.
Another program in wide-spread use throughout the Coast Guard is the use of the Individual Development Plan. Individual Development Plans are Commandant-required for junior service members; some commands use them for every military member and civilian employee. The Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic staff uses Individual Development Plans throughout the staff. While not required, most staff members have Individual Development Plans; the plans help align individual desires with organizational needs. Supervisors review and approve plans for individual members and employees; approved plans help align resources to specific initiatives as defined in the plan. For instance, a collateral duty Equal Employment Opportunity counselor might want to develop mediation skills; once listed on an approved Individual Development Plan, the organization can move resources to help the employee attain that shared goal.
One possibility for the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic staff would be to mandate the use of Individual Development Plans for all personnel, and to ensure that each plan has a leadership development section, allowing each employee to focus part of their development on specified leadership competencies. With a staff-wide use of Individual Development Plans, the organization could then provide a menu of opportunities for leadership development, such as the brown bag learning lunches, which are targeted in nature and would appeal to a targeted group.
In order to accomplish this, a menu of options would have to be available to all staff members. Johnson & Johnson (n.d., p. 10) suggest that partnerships are critical; partnerships bring disparate people together for a common purpose. The common purpose here would be to provide variety and diverse opportunities for leadership development throughout the building and for all staff members. The ideal set of options would be created in partnership between key staff members and leaders from every division and every floor. Some possibilities include monthly leadership videos, off-the-shelf courses of various lengths including the Coast Guard's own 5-day Team Leader & Facilitator course and FranklinCovey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. A centralized calendar could be maintained whereby anyone could offer to sponsor an event intervention as listed at the Unit Leadership Development Program web site's resource listing.
The deployment of the Unit Leadership Development Program at the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic staff can be assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Qualitatively, the training staff can track the trends in the assessments used for the Unit Leadership Development Program rollout. Once a single, reliable, and valid assessment tool is chose, the staff can track progress over time. A second qualitative approach, which should not be used alone, would count the number of interventions scheduled, completed, and attendees. In addition, the staff should assess against the mandated activities: completion of the command assessment, analysis of the assessment results, and the completion of an action plan. Qualitatively, the staff could interview random staff members throughout the building to gather qualitative comments and reflections on the leadership development program and it's effectiveness and impact.
The assessment should be spearheaded by the staff Training and Education Officer, as she is responsible not only for the deployment of the program but also other similar assessment initiatives. Ideally Dr. Nash would use her collateral staff as well as tapping into readily available consultant services.
Certainly, the deployment of the Unit Leadership Development Program is, in some form or another, not only feasible; it is required. If the senior leadership of the Maintenance & Logistics Command Atlantic truly wants to succeed at leadership development, one method of bringing this initiative into the forefront, as well as ensuring tracking over time, would be to add the Unit Leadership Development Program to the organization's strategic plan. (U.S. Coast Guard, 2004a). Adding a leadership development component would ensure that senior leaders keep a focus on the initiative and track the progress over time, making organization-wide decisions based on the ongoing assessment of the program. This aligns with Schlechty's (n.d.) recommendations that change comes about when senior leaders create, build, and maintain vision and focus. By placing the leadership program in the organizational strategic plan, the leaders are putting focus on what they determine to be important: creating leaders for today and tomorrow's Coast Guard.
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