People were important to Clark but it must be said that it was not at the expense of accomplishing his mission. Clark expected the US Navy to be the world’s best navy and anything less was unacceptable. He emphasized continuous improvement and held out a vision of the 21st Century Navy being “strategically and operationally agile, technologically and organizationally innovative, networked at every level, highly joint (with the other services), and effectively integrated with allies.” He encouraged everyone to “challenge every assumption,” "be data driven," and to "drill down" into the details. He asked everyone to "have a sense of urgency to make the Navy better every day," to deliver greater efficiencies and readiness for the dollars America has to invest in the Navy.
In addition to continuously improving the Navy, Clark expected continuous improvement on a personal basis. He requiring everyone to have a personal development plan and he increased the training budget to support personal and professional growth. To make his point about how much he valued growth and continuous improvement, Clark liked to say, “if you are not growing, you’re dead.”
Clark kept sailors focused on the importance of their mission and the promises they make to one another that are necessary to accomplish their mission. He said “what we do matters…we are committed to something larger than ourselves: the protection of America's interests and democracy.” He praised sailors for “serving a cause greater than self.” He reminded Naval leaders that sailors pledged to support and defend the US Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, and that leaders needed to make promises in return to the sailors under their command. Such promises included helping sailors “make their service matter” and giving them the training and resources required to do their jobs.
There is much to be learned from Admiral Vern Clark’s example. Federal government employees also serve a cause greater than self. Leaders need to set high performance standards and provide the resources and training necessary for federal government employees to make our government better every day and help the employees they are responsible for leading to continuously learn and grow.
I would encourage federal government leaders to read Clark’s speeches at this link. My hope is that the Obama Administration and its appointees will, like Admiral Vern Clark, tap into the genius of people in Federal government to have an unprecedented positive impact on America.