At the age of 38, Scott Waddle was selected to become the Commanding Officer of USS Greeneville (SSN 772) an improved Los Angeles Class Fast Attack submarine in Pearl Harbor Hawaii. He was selected from a highly competitive field of specially trained and exceptionally skilled naval officers. The challenges Commander Waddle faced were staggering with extremely low morale and unacceptably high turnover.
Few thought that this ship could improve, but Commander Waddle only became more resolved. The solution was a system of beliefs that Commander Waddle calls “Deck Plate Leadership”- a process of replacing command and control with commitment and cohesion, by engaging the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers – a belief that Scott achieves with conviction and humility.
By every measure, these principles were able to achieve breakthrough results. Personnel turnover decreased to an unprecedented 3%. The rate of military promotions tripled, and operating expenses were slashed by 25%. The USS Greeneville became regarded as the finest boat in the Pacific Fleet.
The ultimate test for Commander Waddle and his shipmates followed a tragic accident when the Greeneville (while at sea for a distinguished visitors day cruise) performed an emergency surface maneuver and collided with the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru sinking the vessel in three minutes and killing nine onboard.
The story of the collision made global headlines and was the subject of heated discussion and debate. What followed however was even more unprecedented. Scott Waddle, as the former Commanding Officer, took sole responsibility for his actions and the actions of his crew. He took the stand during the Navy’s Court of Inquiry and testified without immunity knowing his words could be used against him in a Courts Martial.
In a time where CEO’s and corporate executives have been quick to blame others within their organizations for their shortcomings and failures, Scott Waddle demonstrated uncommon strength of character, integrity and uncompromising ethical conduct in accepting responsibility for the actions of his crew.
In the aftermath of the ordeal Commander Waddle delivers a powerful message that “Failure Need Not Be Final” and tells us “That there are no failures in life…only mistakes and from these mistakes…lessons.”
Scott Waddle’s book, The Right Thing, is a fascinating tale of success and lessons for anyone trying to navigate today’s uncertain business seas where lessons are abundant. Commander Waddle, through his candid and direct delivery, connects with the audience and delivers a powerful message that is worthy of reflection.