Leadership Year: Serving People, Serves Mission

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced the DHS Leadership Year on October 1, a yearlong effort (FY18) to promote a culture of leadership excellence and highlight the importance of leadership at all levels. As part of the initiative, the Office of Leadership (CG-12C) will highlight leadership opportunities available, give the fleet tools and resources to support leaders/supervisors in effectively managing performance, and continue the leadership dialogue.

Seaman Cory J. Hoffman and Seaman Apprentice David A. Deere griped a buoy down to the deck of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay in western Lake Erie, Nov. 12, 2007. This buoy is equipped with a bell that gives a sound signal mariners can navigate by even if a thick fog hides the buoy itself. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class William B. Mitchell.

To continue the leadership dialogue, the Office of Leadership (CG-12C) will post stories from the fleet every other month highlighting a DHS Leadership Year quarterly theme. The first quarter has been designated “Serving People, Serves Mission.” Below, Lt. Cory Hoffman shares his experience with servant leadership as a non-rate aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay.

Lt. Cory Hoffman (left) with his team at his current unit, MSST San Francisco.

“While in Cape May, I received my first orders … I was going to the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, a tug and barge homeported in Detroit. To say that my expectations were low is an understatement.

As a deck seaman, I was assigned as a buoy deck rigger and Aids to Navigation (ATON) technician, which meant I worked with other crew members to place and pull out buoys along the waterway, and repair as necessary. It was a demanding job that required long days of manual labor.

I was assigned to the berthing area below the deck in the barge. It was a tiny space shared with six other non-rates. The quarters were so tight that we could not all exit our rack at the same time, not to mention the odors. Needless to say, my first orders were not what I had imagined when I walked into the recruiting office. But as I settled into my new home, the crew became my new family, and I began to see how I contributed to the greater mission of the Coast Guard.

The Bristol Bay crew never took themselves too seriously, but they did take pride in their work. We referred to our unit as the “Workhorse of the Lakes.” There was a sense of satisfaction that came after a long day, being physically exhausted, and seeing a lighted navigation channel marked perfectly. I began to understand the importance of our work and our contribution to every vessel on that waterway.

Looking back on my 14 years of service, I now realize the Bristol Bay crew was my first experience with servant leadership. Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership and said, “the servant-leader is servant first … it begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first … caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other.”

The Bristol Bay crew embodied this philosophy. We looked forward to going to work each day, and we found reasons to celebrate everything (a fairly normal thing I have found for black-hull sailors).

Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Hanson, then commanding officer of the Bristol Bay, holds baby Josie.

One example while underway on Lake Superior: I was notified that my wife was having some medical complications as her due date neared. Without delay, the command granted me emergency leave, and unknown to me, the crew collected enough cash to pay for my trip home. My wife delivered a beautiful baby girl, and a few months later my little girl came aboard the Bristol Bay to meet my extended family.

The ship’s command and chief’s mess made sure our collective successes, promotions, and life milestones were recognized and celebrated. They understood that serving people, whether it was the crew or mariners, serves the mission.”

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