74th Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter, an Engineering professor at the University of Michigan, and Michael Barger, Business professor and executive director in the Office of Strategy and Academic Innovation, discussed military leadership skills within business and policy Wednesday afternoon in Robertson Auditorium. The event was hosted by the Ford School of Public Policy, Ross School of Business and Michigan College of Engineering. 

The event took place during National Veterans Awareness Week. In his opening remarks, Winter discussed authority, responsibility and accountability. 

“Of all of the things that I’ve been involved with, putting aside the issues associated with being in charge of a military organization at the time of war and dealing with the casualties of combat, the next most significant thing that I dealt with had to do with accidents,” Winter said.

Winter applied accountability structures he learned in the Navy to business and policy situations. In the Navy, he said the commanding officer is always held responsible for decision-making.

“I am a very strong believer in the strict concept of accountability,” Winter said. “The commanding officer has to be held accountable from the moment they say ‘I am in command.’” 

Barger, who also served in the Navy as an officer, pilot educator and chief instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School, said accountability systems are critical because crises are inevitable.

“My military experience taught me and my business experience validated that crises are no longer ‘ifs,’ they’re ‘whens,’” Barger said.

Winter said his goal is to help his students avoid the situations he found himself in as secretary of the Navy.

“I find that all too often matters associated with safety are taught with a little bit more of an academic and analytical perspective than is appropriate,” Winter said.

Barger teaches a crisis leadership class, Management and Organization 611, to give graduate students experience with unexpected situations.

“Students don’t have much of an opportunity to immerse themselves in a crisis environment and feel what it actually feels like to a leader to have to deal with the kind of things that the Secretary was talking about today,” Barger said.

Business sophomore Dolan Dworak told The Daily he could apply Winter’s accountability lessons to future work in business.

“A lot of what he talked about was preventing a disaster before it happens and putting yourself in the best place to take care of it when it inevitably does,” Dworak said. “In business I think that’s a very powerful and profound thing.”  

Winter explained the military accountability structure does not always lead to the same disciplinary actions.

“How that accountability is used needs to be tailored to the severity of the event, the potential for use of that as a learning experience,” Winter said.

Winter also explained culture plays a critical role in decision making practices, because a company cannot plan for crises.

“Culture is what you do when nobody tells you what to do,” Winter said.  

He suggested positive reinforcement for smart decision making in crisis situations — even if a person does not adhere directly to policy — builds a productive culture.

 “The way that you get the culture that you want is basically by rewarding people for doing the right thing,” Winter said. 

Winter closed by emphasizing the rarity and importance of conversations including representatives from multiple colleges at the University of Michigan.

 “One of the values here is getting a diverse conversation going. Not just people that are coming to the problem from an engineering perspective or a military perspective, but looking at it from a managing perspective or policy perspective,” Winter said.

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