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Leadership Dilemmas: What to Do with Captain Honors?

If you watch the news, you’ve heard about Navy Captain Owen Honors. You can read about his story in the Op/Ed section of USA Today.

Today, thousands of sailors, former sailors and others are rallying to the defense of Capt. Honors, the fired commander of the USS Enterprise, arguing that he is an excellent leader — a top chief sacrificed on the altar of political correctness because some thin-skinned folks were offended by videos he used to inspire his crew.

There’s no doubt that Honors inspires fierce loyalty. But the image the ex-captain puts forth in the videos, made when he was second in command, hardly merits it. If you didn’t know the man’s job, you might assume that he was the class clown, indifferent to the juvenile image he projects or to the consequences of his actions. Once public, such an embarrassment would earn firing, demotion or transfer in almost any context.

Here is the dilemma.

Fact: Honors is an effective leader; the kind any fleet would want in the middle of a battle at sea. It takes several years to build such an excellent military leader.

Fact: Honors made some stupid mistakes, making these videos. To do nothing about it would send the wrong signals from the U.S. Navy.

What is the proper leadership the Navy must demonstrate? Should they handle him the way Eisenhower handled Patton when he did something politically incorrect? Fire him, then sometime later — give him a new position? Or do they re-instate him immediately, because we need such leaders? Or do they make an example of him?

I want to hear your thoughts.



  1. K Soss on February 11, 2011 at 8:04 am

    “But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” Nehemiah 9:31
    Isn’t this the example we are to be setting as Christ followers?

  2. Craig T. Owens on February 11, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I like your analogy to Eisenhower/Patton. I think the way Ike handled Patton’s indiscretions is a good lesson on how the US Navy should handle honors. There should be a consequence that affects Honors, but doesn’t permanently hinder our sailors.

  3. Tamara Gordon on February 11, 2011 at 10:43 am

    The best kind of leaders motivate people not just to do something but to be something. Capt. Honors may be very effective in leading these men to do well, but leading them in their character will be what lasts and what triggers the best decisions in the darkest moments. I’m not a soldier; I’m a mom. However, I hope these things are true throughout life.

  4. Carlos on February 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Having been an effective leader, the best solution is for him to continue his leadership through the dark waters of making mistakes (that go public) and self leadership. How he handles the situation in front of those he’s called to lead, will show deep humility and impart wisdom to those he leads. By just removing him, those under his leadership are deprived of learning how to ‘fail forward’ and it reinforces more of a ‘one strike and you’re out’ mindset that can be debilitating to young up and coming leaders.

  5. tim on February 12, 2011 at 9:13 am

    I like the comment by carlos to “fail forward.” There is no doubt the navy should address this situation and discipline Honors. However, this is a great opportunity for Captain Honors to display to his men how he is going to handle this situation. By “failing forward” he has an opportunity to make an even bigger impact on his men and to provide an example of humbleness, humility, and forgiveness. I couldnt help but think of the Oversized Gift in Habitudes #1.

  6. Charles Flemming on February 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Sentence him to the Pentagon or to a planning/staff backwater or training command. Then, when he demonstrates readiness, bring him back.

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Leadership Dilemmas: What to Do with Captain Honors?