How to Address Your Concerns Using the Chain of Leadership
By CAPT Barry P. Smith, USCG
Chief Director of Auxiliary
"This article was written in 2006 by CAPT Barry Smith, USCG (retired), while serving as the Chief Director of the Auxiliary (2004-2008). CAPT Smith's advice on how to resolve concerns with your Chain Of Leadership are timeless and still relevant."
Whether you’ve been in the Auxiliary for years or are new to the organization eventually you will have a question, concern, or idea you would like addressed. Hopefully, when you first entered the Auxiliary you received training on the proper way to obtain appropriate answers. As a new Auxiliarist myself, I recently received this training and I wanted to share with you some helpful information that may assist you in getting your questions answered expeditiously.
Most of the questions you might have are simple and can be answered by flotilla members. Sometimes, a question comes up that isn’t easily answered and requires additional effort to find the answer. Who is the correct person to answer your question? What do you do if your question goes unanswered, or the question is not answered completely? If it is a contentious or sensitive issue, how can you get it addressed with the least amount of provocation?
The first thing I recommend you do is try to find the answer yourself. Numerous sources of information are available that can assist you in educating yourself. Regional and locally produced publications or nationally distributed publications such as the Navigator can help keep you informed. Two excellent sources of Auxiliary information are the Office of the Chief Director’s site, http://www.uscg.mil/auxiliary and the Auxiliary site, http://www.cgaux.org.
They contain a variety of information including publications, links, and search tools. If you don’t have a computer at home, most public libraries have computers with internet access and a librarian can quickly show you how to access information. A helpful feature both sites contain is a contact section that allows you to submit a question via e-mail. I recently asked my staff to pose a question to each site to see how long it would take to get an answer. The question posed to the Auxiliary site was answered in an amazing 21 minutes. Both sites strive to make a response within 24 hours. Most Directors of Auxiliary (DIRAUX) maintain sites with features similar to the Chief Director and Auxiliary sites.
If you can’t find the answer to your question on your own, I urge you to use your Chain of Leadership (COL). It is worth emphasizing the guidance in Chapter 1, Section C of the Auxiliary Manual, COMDTINST M16790.1F. The Auxiliary Manual can be easily found on the Chief Director’s site in the Manuals section and this very important section states the following:
In the Auxiliary, the phrase “chain of leadership and management” describes a system of communication and responsibility providing for an effective and efficient path for relaying information through all organizational levels. The process is best described as a chain of leadership and management rather than a chain of command, as no military command authority exists.
Auxiliary elected leaders must convey policy accurately and consistently to Auxiliary unit members via the chain of leadership and management. Likewise, all Auxiliarists are expected to use the chain of leadership and management for giving and getting information and voicing appropriate concerns. All members should recognize that the elected leader’s experience offers a great potential to solve problems.
When correspondence is submitted via another Auxiliary elected or appointed leader in the chain of leadership and management, that Auxiliarist is obligated to rapidly endorse and forward correspondence as required. Good leadership and management demand the existence of proper channels for Auxiliarists to follow and respect, except as otherwise provided or directed. This process assures that every activity is well monitored and carried out by the ablest members, prevents confusion and delay of actions, and allows for orderly and courteous flow of information.
Auxiliarists should keep in mind that the Director is a vital source of Coast Guard information who provides the latest guidance on special projects and routine Auxiliary administration. Auxiliarists must utilize the chain of leadership and management in communicating ideas, information, and requests. This process is important for the orderly conduct of organizational activities and is proven to actually speed work results, since many solutions are found directly at the flotilla or division leadership level (emphasis added).
What does this reference from the Auxiliary manual boil down to? Auxiliarists, upon entry and when appointed to higher offices, “pledge to abide by the governing policies established by the Commandant.” Thus, Auxiliarists have pledged to make use of the chain of leadership to have questions, concerns, and ideas addressed. The chain of leadership is required to rapidly act on issues presented to them. What should an Auxiliarist do if they believe the COL is unresponsive, or is the source of the problem? The process to get a response is actually quite simple even if the COL is perceived as a problem. The following paragraphs explain how to best handle those situations.
The next step is to document your request in writing. Depending on the matter, an e-mail may suffice. If you choose to send an e-mail, I strongly recommend you send it to one individual only. Only include others on the e-mail if necessary and definitely do not send it to a distribution list. If you send a letter it should be clear, concise and include all information necessary to clearly explain the issue. Both e-mails and letters should be sent up the COL starting at the lowest level possible, and the COL is responsible for rapidly moving your correspondence up the chain as required. If you perceive a problem with the chain, I do not recommend automatically skipping a link in the chain or going outside of the chain.
Always allow sufficient time for action to be taken and try sending follow-up correspondence at least once more if required. If you do not get a response to your inquiry after writing twice don’t give up, just move on to the next step. Send correspondence to the next level of the COL. When moving to this step, be sure to explain what actions have already been taken to get your issue resolved. Also, when moving up the COL, include the leader you are going above on the copy line. This informs them you are continuing your request for assistance - and you are not going outside the chain. You could continue this process up the chain to the National Commodore or beyond to the Commandant’s Chief Director of Auxiliary, but going that far usually isn’t necessary. If the links of the COL from the member to the Commandant are unfamiliar to you, I recommend you review figure 1-1 of the Auxiliary manual.
One point to remember is that sometimes the official response the COL provides to a question, concern, or idea isn’t the one you may have hoped for. Thoughtful consideration must be given before requesting that the COL reconsider the issue. Unless there is additional information that substantially amplifies the issue, I don’t recommend requesting a second look. When an official reply is made to an issue, it is normally upheld and supported if an appeal is made to a higher authority.
Here, in the Office of the Chief Director (CG-BSX-1), we receive correspondence on a regular basis that Auxiliarists send to various government officials including the President, Congressmen, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, Governors, and the Commandant. The questions range from very simple, such as uniform item questions, to complex funding and personnel issues. In most cases, the information that the individual sought could have been answered easily without seeking the aid of senior governmental officials. Additionally, by the time a letter is routed through official channels and is received in CG-BSX-1 it has been in the system for some time, and we are tasked with a quick, “drop all we are doing to support others,” reply in order to route it back through the system. There is a very formal process that must be followed when these letters are answered, and valuable staff time is taken away from other Auxiliary projects to answer what often are routine questions more appropriately directed to the COL. A letter routed “up” the Auxiliary COL allows more flexibility and research time than one being routed “down” from a Senator for immediate action. If a letter routed up the chain is received and requires research that will take more than a few days, I will send correspondence to the originator acknowledging receipt of the letter and inform them I will provide a thorough answer as soon as possible.
A common factor shared by the vast majority of the letters written to government officials answered by G-PCX is that they contain incomplete information, or inaccurate information. In some cases the issue is distorted enough that if the governmental official receiving the letter took the individual at their word, they might not get the “big picture” or might think the Coast Guard unworthy of their support. Unfortunately, the individual writing the letter seldom has all of the facts. Even well intentioned letters to government officials can have adverse effects. For instance, requests for funding for a specific Auxiliary initiative can cause funds to be cut from another Auxiliary or Coast Guard project. That is one reason the COL is so important, so we can coordinate efforts to ensure funding for the projects most beneficial to the Auxiliary.
There are times when seeking the aid of a senior government official to resolve an issue is the right course of action – especially if the COL is not responsive. This article is not an attempt to discourage the choice to take that action, but it should be regarded as a remedy of last resort. I encourage you to send the National Commodore or myself a note outlining your concern, and allow us an opportunity to respond to it before going to your Congressman or the President. My personal experience as an active duty Coast Guardsman and as an Auxiliarist supports my belief that the Chain of Command and Chain of Leadership when given the opportunity will take appropriate action to meet the needs of its members and support the best interests of the organization. I encourage you to follow the procedures I have outlined to have your questions, concerns, or ideas addressed. Semper Paratus – and have a great Coast Guard day.