Respect for Subordinates: Leadership (3)

When I first arrived in Saigon on my last tour in 1974, my guys and I established our modus operandi. My predecessor had been a martinet. He insisted that the men wear ties to work when the standard office apparel in that tropical climate was a white short-sleeve dress shirt with no tie. That meant that NSA employees, even though working under cover, stood out—they were the only ones in ties.

Their previous boss had also disapproved of partying and sexual relations outside of marriage and ordered his security chief to surveil the men (especially those single or there without their families) during their off-hours. They fiercely resented the intrusion into their privacy. As soon as I had one foot in the door, they were flooding me with stories of the previous chief’s shadowing orders.

Many of these men and I were on a first-name basis. We had known each other for more than ten years. We’d worked together at NSA and in Vietnam intercepting and exploiting the radio communications of the invading North Vietnamese. Unlike my predecessor, I was a down-and-dirty signals intelligence grub who, like my subordinates, had done everything from intercept to traffic analysis and translation of North Vietnamese communications. I’d spent more time in field (that is, in Vietnam) than any of them. They respected me, and I respected them. More to the point, we were brothers in the same clan.

Within a week of arriving on-station, I called an all-hands meeting. I told the men that ties were no longer required, and surveillance of them would cease forthwith. They were mature adults, trained in security as well their signals intelligence discipline. I would trust them to use good judgment in their private lives that were, frankly, none of my business. The room, filled with men and one woman (my secretary, Suzy), was all smiles.

More tomorrow.

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