How I Lead: Addressing the Root Cause of Problems, Not Just the Symptoms

A conversation with Laura Herrin, a manager at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Laura Herrin oversees the teams that provide virtually every tool and safety equipment for ship repair at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia and Kings Bay in Georgia. As a resource manager, she is responsible for hiring, promotions and performance appraisals, along with determining where in the organization each employee is best suited.

What is the best leadership lesson you've learned?

To delegate jobs to the correct level and stop doing my people’s work for them.

How did you get to where you are today?

By addressing issues head on and making sure problems are corrected at the root cause, and not just addressing the symptoms.

What leadership lessons do you try to convey to your team?

Every person in our organization has a role to play in the success or failure of our shipyard’s mission. What my team does is vital to our mission of fixing ships; without them we would not achieve that goal.

What do you look for in potential employees when making hiring decisions?

I feel a positive attitude and willingness to learn is far more important than getting someone who knows everything. My processes and tools can be taught, but attitude, work ethic and integrity is built in.

What strengths do you bring your organization?

I bring passion for my job and the importance of what my team does to work every day. I express to my team that we might be that one drop of water in the ocean, but we are just as important as the waves.

What is your weakness and how do you compensate for it?

My weakness is that I hate to concede when I am told my people did something wrong. I spend so much time building them up and ensuring they know how critical their work is that I cannot believe they would allow complacency to sneak up on them.

What is your strategy for interactions with your supervisor?

My strategy for interaction with my supervisor is to have two-way conversations. To listen to him, but to ensure I am heard as well. We have monthly meetings with all my employees, and I engage my supervisors prior to the meetings so there are clear expectations of what I expect from them and their team.

How do you involve your employees to ensure everyone is on board with a new idea?

When new ideas are being implemented I hold interactive group meetings to ensure the plan is communicated to all levels. I explain, not only the “what” and “where,” but also the “why.” I feel this is important to allow the group to understand the decision, and then use best practices to suggest alternative views that were not thought of at my level and above.

What is your latest goal or ambition and how do you plan to go about achieving it?

My current professional goal is to move into my supervisor’s job. The best way to do that is to learn his job, and then help him to move up to his next position to open his spot up for me. One of the greatest lessons I learned from my previous supervisor was he always told me to be a mentor someone behind you, so that you could be replaced to move on up and the organization will still be strong.

Tell me something your co-workers do not know about you.

I struggle meeting new people. I am so comfortable around them that they assume I am outgoing all the time, but I tend to clam up and get withdrawn around strangers. This is especially true in new surroundings.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by my desire to be successful and to be accepted for the things I do. I would rather my boss yell at me than to use the “D” word—that he is disappointed with me.

What was the biggest career risk you took?

Taking a job on a temporary basis and then not making it permanent. The worst part about that ordeal was that I had to train the person who got the job. I learned that work is just like life; it will not always be fair but you just have to deal with it and keep going.