Basic Principles for Doing Your Job

May 3, 2020 / Posted in


Since the end of World War II, the number of high-grade civilians in relation to the total (federal government) workforce has steadily increased to the point where we have more managers and checkers, than we have doers.

Our senior employees have been schooled in this ‘new’ philosophy which holds that, as long as a person is well-versed in a few simple rules of how to handle people and situations, he need not know anything about the details of the programs he is managing or the increasingly sophisticated technologies on which many of these programs are based.  This has allowed the non-professional to achieve high status and high pay within the government.  If trouble erupts, they can then blame those beneath them or those who preceded them.  Until this false concept is rooted out of the federal government, we cannot expect the American people to retain their trust in government.  In fact, they should not.

I do not hold much hope for this being done before a major disaster befalls the United States.  But I can provide some basic principles for doing job which I have followed for over 50 years government service and which I have instilled in my senior managers. If these principles were emphasized, they would go a long way toward reversing their current trend.

These Principles are:

  1. Ownership

    A person doing a job – any job – must feel that he owns it and that he will remain on that job indefinitely.  Lack of commitment to the present job will be perceived by those who work for him, and they will also tend not to care. If he feels he owns his job and acts accordingly, he need not worry about his next job.

  2. Responsibility

    Along with Ownership comes the need for full acceptance of full responsibility for the work.  Shared responsibility means that no one is responsible.  Unless one person who is truly responsible can be identified when something goes wrong, then no one has really been responsible.

  3. Attention to Detail

    A tendency among managers, particularly as they move to higher positions, is to think they no longer need to be concerned with details. If the boss is not concerned about details, his subordinates also will not consider them important.

  4. Priorities

    If you are to manage your job, you must set priorities.  Too many people let the job set the priorities.  You must apply self-discipline to ensure your energy is applied where it is most needed.

  5. Know What is Going On

    You must establish simple and direct means to find out what is going on in detail in the area of your responsibility.  I require regular periodic reports directly to me from personnel throughout my program.

  6. Hard Work

    For this, there is no substitute.  A manager who does not work hard or devote extra effort cannot expect his people to do so. You must set the example.  Hard work compensates for many short-
    comings.  You may not be the smartest or most knowledgeable person, but if you dedicate yourself to the job and put in the required effort, your people will follow your lead.

  7. Checking Up

    An essential element of carrying out my work is the need to have it checked by an independent source.  Even the most dedicated individual makes mistakes.

  8. Facing the Facts

    Another principle for managing a successful program is to resist the natural human inclination to hope things will work out, despite evidence or doubt to the contrary.  It is not easy to admit that what you thought was correct did not turn out that way.  If conditions require it, one must face the facts and brutally make needed changes despite considerable costs and schedule delays.  The man in charge must personally set the example in this area.


Admiral Rickover
Remarks by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover USN
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