Capt. Holly Graf was was relieved of her command of the cruiser Cowpens after an investigation substantiated crew allegations that she was abusive and used her position for personal gain. (Navy via AP)
Capt. Holly Graf terrorized the crew of the cruiser Cowpens, publicly demeaning and humiliating them — some to the point of tears. On one occasion she got so angry she grabbed a sailor and shook him.
She was fired in January 2010 after her actions as commanding officer were deemed in violation of rules barring “cruelty and maltreatment.”
It wasn’t the first time she had created a toxic climate, however, according to former subordinates and the Navy investigation. Similar problems were discovered at her previous command, the destroyer Winston S. Churchill.
Could a 360-degree evaluation have prevented Graf’s reign of terror?
Without question, said Donnie Horner, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and former Naval Academy professor.
Now a management professor with Jacksonville University in Florida, Horner is a vocal proponent of 360-degree reviews, especially when they are used as not only a developmental tool but also to evaluate a leaders’ performance.
Simply relying on a superior’s vantage point is not enough to root out bad bosses in the fleet, Horner reasoned.
“These tyrants ... they are master ingratiators. They are masters at kissing up. They kiss up, and they kick down,” he said. “You get these Holly Grafs of the world and every senior they work with is like ‘Wow, she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.’ ”
But while a CO may get surface results, they destroy the underlying morale of their commands and hurt retention, Horner said.
He believes the Navy should expand 360s to all leaders, to include chiefs and above in the enlisted ranks. While not the only evaluation a leader would receive, it should certainly be included, he said.
Sailors tapped to participate in the reviews should remain as anonymous as possible to prevent fear and get more meaningful results, Horner added.■