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CAPT Joseph A. Gagliano, USN


Captain Joseph A. Gagliano is a surface warfare officer, politico-military specialist and naval strategist.

In the surface warfare community, he commanded USS INDEPENDENCE (LCS 2),served as the Combat Systems Officer and Weapons Control Officer onboard USS COLE(DDG 67), and served as the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, Communications Officer,Auxiliaries Officer and Strike Officer onboard USS LABOON (DDG 58).

Within the politico-military and naval strategy communities, Captain Gagliano served as the Director for Defense Policy and Strategy for the National Security Council at the White House. He also served as a strategist on the Joint Staff in the Asia Political-Military Affairs Directorate. On the Navy Staff, he served as the strategic planning teamleader for N00X, strategic planning team leader for the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, and strategic planner in N3/N5 Deep Blue.

Captain Gagliano holds a PhD and master’s degree in international relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he studied international political theory and security studies. He holds a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Naval Academy. He has been awarded visiting fellowships with St.Antony’s College and Pembroke College at Oxford University. Captain Gagliano is the author of three research books: Between Allied and Alone: Alliance Decision-Making Factors in the South China Sea (Routledge, 2019), Shiphandling Fundamentals for the Littoral Combat Ship and New Frigates (Naval Institute Press, 2015), and Congressional Policymaking in Sino-U.S. Relations during the Post-Cold War Era (Routledge, 2014).


How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?

Failure is a humbling experience. It reminds us that we are fallible human beings. It is the antidote for arrogance. I lean on the adage that nothing curtails growth like success. Failures have taught me lessons that are deeply engrained. This is partly because of the sting of failure, but also because I can more clearly discern the specific factors that caused it. When I fail, it usually is clear what went wrong and what I could have done to prevent it. I am fortunate to have benefited from the surface Navy experience. I began as a division officer with relatively little responsibility and a department head who acted as a safety net. Failures came often then, but the consequences were small. Navy adds more responsibility with each successive tour, and all the lessons learned when the consequences were small helped me avoid failures when the consequences were big. For a new Ensign, this multi-decade journey may seem unnecessarily lengthy, but it pays dividends at this level.

Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?

“Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

The military services are built on a tradition of rank and deference that underlie good order, but they can be a trap. The more senior you get, the smaller your peer group becomes, and the less criticism you face. As an Ensign, I had many peers, seniors and subordinates help me “keep it real.” Those instances are far fewer as a Captain.

It is a human condition to inflate ourselves, so it takes discipline to fight off haughtiness.

What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?

I definitely have a morning routine... probably to a fault.

The first thing I do is read the New York Times. Then, I go for a long run. I love coffee as much as the next SWO, but nothing gets my brain engaged like reading and running. By the time I start the day’s first meeting, I am operating at 100 percent.

What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?

There is a great line at the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life, where George says that he plans to “go to college and see what they know, and then I'm going to build things.” That’s just about right.

First, learn the principles of our trade... how we operate ships and how we produce readiness. Then, after you have conquered our time-tested methods, start thinking about how we can make it better. One has to come before the other. Today’s procedures were built on yesterday’s mishaps, so you want to understand them thoroughly.

At that point, once you know the trade, I would ignore advice that obstructs innovation – often disguised as prudent caution. No command is perfect, so there is always room for improvement. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the battle-cry of mediocrity. Even improvements on the margins are better than doing things the same way simply because that is how they have always been done.

What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?

Perceptions and Misperceptions in International Politics by Robert Jervis. It is a considerable read, but it explains decision-making behavior at so many levels.We spend our entire careers making professional decisions based on what we perceive as ground truth, but the mind has a way of ordering facts to suit a certain outcome. Learning how people reach conclusions is useful for understanding our own biases as well as others’ positions.

How do you set priorities and manage your time?

First, I relate closely to Stephen Covey’s time management matrix (urgent vs. import) that has become ubiquitous in leadership courses. I do not actually lay out tasks in each quadrant. I simply use it as a lens to prevent the urgent from crowding out the important... and spot tasks to be ignored (neither urgent nor important).

Second, I use delegation to staunchly defend executive time. Before my XO/CO tour, I had a Naval War College professor give me a great piece of advice – as the executive, only do those things that only you can do. In principle, it was eye-opening, and in practice, it was game-changing. As naval leaders, we are entrusted with very talented people who are eager to work. Getting tasks off my desk and into their hands frees up my bandwidth to ensure the urgent does not take my time hostage.

What is your most effective daily habit?

Following a routine... hands down. That may sound like a circular argument, but routine is the key to success in just about everything I have done. It is much easier to ensure important things don’t get crowded out when you don’t have to consider when to do them.

Routine also helps me complete lengthy projects. By committing just one hour a day to a specific project – the same hour each day – I can steadily compile work over time that otherwise might require taking time off from work to accomplish.

How do you define success?

The successes I admire most in others are those that demonstrate two things: preparation followed by achievement. I have a hard time admiring someone who accidentally falls into an achievement.

There is something special about dedicating time toward preparation – seeing the goal, figuring out how to get ready, committing the time necessary, and then performing under pressure. Demonstrating this sequence makes the achievement deliberate and repeatable. To me, that is success.

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