Lieutenant Commander Grant Bryan is a native of Anchorage, Alaska. He earned a Bachelors in Chemistry from the US Naval Academy in 2005 and a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.
Prior to his first sea tour, LCDR Bryan worked in the Defense Attaché Office at the US Embassy in Conakry, Guinea. At sea, he served as Gunnery Officer and First Lieutenant in USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62), Damage Control Assistant in USS FORD (FFG 54), Chief Engineer in USS MOMSEN (DDG 92), then Chief Engineer in USS NORMANDY (CG60) for their around-the-world “Magellan” cruise in support of Operation Inherent Resolve & Operation Key Master in the Arabian Gulf, and Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea with Carrier Strike Group 12 and USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT.
Ashore, he served as Flag Aide and Executive Officer to Commander, Navy Region Europe, Africa, Southwest Asia and Commander, Maritime Air Naples in Italy. He also served as the Aide to Commander, Fifth Fleet’s Shore Battle Space Task Force in the Northern Arabian Gulf. He recently completed a joint tour as the Joint Arctic & Maritime Operations (Joint Staff J35) at Alaskan Command in Anchorage, Alaska.
He is married to Sara Bryan of Anchorage, Alaska where they currently live with their three children. LCDR Bryan is currently in training to serve as XO on a Norfolk-based cruiser.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Failure has been a great starting point for many things in my life. Fortunately, to date, my personal and professional failures have not caused catastrophic damage to my marriage or my Sailors' well-being, so I am thankful that I can still benefit from past failures without seemingly insurmountable roadblocks to recovery. As a young officer, I sometimes [read: often] failed to recognize that nearly every other person on my ship had more perspective than I did. My lack of humility during the early years of my career (which coincided with the early years of my marriage) led to significant challenges. This overconfidence often interfered with good watch standing on the Bridge of a 7th Fleet destroyer. Once, while steaming through a heavy traffic area near Tokyo, I gave a contact report to the CO that I had produced “on the fly”. The response was terse, "You're not that good. Do a maneuvering board, fill out a contact report, then call me back [INSERT PHONE SLAM]!" Similar “on the fly” decisions, pranks, and qualification boards resulted in similar frustrations from my leadership. Bottom line: intentionality and humility always produce better results and provide those around you with greater trust in your abilities and leadership. Learning much of this early in my career (and marriage) has helped set me up for success later in life.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Oh to be the slave to a Perfect Master.” – Matthew Henry. I think often of this phrase from Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible. He puts himself in the shoes of one who has no choice in the nature of his servitude (“willingly or unwillingly, I am fettered to Him”). Yet he delights in the nature and character of the One to whom he is bound with complete assurance that he will be content due to the nature of that Master’s love for his servants. We will never serve a perfect leader [lower case], nor will we ever be a perfect leader, but our intent must be to embrace the nature and character of a loving Master and Commander by seeking to serve those in our charge with a servant’s heart, leading with grace and humility.
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
First, I try to figure out it if was my alarm or a child that woke me up… then I start coffee, take a shower, shave, then eventually wake up wholeheartedly (some of the time). I try to read every morning; a Proverb, an Old, and a New Testament passage, and usually something else quick and lighthearted… but NOT the news. After that, I try to sit down with my wife for a ‘coffee date’. We rarely get to enjoy an entire cup of coffee together before the kids wake up, but whenever our ‘date’ is interrupted, we carry on and look forward having a glass of wine together at the end of the day. On my way to work, I listen to a podcast (usually The World and Everything in It) and eat a bagel. I can go a couple days without the podcast or the bagel, but starting my day without reading or our coffee date quickly takes a toll on my mental and spiritual well-being.
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO?
First, delegate what you can. If you learn to delegate appropriately, you can take a step back and gain perspective. The minute you try to do it all by yourself, you will lose efficiency and situational awareness. Also, you cannot get everything done by yourself. Failing to delegate will cost you terrain (I have been working with Army guys for the past couple years).
Second, practice empathy. By always putting yourself in other people’s shoes, or practicing empathy, you better understand the needs of those around you and develop better intuition. Your CO and your crew need you to be thoughtful and invested in understanding their needs, and your enemies need you to not think about, or empathize with their plight… doing so would be to their tactical advantage (think Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt”). Empathy leads to better understanding of your enemy, and better understanding of those whom you serve.
At the same time, if anyone tells you to avoid making ‘emotional decisions’, ignore them! Though Sun Tsu argued that “it is the unemotional, reserved, calm, detached warrior who wins, not the hothead seeking vengeance”, I would counter that we are Americans. Our Founding Fathers were hotheads – passionate and fierce leaders who were far from detached. We are emotional beings and often make our best decisions based on emotions. Our brains create evolving algorithms that are based on our personal experiences and emotions. We are not robots. Of course, we must be intentional, calculated, and decisive, but we also must be emotionally invested in the success of our mission. Our enemies must know that we will absolutely make emotional decisions and will always fight back with vengeance and impunity.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Every time I read Lewis, he speaks to me where I am. This book is funny, short, and easy to read. It also helps provide leaders with spiritual perspective, regardless of their faith background. Additionally, if someone has not read C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, I will encourage them to add these books to their list, starting with The Magician’s Nephew. Through allegory and imagination, Lewis inspires unabridged spiritual insights while presenting characters who foster and promote the bedrock truths of leadership. “What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” – from The Magician’s Nephew. These books will broaden your perspective on faith, make you laugh, and want to keep reading.
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
I am a list guy. I start by making lists and categorizing everything based on “critical” or “non-critical”. Then I identify tasks that take less than 2 minutes to complete. I try to do these tasks immediately. Knocking out quick tasks can boost morale… and for some reason, quick tasks are statistically the items on our lists that remain undone the longest. The rest of time management is like spinning plates. Spin the critical plates more often than the non-critical, but spin every plate on your list routinely. Also, delegate everything you can. Your officers and Sailors want to be empowered and to gain ownership of the mission. On delegation, Admiral Sam Locklear once told me, that “if you wanted green and they gave you pink, but any color works, then don’t change it.” Some outcomes might surprise you, but if it is acceptable, do not seek to change their work just to satisfy your own “nice-to-haves”.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Reading. Mornings are tough, but I read when I can. I love to read books to my kids at night as well. The majority of my “ah ha” moments in life happen while reading to my kids. Often, children’s books speak truth more succinctly than other books. It could also have a lot to do with my maturity level. Regardless, some of the most difficult questions in life come from kids while you are in the middle reading, often on a completely unrelated topic. This is how their brains work. Being a parent has forced me to be thoughtful and articulate when they ask those difficult questions. Good leaders, and presumably good parents, learn to think about answers to tough questions, then articulate answers in truthful and clear ways. Reading as a daily habit improves my ability to do this.
How do you define success?
Personally, my ability to provide for my family defines success; specifically, how well I lead them, protect them, and serve them as a husband, father, and spiritual leader. In the Navy, success is determined by whether or not we complete our mission. If our Sailors enjoy going to work each day, and they feel safe, empowered, and taken care of by their leadership, they can focus more on combat readiness which will improve our chances of accomplishing our mission. At the end of the day, a safe return home to our families at the completion of any mission is the best kind of success.