CDR Micah Murphy
Commander Micah Murphy is a native of Wheaton, IL and attended the University of Notre Dame, earning a commission through the Naval Reserves Officer Training Corps. He later earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Northwestern University).
At sea, Murphy served aboard USS KINKAID (DD 965) and USS FLETCHER (DD 992) as part of the “Sea Swap” initiative, USS BONHOMME RICHARD (LHD 6), USS MOMSEN (DDG 92), and commanded Mine Countermeasures Crew EXULTANT. He most recently commanded the USS JOHN S. MCCAIN (DDG 56) and led the rebuilding effort following the 2017 collision.
His shore and staff assignments include executive assistant to the Chief of Legislative Affairs, special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations, legislative fellow to U.S. Senator John McCain, federal executive fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adjunct fellow at the U.S. Naval Institute, and his current assignment as Commanding Officer of Afloat Training Group Western Pacific.
Commander Murphy was also a charter member of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell, a founding member of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, former member of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Editorial Board, and co-author of the book recently published by USNI, The NROTC Guide.
How has failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
So many failure anecdotes to choose from…. During my first Division Office tour I switched from 1st LT to the Communications Officer right before deployment. After 18 months in Deck, I was ready for a new challenge and jumped at the chance. Foolishly, I thought that meant my life was going to become easier (or at least more air conditioned). I failed to attack this new assignment with the same kind of energy and intensity I did as 1st LT and ultimately got “reassigned to another division” (a charitable way the CO characterized my firing) after some mistakes in my division nearly cost us our chance to shoot tomahawk missiles during the “Shock and Awe” portion of the Iraq invasion in 2003.
That division didn’t fail; I failed to lead them effectively by not asking good questions, setting and communicating priorities, following up on taskers, and making too many assumptions.
I learned the value of being intellectually curious and the importance of asking the right questions. As a SWO, it’s impossible to be the technical expert on everything--and you don’t have to be--you just have to know how to ask the right questions, trust your people to execute, and then follow-up with your boss when the task is done.
Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
I am a big sports fan and often find sports analogies and strategies applicable for the military. One of my former Captains (and good friend) Ted Pledger was a big fan of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and used his quotes often (along with Colin Powell’s “13 Rules”). John Wooden has dozens of applicable quotes. Some of my SWO-centric favorites include “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” and “Never mistake activity for achievement.”
But ultimately, as a Christian, I *try* to live up to Luke 12:48 “To whom much is given, much will be required.” (or for Spider-Man fans, “with great power come great responsibility”)
What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? Do you have a morning routine?
Turn on the coffee pot. I have four kids ages 6 and under, so over the past six years, most early mornings likely also included changing a diaper or giving a bottle. Like most other respondents, the only “me” time is in the morning before most of the house wakes up. Two of my top goals last year were to run 500 miles and read through the entire Bible. For me, both had to be done in the morning or it was simply not going to get it done. This year I have switched it up and have been doing morning workouts with a great friend and SWO, Rob Niemeyer. Having an accountability partner has been hugely helpful to stick with the routine (and made the sessions a lot more effective and enjoyable!).
What career advice would you give a smart and driven young SWO? What advice should they ignore?
Be a team player. It's not hard for seniors to see who the rising stars are. It's far more impressive when they are humble and seek to help others, the team, and not their own image.
First impressions go a long way--work your butt off from day one. Figure out where you can add value and offer to help as opposed to waiting to be asked or tasked.
Communication is the toughest part of the job. There is a lost art of closing the loop. Emailing someone is not "tasking complete."
Spend time learning and networking beyond your day job. There is so much more to life beyond the lifelines.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you want to stay in, don’t do anything to have someone else make that decision for you.
As far as what to ignore, I think you can probably take most of it with a grain (or shaker) of salt depending on the topic and who it came from. Getting a lot of different data points can be good, but just know that not all data contributes to good information.
What is the book you’ve given most as a gift and why?
I don’t know which book I have given the most, but the book I have been giving the most recently is “The Kill Chain” by my former colleague in Sen. McCain’s office, Chris Brose. It adeptly articulates the way we should be thinking about adapting America’s military with both new technology and ways of thinking. The world around us has changed, and the military (and others in the national security arena) need to align and optimize the technological, tactical, strategic, and political lines of effort. Reading it frustrated me about “the way we have always done it” but also encouraged me that there is a politically, technologically, and strategically viable alternative road that is compatible with CNO’s NAVPLAN that we can and should explore considering the future challenges we are likely to face.
Shameless plug: I am also a HUGE fan of my wife Sarah’s new children’s book imprint--Good Morning Military Books. She has beautiful board books published about life in Yokosuka, Okinawa, with Guam and Annapolis (and more!) in production. Please check it out!
How do you set priorities and manage your time?
Requirements > Resources. The job of a leader is to not only figure out what to do and how to do it, but also decide what NOT to do. There is simply not enough time, people, and tools to get everything that is required of you done 100% of the time. But as the leader, it’s important to be careful which decisions you and you alone own and which can be delegated. Just remember the adage about delegating authority but not responsibility….
To manage my time, I use Outlook religiously and sync to other calendars (with access given to key members of the team). If anything of import needs to happen, it goes on the calendar with an appropriately-timed alert. I don't want to spend my limited cognitive capacity just trying to remember things like when a meeting is, but rather use that brainpower for the CONTENT of the meeting. I also try to limit “drive bys” from people for simple and routine things. If people line up outside my door all day it would a waste of their time waiting in the p-way, and a lot of mine talking about admin/messages/packages that can and should be able to stand on their own--especially after going through the rest of the chain before me. The only one who can guard your time is you--and you can never get it back so make it count.
What is your most effective daily habit?
Near the end of the day I write a stream of conscious email to myself of what I want/need to look at the next day or in the near term--personally or professionally. Just releasing these thoughts (and distractions) help reduce stress/anxiety and let me sleep knowing that I don't have to start the day off flat footed the next morning. I don’t want to expend the little spare cognitive capacity I have trying to remember things on a “to do” list when I can just consult my notepad and summary email I send myself.
How do you define success?
This is tough. “Success” can be measured by so many things--both objective and subjective--and perspective matters a lot. For me, even more important than the outcome of something is the decision-making and preparation that underpinned the outcome. I have made plenty of bad decisions and been lucky with some “successful” outcomes; but age, experience (and decision science) have made me place higher value on the quality of the decisions and preparation that led to an outcome over the outcome itself. Relying on luck is neither a strategy nor is it sustainable.