Friday, October 30, 2009

Authenticity

The word "authentic" is an adjective used to describe someone or something that is "not false or copied; genuine; real." There are many people in my life who can be described in such a way. Unfortunately, there are more than a couple who are on the other end of the spectrum and are more accurately categorized as fake or counterfeit. I choose to associate myself with as many authentic people as possible and do my best to steer clear of the frauds. Authentic people are sincere, proud of who they are, and usually have a horrible poker face. Given a choice, who wouldn't want to surround themselves with authenticity.

I distinctly remember my in-brief at COMNAVSECGRU during my transition from SIXTH FLEET to my Executive Officer (XO) tour at Naval Security Group Activity Naples, Italy. Though I enjoyed two weeks of leadership training and one week of legal school in Newport, Rhode Island, it was the 30 minutes one Captain Scott Witt invested in an eager LT that resonates with me to this day. The Deputy, with whom I had a scheduled appointment, was otherwise occupied and like any good officer who embraces opportunities to mentor junior officers, Captain Witt invited me into his office. We spoke of the great leaders with whom I served at SIXTH Fleet (among them is now Admiral Mike Rogers) the incredible things I learned while supporting Operation ALLIED FORCE and the great ports a Sailor experiences while sailing the Mediterranean. Though reminiscing was enjoyable, it was his advice to a young man about taking on the challenge of XO and the way he delivered it, as well as his personal example that I continue to remember. Though the XO is traditionally a role of "Bad Cop" to the Commanding Officer's "Good Cop", he simply recommended I be genuine and not play a role. In other words, he advocated that I, true to his personal example, be authentic. This was simple advice for me to grasp. As flawed as I am, I find it very difficult to play a role that is inconsistent with who I am (My wife and parents can vouch for my lack of ability to lie even in good fun). Do not get me wrong, there were more than a few times that I was the "Bad Cop", but when doing so I did it in my own way and it was never an act.

It appears the trait of authenticity is a result of both nurture and nature and the Heritage's I know all share such a trait. We wear our heart on our sleeve, we have no secrets and have little patience for those who portray themselves as something they are not.

Be who you are...Be authentic (and surround yourself with people who choose to do the same)!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Collaborate, Integrate and Educate...

Disclaimer: This is a slight rework to a post I made on www.informationwarriors.net and our Community Facebook page.

As one who takes the role of mentor (and mentee for that matter) very seriously, I consider myself privileged to be sought out by juniors for career advice. Recently, I was approached by a fellow Officer who was fortunate enough to be preparing for his upcoming tour as a Carrier Strike Group Cryptologic Resource Coordinator (CRC), which is our most coveted career milestone for our sharpest Lieutenant Commanders. Like those of us with enough humility to admit we may not be optimally prepared for the next growth opportunity in our personal and professional development continuum, he asked for a bit of advice that might help him better prepare himself for the challenge ahead. When he asked, I was immediately transported back six years when I was asking a mentor for similar insight on my way to the very same operational milestone. To this day, I remember and covet the advice given to me which has helped me to minimize (though not eliminate) the many lessons I continue to learn the hard way. Fact is, as daunting as it is for most of us to step into the next stretch assignment, whether it be afloat or ashore, the same advice applies. In fact, the same advice applies to every job any of us have as Naval Professionals, officer or enlisted (or civilians for that matter). If we simply collaborate, integrate and educate, we will enjoy great success. Likewise, if we find ourselves less than proud of our contribution level on the back end of a tour, we clearly did not do one or more of those things well during our tenure. Though the advice uses CRC as the example, it could just as easily been Executive Officer, Department Head, Leading Chief Petty Officer Officer Community Manager, OPNAV Action Officer, COCOM Operational Planner, or civilian equivalent.

Collaborate - None of us show up fully prepared for our next job. As a new CRC, I distinctly remember leaning on the other CRCs on the San Diego (and even FDNF) waterfront who were anywhere from three months to 23 months ahead of me in the training cycle. My first waterfront conference took on a similar tone to that of an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting..."Hi, I am (insert name), I am a CRC and I don't know what I am doing." After we all admitted we had much to learn and nothing to hide, the tone on the waterfront quickly changed to one that was reminiscent of some classes at USNA..."Cooperate to Graduate" (though in this case it was not about graduation, but about contribution). OPTASKs, SOPs, message shells and training plans were being cross-decked, refined and tailored with the ultimate goal of standardization. The point is, the sooner we acknowledge we arrive with much to learn, and feel comfortable leaning on our peers, juniors and seniors (and respond to the needs of others who lean on us), the more quickly we grow, contribute and ultimately further our profession.

Integrate - As a CRC our job is to support each and every Warfare Commander across the Carrier Strike Group (and sometimes beyond) as a part of the intelligence team. Each Strike Group and Warfare Commander arrives with a preconceived notion of what happens “Behind the Green Door." And just as in our world the "Green Door" is more than a metaphor, the notion of our personal integration being critical to our ability to lead the cryptologic team under our charge is more than a mandate. If we are to contribute operationally, add value as staff officers and truly lead our Sailors, we must first demonstrate strong personal initiative and seek every opportunity to be seen as the "Go To" Officer on the staff. This is done only by getting involved and demonstrating great confidence (not arrogance) in our abilities (and of those who make up our team), by creating opportunities to integrate, thereby creating our place within the larger organization.

Educate - Our most demanding jobs (CRC is clearly one of them) and therefore our greatest growth opportunities are often times “1 of 1” (e.g. our performance is not overtly measured against our peer group), and as such, it is incumbent upon us to educate the rest of the staff on the contributions of the IW/SIGINT team afloat and the extended reachback capabilities (national, theater and organic) we are able to leverage on behalf of the Operational Commander. Some of us get lucky and our Strike Group Commander, Warfare Commanders or Staff Leadership are already believers in the value Information Warfare and Cryptologic Professionals provide. If not, it's time to initiate a public affairs campaign and educate them on capabilities you and your team have at your disposal, both locally and through the extended enterprise.

What attracted many of us to the Navy is the same thing that separates our service from the others. It is our sense of community, our individual commitment to continual improvement and the interest each of us takes in the development of our Shipmates. Each time a fellow Naval Professional asks us for advice, we should be appreciative. Not because it validates our roles as mentors (which we all are), but for the opportunity it provides each of us to reflect on and share the many things we have experienced and learned over time. Regardless of our current paygrade, there remains much to be learned from our Shipmates, past and present, senior and junior; all we need to do is ask. And for those of us who recognize we have something to offer, we need not wait to be asked, we simply share...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Basketball Season is Here...so what?

Though it is a sport I never really enjoyed playing and only watch in March, I see goodness is any team sport, whether it be football, basketball, or military service. In honor of the fact that the NBA season kicked off last night, I dusted off the only basketball related book I own, “Leading with the Heart” by Coach K. For those of you that are not familiar, that is Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (and a West Point graduate). Using his experiences as a basketball coach, he makes many great points about leadership in general. Most are not new to students of leadership and management, but he does a good job of illustrating the importance of deliberately creating a desirable culture in a locker room, wardroom, or living room. Though I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates sports as an analogy to the workplace, the points that struck me most given my current job include:

- Recruit great individuals who are willing to be a part of a team…reach out to Enlisted Sailors, fellow Officers, civilians and midshipmen that you would like to make part of our team. As you know, we rely a great deal on OCS, STA-21, and lateral transfers to grow our wardroom. By each of us embracing our role as recruiter, we’ll posture our team for greater success.

- Use plural pronouns vice the first person (none more powerful than we)…We are a community of leaders and need to find ways to lead through teamwork and collaboration. Using the first person is inconsistent with the collaborative philosophy we share and unintentionally compartments our team.

- All assistant coaches should have the vision of being a top leader…we need to encourage our peers and subordinates to seek out growth opportunities. I am proud of the high number of individuals on our team who want to grow, desire to contribute in meaningful ways and are not overly focused merely on maintaining promotability. At the same time, I am disappointed in the relatively few who are contrary to any of the aforementioned attributes. Our coaches (seniors) must continue to focus on the development of our respective assistant coaches (mentees) and help them grow into and earn head coaching positions (i.e. be our reliefs), while helping the others pursue interests outside our lifelines. One of the ways coaches can be measured is by looking at their coaching tree (i.e. the number of assistant coaches who went on to other positions of influence). Though Coach K's Tree is not as full of branches as others, it is definitely impressive. What does your coaching tree look like? Are you deliberately building branches? Are you purposefully creating a relationship with a senior from whom you'd like to grow your branch?

- Failure is part of success…we need to reward risk takers and recognize the failures that come with risk taking as lessons learned. The only way we grow is by extending beyond our comfort zone and helping others to do the same.

Please give some thought to the culture each of us is promoting (intentionally or otherwise) within our workcenter, command, or other place of business. We each need to do our part to make our team one of character, collaboration, and competence.

I am not a basketball fan, but am a fan of great leaders and for that reason alone, Go Duke!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Politics in the Workplace

Though many people believe that politics have no place in the workplace, if you think of politics as relationships than I would guess your opinion might change. The way I see it us the term "relationships" has a much more positive connotation than "politics," though they are very much the same.

As a boy, I grew up in a very loving and athletic minded family. When it was time for bed, my brother and I might be able to negotiate a delayed bed time if we challenged our Dad to a wrestling match. We knew that the best time to challenge Pops was when Mom was out. We also knew that he rewarded maximum effort. If we fought hard, he might let us last more than the requisite two minutes before getting pinned and thereby "earn" an extra half hour of awake time. Though I did not know it as a ten year old (yes, I was a slow starter), I can now connect the dots and recognize that him not pinning us was a foregone conclusion, but he wanted to give us the sense of earning the privilege. In layman's terms, he was ensuring we tried our best, and we were appealing to his desire to spend more time with "His Boys" (though the feeling was mutual). We were both leveraging politics, or acknowledging the unwritten rules of the game.

I have been a staff officer for longer than I care to admit, but any success in achieving any objective to which I was championing on behalf of my seniors is due to the power of the network and the relationships built over time. The longer one spends in the Navy (or any team for that matter) the more adept the capable become at getting things done. That is due in large part to us gaining a better understanding of the rules to getting things done and less because we have some unique perspective or area of expertise.

During my current tour, I have had the unique opportunity to work with someone who I sincerely hope is a Flag Officer in our community. Though he continues to teach me a great deal, one of the many lessons I have learned (though I will clearly spend more time honing) is realizing the power of a "BATNA" (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).

Politics in the workplace have everything to do with our ability to influence others, to grow our personal networks and to manage relationships with seniors, subordinates and peers. With that I hope we all translate "politics" in the workplace to "relationships" in the workplace, and see it as a positive and not a negative.

Seeing as my brother works at Cisco Systems, I can't help but plug their example of the power of the human network. Are we doing our part to realize that power? In the commercial, they speak of a world where anyone can "be famous." I offer we replace "be famous" with "add value." How are we adding value?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Feedback

One of the keys to continual improvement is constructive 360 degree feedback. The problem is, we are not accustomed to providing others with honest feedback, nor do we ask others to provide the same to us. Yes, each year we receive at least one Fitness Report (FITREP) or Evaluation (Eval); and yes, for those of us in leadership positions, we write the same on our subordinates. The issue is most of us do not take advantage of these opportunities, nor do we create other forums for such feedback. It shouldn't take long for a Sailor to connect the dots and recognize a FITREP/Eval is designed to speak to a promotion board and not serve as a true performance appraisal. That said, a FITREP/Eval should be accompanied by a true assessment of one's performance. At the same time, mid-term counseling should be the same, vice the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, consider yourself counseled" evolution most have made it (I personally do not remember the last time a senior made use of a mid-term counseling opportunity).

Though the Navy has created opportunities for such feedback to take place, we not wait for them. When was the last time you asked a mentor for feedback? A junior for an assessment of your performance? A peer how you might be able to improve? Such 360 degree feedback will not happen by accident and we need not wait for CO/XO school or Navy Corporate Business Course (NCBC) and the like (two of a few fora that make 360 degree feedback a part of the course).

Recognizing that my actions in the area of Total Force Integration, though deliberate, have not resulted in meaningful progress, I asked a Reserve Information Warfare Captain for honest feedback. We have a TELCON set up for Thursday. I know the intentions of my actions, and I know how I hope they are being received, but a lack of progress clearly demonstrates something is lost in translation. It's clear the important assessment is not a self-assessment, but the perceptions of others. Unfortunately, without asking for feedback others will not willingly provide it and even if they do, it may not be completely honest (people are not willing to tell the emperor he is not wearing clothes, though clearly none of us claim to be emperors). As one of my valued mentors eloquently stated, "There is no more exacting a method of determining an officer's worth - than asking his (her) Sailors." To that statement, I would also add hollow feedback is a determination of little worth, while honest, constructive, and often times negative feedback, is a determination of great worth.

I look forward to my feedback session on Thursday and I will continue to seek feedback from multiple sources, as we can only improve upon our shortcomings if we now what they are. Likewise, I am prepared to respectfully provide feedback to others even if not specifically asked (which may have turned a few people off over time).

At the Naval Academy, we were continually asked to recite the Laws of the Navy, but none was more meaningful than the fifth:

On the strength of one link in the cable
Dependeth the might of the chain;
Who knows when thou mayest be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!

Asking for feedback is but one means of ensuring we are not the weakest link, and offering it to others ensures the chain is as strong as possible.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Executing as a Team

I have but a few passions in life and at the top of my list is doing just about anything with my son. For that reason, I proudly assume the role of Soccer Coach on a reoccurring basis. Our most recent game was this past Saturday and prior to kick-off we talked about positions, spreading out and passing the ball. I received many head nods and the requisite "thumbs up" telling me they understood. We lined up, we forgot our positions, we ran in a pack and few passed the ball. At halftime, we had a similar chat. Again, each player assured me they understood the plan, but when the whistle was blown their actions were a clear contradiction.

As I continually watch this unfold, I see parallels in my professional life. How many times do we ask subject matter experts to come together (i.e. working group) and develop plans to address specific challenges? Smart people come up with good ideas, put them in PowerPoint slides, get head nods from our seniors, pat each other on the back and then return to our respective duty station. The unfortunate thing is that in the execution phase, we look just like a youth soccer team. We forget/ignore our role, we fail to pass the ball, and we run over each other at times, chasing a ball our teammate is better prepared to kick down the field. The most significant difference between the two examples is the soccer players are between six and eight years old.

It does not take much to connect the dots and understand that a working group that doesn't produce a formal execution document (i.e. record message) that formalizes tasks, assigns roles and identifies specific due dates, is little more than a waste of time. There is no doubt that execution is more difficult than strategy development, but without a single execution document, there is no way for us to confidently synchronize our efforts and follow through on the plans to which we may have informally agreed upon.

After Saturday's soccer game, we went to see a string quartet concert. A single sheet of paper (their execution document) and talented musicians made for some beautiful music. Without their sheet music, the sounds would likely have been little more than noise.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rivalry

In what is clearly a strange set of circumstances, the ESPN family of networks is currently airing two live football games. Though nothing about that is strange, the fact that one channel has my college alma mater's rival, West Point, and another is broadcasting my high school alma mater's cross town rival, Foothill High School, is definitely unique. As I flip between channel's, I am left wondering about the relationship amongst rivals.

According to wikipedia, a "rival" is a competing person, company, a team. Personally speaking, a rival should not be confused with the term "adversary," which brings with it a connotation of hostility. The point at which a rival becomes an adversary is when the relationship is no longer healthy. Throughout my athletic career, the focus of much of our (note I never played individual sports and was always a member of a team) energy was directed towards beating our rival. All of the while, our motivation was the bragging rights we hoped to earn after beating our rivals. Though that was the reason we put in the extra blood, sweat and tears, the benefit had little to do with what the scoreboard showed at the end of any of our games. While pushing ourselves in hopes of edging our rivals, we become stronger, faster, more focused and a more cohesive unit. In essence, when we truly connect the dots, we realize our rivals made us better.

Though we are accustomed to associating rivals with athletics, the truth is they are prevalent wherever we turn. There are rivals amongst countries, military services, private companies, neighbors, friends, siblings and coworkers. As long as they do not become adversarial, they result in stronger economies, a more capable Department of Defense, more value delivered to the customer, a tighter/cleaner/safer community, improved and more capable individuals/teams/families.

As a matter of practice, I support both Foothill and West Point and consider myself lucky to have friends from both institutions. Because of my rivals, whether it be academic, athletic or at the workplace, I am better in every facet of my life than I would be if it weren't for them.

With that, Go Army! (Though you won't catch me uttering "Beat Navy!" Everyone has to draw the line somewhere.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Legacy

Today was an interesting day at work, as we had the pleasure of interacting with three phenomenal Flag Officers. VADM "Jack" Dorsett, RADM Mike Brown and RADM Jan Hamby stopped by after they completed their responsibilities as members of this year's RADM Promotion Board. I used the short commute home to reflect upon some of the wonderful contributions these three leaders have made for their respective community, the Information Dominance Corps, the Navy and our Nation. In essence, though they have many years in front of them as Naval Officers, all three will individually and collectively leave us with quite the legacy.

The topic of legacy has been at the forefront of my thoughts of late as I witness a long time friend continue his battle with cancer. Because such reflection is a regular part of my battle rhythm, I often times find comfort in viewing Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture". For those few who may not know Randy's story, I will let the video speak for itself, but when you hear about leaving a legacy, following your dreams and time management from a man with months to live (unfortunately, he has since passed), it really hits home. Rather than focus on the life and death aspects of how a remarkable man coped with an all too real situation, it struck a simpler chord with me related to my life as a Naval Officer (though the deeper message is clear and unambiguous).

If you think about it, each tour is a defined amount of time to do something we enjoy, to contribute both individually and as a team, and to develop both personally and professionally. During my XO tour, I would ask each and every Sailor prior to detaching the command two questions that required no answer but provided them with an opportunity to reflect:

1) Are you leaving this tour of duty a better Sailor, Cryptologist/Information Warrior and person?
2) Is the command a better place for having had you here?

When you think about it, being able to answer "Yes" to those two questions is what defines a successful tour, not flowery awards or evaluations. Life is about continually growing and adding value to those with whom we share this wonderful journey. It is my hope that we are all giving thought to what legacy we will be leaving behind when we leave our current duty station, when we no longer wear the nation's cloth or when we depart this world altogether. Additionally, the collective wardroom should be giving thought to what legacy we want to leave to the next generation of Sailors.


- What legacy will you leave your shipmates at your current command?
- What legacy will the IDC/IW Wardroom of 2009 leave to the wardroom of 2029?

We must be deliberate in our actions and execute with a sense of urgency.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Birds of a Feather...

It is said that "Birds of a feather flock together" and we see evidence of great truth in that hypothesis each and every day. Likewise, coaches, mentors, parents and friends will tell us that if we want to be (insert goal) then we need to surround ourselves with people who are (insert goal derived descriptor). As a kid, I was extremely passionate about the sport of soccer and I wanted to be the best player I could. The only way to achieve that goal was to join teams that were made up of only the best players in the area, thereby elevating my game. At the Naval Academy I had my share of academic challenges and the only way to help improve my grades was to spend study hour with classmates who were strong in the particular field of study in which I was having challenges at any given time. I think that lesson is learned early in life and is easy to grasp. It wasn't until my first assignment as an Officer that I was able to connect the dots to the corollary.

As an Ensign, my first set of orders as a Cryptologic Officer was to NSGA Adak, Alaska. Being a single 22 year old, Adak was the last place I wanted to go. I still remember the Doctor at my overseas screening telling me that there was a "pretty girl behind every tree." The joke was lost on me since I had no idea at that time that there were no trees (that said, I guess the joke is on him since I met my now wife there). It wasn't until six months later that I learned the most significant lesson of my tour. The command was slated to close, dependents were soon to be sent home and all new arrivals would be unaccompanied. Despite that fact, top notch Sailors continued to arrive on this remote island eager to contribute, but why? It wasn't the mission (the Soviet Union was no longer), it wasn't the beaches, and it sure wasn't the weather. It had everything to do with the leadership and one man in particular. My first Commanding Officer was Captain Dave Henry, who unfortunately passed away a year ago this week. I had no idea how lucky I was at the time, but every CT that checked in clearly did. These top notch Sailors were flocking to come work for a great leader. Their pride in being a part of the team he was leading did not wane, as I clearly remember his departure just over a year after I arrived. As he drove his trademark "Beater" jeep towards the air terminal where he would board the plane that would take him away from us, the street was lined with almost every Sailor not on watch. We were proudly saluting him as a means of expressing our gratitude. Needless to say, there were many "leaky" eyes.

Even then, I clearly understood that if I wanted to be great, I should surround myself with greatness. Though it was Captain Henry who personally demonstrated to me that if one was great, greatness would follow him (her). His example is one of many I continually attempt to emulate. As I continue to seek out great people with whom to surround myself, I hope that someday I will be worthy of great people seeking out me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love as Leadership?

I have read many books on leadership, but rarely have I seen the term LOVE to overtly communicate an important leadership trait. In the military ranks, we speak of honor, courage, integrity, competence, vision, humility, compassion and the like, but never LOVE. We speak of open door policies, intrusive leadership practices, getting "buy-in", collaboration and loyalty, but never LOVE.

My parents were the first to help me connect the dots by showing me LOVE is demonstrated through availability and the time we make for others...they were and continue to be there for me, my brother and the rest of our immediate and extended family. My most valued mentors are those who have demonstrated their LOVE by making themselves available to show a personal interest in my professional and personal development. The Sailors I enjoy working with most are those who demonstrate their LOVE by making themselves available to the mission, their families and their shipmates.

If availability is a demonstration of LOVE than I must admit I both LOVE and am LOVEd by my family, friends and Shipmates. Question is how available do we truly make ourselves to those whom we care about most (or are we just going through the motions)? Whether it be our friends, family or Shipmates are we demonstrating our LOVE by making ourselves truly available? When is the last time we demonstrated LOVE as part of our Leadership Toolbox?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Command Triumvirate

As I prepare for command, I reflect upon my time as Executive Officer at NSGA Naples, Italy. Though I was there at a time when the entire command was comprised of excellent Sailors, there were two individuals responsible for my professional development during that 24 month tour. As you might hope, those two individuals were the Commanding Officer (now retired, but then CDR Eric Newhouse) and the Command Master Chief (now CMDCM, but then CTICM Rich Hatton). A "seasoned LT" (as if there is such a thing) could not have asked for two better mentors then the other two members of the command triumvirate. Every situation was turned into a training opportunity and the case study method of learning that Harvard Business School is credited with creating was alive and well in Napoli. The difference was these cases were real. And though not running the command, these training sessions allowed me to play the role of the Commanding Officer. By the end of the year I shared with CDR Newhouse prior to his change of command, I was ready to sit in the big chair, though that was in the cards. Instead, the role was somewhat reversed, as it was now the CMC and me coaching the new CO during his "Honeymoon" (though the CMC was far from done with my professional development). This experience connected the dots by making it clear that the success of any command is based on the collaborative relationship cultivated by the Command Triumvirate. I only hope that the NIOC Pensacola triumvirate is fortunate enough to enjoy the relationship that we did in Naples. I recognize that like with everything else in life, that won't happen by accident. If THEY don't now, WE will soon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Command

I was recently made aware that I was "screened for command" as part of the Information Warfare Community's new Command Screen Board model. Needless to say I am extremely honored and excited about the opportunity. When I was told shortly thereafter that I got my number one choice for command (Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Pensacola), I was elated. My wife is excited to move yet again, as she is all about the adventure, and my son has visions of beachfront condo living.

Though I love my current job and have many things left on my "To-Do List", I have already begun my transformation under the direction of my personal Board of Directors made up of mentors (junior and senior, military and civilian.) As Jim Rohn says, "It's not what you get, it's what you become." I'm proud of what others have helped me to become, but I am more excited about becoming the person the Sailors at NIOC Pensacola deserve.