Monday, December 27, 2010

Turning The Tables

Just as with any holiday season, I have made the time for thoughtful reflection as I both appreciate the past and consider the future. This year is a little different in that as much as I am enjoying every day of the present, the thought of nearing the 20 year milestone gives me more reason to think about the fork in the road that is the 20 Years of Service decision gate. Whenever I come to an important decision, I consult my Personal Board of Directors. This time around one of my valued board members turned the tables on me when I asked him for his thoughts. His words resonated so strongly with me that I felt compelled to share with others and gained his permission to just that. Enjoy...

Short excerpt from my e-mail:

"As I near the 20 year mark, I need to know if we are truly interested in changing the norm or if I need to find another team on which I am the norm."

Excerpt of his response:

(Begin)

"So ..., "are we really interesting in changing the norm?" My answer from this part of the "we" is, "absolutely!" The second part of the question is, are we moving out smartly in that direction? My answer to that part of the question is like we hear in the rental car advertisement "not exactly!" Changing the norm is really about changing culture. Like an aircraft carrier doesn't turn on a dime, culture doesn't change overnight or even in a tour.

Let me throw some questions back your way.

Are you still proud to wear the cloth of your country?
Do you still get goose bumps when you stand in front of a formation of sailors or salute as a color guard passes by?
Do you think the missions of the Navy are important to our nation and our way of life?
Do you believe the Sailors of our Navy deserve quality leadership?
Do you believe you still have the talent to help the Navy accomplish its many missions and the leadership skills to make a difference in the lives of our Sailors?
Do you believe your Navy seniors (whether you agree with them all the time or not) conduct themselves and make decisions to further the best interest of the Navy and the Nation vice their own self interest?
Are you still willing to serve? (in the true meaning of the word)
Are you willing to accept that you are unlikely to change all that you believe in your heart of hearts needs to be changed?
Are you willing to accept that things will never change as quickly as you would like?
Do you believe it is still important to try?
Are you willing to believe me when I tell you that the minute you take off the uniform you will have less influence on the culture of the Navy than you do today or you had as a Lieutenant? (I don't care if you grow up to be the SECNAV or the POTUS, ... Navy culture changes from within!)

I ask these questions because I believe the answers are important to the decision you face. The answer to some are what gets me out of bed at 0415 to commute to the Pentagon, when I could be comfortably retired and sleeping in every morning. The answer to others I didn't understand until I took off my uniform.

Don't get me wrong, there are wonderful opportunities on the outside. You can be perfectly happy there and no one will think the less of you or your service. So ... Do you need to find another team on which you are the norm? Only you can answer that question. But, first you should ask yourself many of the same questions regarding your future situation. Also, ask if you would really be happy being the norm anywhere!

My belief is that the Navy is better organization today than it has ever been. Does it frustrate me? Yes. Are there a few people I believe are either self-serving or not pulling their weight? Yes. Do I also see young Captains and Commanders who are swinging way above their weight class and making a huge difference. Absolutely! Are they always fully appreciated and rewarded for their efforts. Nope!

Then comes the most important piece of advice I can give you. Whatever your decision, make sure it is a family decision. Call anytime if you want to talk."


(End)

I can honestly state that I have read this e-mail more than a dozen times. Just as countless others with whom I serve, I can answer just about every one of the questions posed with an emphatic "Yes!" Unfortunately, I have had some trouble of late with the question regarding my seniors and their ability to put self-interests above the Nation, Navy and Shipmates. A few seniors, peers and juniors for that matter seem to be overly focused on their career progression which is disappointing but I remain hopeful that they will either course correct or the system will weed them out. I will also admit that he nailed me when he asked if I would truly be happy being part of the team where I was the norm. Good, bad or indifferent, I have always made it a point to not be the norm, but a complementary role player filling a void and attempting to play to the strengths of those around me. Truth is, the norm is usually accepting of the status quo, doesn't yearn to be more and will eventually become irrelevant. His message, coupled with great conversations with a few other board members have removed any doubts I had. I am "All In!"

Whenever I contemplate retirement in the future, I will refer to this e-mail and when I can no longer answer "Yes" to these questions, it will be time to leave. I hope you find similar value in the words shared by this Great American and consider using them to turn the tables on your protégés.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Delete Button

Last Friday, a great time was had by all at our Command Holiday Party. Our Holiday Party Committee did a great job creating an opportunity for all of us to have some good fun with some great people! It was especially gratifying to be able to meet so many of the friends and family who make up the extended NIOC Pensacola Family. There were many good memories from the night (i.e. scavenger hunt, door prizes, etc) and my favorite was interacting on a personal level with so many people. I particularly enjoyed the dance lesson I received from a valued Petty Officer who felt my life would be more complete if I knew how to "Dougie.” As you might imagine, it was good for a few laughs as I am many things but a good dancer I am not.

When I awoke the next morning, given the make-up of OUR team I was not surprised to see that a portion of my dance lesson was posted via YOU TUBE on our command Facebook page (note: No link provided, as you need no visual evidence that I have little rhythm). Admittedly, my initial reaction was one of concern as I wondered how the video might have been edited in an effort to have fun at my expense. After reviewing the 17 second clip, I saw how harmless it was. Some of my peers thought it odd that I didn’t delete the link immediately and ask the Sailor to remove the video from YOU TUBE altogether. I thought it odd that they would feel threatened by the post. I interpreted the playful addition to our site as acknowledgement that Sailors know:

- I don’t take myself too seriously
- It is safe to openly participate in OUR Social Networking Forum
- We are serious about strengthening OUR family based culture

Some might have deleted the link only to find that they inadvertently undermined many of the desired effects intended when committing to creating an on-line presence. The purpose of OUR forum remains “To share unclassified information, enhance OUR collective situational awareness and foster OUR command culture of teamwork, effective communication, continual improvement and entrepreneurship.”

I have stated on many occasions, I love what I do and more importantly, I love with whom I do it. It is the personal connections created over time that bring me the most joy. The dance lesson, the posting of the video and the good-natured laughs we continue to share serve as validation. Validation that we are building something special at OUR command, validation that we see ourselves as a family, and validation that we appreciate who we are as much as our customers value what we do.

Just as is often done when we are directed to "Cancel Reference A" (Military jargon for "My senior wants me to publicly acknowledge I showed too much initiative"...tongue in cheek), deleting a harmless video for reasons of personal pride would have undone far more. I still can't "Dougie" but I appreciate what the whole experience says about the family I enjoy at "work".

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Giving Ourselves Permission

I grew up the son of a (now retired) police officer and, as you might imagine, he and my Mom created a rather specific environment in which to nurture my brother and me. As children, my brother and I would often times contrast the specific rules under which we lived to those of our friends. Back then, such analysis would leave us angry as we realized that "Jimmy" got to stay out later than us, and "Jennifer" had a larger allowance than us, and "Johnny" wandered from house to house without telling his parents unlike us. Now that I am older (and a parent), I see those "facts" (and so many other things) very differently.

My parents had very specific rules and as long as we operated within the boundaries we were fine. Because they were clearly communicated, we completely understood them. If we were operating within the guidelines, there was no need to ask for permission. Likewise, if we had good reason to believe a deviation was in order, all we had to do was explain why we were going to operate outside family standard operating procedures. In essence, the foundation of my childhood was two-way communication: clearly articulated expectations and mutual trust. It should come as no surprise that as a parent I am doing my best to perpetuate a similar cycle.

Admittedly, my seven year old son is treated a little differently than most of his classmates are by their parents. My son knows our expectations and he knows that asking for our permission to eat a snack, use the family computer or retire to his room to play games is not required. At the same time, he knows when to inform us of his desires to stray from the stated boundaries. He has permission to act on his own initiative, as well as both make personal decisions and mistakes (though somewhat controlled…he is seven, after all).

Although I have been a part of the Navy for over 22 years, I have come to really question the culture we continue to build by placing such an emphasis on asking for permission. As a midshipman and a junior officer, I submitted my share of special requests and like most good Sailors, I followed protocol. All the while, though, I was wondering why I needed permission to do some of the things for which I intended to do. Now as a Commanding Officer, I continue to both understand the intent and in many cases question the practice. I question the culture we continue to create when we require our juniors to "Submit a Special Request Chit.” My concerns are validated when I hear stories of staff officers lined up outside a Flag Officer's office asking for permission to take action. By forcing ourselves and/or feeling obligated to ask for permission, opportunities are lost, progress is halted, initiative is stifled and a culture of contentment is perpetuated. I don’t believe our seniors want us to ask permission, we are just conditioned to not give it to ourselves.

I hope that my son continues to give himself permission to realize his dreams, just as I’d like the Sailors with whom I serve to see “Request” chits as a communications vehicle used to share “Intentions” and enhance the situational awareness of the chain of command, and not as a tool that promotes submissive behavior. Truth is, some of the things for which the Navy forces grown men and women to ask permission is insulting. And to those of us continually looking up the chain for guidance, please consider giving ourselves the permission necessary to truly execute our individual charter and make the most of our existing platform.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pace Matters

Two weeks ago, I enjoyed a nice telephone conversation with a colleague where I pitched him on how we (OUR Command) were going to create additional value for our existing customers and at the same time posture ourselves to significantly grow our customer base. He and I had a constructive exchange and his feedback helped me to tighten up the proposal. At the end of the discussion, we spoke about various side projects I have been championing that admittedly are outside of what many perceive to be the traditional Commanding Officer job description (I'm not one to constrain myself by the expectations of others). Knowing I am one who appreciates constructive feedback from a 360 degree array, he felt comfortable enough to remind me of the importance of engaging the support of others before taking such bold and deliberate action (i.e. inadvertently fracturing relationships in the name of facilitating progress). I appreciated the thought. He also proceeded to remind me that our journey was a marathon and that as much as I would like to see immediate progress, I needed to slow down, pace myself and strengthen alliances with other stakeholders.

As a person who grew up on the soccer, baseball and football fields playing team sports, and as an adult who has completed many endurance events, he was speaking my language. In fact, his points were the very ones I have been known to make to others in the past. I say in the past because as I grow older and acknowledge that there is as little as 20 months left in my Navy career (hopefully more), I realize that as true as the marathon analogy is, the pace of progress matters more and more. Truth is that time will run out on us at some point during the marathon that is life, a tour of duty or any meaningful project.

It should come as no surprise that I refuse to execute my professional duties at what is my literal slow and steady marathon pace. Instead, I sprint when needed, walk when I have to and take advantage of every aid station. As the so-called finish line becomes increasingly visible, I can't help but run faster. Not because I am anxious to be done, but because I know the privilege of serving will not last forever and I can't help but do my part to help us make as much progress as possible before our time is up. Like any other team player, I prefer running with the pack at a mutually acceptable pace. That said, it is evident we are each running at a pace in which we are comfortable (some faster than others), towards our personally defined finish line, yet fail to realize that our "race" is nearing its end (a military career flies by). When my time is up in the Navy, I want it to be clear to everyone, but mainly myself, that I ran as fast as I could for as long as I wanted and was not pacing myself in hopes of seizing an opportunity that never came along.

I very much appreciate the reminder from my valued colleague and ask that we all acknowledge that there comes a time to sprint to the finish line and for those of us entering the home stretch that time is now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Finish Strong

During a recent command physical training session, I had the pleasure of running with one of our many talented young Sailors. As I grow older my definition of young changes and in this case I mean 19 years old (he has since turned 20). We conversed as he pulled me along “The Chip Trail” at Corry Station. The conversation was enjoyable and as we neared the home stretch he began to challenge me by picking up the pace. As our speed increased, he shared with me his personal philosophy, which he simply called “Finish Strong.”

What started simply as a mutual desire to physically challenge ourselves, quickly evolved into much more. He shared with me how over the course of his life he has migrated toward a mantra of “Finish Strong”, how those two words now drive him in every way, and how he has started many things in life too slowly and therefore realizing less success than he would like.

Given the age of this young man, I was blown away by the message, as well as the passionate and articulate way in which he communicated it. We challenged ourselves and though we did “Finish Strong”, we were both well aware that we hadn’t finished anything. We were merely off to tackle the next evolution in life with the same sense of urgency, level of effort and commitment to excellence we demonstrated during our run.

I believe most of us go through life without a personal philosophy and I know I did not truly identify and commit to mine until I was roughly 30. Those who know me might say that my actions demonstrated a commitment to a personal philosophy long before that, but I must admit any correlation was merely coincidence. The fact that this 19 year old had already turned the corner impressed me tremendously.

Since that run, each time our paths cross I greet this Sailor with a simple “Finish Strong” to which he replies “Always do, Sir.” The first thing this young man feels as though he has deliberately started with all his might is his service in the U.S. Navy. Given the pace with which his Navy journey began, I look forward to seeing how he finishes and I welcome the opportunity to sweep and block for him along the way.

Last weekend as I reached the back-stretch of the Pensacola Half Marathon, I replayed the very run I shared with this young man and that memory demanded that I did in fact “Finish Strong.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Means is the End

Like so many others, I have spent too much time in my life chasing what I interpreted to be the end goal. It might have been a sports trophy, a diploma or a specific qualification. No matter what it was, my eyes were fixated on the prize and view along the path to the objective was all too often a blur. Using the prize as the metric, I have been fortunate enough to have had more successes than failures. However, as time goes on I realize the flaws of that. Three years ago, I became a big fan of the late Jim Rohn and his mantra: "It's not what you get but what you become." I've uttered that quote more than many people like to hear, but it is a personal philosophy that I wish I would have adopted earlier in my life.

Over the past few weeks at work, we have asked various portions of the team to endure self evaluation processes each culminating in a brief that had questionable value in their mind (in all honesty, mine too). Tomorrow, we will conduct an oral qualification board for a junior officer that will result in the minting of our newest qualified Information Warfare Officer. In each case, it's not about the brief nor the board, it's about the work that led to that culminating point. It was the study and mentorship that prepared the young officer for the board, and it was the introspective conversations the self evaluation forced. This weekend I will participate in a distance running event (Note I have trouble with the term "race," given my pace.) I have no doubt that I will finish, just as I have no doubt the Ensign will pass his oral board. I say that not because I see the future but because the parties involved focused on the journey and made preparation the priority.

When we look back at the things we have accomplished over the course of our lives, I hope that we make the time to focus on the journey that prepared us for any given event. For in most cases, the journey is not the means to an end, but the test itself. I have no regrets and am pleased with both my current station in life and my planned trajectory. That said, I am making deliberate efforts to help my son, and anyone else interested in listening, see that our life's journey is more than a scavenger hunt collecting accolades that hardly represent who we are, and likely misrepresent who we think we have become.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Where are Your Blockers?

Those of you who know me are well aware that I waste far too much time each fall watching college football. I make no apologies...I love it. Like any sports fan, I enjoy sports analogies. So, couple that with my passion to share insights and help others navigate their careers, well you know where I am headed.

One of the many great things about my current job is that I get to speak with each and every newly minted Information Warfare Officer as they begin their journey in our Information Warfare Basic Course (IWBC). The last time I addressed the group, I spoke of "Things I Did Not Learn In The Basic Course." Since then, I have enjoyed individual sessions with young Sailors and in one recent session a young man made it a point to personally acknowledge that he alone was responsible for his career. There was a time when I truly believed that to be the case for everyone, but I no longer see it that way.

Just like football where the league is filled with great running backs, the workplace is filled with tremendous talent (at least that is the case where I work). When all running backs have similar physical attributes and are equally adept at finding the open field, more often than not, the difference in outcome is determined by the blockers they have in front of them. Though few of us in the workplace have the physical attributes of a collegiate running back (I personally know of none), we do usually start our respective careers on equal footing with similar levels of both ability and potential. What makes the difference for most of us is the number of people we give reason to block for us along the way. I say "give reason" because not everyone is willing to go out of their way to create opportunities for those running in their wake. As someone who takes great pride in blocking for others, my default is to help another gain yardage. That said, the level of effort I use after initial contact varies on the attributes of the individual for whom I am blocking. There are some for whom I call in additional blockers; there are some who, when they fumble the ball, I stop to pick it up and put it back in their hands; and there are still others whom I help to tackle (Commitment to the Institution).

I guess all I am trying to say is that as individuals we need to do our part to give others reason to help us to reach career goals. And as we begin to find ourselves in positions to mentor others, we should be deliberate in our levels of support. We must consider our responsibility to look out for our best and brightest, to force everyone to reach toward their potential in the process, and to ensure we demonstrate a commitment to the insitution by providing off-ramps for those who aren't meeting the mark.

WE are responsible for our careers and, yes, WE are dependent on many others to help us achieve our goals and reach our potential. The best running back rarely has the most yards, the most touchdowns or wins the Heisman, but it's the running back behind the best line that may very well have all three.

Build your line, run hard and block for those in your wake!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Focus on Shortcomings and Watch Strengths Atrophy

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending my second grade son's parent-teacher conference. When considering the standards of measure our school has chosen, I left the hour long session feeling very good about the school, the teacher and my son's performance. I use the preceding caveat because I recognize that it is the measures we choose that drive our behavior and give us reason to claim success or acknowledge failure. As you might guess, I don't think much of these particular metrics, the ones chosen to measure academic success, nor do I truly believe that all children of the same age should be measured against the same standard. It is this single standard, assembly line mentality that stifles creativity, conditions our children to become extrinsically motivated (if we parents haven't already started them on this path), and attempts to produce cookie cutter young adults. Though I am passionate on that subject, I wanted to focus on the aspect of the conversation that most resonated with me: the typically held philosophy that it is more important to focus on the weaknesses than build upon our strengths.

I am a firm believer that we should focus on leveraging our strengths while knowing ourselves well enough to acknowledge our areas for improvement. The specifics regarding my son are not important, but if you know me and my wife you might guess that his penmanship is lacking and he is not overly communicative in public settings (evidently inherited traits). At the same time, his other attributes are well above average (again, when measured against the accepted standard). Rather than tell us that we should build upon his interest and ability in math with more challenging work or introduce books that would continue to build upon what is apparently a relatively strong vocabulary, we hear from the teacher that we need to focus our attention on helping him to write more legibly and develop his written communication skills. The two things that not surprisingly, he dislikes most.

Coincidentally, my mid-term counseling at work was this week and I was pleased to have my supervisor take a different approach. She documented my strengths, acknowledged my areas for improvement and encouraged me to do two things:

- Focus on leveraging my strengths
- Find ways to leverage the strengths of others to complement my weaknesses

Why is it that our academic culture (at least in K-12) is so different than our real world culture? Is it the theory that childhood, including schooling and home-life, is a time to prepare one for life? If that is the case, why is it that we promote such an incongruent mindset? (I argue that childhood IS life and not a preparation period, but I digress.) Why do we frown upon failure, focus on developing skillsets we don't necessarily enjoy (which correlate strongly to doing well), and attempt to build carbon copy kids? Have we not learned from our country's success in the computer industry led by people who are not afraid to fail, focus on doing what they love, and celebrate individuality? Is it any surprise that a good portion of our leaders in the industry in which we lead the world were not particularly good students (at least when using our traditional measure)?

My son is in school by his choice. He was unschooled last year but decided that his time riding the bus, playing with friends at recess, and sharing stories at lunchtime at school are worth sitting in a classroom for the majority of the day. Using traditional second grade metrics, I have seen him perform admirably. At the same time, I have witnessed the thirst for knowledge he once had dissipate. He is quickly becoming the very student I was: a student focused on the grades and not the learning, a child focused on the social aspects of school and not the education. I have come to the conclusion that traditional school is often times a wasted youth. The metrics we choose are the very reason the products of traditional US schooling are not faring as well as our foreign counterparts. Life is about choice (even for a seven year old) and I hope that he soon chooses to return to a life that celebrated individuality, yearned to quench a continual thirst for knowledge and focused on fully exploring strengths, passions and potential. Until then, we will be focusing on penmanship and written communication, the two things he despises the most.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Diversity Box

Earlier this week a colleague was kind enough to share some very insightful feedback on a selection process in which few have meaningful visibility. Within his feedback, I was struck by a statement regarding the role of diversity in the selection process. Though he was very careful to clarify diversity had no meaningful impact in the selection, when it came to checking a box in the application regarding the self-reporting of one's race/ethnicity, he did "Recommend against "Declined to Respond" option." The reason why I gave that statement so much consideration is because I see it as yet another disconnect between our actions and the desired effect. We acknowledge that the diversity we seek is diversity of thought, but the process through which we are choosing to get there is based on a rather significant assumption. That assumption is people who look different, think different.

Over the years, I have met people who look nothing like me, yet think much like me. At the same time, I have met many people who looked a lot like me (poor souls), yet thought very differently. Three weeks ago I had the privilege of addressing our most recent Information Warfare Basic Course graduates. Not surprisingly the audience was predominately white males with a few women and otherwise diverse students sprinkled throughout...all there on their own merit. As part of my talk I spoke on this very subject...Diversity of Thought. While doing so, I acknowledged that we by and large looked the same and began canvassing the group. Raise your hands if you are...

A liberal arts major?
An engineer?
A product of USNA? OCS? STA-21?
A Lateral Transfer?
Prior enlisted? Information Dominance Corps Rate? Other Rate?

There were a few other categories, but I think you get the point. Turns out the audience was pretty diverse after all, but by a completely different set of metrics. That said, there is no way to measure "Diversity of Thought" given any of our selection processes (everything is selection by proxy with no personal interface between the selection authority and the candidate). In fact, over time we appear to do our best to promote a cookie cutter mindset where over time we funnel our best and brightest through similar carer paths where we "benefit" from similar experiences, grow similar knowledge, skills and abilities and make our way towards a singular mindset. So yes, we can ensure we have diverse physical characteristics, but clearly don't seem to be overly interested in ensuring diversity of thought. Despite the fact that the diversity measures I used when addressing the class were deliberate upon their selection to our wardroom (that was my last job, so I had a good idea about the educational/experiential diversity before I asked for a show if hands), so will be the migration towards a singular mindset as their careers progress. It appears that regardless of what you bring to the table, as you near the head of the table the variance in individual thought will diminish. We will make sure of that!

We continue to say we are blind to race, ethnicity and gender but we want people to check a voluntary box? I respect the opinions of my colleagues and this person in particular. Even so, I will never advise a Sailor as to how or whether to check a diversity box.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Workplace Culture: Google and the Military

It is no secret that Google enjoys a unique corporate culture. Last week, as part of the Information Dominance Corps Senior Leadership Seminar, I had the privilege of witnessing it first hand. The uniqueness is in the extremity with which the underlying principles were adopted and not in the cultural philosophy itself. In fact, I saw little reason why the most important attributes would not work in a military culture. Sure, our dress code is a bit different and there is no way we could justify using taxpayer money to provide our service members with the facilities and food choices they enjoy. Aside from that, there is much we should emulate:

1) Expression of Individual Creativity - One cannot miss the pride in which people take in personalizing their workspace nor the level of detail Google takes in creating unique collaboration areas. Clearly, the work environment both feeds and reflects a culture of creativity, transparency and personal connection. The underlying military culture dissuades individuality and therefore creativity. In many cases, there is good reason for that, but the Information Dominance Corps in many respects is the Navy's Google so finding that balance between traditional military culture and that across Silicon Valley is paramount. There is no reason why we do not encourage a similar level of individual creativity. The most obvious program worthy of our adoption is the "20% Time". Each Googler is required to spend 20% of their professional time pursuing their passion vice working within their position description. Many people have since turned their "20% Time" projects into their primary job, new business lines for Google and enhanced the lives of many of us. None of us should be constrained by our position description and I'll tread lightly, but dare I say that commands need not strictly adhere to their designated "Mission, Functions and Tasks"?

2) Accessibility to Seniors - Every Friday at "TGIF", a senior executive hosts an open informal forum to share information with any and all interested parties. He/She fully discloses information of interest to the group and then answers uncensored questions from the audience. Geography need not impede participation as it is broadcast across the global Google infrastructure. I know I can (and will) make myself more accessible on the local level and there is little reason why TGIFs are not happening across any team. Accessibility builds trust and trust is the foundation of any relationship, personal or professional.

3) 360 degree input on performance appraisals - The vantage points of peers and subordinates are valued just as much as supervisors when it comes to assessing the performance of any given individual. Clearly, this alters behavior over the reporting period and ensures employees are properly focused across the team vice overly concerned with pleasing their seniors. Many of us invite informal 360 degree feedback in hopes of helping us to continually improve, but by making it part of the appraisal process we can help to ensure that it is those who enjoy trust and confidence across a 360 degree array that are pushed to the forefront of our team. Too many people are good at managing the perceptions of their seniors while they let down their peers and juniors in the process. Google ensures that doesn't happen and we can all do our part to do the same.

4) Meaningful input to hiring and assignment decisions - Current Googlers are required to interview potential hires and provide meaningful assessments to the point that they have veto power over an applicant. In discussing with current Googlers, they take great pride in their involvement and take personal ownership of anyone they endorse who ultimately makes it through the hiring gauntlet. Once hired, individuals seek out people with whom they would like to work from both a personality and technical expertise perspective. This creates a sponsorship culture whereby people take a vested interest in the success of the people they helped to get on the team, for their credibility is somewhat tied to the contributions of the new hire. Though our hiring model makes distributed involvement more challenging, it is not impossible. By having Detailers include a Chief/Officer who can accurately speak to the performance and potential of a Sailor prior to negotiating orders would create a similar culture and ensure it is more than flowery words on paper (i.e. performance appraisal) that influences often critical assignment decisions.

5) Personal Empowerment and Accountability - Truth be told, there are many potential distractions at Google that could inhibit productivity. In fact, many of my military colleagues acknowledged they might find focusing on work a bit difficult if they worked at Google. I am sure some Googlers find assimilation difficult at the beginning, but those who find it overly challenging will surely be asked to leave the team. Though everyone is empowered, value creation is critical and because the performance appraisal process is tied directly to compensation, only contributors are retained. If our productivity level is negatively impacted by continual visits to the many cafeterias, working out at the state-of-the-art gym or socializing with the large number of very interesting people, the chances of us losing access to these "distractions" and our employment altogether is high. So whether it is the carrot or the stick that motivates us, they are both real at Google.

Because I only spent a few hours there (which included a chance lunch with a high school friend), my assessment is clearly overly simplified. Regardless, there is no reason why these characteristics are not a part of military life to varying levels. I cannot control what a happens outside my small sphere of influence, but I can influence the weather within the microclimate of NIOC Pensacola. Rest assured, we will experiment with, learn from and share our trials as we integrate certain aspects of the Google Culture within our local laboratory.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mentorship, Sponsorship and Favoritism

Mentorship - A personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

The focus of mentorship is on the personal and professional development of the individual, and just about anything that helps that individual to improve is time well spent. I have written about mentorship in the past and attempted to make a case that mentorship programs fail in large part because mentees/protégées are not truly embracing the responsibilities that come with such a role. Since then, I have been attempting to quantify the resulting value of the time and energy being poured into hollow personal development programs...it simply cannot be done.

Parallel to our push to establish formal and forced mentorship programs across the Navy is our emphasis on demonstrating tangible results of diversity programs. This is a sensitive subject to many so please be clear that I use it as an example of a not so subtle sponsorship program into which it appears to be evolving.

Sponsorship - The overt advocacy on behalf of a specific individual, program, event, product, etc.

For the sake of this thought piece, where mentorship is about helping the individual to grow, sponsorship is about helping an organization get better by lobbying for opportunities on behalf of specific individuals who exemplify attributes valued by the organization.

While mentorship has largely unquantifiable direct results, the impact of sponsorship is clear and unambiguous (resulting success of the individual afforded a given opportunity). The challenge we have is that we don't openly leverage sponsorship. In the Navy, "Sponsorship-by-proxy" comes in the form of personal evaluations, screening boards, detailing opportunities and promotion. In my opinion, the reason we do not openly admit and formalize sponsorship programs in favor of mentorship programs is fear. We believe favoritism will be the result. In fact, just the opposite is true. Sponsorship occurs today, but because it is not openly discussed, we are left with the perception of favoritism.

I mentor fellow Sailors in hopes of making them better. I sponsor fellow Sailors in hopes of making the organization better. Some of the Sailors I choose to mentor, I choose not to sponsor. Likewise, I sponsor Sailors for whom I have no real mentorship role, just a strong respect for them as individuals. Whether we are playing the role of sponsor or mentor, we should be cultivating the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal traits we value most. Our goal merely being everyone realizes their potential and those who represent our ethos best are properly positioned to help the team succeed.

Rather than spin circles in the name of mentorship, let's make forward progress by embracing overt sponsorship. The measure of our success is the alignment of the resulting characteristics (not physical) of the individuals who are purposely thrust upward to those traits we claim to value. Of course, the key to all of this is formally committing to and communicating a single standard of organizational values so that we can all recruit, retain and sponsor individuals who can help us to continually raise the bar. Until we do, the perception of favoritism will continue to grow and fracture the team. All the while, we will attempt to justify the results with the standard "best and fully qualified" assessment based purely on pieces of paper written by others who may not completely understand or share our values.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Teams Failing Leaders?

As I look forward to witnessing another good friend realize the career milestone that is Command, I am reminded that it has been less than two weeks since the Navy relieved our 13th Commanding Officer (CO) this year. It stings whenever any CO gives the Navy reason to fire him/her, but this one hit closer to home than any. This time it was a classmate of mine from the Naval Academy, but more importantly she was a fellow member of the Information Dominance Corps who failed Information Dominance Corps Sailors.

This thought piece is not about any singular CO firing, but wonderment of how this happens in any organization. Many people point to the failure of the individual due to poor choices, lack of training or leaders giving unworthy individuals the honor of command in the name of diversity, favoritism, etc. I believe that each of those are contributing factors in some cases, but not a constant. To me the common thread is the lack of a true Team Culture.

It is said that success is a team effort, while failure can be achieved in isolation. Families, friends, coaches and teachers enable the success of a child. Without the interest of others, that child will almost certainly fail. For a command to succeed, it takes deliberate efforts on the part of Chiefs, "White Hats", Civilians and Officers. And as we have seen all too often, the CO may chose to fail the command. Because the Navy has a proud tradition of ensuring ultimate accountability and authority rests with a CO, we are quick to judge a CO who is fired, but what about those on the sidelines? I am not advocating that we let a CO off the hook, but only that we all look in the mirror to see what we might have done to prevent such failure (Related Article: Point the Finger Inward)

Arguably, the single greatest self-correcting organization known to man is the Chief Petty Officer Mess. There is a proud tradition of helping each other continually improve, holding each other accountable and collectively raising the bar that exists only on the closests of teams. Why are commands unable to cultivate that philosophy across the entire team? And why might Chiefs be reluctant to mentor their seniors with the same philosophy?

In the aftermath of the most recent CO being relieved, I spoke about it to the Chiefs, Officers and Senior Civilians at NIOC Pensacola. I told them that if this happened at OUR Command, it is partly their fault. That was not a ploy to shirk responsibility or predict a future failure. It was a purposeful effort to let them all know that I expect them to hold me accountable, to be constructively critical of my actions and to help us to collectively manage perceptions. We will succeed as a team, but I will not fail the team because they allowed me to live in isolation. All are cordially invited to help ensure I am/become the CO they deserve and that OUR actions have the desired effects, while minimizing unintended consequences.

Much of leadership is perception management and most times actions are perceived inappropriate long before they truly are. Here's to hoping that we can grow a culture whereby we are more concerned with our seniors and peers holding true to our proud tradition than we are our next performance appraisal, future assignments and promotability. I firmly believe that the inappropriate activity of at least a few of the 13 COs who failed their Sailors and Families could have been prevented by addressing questionable activity before it became truly inappropriate and required intervention from higher authority.

Note: Coincidentally, I had the honor of commissioning a new Chief Warrant Officer earlier today. A proud leader who continues to achieve much because he is willing to tell others what they need to, and not necessarily what they want to, hear.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The "C" Word

Just like every other Weekly Operations Brief at NIOC Pensacola, I witnessed something new.  The difference last week was that my observations had little to do with the subject matter and everything to do with the words chosen to communicate the progress since our last brief.  For the first time in maybe forever, I was in a room with fellow Sailors and though I was repeatedly hearing the "C" word, it was coming from someone's mouth other than my own.  Usually, I am guilty of overusing various forms of the word "collaborate" as I espouse the merits of working beyond our individual "cylinder of excellence".  Instead, I listened with great pride as Sailors repeatedly boasted of the collaborative approach they employed to achieve rather substantive analytical progress.  I was prideful not because I believed I had anything to do with the team seeing the value of collaboration, but because I knew I was amongst true team players.

My parents taught me the value of teamwork early on and it was reenforced throughout my childhood by way of constant participation in team sports.  Life at the Naval Academy took the concept of teamwork to another level and I have never felt completely comfortable about working in isolation since then.  That is not to say that I am not capable of working by myself, but I am wired to create opportunities to work with others and have evolved to one who thoroughly enjoys helping others to leverage their own personal network to get the job done.
  
I have recently done some reading on learning curves, collaboration curves and institutional innovation, which has helped to put words and arguably, some "science" behind what has always been just plain common sense to many.

Learning Curve -  Rate of improvement in performing a task as a function of time, or the rate of change in average cost (in hours or dollars) as a function of cumulative output.

Collaboration Curve -  The more participants--and interactions between those participants--you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.


Most of us are familiar with the term "Learning Curve" and we do our part to drive that curve closer to zero.  We may even apply the learning curve model across a small team to achieve the same objective.  The real power is in aggregating the learning curves across disparate members multiple teams.  Navy Leadership was attempting to do just that when we created the Information Dominance Corps.  And though we have begun to leverage that model, we still seem to stay in our comfort zones and focus on individual learning curves vice a singular collaboration curve.  I could not be more proud to be a part of the NIOC Pensacola Team.  A small command who continually finds ways to not only drive our learning curve towards zero, but to create ways to help the larger team enhance our collective collaboration curve.

Locally, we talk of "Teamwork, Effective Communication, Continual Improvement and Entrepreneurship." None of which are achieved without a deliberate demonstration of COLLABORATION.     

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis...Not Here (at Least Not Yet)

As I was enjoying the last weekend prior to my 40th Birthday, I started to contemplate the idea of the stereotypical "Mid-Life Crisis" that some "grown men" express by buying sports cars or chasing after younger women. I then picked up my iPad to read a bit from Rick Johnson's Book titled "Better Dads, Stronger Sons: How Fathers Can Guide Young Boys to Become Men of Character". The following quote caught my attention...

"Midlife crisis happens when it finally hits us that we have not really accomplished anything significant with our lives, that our names will never be remembered beyond a few words in an obituary, that we wasted the nobility that God gave us by chasing after material goods and transitory, self gratifying experiences."

I am no psychiatrist nor do I mean to come across as the least bit judgmental or righteous. I firmly believe that life is too short not to be spent doing the things we enjoy most. And I am the first to admit that many people question how I choose to spend much of my time. Once again, I use the word "choice" because I truly believe everything we do is a choice. To get back to the original thought, why is it that I do not feel a mid-life crisis coming on? I guess because I have convinced myself that as a Father, Son, Spouse, Friend and Sailor, I continue to accomplish much in my life. That my ego is not so big as to give me reason to panic knowing my legacy will not last forever. And that I have clearly not been chasing after "material goods", "self gratifying experiences" or as I see so often in the Navy, a specific rank. That said, I do feel a sense of urgency and though it is regarding time, it is not about a looming death.

The sense of urgency I feel is about maximizing the fleeting opportunity my wife and I share to nurture our son, the relatively short time I have left to contribute to the lives of my fellow Sailors and the numerous friendships not yet fully developed.

As I have been known to say, "Life is so good I often times feel guilty." So as I get ready to celebrate the end of my 40th year of life, I will catch my breath and enjoy the guilt. The guilt that comes with being so fortunate in so many ways, the guilt that comes with having no real regrets and the guilt that comes with knowing the future remains promising.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Because All Goals Require a Team Effort...

In my last post, I made mention of the fact that I am in the process of meeting individually with each of the 150+ members of our team to discuss their personal goals, among other things. Given the high caliber of person the Navy continues to attract and the fact that Cryptologic Technicians are far above even the average Sailor (barriers to entry in the form of ASVAB scores and in-depth background investigations mandate such a distinction), I am not the least bit surprised by the variance in, specificity of, and effort being applied to both their individual and team goals. Though we talk of many things, one thing that is purposely not part of the conversation is my goals. That said, goals cannot be accomplished if we do not share them with those who can and want to help us to accomplish them, so here it goes...

I have numerous goals in life and have been fortunate enough to accomplish many of them, though even more allude me. What I have noticed repeatedly is that the accomplishment of one goal results in the addition of a few sequentially related goals. Obtaining the position of Commanding Officer in our Navy has been a goal for quite some time and now that numerous people have helped me to achieve that goal, I find that my goal sheet is more populated than ever. As I look at the list, I can sort my short term professional goals into three categories...

1) Become the Commanding Officer the Sailors at NIOC Pensacola deserve
- Seniors, peers and juniors alike (most prominently Chief Petty Officers) have helped me to develop many of the tools necessary to be the leader I want to become. I recognize the Sailors at NIOC Pensacola are more deserving of what I am delivering today. Each and every day I strive to become the leader worthy of the platform to which I am fortunate enough to be assigned.

2) Help a command full of leaders to grow into a command that leads
- Like many places of business, OUR command is full of great leaders/followers, Sailors, technicians, operators, teachers, etc. But, because of our command make-up (size and experiential diversity), entrepreneurial culture, and complete control over our collective focus (i.e. We are not force providers, but accountable for the direct employment of our entire team), we are uniquely postured to lead beyond our command lifelines. We will grow into the team that contributes well beyond our assigned charter as we find and address areas in which we can add value to the larger effort.

3) Change the way Commanding Officers across the Information Dominance Corps approach command
- As with most businesses, commands have a specific mission, vision and set of values. Over time our commands have become more prone to operating in isolation and looking to Headquarters to synchronize our collective efforts. The following is from a letter I recently sent to all IDC Commanding Officers in hopes of us working toward more of a franchise model, where we realize we are collectively leveraging a single workforce toward a unified goal:

"...I am writing to seek your advice and assistance, as it is clear our fundamental goal is strengthening our collaborative IDC culture. Sharing high aspirations for our time together in command and complementary objectives for our collective Commanding Officer experience is important. Following the lead of some of the Navy’s best senior leaders, we see collaboration, synchronization and continual learning paying huge dividends. For example:

Self-Synchronization – We have much to learn from each other (particularly me from all of you) and there is no reason why we should wait for our ISICs to synchronize our efforts, define “Best Practices” or “Benchmarks” on our behalf or direct changes to our respective MF&T. Through professional networking and other collaboration tools, we can learn from each other on a regular basis. I am eager to begin the learning process and keep it going.

Exponential Learning – We must lead beyond our respective “cylinder of excellence” and demonstrate the requisite commitment to institutional innovation. By allowing individual expertise to extend beyond the walls (i.e. geography and MF&T) of our respective command, we enable our ability to collectively leverage the “Wisdom of the IDC Crowd” to meet, exceed and further shape/satisfy operational requirements."


Because we only have but 24 months together (and one is already in our wake), there is a sense of urgency. I firmly believe one and two are achievable, but three may prove to be a bit of a stretch given the timeline. But stretch goals are a tool to help focus our efforts as we strive for more. Though I hope we are successful, as we say at NIOC Pensacola "Fear of failure is not authorized!" We are who we are in large part because of our failures and must continue to acknowledge that any failure is but a temporary setback along our individual and collective learning curve to success.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Empathy, Personal Connections and Effective Communication

Over the years, I have been guilty of incorrectly using the terms sympathy and empathy.

Empathy - The ability to co-experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of another without them being communicated directly by the individual.

Sympathy - The ability to understand and to support the emotional situation or experience of another being with compassion and sensitivity.


To me, the greatest differentiation between the two is that empathy is based upon a bonded relationship, while sympathy can be felt from a distance with people you don't know at all.

Though there are many situations in life that I hope to never personally endure, I have a strong desire to develop the personal connection that will afford me the opportunity to empathize with others. For too much of my life I have been guilty of "mirror imaging" and assuming others think like I do and value the same things. In essence, I saw their experiences through my eyes and drew my own conclusions. How wrong is that?!? I could answer the question..."What would you do if you were in my position?" but might have trouble dealing with "What would you do if you shared my values, experiences and goals in life and was presented with this very situation?"

As with many aspects of my post-adolescent personal development, I can credit my wife with helping me to see the difference. She has taken a deliberate approach to connecting with our son. That is, she communicates with him to such a degree that she not only sees his life through her eyes, but also through the eyes of a seven year old boy who has experienced what he has thus far. Some might argue that a parent's job is to help their child see life through the eyes of a responsible adult, and in time that is every parent's long term objective. However, how likely is it that a seven year old is capable of making such a leap? Why would anyone even try to help them to make such a leap?

At work, I have taken a similar approach to connecting with the team of which I am a new member. In the last two weeks, I have met one-on-one with approximately half of our 150+ member team (and the six 20 minute sessions I will get with each remaining member of the team is the highlight of each day). The immediate goal of each session is to learn more about each other (not what we have done, but who we are), listen to the goals of each and every team member and hear what it is each individual likes and dislikes about the command. The overarching objective is to see the command through the eyes of each person, as well as connect on an individual level so that we can better help each other meet both our individual and collective goals during our limited time together. So far, I can tell you that we have a very diverse team (Note: We measure diversity in terms of thought and not race, gender or ethnicity), where passion, intellect and service is the common thread.

Personal connections are made and strengthened only through effective communication. Without meaningful communication, there is no hope of ever truly being able to empathize with a fellow human being, nor can you expect to truly be of service to them in a time of need. Likewise, to empathize one must be able to see things through the eyes of another. And to see things through the eyes of another, one must show the level of caring by making the time to connect and strengthen/maintain that relationship over time. Those who care enough to truly connect are better parents, leaders, followers, teachers, students, friends, teammates, etc. Those who don't are merely going through the motions, and life is far too short to do anything without thoughtful intention. My goal is to prepare myself to empathize with everyone who truly matters to me as we celebrate life's milestones together and share our collective journey.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Commuting Dilemma: Fun Trumps Work (For Once)

As mentioned in an earlier post, my family very much enjoys the nomadic lifestyle. Once we are notified of an imminent move, we begin picturing life in our new home with new friends and enjoying new adventures. (That is not to minimize the adventures, friends and memories we created in current and previous stops.) While fantasizing about our future, I begin researching places to live and the house hunting commences. The search usually focuses on a combination of three attributes (in priority order):

- Proximity to work
- Affordability
- Safety

Whether it was San Diego, Italy, Maryland or Tennessee, those three criteria drove our decision. As we began exploring life in Pensacola, we decided to add a fourth attribute and move it to the top of the list...proximity to fun. Most people consider these very attributes and parents will likely trump everything for the "right" school, so I see nothing unique about our original criteria. (Note: I only pay attention to school district as a means of measuring quality of neighbors and resale value, because a "blue ribbon" designation hardly a good school makes, but that is a separate discussion). The fact that my current commute of 16 miles to work is my furthest since 1998 demonstrates our commitment to the "life is too short to spend it commuting" mentality.

So why did we embrace the "long" commute and modify our housing decision algorithm?

I am not one to hide from my many flaws and within my immediate family it is no secret that on any given day I can talk each of us into believing we shouldn't go somewhere fun because "it's too far away." On the other hand, I can never talk myself out of my responsibilities at work and always find my way to the office regardless of the obstacle. So our thought this time around was to "live close to work, but closer to fun." We have only been here six weeks and I can honestly say we have created more family fun in that period than we had in the last year. Maybe that speaks more to my failure in the last year than any recent success, but I am not looking back. You can bet that I will be at work when I need to, but my family can be equally confident in my willingness to not only participate but even drag them to the fun by which we are surrounded. Thus far we have walked to the beach almost daily, we journeyed two miles to go parasailing and ride jet-skis, and we got closer to a Blue Angel Air Show than ever before. Sure, I could have cut the commute to work by more than half and even saved a few bucks by doing so. However, if proximity to work remained our most heavily weighted decision input, our experience in Pensacola to date would be so very different and the continual smiles on our faces might not be so prevalent.

I have no doubt that adopting this philosophy earlier would have changed at least a few housing decisions in our past. More importantly, it will influence future decisions. As long as I am able to maintain True Wealth, our days in suburbia are behind us and proximity to fun (or at least our definition thereof) will trump all other criteria.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Change of Command

I haven't made the time to post for almost a month now, as I have instead been making the time for other things. Of all the wonderful things I have enjoyed over the past month, by far the most significant was the NIOC Pensacola Change of Command Ceremony held on 01 JUL 2010 in the Naval Aviation Museum. There are many things worth sharing about the day, among them is who was in the audience.

For months, I had been downplaying the ceremony and encouraging loved ones not to come. I did so for a couple of reasons. First, I don't enjoy being the center of attention nor do I want to give the impression that anything in life is about me. Second, the ceremony is traditionally more about the outgoing commanding officer and celebrating the accomplishments of the command under his/her leadership. It wasn't until late in the game when I came to grips with the significance of the day and the importance of having a few especially meaningful people to share it with. I was grateful my parents, in-laws, friends from The Naval Academy and past duty stations, as well as valued mentors chose to disregard my original wishes and made rather significant sacrifices to be there for me...just as they always have. Looking back on it, there were a few others I wish could have been there, but I know they were there in spirit.

During the entire ceremony, I was observing the audience, smiling continuously and doing my best to take it all in. Once I saluted VADM Barry McCullough, officially relieving Captain Frank Shaul, I took the podium and did my best to control my excitement. After telling the audience how much I was looking forward to that very moment, I paused to relish it before sharing the following words:

"Admiral McCullough, Family, Friends and Mentors, thank you very much for making the time to be a part of this special day. Many of you made significant sacrifices to be here today (traveling from TN, TX, MD, NY and CA among other distant lands) to show your support FOR me, but my hope is that you leave here knowing that I realize I am here BECAUSE of you and how much I appreciate each and every one of you. It is the deliberate interest you have taken in my personal and professional development over the years that has given the Navy reason to provide me with the honor of standing before you today. I am grateful for and humble by your choice to share in this day, as it is special for a number of reasons.

Captain Shaul, congratulations on a successful tour and I thank you for turning over such a qualified, passionate and cohesive team. Speaking of the team, will the Total Force NIOC Pensacola Team past and present, including any family members, please rise to be recognized.

To the NIOC Pensacola team - Though it is likely not all that obvious from your current vantage point, make no mistake, the purpose of this ceremony is to celebrate YOU…YOU as individuals and as a team. This ceremony as well as the long, enjoyable and safe holiday weekend before us, provides us with a strategic pause and affords us an opportunity for reflection. While we reflect upon our nation's birth and the significant challenges we as a country continue to overcome, please make the time to celebrate the milestones closer to home. Think about how YOU have contributed to the lives of fellow Shipmates, how YOU have contributed to command mission accomplishment and how YOU have grown thus far in YOUR Navy adventure. For on Tuesday, WE will cease the admiration of our wake and will instead begin collaboratively charting OUR course.

Today is about YOU and more importantly it is about US. Enjoy the long weekend, be safe and just like everything worth doing in life, make it meaningful!"


It was a day I will never forget for many reasons. The biggest reason being that it marked my beginning as a member of the NIOC Pensacola Team. Never before have I been a part of a team that is more aligned with my personal philosophies and never before have I observed a team that has contributed so much unbeknownst to so many. This command is very good and as we become great it will have little to do with the guy wearing the command pin and everything to do with the rest of the team. For at NIOC Pensacola, no one works FOR anyone, we work WITH each other.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wealth: The Freedom to Choose

I recently had the pleasure of spending a day on the beach with two childhood friends, Dan and Mark. After catching each other up on our journeys since our last interaction, we began talking of our current place in life and general plans for the future. Dan nonchalantly made a simple statement..."True wealth is maintaining (or enhancing) our freedom to choose." Though we were speaking in terms of the housing market and the number of people upside-down on their house because of poor decision making, I gave much thought to that point during my drive home that day and saw many applications across the spectrum of life.

How many of us can truly...

...choose to move out of the area?
...choose to take a new job?
...choose to start a new career?
...choose to get a new (insert material liability here)?

As we bobbed up and down in the waves, Mark shared his experiences of protecting his wealth (freedom of choice). A few years ago Mark was a lawyer and on the brink of partnership when he left the firm to avoid "the golden handcuffs." He then explored various business opportunities before adding an MBA to his already storied academic resume. Upon graduation, he went to Wall Street in pursuit of monetary wealth and he was well on his way. It took only a year for him to realize what he was giving up in pursuit of riches. He saw the empty lives of his extremely wealthy peers and mentors and decided to leave. He moved on for all of the right reasons and is one of the wealthiest people I know (again, in terms of choices).

It strikes me odd that so many of us measure wealth in a monetary sense and as we pursue our collection of material liabilities (a large mortgage is the ultimate liability disguised as an asset), we give up our true wealth. Trapped in a location we might not like, doing a job for which we have no passion, so we can add to our pile of liabilities as we live a cookie cutter life, I am reminded of the theme song for the television show "Weeds," entitled "Little Boxes."

Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and there's lawyers, and business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.



A thoughtful comment by a reader on one of my previous blogposts simply stated, "...everything we do is a choice, so many collegues forget this, and when they are faced with ultimatums they forget it was a dozen choices already made that made this most recent one seem so hopeless." So, be mindful that the decisions we make today have cascading affects that will determine our future true wealth.

Mark and Dan, thanks for giving me much to think about. You are both even wiser and wealthier than I remember.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Beginning, The End and The Journey Connecting Them

It doesn't necessarily take personally witnessing death to realize how short life truly is. In fact, death needn't be involved at all to be reminded how quickly things come to an end. As mentioned in an earlier post, last month I was in Great Lakes and had the pleasure of talking with new recruits about their future. Two weeks ago I was in Newport speaking with recent OCS graduates about the journey ahead. Last week I was honored to be the Presiding Officer in the retirement of one of my favorite Shipmates, LT Jennifer Lovejoy. Each of these three opportunities to speak with, to and about Shipmates was unique, but there was a common thread...all were focused the journey. The new members of our Navy were not interested in charting out their career or identifying a path to a certain paygrade or job. Instead, they were focused on "having fun, doing "cool stuff" and making a difference." Not surprising, the retirement ceremony was a celebration of a Shipmate who did just that during her career.

As I stated in my remarks at the ceremony...

"Today we celebrate not the end of Jennifer's Navy adventure, but the journey itself. For those of you in the audience still enjoying the privilege of wearing the uniform, please consider following Jennifer's example...

- Appreciate the journey
- Recognize it is not about promotion; it's not about "checking boxes"
- It's about making a difference, adding value and leaving a legacy."


Over the course of one month, I saw the circle of a career in time-lapsed images. In the backdrop, I couldn't help but see my career and realize my Navy journey could be over in as few as two years. Whether it is two years or twelve, I will continue to give the Navy 100%. I know it will be all but impossible to truly measure success in a commonly accepted way at the end of this journey, as we have no formal metrics. My hope is that we measure our contributions by the expressions of gratitude from Shipmates, our ability to create true value for our Navy, and the furthering of a collaborative, self-synchronizing culture.

I am reminded of Jim Rohn who used the headlights of a car to illustrate his point of focusing on the journey. When we drive our car at night towards a destination, we are never looking beyond the distance of our headlights. We don't because we physically can't, attempting to would distract us from effectively making more immediate decisions, and quite honestly anything over the horizon isn't all that relevant until it comes into our field of view.

Life is too short...Do good, make a difference, enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roots of a Nomadic Family

Every couple of years the Navy provides us with the opportunity to move to another part of our great nation or even beyond its borders. Though the purpose is to facilitate the professional development and optimize the contributions of the service member, it allows us an opportunity for exploration and adventure as a family.

Some families dread the transition period that comes with another move, but for us it is arguably our favorite. It provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon the friendships and contributions made during our last stop and fills us with excitement as we ponder the possibilities that come with a new temporary home. This transition, though the most enjoyable to date, has been slightly different. We left our home five weeks ago and will not move into our next home for another week. Six weeks of homelessness makes many people quite uncomfortable (even we were a bit apprehensive). Fortunately, I am blessed with a wife who is all about the adventure and because we choose to homeschool we have created the flexibility to embrace the transition so many others believe to be an inconvenience. Many people feel sorry for us (or at least our son), as we move from place to place unable to establish deep roots. Our perspective is that the strength of the family tree is just as much about the breadth of the root system as it is the depth (and arguably more so). Our roots may not be as deep as others in a single location, but they extend from Alaska to Italy, Maryland to San Diego and Rhode Island to Tennessee...and we are not done yet!

We are enjoying our last few days of homelessness, as we turned a burdensome transition into an opportunity to see friends of duty stations past, explore new territories and relive milestones of yesteryear. We are recharged and ready to fully invest in the expansion of our root system in Pensacola no matter how long (or short) our stay.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Command Leadership School Takeaways

Over the last two weeks, I had the pleasure of attending the Command Leadership School in Newport, RI. The purpose of the two weeks was to help those of us fortunate enough to be selected to be Commanding Officers think about and prepare for the responsibility that comes with the pinnacle of a Naval Officers's career. Though I got a great deal out of the experience, there were three primary take-aways (not necessarily new, but revalidated lessons):

1) Our Recruits are as Motivated as Ever - The highlight of the class was our field trip to Navy Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, IL. While there, it became very evident that our new recruits are passionate, capable and excited about being a part of our Navy. It is also clear that the Navy is committed to the development of our newest Sailors. The facilities are state of the art and the leadership (E-5 and above) is phenomenal! The culture at RTC Great Lakes serves as evidence of what we can do when we are truly committed to a cause. All too often our commitment wanes upon approval of PowerPoint slides, the release of a message or the signing of an instruction. Success in Great Lakes is all about follow through, while the challenge for the rest of us is building upon that momentum once these motivated Sailors hit the Fleet.

2) Command is an Elite Club - The Officers with whom I shared a classroom were extremely impressive. The discussion and personal interaction validated the Navy values open minded, level headed, collaborative leaders in the role of Commanding Officer regardless of community/designator. Though such traits are abundant across the Officer ranks, they seem to be the standard amongst this group (even and in many cases, especially, the Surface Warfare Officers).

3) Failure in Command is a Personal Choice - Though the Navy has relieved eight Commanding Officers this year to date, it is not because any of them were not fully prepared for command. It is because they chose to fail. They made bad decisions and most were in the area of personal misconduct. We joked about who in our class would grace the cover of Navy Times in disgrace, but just like those who went before us, we laughed it off. Odds are that one of us will choose to fail. We have been given the tools to succeed, and it was made very clear that personal misconduct is the prominent path to failure. I recognize such a bold statement could prove excellent ammunition if I am detached for cause, but I truly believe that failure in command is a conscious decision.

Two years ago, Commander Command was not something to which I aspired. I can honestly state that after screening, doing research and speaking more directly with mentors, I quickly evolved. Not only is there no other role I would rather assume, but there is no other Commander Command where I would like to assume it than at NIOC Pensacola. It is remarkable how sometimes in life others know what you truly want better than you do. I am looking forward to the opportunity and will ensure success remains our choice.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mentorship/Menteeship: The Chicken and the Egg

The Navy has been focused on mentorship for longer than I can remember. We have witnessed forced mentorship, where mentors are formally assigned to individuals, we have seen models where mentorship is merely encouraged, as we let relationships take shape on their own, and we have seen varied initiatives that split the difference. I am currently in the Commanding Officer Leadership Course in Newport, RI and yesterday we discussed the subject of mentorship. I was not surprised when after being asked for a show of hands of which Prospective Commanding Officers had true mentors, about 10% of the class raised their hands.

Personally, I believe we have it wrong. We are focused on Mentorship, where we should be educating people on Menteeship. Mentor/Mentee relationships are not prevalent because most of us do not know what it means to be a mentee. Just as followership is the foundation for leadership, understanding how to be a good mentee is necessary if one is to have a meaningful relationship with a mentor and ultimately grow into a true mentor herself. I say "true" mentor because all too often a mentor is thought of as a person who merely provides career advice, where a "true" mentor is one who (courtesy of Australian Mentor Center):

- Tells you things you may not want to hear but leaves you feeling you have been heard
- Interacts with you in a way that makes you want to become better
- Makes you feel secure enough to take risks
- Gives you the confidence to rise above your inner doubts and fears
- Supports your attempts to set stretch goals for yourself
- Presents opportunities and highlights challenges you might not have seen on your own.

Fortunately for me, I continue to be the beneficiary of my own "Personal Board of Directors" made up of both seniors and juniors (military and civilian) who have taken a personal interest in my personal and professional development. My response to their interest (and I have been known to initiate the relationship by giving them reason to take an interest in me) continues to be that of:

- Listening to and executing on advice
- Accepting feedback and coaching
- Demonstrating initiative
- Asking questions; Challenging assumptions
- Providing feedback on advice
- Accepting new challenges
- Informing mentors of both accomplishments and failures
- Reciprocating with mentor and demonstrate gratitude
- Becoming a mentor

As a mentor, I have had a couple of relationships fracture because the mentee was not truly committed to the relationship. At the same time, I have lost a few mentors as one outgrew the other.

If you do not have a mentor whom you value, it is likely because you have not truly embraced the role of mentee. If you don't want a mentor, that's an entirely different discussion and you are missing the boat by not having sweepers on the ice helping you. We spend a great deal of time teaching new Sailors (officers and enlisted) how to be followers at their respective point of entry, so that they have a solid foundation on which to build leadership skills. Lets start teaching the same audience the skills necessary to be mentees so they can allow those who they value most the opportunity to help them grow and evolve into mentors themselves in time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Millennial Mindset

It is said that thoughts, moods and attitudes are contagious. I agree 100% and for that reason I choose to associate with people who are positive and have a passion for life and continual improvement.

I am currently reading the book Managing the Millennials, which was a going away gift from a dear friend and colleague. The premise of the book is evident by the title. I am personally so interested in the concept of leveraging the attributes of the Millennials for three reasons:

- My next leadership opportunity (and likely each one that follows) places me in front of Millennials
- Most of us not part of this generation fail to understand and truly appreciate the difference in mindset (Many GEN-X and elder even denigrate the mindset and values of our new team members...never-mind that as parents we have cultivated it and rightfully so)
- Millennials represent our future and if we care about our future, we must adapt to them, not them to us

Coincidentally, I began reading this book and giving the topic deliberate thought prior to a recent familiarization visit where I began creating relationships with my new colleagues working waist deep in the computing field. Though I met people ranging from early 20s to late 50s, there was a common thread. Just as the book had alluded, I found that it was not just the twenty-somethings who were...

- Passionate about the work they were doing and understood "The Why"
- Sensitive to work-life balance
- Taken seriously and afforded the opportunity to provide input to how things were done
- Of the mind that the work environment should have an element of fun
- Motivated by and frankly expected acknowledgment for a job well done
- Demanding of constructive feedback, mentoring and career development
- Appreciative of a boss who was an advocate

I am not saying that all people do not appreciate these very things, just that outside of Millennials, most do not make any of them a true priority and are willing to accept far less. That said, there are specific occupations that attract people of all ages with a Millennial mindset. I am lucky enough to have entered such a realm (Computer Technology) and it is not so slowly moving across the Navy and entire workforce. Clearly, there are elders with a millennial mindset, but we need to help it become commonplace. Rather than criticize the perceived negative traits (i.e. self-centered, whiners, overly-sensitive, impatient, etc) of the newest generation to enter our workforce, we should rethink our perceptions, recognize their point of view and promote such a mindset across our respective team. Though I am obviously not a Millennial by age criteria, I consider myself one based upon my personal philosophy, thus my advocacy.

We need to understand and appreciate that most Millennials do not think the same, are not motivated the same and do not value the same things that GEN-X and seniors generally do. Our collective future and our individual relevance in the workplace depend on our ability to engage, challenge and empower our youngest teammates.

Be relevant, ensure your/our team remains relevant...embrace your inner Millennial and find ways to truly involve the Millennials with whom we are fortunate enough to work!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Closing Another Chapter

It's time to move yet again and like every other time, we leave thankful for the experience and equally excited about the next adventure. Personally, my family and I learned the Memphis area has much to offer in the way of recreation and even culture (took us a while to figure that out). More importantly, we met many wonderful people and established some great friendships. On the professional side, I learned a great deal about manpower, human resources and continued to refine the art of being a staff officer (though there remains plenty of room for improvement). That said, when I look back on my tour as the Information Dominance Corps and Information Warfare Officer Community Manager and ask myself the same questions I do after each tour (as well as of juniors with whom I serve as they depart), I feel good about answering "YES" to both of them:

1) Are you leaving here a better person (personally and professionally)?
2) Are you leaving a positive legacy with the command (i.e. is it better because of you)?

Parting thoughts:

For my friends in BUPERS-3...What we have done thus far is akin to a start-up company. When we commenced down this path, we had nothing more than a charter...no building, no tools to do our job, few established processes (and even those were inherited), a hodgepodge of billets and no real organizational structure. Under the leadership of a few Captains (SWO, CEC and a retired Deck LDO) who were detailed to Millington to do other jobs, as well as deliberate efforts from some wonderful military and civilian professionals from diverse communities (past and present) who contributed well beyond their original job description, we have grown into a team that is effectively executing our charter (despite being under resourced like so many others). Admittedly, we are far from the "World Class Community Management Organization" to which we aspire and the Navy deserves, but we will get there (Mr. Fair will see to it!). Serving with a team represented by almost every community in the Navy is a unique opportunity and one from which I have gained much wisdom. Thanks for all of the tutorials over the past two plus years...I had no idea!!

For my IDC Brethren...The formation of the IDC has given us an incredible opportunity to feel good about questioning just about everything we do. It is our responsibility to validate the current vector that made so much sense in our "Cylinder of Excellence" or deliberately shift course given the "Cloud of Dominance" perspective. In the business world, it is said that great people create the market, but as that good market changes, mediocre people fail. Whether it found us or we found it, the marketplace for the IDC is strong and we are far from mediocre. Because it is continually evolving, it's incumbent upon each of us to demonstrate the fact that we are prepared to both shape the marketplace and dynamically respond to it. We know all too well that we have plenty of room for improvement at the individual, command, community and corps levels. It's our personal responsibility to make the time to continually improve ourselves and those with whom we serve. It remains a pleasure serving with you.

For the IDC Family within the BUPERS-3 Family...We were "enabling enterprise behavior" long before it became the norm (and maybe even helped it to become the accepted practice). By putting our small egos aside, creating the "NNFE (now NIDE) OCM Alliance" and embracing our roles not as community lobbyists, but strategic readiness advocates for the enterprise (Big Team, Little Me) we accomplished much on behalf of those whom we represent, but more important did right by the Navy. Thanks for all you continue to do and for making me better in the process...peer feedback continues to be an essential piece of professional development. I am also most grateful for the Master Chief Mentorship Sessions with the IDC Enlisted Community Management Team.

I have often said that second to command, the greatest privilege in our Navy is representing your community in Millington. The fact that I am leaving one privileged position for the other (NIOC Pensacola) is extremely gratifying and a situation for which I am grateful. Thanks to all of you who contributed to this journey and especially my "Personal Board of Directors." None of this was planned, but the path continues to be far better than any of the many plans I have developed over time, as I attempted to manage my career.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Letter to Me

It's spring and with it comes nice weather, baseball and much happiness for those of us not fond of winter. Those of us in the Navy also recognize it as the season of promotion board results. Last week, many good friends received news, both positive and other, about their promotion to Captain status. I was not up for promotion this year but shared conversations of gratitude and condolence inspired me to write a letter to "Sean of 2012" (when I expect to be hearing the news about my upward mobility)...

"Sean of 2012" - I hope you are receiving the news regarding your promotion status with humility, acceptance and gratitude. No matter the result, take a few minutes to reflect upon the journey that has led you to this point, as the journey is for what you should remain grateful. You have always prided yourself on finding the jobs that forced you to grow in meaningful ways, about which you had great passion and that added value to the lives of those around you.

A promotion does not validate your efforts. Validation comes from the person you have become and the people whom you have helped along the way. You are no better or worse than any of your peers who were also considered; because, as you well know, the result is more about who was on the promotion board, what senior officers chose to creatively write about you on your fitness reports and how people perceived you over the years. Whatever the result, be happy about it. I say this with some ambivalence as I can visualize a scenario where not being promoted might make you happy. If you are pleased, congratulations. If not, get over it! Every year many great people are not promoted and, often times, a few knuckleheads sneak through. You have never aspired to rank, but to adding value, as it is all that truly matters. Regardless of the collar device you are authorized to wear, continue to contribute at a level well beyond that. As you have often stated, collar device and competence never have been directly related. Now get on the phone and call each and every member of your peer group, starting with those who were not listed on the promotion message.

Making Time,
"Sean of 2010"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Life: A Succession of Plan Bs

I recently listened to yet another PODcast (Getting to Plan B) from one of my favorite PODcast sources (Stanford's Entrepreneurial Though Leaders). In what is an obvious oversimplification of the message, the most successful business plans are executed as Plan B. Likewise, so are the most successful of personal life plans. Being one who enjoys and appreciates the importance of self-reflection, I started thinking about my personal journey. It didn't take long for me to see that my life continues to be a succession of Plan Bs, Cs and Ds with very few As.

The point is that we should all commit to clearly articulated goals and identify a Plan A to get there. As we pursue Plan A, other opportunities will reveal themselves that may very well be, and in all likelihood are, better than our self-defined Plan A. My personal life, as well as my professional life is not unveiling as I had planned, it is far better. Call it luck, call it divine intervention, call it great mentorship...I choose to believe nothing happens by accident.

I did not attend the college I originally intended...Plan B was far better
I did not marry the first girl I thought I would...Plan B was far better
I did not pursue the first career to which I set out...Plan B was far better
I did not get my first choice in duty stations but once...Plan Bs were always better
...The list goes on...

Thankfully, I am where I am by executing Plan B, as I pursued Plan A. As they say, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there." A corollary might be, "If you know where you want to go, there are many roads that will take you there, so don't be overly concerned by detours; consult the map and identify a new route, you just might find a better destination in the process." I have a good idea of where I am going, but my head is on a swivel ready to pursue other opportunities as they enter my field of view.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"The Whole Person"...Spirit Vs Execution

Over the past few weeks, I have had varied involvement in two selection boards considering potential Naval Officers for selection into our active and reserve components of our Total Force Wardroom. In the process, our prime directive has become "The Whole-Person Concept." That model is intended to overtly encourage all of us to acknowledge applicants who may not have achieved high standardized test scores, attended prominent universities or enjoyed a stellar grade point average because they were busy overcoming other obstacles in their lives. Unfortunately, not all hold to the spirit of the concept, but instead to the underlying agenda.

As a devoted father, I am a bit concerned with our current trajectory and feel as though my personal situation, largely based on deliberate choice, is stacking the cards against my son. Because my wife and I chose to wait until we were married to start a family, we choose to take our commitment to family seriously, and we work hard to deliberately nurture our son, we may very well have provided him the greatest obstacle of all, an opportunity to develop at his own pace relatively free of unnecessary distraction. With good reason, "The Whole-Person Concept" has always been there, but by making it the prime consideration, children like my son will likely be placed in the category of "overprivileged" and his accomplishments through young adulthood will be measured by a different standard. Rather than acknowledge those who have accomplished much by a singular standard and then acknowledge the subjective level of adversity they might have had to overcome in the process to meet/exceed that standard, we choose to knock perceived "overprivileged" people down a notch just because we believe they have not had to work as hard as others to enjoy their high level of accomplishment.

Though recent examples at work bring this to the forefront of my mind, unnecessary qualifiers surround us and undermine accomplishments...

- Billy is a good football player, but it's only because he is 6'6" and his Dad played in the NFL
- Sally is really good in biology, but that's because her Mom is a Doctor
- Mr. Johnson runs a very successful business, but he inherited the company from his Dad and didn't build it himself

Which two would you choose to join your workcenter (please excuse the omission of other important variables)?
- "Jimmy" has a 2.2 GPA from "On-line University," but he's a single dad and has overcome much adversity
- "Suzy" came from a broken home, cared for her younger siblings, held down a job yet achieved academic greatness and is a wonderful communicator
- "Johnny" graduated from an Ivy League University with honors and grew up "privileged" from both a parental and monetary perspective

Suzy is an easy choice, but "Jimmys" seem to be rising above "Johnnys" as the "The Whole-Person Concept" replaces the "Best and Fully Qualified" standard used for years. I submit the two models are not mutually exclusive, but instead "The Whole-Person Concept" is an input to deciding who is "Best and Fully Qualified." When used properly, "Suzys" will always rise to the top and "Jimmys" will be valued over "Johnnys" when appropriate (but we are beginning to make it the default response). In essence, the spirit of the concept is being undermined in its execution.

I ask that we all continue to stack the cards against our children in the minds of those who have hijacked "The Whole-Person Concept." We must give our children the advantage of what was once considered our parental responsibility, but is now considered by some creating an "overprivileged" environment. Likewise, We need to continue to do our part to help others achieve their full potential, regardless of the perceived advantages they enjoyed in adolescence, as we celebrate high standards without unnecessary qualifiers.

Note: I write this the day after the NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship, where Butler and Duke competed for the title. These two programs exemplify the spirit of "The Whole-Person Concept," whereby the barrier to entry into the respective university is personal character and demonstrated commitment to academics, while basketball prowess is what allows them to represent their school on the court. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in college athletics and our public sector is arguably following suit.