Saturday, February 27, 2010

Curling: Sweepers, Sweepers Man Your Brooms

As mentioned in an earlier post, two weeks ago I went to a parenting conference and was impressed by many of the speakers. On the way home, my wife mentioned that she went to a discussion facilitated by a wonderful lady by the name of Kelly Lovejoy. Without sharing any specifics, she simply mentioned Ms. Lovejoy used the sport of curling as a metaphor for parenting. I gave it little thought before my mind drifted elsewhere during the 12 hour drive back to Memphis.

A few nights after the Olympics commenced, I stumbled across a broadcast of the curling competition and decided to put the metaphor to the test. My first thought was to not only see how curling might relate to parenting (Ms. Lovejoy's context), but also assess potential crossover into other disciplines near and dear to my heart...coaching, mentoring and just plain leading. As I fought my heavy eyelids, I began to see it.

First, like any of the aforementioned disciplines (minus the stones and ice terminology), all are TEAM sports focused on getting someone/something TOWARD A TARGET area. Rather than seeing the "Thrower" slide a stone across the ice and two "Sweepers" with brooms accompany the stone as it slid towards the target, I began to see so much more.

Parenting: The Thrower represented my son's passion for life and learning and my wife and I became the Sweepers helping him to move obstacles as he reached his goals.

Coaching: I saw the stone take the shape of the 6 y/o soccer team I coached last year and the sweepers were now me and my assistant coach with the target being smiles, understanding and love of the game.

Mentoring: I saw myself as the stone and multiple mentors sweeping in a synchronized effort to help me achieve my personal and professional goals.

Leading: I saw the Sailors of NIOC Pensacola take the shape of the stone (that may be a bit premature, but I am more than a little excited about the the next opportunity the Navy has afforded me) as their own initiative propelled them down the path, while the Chiefs and Officers swept as much (or as little) as required to help the team arrive on target.

Come to think of it, Ms. Lovejoy, you made the game of curling finally mean something to me. You are right, it's so much more than people sliding objects over the ice, while simultaneously sweeping and yelling at an inanimate object in hopes of it landing near a bulls-eye.

From here forward, let's live life as curlers, where the thrower symbolizes individual or team passion, the stone represents ourselves, our children, or those under our charge and let's all see ourselves as sweepers. If we do, there is no reason why we all shouldn't land on target.

Friday, February 19, 2010

"Wasting Time" for the Good of the Team

I became a reluctant member of the FaceBook revolution in the early summer of 2008 with the sole intent of using it as a tool to plan our 20th High School Reunion. I had every intention of deleting my account as soon as the reunion was over and needless to say, I have yet to follow through. As my personal network of friends and family grew, invitations of "friendships" began to trickle in from my professional life. I had told the first dozen or so friend initiators that I was using FaceBook for my personal network and LinkedIn for my professional network and asked them to connect with me on LinkedIn. For me, it was akin to the Seinfeld episode when George Costanza didn't want the worlds of "Independent George" and "Relationship George" to collide for fear of one of his two personas disappearing.

After thoughtful reflection, I came to terms that I had but one personality and therefore had nothing about which to be concerned. I also know that as a champion of transparency and clarity at work, not embracing the power of social networking was hypocritical at best and possibly irresponsible. During what to date has been my most enjoyable tour of duty (Executive Officer at NSGA Naples), I made it a point to visit each work center every day. Not because it was an obligation, but because it was my favorite part of the day. Each afternoon, I made time to create a mutual exchange of ideas, concerns and mentorship and I acknowledge that I likely learned much more from them than they did from me. In the process, we built personal relationship and got to know each other as people. The net result was increased teamwork, communication, mission accomplishment and continual improvement (happened to be our command values and the ones I take with me to every job). Since accepting FaceBook "Friendship Requests" from colleagues past and present, senior and junior, my News Feed has become the watch floor I enjoyed in Naples. From the comfort of my family room, I know when a colleague has something to celebrate, needs a helping hand or just has a question/concern. By way of FaceBook, I have become ambiently aware of the lives of willing participants in my professional network, as we make ourselves accessible to each other. I am collaborating with Sailors far and wide and I even informally engage an Admiral or two who understand the power of and make time for social networking. For more on the subject of ambient awareness, here is a nice article from the NY Times

In the world of leadership, many people believe that emotional intelligence is far more important than intellectual intelligence (myself included, likely because I am never the smartest person in the room). For those interested in learning more about emotional intelligence, there are many books on the subject, but I recommend Primal Leadership. The core of emotional intelligence is personal competence (managing ourselves) and social competence (manage relationships). I submit that when used properly, FaceBook is the premier relationship management tool today and leaders who are not using it to "friend" colleagues are doing themselves and the team a disservice. I hear excuses each day about people who believe FaceBook, blogging and even doing personal e-mail after a day at work is time wasted. I say, all three (in addition to personal letters, but that is another subject) are time well wasted and clearly enhance both team productivity and mission accomplishment.

For my FaceBook friends in uniform, I appreciate and value the investment you make in relationship building as demonstrated by your active participation in social networks. You clearly understand a shared emotional connection is critical to developing a strong team. For those leaders who have yet to deliberately leverage social networking to enhance your emotional intelligence, I ask you to come "waste time" with the rest of us and become a part of the conversation. The more actively we share of ourselves, the greater our situational awareness becomes and the more efficient and effective our progress.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Waterpark, Educational Development and A Wake-up Call

It was snowing just about everywhere this week. I know because I watched the weather channel a bit and I could see the snow pile up outside of our hotel. Yes, we had the the good fortune of being snowed in at Kalahari, "America's Largest Indoor Waterpark." We had planned the trip almost six months ago and my focus was to enjoy a week with my bride and best buddy playing in the water. I had no real intention of participating in the "Unschooling" conference that was the reason we got such a good deal on our vacation. I figured that I would interact with a few parents and watch the parade of what I what I assumed would be socially challenged people from afar, but my focus was on my family and fun in the water. Needless to say, the experience was much different than I expected.

I found a group of people who were passionate about their children, who put family first (far beyond their career) and made the time to help their children follow their interests in creative ways. They were not the mere spectators that many parents have become, as they completely outsource educational development to the school system and athletic development to volunteer coaches. I arrived this week halfway thinking this would be the tipping point that convinced Marianne and me to put our son back in school (he attended public school for kindergarten, but he has been spending his first grade year at home), and things did tip, but in the other direction. Yes, I heard stories of children who couldn't read at the age of 12 because they "just weren't interested yet" and of others who spent the bulk of their days playing video games, but I also heard so much more. I heard about children exploring their passions, instinctively asking "how, why and why not," and personally seeking answers to those questions, as their parents facilitated the journey. When I look back upon my schooling, I was not intrinsically motivated at all and for that reason, I learned very little. I was not curious about my surroundings, nor did I care too much about how things worked. I was extremely extrinsically motivated and though I learned little, I had good grades that helped others believe otherwise. Like most children, my son is extremely curious, but I have been guilty of conditioning him to be extrinsically motivated (like I was as a child), which may ultimately cause him to lose the curiosity and passion that drives him today. I have been more focused on his basic math, while he wants to know how the brain works. I have been monitoring his spelling progress, while he wants to know more about ancient history and Greek gods. In essence, I have been pushing him towards things that make me feel better about his knowledge, skills and abilities (and how he measures up to fellow six year old boys) rather than facilitating the pursuit of his personal interests. I am failing him in the very way our public school system is failing so many. It is not about marching in step with those who share your physical age, nor is it about standardized test scores and allowing the least common denominator to decide when the group takes a step forward.

I am proud that my wife had the courage to pull my son out of school. I am also grateful that she has chosen to devote the majority of her waking time to his personal development in favor of pursuing a career with the aim of satisfying our materialistic appetite and potentially creating an insatiable material hunger in our son.

Though this week was a wonderful time at the waterpark, it turned out to be so much more. I arrived an interested father, skeptical of those who shun the formal educational system, and left one of two committed primary educational mentors for my son, embracing the idea that he may never feel the need to sit in a secondary education classroom. Life is too short to sit with a group of disinterested "peers" chasing a good grade to get into a good school so one can get a good job. In the end, it worked out for me (or did it?), but I am not willing to take that gamble again.

For those of you in uniform reading this, my experience this week really has given me reason to question our current vector on the formalization of a training/education continuum and the one size fits all career progression model. Professional development is so much more than the diploma and additional qualification designator (AQD) scavenger hunt we currently encourage. I also worry that such a model will continue to force our computer network operations (CNO) talent out of our wardroom, as we push our junior officers away from their passion and towards the model we currently house within our comfort zone. I also noticed that the CNO talent being cultivated via this educational development model is worthy of our deliberate recruiting efforts...many passionate cyber experts!!

Friday, February 5, 2010

"Big Team, Little Me"

We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit
- (then) CDR Joseph Rochefort

In my current job as Information Dominance Corps and Information Warfare Officer Community Manager (OCM), I serve on a team of four uniformed peers and one civilian assistant. Our charter is to collectively manage the health and welfare of the four officer communities (Information Professional, Information Warfare, Intelligence and Oceanography) that comprise the officer portion of the Information Dominance Corps (IDC). As a "plank owner" of the organization to which I am assigned (BUPERS-3), I was afforded the opportunity to serve as the "leader amongst peers" and made it our quest to migrate the model of individual community lobbyists to that of a unified team of strategic readiness advocates for "The Corps." Many of our fellow OCMs outside the "IDC Alliance" have equated our model to that of a strategic move you might see on the television show Survivor and they are not far off. In hindsight, it was as brilliant as it was promising when WE started down this path.

Serving as the "leader amongst peers" is not a role new to me, as during my athletic glory days I often times was thrust into the "Team Captain" role. In the past, there have been mistakes, bruised egos and less than optimal results. For that reason, I have moved forward with cautious optimism and thoughtful reflection. Anyone who has either found themselves in a similar position or created such a model, can attest that the only way for a team of peers to work effectively is by creating a team that wants it to work...A team focused on mission accomplishment...A team that sees life through a corporate lens...A team made up of members without big egos...A team that is committed to continual improvement. We see this time and time again, both on and off the athletic field, and to quote my high school football coach, a team must adopt a philosophy of "Big Team, Little Me."

Last week, as part of my exit strategy (I leave in early May for the next growth opportunity the Navy has provided), I turned over the role of "leader amongst peers" to one of my teammates and assumed the role of supporting cast. Under her leadership, the pace of our progress will not slow, the situational awareness we share will not diminish and the value of our contributions will not decrease. The military is founded upon a hierarchical organizational structure that underpins a "lead, follow" relationship amongst co-workers and leaves few wondering who is in charge. This is a wonderful model and streamlines both decision making and execution (especially in a tactical environment). However in today's military of rank inflation that suffers from a promotion model overly focused on delivering "desired" collar devices in favor of "required" competence, such a structure is all too often detrimental to mission accomplishment. The Navy continues to see instances of hierarchical organizations failing because of WHO is at the helm, likewise, we see flat organizations fail because too many people are (or no one is) in charge. In our current "center of the universe" (Information Dominance Corps Officer Community Management Team), we continue to be very fortunate because WE choose to leverage each other's strengths and WE choose to work together. Our mantra continues to be that "Though we all have a voice, we speak with but one voice and regardless of who does the speaking, that voice is OUR voice" (note: nowhere else is one community empowered to speak on behalf of another). This only works because WE take CDR Joseph Rochefort's words to heart and WE ensure that there are no weak links in our cable (peer mentorship is a constant and is welcomed and encouraged from/by all members). It is with great pride, that I am no longer the lead link, but like the rest of the team, I remain equally important and equally strong...

5th Law of the Navy
On the strength of one link in the cable,
Dependeth the might of the chain.
Who knows when thou may'st be tested?
So live that thou bearest the strain!

My next position will be as a Commanding Officer and though that title leaves no question as to whom has the ultimate authority and responsibility, the same collaborative approach is paramount. Every team member plays a vital role and none is more important than the next. Though it's not a philosophy widely adopted in military culture, my belief is no one works FOR anyone, we all work WITH each other.