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!