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.

5 comments:

  1. Sean, another great post. I hope we have the opportunity to serve together again.

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  2. Thanks, Kev. Truth is we are serving together we just let our job descriptions get in the way. Send me a note and lets take on a side project. There is more than enough work to go around...

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  3. Sir, your posts continue to inspire me. I hope that one day I can become such an inspirational and motivating leader. It’s good to know that at least a couple of our Senior Officers are not satisfied with being “the norm”. Thank you.

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  4. Sean, I had the same decision to make over 10 years ago, and split the difference by staying in the reserves. It allowed me to have my cake and eat it too. I was able to be entrepreneurial while still serving.

    Unfortunately, I wasn't, and am still not able to answer all of those questions with a resounding yes. But the privilege of serving with people like you has still kept me doing this in a part-time fashion, and will hopefully keep me doing this as a reservist for some time.

    I'd strongly recommend reading a rather timely article by The Atlantic on the failings of the military personnel system - http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/01/why-our-best-officers-are-leaving/8346/1/ - that captures fairly well some of the reasons why I left, and some of the challenges I've had.

    With that in mind, please remember that there are many ways to serve. Wearing the uniform is probably the most effective way to influence and improve things, and definitely the best way to take care of the sailors, but there are other ways, too. The example of LTC Nagl, discussed at some length in the article, is a good one.

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  5. Sean - I'd like to talk to you about your blog, your ideas and so on and so forth. Please contact me, at your convenience, at michael(at)michaeljunge.com or michael.junge(at)osd.mil

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