Saturday, January 30, 2010

Uniforms...Earned not Purchased

Throughout my youth athletic career and up through college, I thoroughly enjoyed wearing the uniform of the sports team to which I was a member. In fact, uniform issue day was one of my favorite days of the season, as it marked an accomplishment. It meant I made the team. It meant the work I put in during the off-season was time well spent. It meant more time spent with my friends who shared the same level of passion for the sport of the season. Today, as a Naval Officer, I feel an even greater sense of pride when I put on the uniform representing the team with whom I currently serve.

"u-ni-form [yoo-nuh-fawrm] - noun. An identifying outfit or style of dress worn by the members of a given profession, organization, or rank."

Last weekend, when I was watching the NFC and AFC Championships, I was once again reminded of a behavior that I will likely never understand...the act of wearing the uniform jersey of another grown man (especially with another persons name on the back). I enjoy watching college and professional sports as much as the next guy (and likely more than most) and will even put on some Navy Blue and Gold to watch Navy Football. But, for me a uniform will continue to be something that is earned and not merely purchased. It's donning the Navy ball cap signifying the successful transition from recruit to Sailor at Boot Camp, it's making the final cut on an athletic team as a child and yes, it's being fortunate enough to have an employer compensate you for your value/time.

It's not that I think less of people who proudly wear someone else's uniform, refer to the team on the field as "we" and let the result of a game dictate their mood...it's just one of many things I don't understand. Just imagine if we all demonstrated the same level of pride, enthusiasm and passion for the teams of which we are truly a part (i.e. job, family, etc)?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"AN" vs "IN" Authority

I like to think that each and every one of is an authority on something. Whether it be baseball statistics of yesteryear, automobile repair, medicine, knot tying, 5th grade trivia, sewing, baking, computers, or you name it, each of us is AN authority on something. Likewise, we all enjoy varied levels of positional authority in our personal (i.e. parent, coach) and professional lives. While listening to a recent PODCast, Dr. Robert Cialdini (author of Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive) scratched the surface on the importance of becoming AN authority before being in a position to exert any true influence. He also highlighted the difference between being AN authority and being placed IN authority. Dr. Cialdini was approaching this topic from a position of offering insight on how to gain influence in our professional lives, so I am not disagreeing with him. Instead, the seed he planted gave me reason to explore a corollary. Do leaders (parents, workcenter supervisors and the like) need to be AN authority before we are placed IN authority?

In a perfect world, I believe most would quickly agree that the answer is yes. It is almost always better to know how to do the things we are asking those under our leadership to do. Likewise, I want my doctor and my accountant both to be AN authority before I or their professional accreditation body places them IN authority. However, more often than not, it is just as beneficial if those who are IN authority are not AN authority on everything within the portfolio for which they are responsible. In less than six months, I am moving to Pensacola, Florida where I will have the privilege of being a commanding officer. Though such a role is the epitome of being IN authority, I have no expectation of becoming AN authority on each of the business lines that will be under our charge before I take command. Just as with each of the leadership positions I have enjoyed, I will show up in many respects an apprentice, surround myself with masters and leave no less than a journeyman. That may make me an underachiever or lazy to many, but I believe that striving to be THE authority because one is IN authority is detrimental to the team. It goes back to the main take-away from one of my favorite books (The E-Myth Revisited), which was that those running the business (command or workcenter should be run as if it were a business and the leader was the CEO) need to “go to work on your business rather than in it.”

Influencing others as AN authority requires a different set of skills than successfully leading while IN authority. It is important for those of us who are AN authority to help the person who is IN authority focus on the big picture. Likewise, it is paramount that those of us IN authority include THE authorities by whom we are surrounded in the decision making process and deliberately mentor our best and brightest to grow into positions where they are IN authority.

Thanks, Dr. Cialdini for giving me reason to think about the change in mindset that comes with the simple act of replacing an article ("an") with an adverb ("in").

Saturday, January 16, 2010

WHO Begets WHAT

Over the last month I have spent much time evaluating where I am and where I would like to ultimately go in my professional life. Though the self-evaluation initially focused on the WHAT I want to do with the remainder of my career, something interesting happened. As I discussed my thoughts on my future with my friends, family and other mentors, I noticed a fairly common thread. I enjoy a cross-section of people in my life who include fellow service members, small-business owners, government civilians, and those working for large private corporations. Those who proudly wore a military uniform or were otherwise employed by the government by and large confined the discussion to helping me explore WHAT I wanted to do or offering opinions as to WHAT I should do. Those in the private sector were very interested in exploring with WHOM I wanted to team, and HOW I wanted to grow in the process.

Throughout my naval career, seniors, detailers and peers have been quick to offer guidance as to WHAT I should do next and WHERE I should do it, as they encouraged me to march down the path of career progression "punching tickets" to the next promotion. And though it was not a foreign concept, recent discussion with those in the private sector have helped me to further develop my personal philosophy.

As a kid, it was the WHAT that got me to the ball field, but it was the WHO (those on the team) who kept me returning. At the Naval Academy it was the WHAT that motivated me to show up on Day 1, but it was the WHO (my company and room mates) who prevented me from quitting. I could go on and on with examples of how the WHO continually trumps the WHAT in my life, but I will spare you (assuming anyone read this far). Though I love WHAT I do, I enjoy WHO I do it with more. So, as long as I enjoy the WHO, I'll continue to proudly do WHAT the Navy asks.

The truth is, we have less control over WHAT we do than with WHOM we do it. I say this not with specific names in mind, but with specific personal characteristics. In the Navy, we promote specific behavior, degrees of competence and depth of character with every evaluation we write, every detailing opportunity we enable, and every promotion we facilitate. Are we deliberately enhancing our culture or are we inadvertently creating its demise? What are we choosing to do to promote a team culture worthy of our membership?

For those of us wondering WHAT to do next, our introspective exploration is better spent if we...

- Don't focus on WHAT we want to do, but WHO we want to become
- Don't check boxes, but deliberately seek out and accumulate meaningful experiences
- Decide WHO we want on our team and do what it takes to get/keep them on the team

When people ask me if I will stay past or commence my second career at the 20 year milestone (i.e. point at which military personnel earn a retirement), I tell them that I am staying as long as I am able to surround myself with people who are committed to furthering a culture of character, collaboration and competence. If not, I will find/create that team elsewhere. As for me, the WHO begets the WHAT, and with the right WHO, there is no limit to WHAT can be accomplished.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

There is no Status Quo!

It's the New Year and for many with it comes the annual tradition of establishing New Year's Resolutions. Being that I am a chronic list maker and goal setter, one might think that I am a fan of resolutions. The truth is, I am not. The reason? Our (society's) collective inability to demonstrate any true resolve has made a mockery of what could and should be a healthy drill facilitating our individual desire to continually improve. Because we often times use words we don't truly understand, here are some synonyms for the word resolution...declaration, decree, decision, motion, ruling, promise, pledge, oath, vow, resolve, determination, steadfastness, tenacity, firmness, perseverance, purpose. Note all of these require a level of commitment.

We are one week into 2010 and I am already aware of two friends who have admitted they have violated their resolutions (almost pridefully). Clearly there are more people who went through the motions of making a hollow list only to laugh at how uncommitted they are to continual improvement, not even fooling themselves as they put them on paper. To them, I simply ask why waste your time?

Though I do not make such resolutions, my wife and I do make the time at the end of each year to establish meaningful, achievable and measurable goals (There is a subtle but important difference between a resolution and a goal...goals are measurable). We do that after we evaluate our performance towards reaching the previous year's goals and strive to continually improve upon them. There are plenty of web sites that are helpful with goal setting, so I won't attempt to go down that path. Though, I would like to share that what works for us is to establish both joint and individual goals in the categories of health, professional/educational, financial, and social. Though 2009 was a year where we were able to measure meaningful progress towards our goals, there is clearly room for improvement and our 2010 goals focus on those areas. For us, the key is putting them on paper and holding ourselves and each other accountable through periodic self and peer assessments.

The way I see it we are much like plants. We are in a cyclical pattern where we are either growing or wilting. The sooner we all realize there is no status quo, the better off we all will be. Those of us who are not choosing to grow are in fact choosing to wilt (e.g. wither, weaken) and that choice is made as much by conscious activity as it is by unconscious inactivity. Though it does not make me happy to make such a statement, I am willing to bet that most who read this will not achieve their 2010 "resolutions" and worse yet had no intention on doing so when they went through the motions of establishing them. My hope is that each of us leaves 2010 having made meaningful progress towards our goals, became a better person and enhanced the lives of those around us. If we are not working towards that end, I would question the motivation for getting up in the morning.

What are your goals for 2010?
Will fitness/nutrition still be a priority in April?
How many books do you plan to read this year?
How will you demonstrate to your friends and family that they truly are a priority on your life?
What progress will you make towards improving your financial position?
Will you really take that family vacation you've been promising your spouse?
How will you help to address areas for improvement at work?
Will you wait to be anointed or lead from your current position?
Are you helping your friends/family achieve their goals or are you sabotaging (intentionally or otherwise) their efforts or enabling their deficiencies?
Are you growing or wilting?

Let's all make 2010 the best year yet!!