Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Courage to QUESTION Your Convictions

We all know that to have the courage of your convictions means to hold strong to your personal beliefs despite what others are thinking, saying or doing. There are countless examples of heroism displayed by people having the courage of their convictions, but what about a person who doesn't display such courage? Does it mean they are weak? That they "waffle" in the face of disagreement? That they have no conviction? I think we have all seen instances where people who fail to demonstrate the courage of their convictions are perceived negatively, but I offer that in many instances these perceived "wafflers" are in fact the most courageous of all.

It is difficult to acknowledge that one's conviction may have been based on inaccurate, misrepresented or no longer valid information. Equally contributory is the fact that our perceptions and vantage points change, giving us reason to see things differently. I am not talking about my seven year old son suddenly deciding that he will no longer eat what was his favorite food just yesterday or that the playmate he once "hated" is now his best friend. Recent events in the ongoing healthcare and "Don't ask, Don't Tell" debates, as well as far less destructive conversations in my personal life have given me reason to question why I feel so strongly about certain issues. As I reflect and look at given situations from a slightly different angle, I realize that some of my convictions may have been misinformed. Rather than view myself as weak, I choose to thank those who presented things in a different light and constructively shared their views. After further review, it may be those who comfortably default to their trained convictions who may be taking the cowardly way out. We talk of questioning the status quo and that starts with an internal look...

Step 1: Take an inventory of your personal convictions
Step 2: Validate/Change as needed
Step 3: (Re)Commit
Step 4: Repeat at infrequent, but regular intervals

As opposed to firmly believing dissenting opinions are wrong, we need to periodically question our own convictions, others surely will...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Employee or Crusader?

It is unfortunate that today's economy is preventing so many good people from enjoying employment in a traditional sense (i.e. they have a job for which they are compensated). Even more unfortunate are the individuals who are compensated for their time, yet feel no passion for what it is they do and make little effort to improve upon the status quo. Such people are in every work center and there are but three courses of action for helping them.

1) Push them to the side and minimize their ability to do damage (i.e. allow them to encourage others to embrace similar complacency)
2) Let them flourish in their "cylinder of excellence" (i.e. acknowledge they are not interested in professional growth but appreciate the fact that they are good assembly line workers)
3) Give them reason to become Crusaders

I can honestly tell you that though it does not make me proud, I have done all three over the course of my career. I usually start with #3 and work backward, if I land on #1, the thrust becomes to enable the individual's exit strategy (which is sometimes overly difficult in the public sector). As a point of clarification, when I use the term "Crusader", I mean for it to depict one who "exerts oneself continuously, vigorously, or obtrusively to gain an end for a certain cause or person."

Fortunately, I find myself surrounded by many Crusaders (likely because we tend to seek each other out). Unfortunately, many of these Crusaders find themselves working for careerists who define success as not breaking anything...frustration turns into complacency followed by an external job search (or worse yet, the adoption of a careerist mentality). In essence, Careerists are beating the passion and entrepreneurial spirit out of the very team mates we should instead be enabling to contribute on an even grander scale. As a military, we need to understand that Generation Y and Millennials are motivated differently than Generation X and senior. Generally speaking, they want to collaboratively change the world, contribute upon arrival and work in a meritocracy. They are not overly interested in hierarchy, waiting to be anointed nor promotion to a certain rank. Clearly, the latter is contrary to traditional military structure/culture, but the former is why they choose to wear the nation's cloth...it is incumbent upon us to give them reason to stay in uniform.

So, Crusaders, let's continue to help others realize there are no stupid questions, it's competence and not collar device that truly matters and that we have a responsibility to challenge even the most established assumptions. Those with status quo bias, please continue to flourish in your "cylinder of excellence" and refrain from discouraging Crusaders to do their thing. Though outside the comfort zone of many, Crusaders will continue to both break things and fail at times, but their passion, innovation and desire for continual improvement is critical to our future.

As the first video on MTV alluded, it's time to embrace the relevant medium and the entrepreneurial mindset that underpins any meaningful, "game-changing" development. The days of the radio star are far behind...

"Video killed the radio star.
In my mind and in my car, we can't rewind we've gone too far"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Purpose and Progress

As leaders, followers and any other role we play in life we find ourselves needing to influence the behavior of others and incentivize them to take certain action and adopt specific behavior. In the role of a community manager, we have the charter of shaping community health which can be generally defined as a combination of both the inventory and competence levels of the workforce (albeit the focus is almost entirely on numbers vice competence, which is not to say our workforce is incompetent but merely an observation). We watch certain communities enjoy special pays and bonuses in hopes of enhancing their community health by attracting more people into their community and giving most of them more reason to stay. Whether it be for the special skills they have or the personal sacrifices they make, some individuals are financially compensated more than others and in many cases rightfully so (though I offer that there is no real measure of value when developing supplementary compensation packages). As a member of a community that enjoys no special pays despite the high demand for knowledge, skills and abilities resident within our wardroom, we often contemplate how we improve upon our current community health. The answer is simple...

1) Ensure every member of the team enjoys a sense of purpose, i.e., by focusing them on meaningful work
2) Demonstrate to teammates we are collectively making meaningful progress towards a strategic objective, i.e., by periodic updates

Without a sense of purpose and/or knowing that one's efforts are progressing the collective effort toward a strategic objective, it is a little challenging to get up in the morning, put on the uniform and embrace the task at hand. In essence we need to help others to "connect the dots" so they understand the criticality of their individual contribution to the larger effort.

Over the past three months, many good things continue to happen at work and though we have always enjoyed a sense of purpose, we didn't always see visible progress toward our strategic objectives. Of late, leadership has embraced the "Curling Mentality" and given us the support we have needed to demonstrate progress to them and the rest of the team. It is one thing to blindly task a subordinate organization and another to facilitate execution by giving the implementation arm of one's strategic vision the public platform necessary to successfully move the ball forward.

Others can have their special pays, as it is the sense of purpose and the demonstrated progress that fuels me and the people with whom I enjoy working so much. Those who are motivated purely by a financial compensation package are not the people we necessarily want to retain on the team, yet they are the ones all too willing to stay. The people we want on our team are those with passion for the work. That said, passion will only take us so far if we leaders (and we all are leaders) are unable to deliver by giving each and every member under our charge a sense of purpose and facilitating meaningful progress across our command, directorate, department, division, or work center.

Do you arrive at work with a sense of purpose?
Do you leave your work center fulfilled knowing you are helping to achieve meaningful progress?
What about those under your leadership?