Friday, December 30, 2011


As the end of 2011 draws near, my annual ritual of assessing the year in review is here.  As it turns out, I, along with my wife and son, are on a plane flying to California to visit my parents and brother.  As my wife sleeps and my son plays with our iPad, I am grabbing a few minutes to admire the wake of 2011 before committing to my 2012 goals (not resolutions). This year has been exceptional by just about any measure, so it is that I find myself focusing more on the various measures we use to qualify an exceptional year.

Looking back over the year, I feel good about acknowledging that YES, I have been blessed to be a part of many teams that have accomplished much; YES, I have personally created opportunities to contribute (and sometimes to fail) in new and unique ways; and YES, I have had the privilege of observing and/or helping others to personally enjoy great achievements.  Each is plenty reason to declare 2011 an exceptional year, yet none is the reason 2011 will go down as one of my favorite years to date.  That is not to say I am not proud of the accomplishments, contributions, and achievements to which I have played varying roles...clearly, I am.  This year, I am most pleased by the warmth created in my life.

My most prized accomplishment of 2011 is gaining a more complete understanding of the value of warmth in personal and professional relationships.  This is the year that I really came to understand how many of us view achievement as the primary means to fulfillment.  In fact, I have come to believe that those focused most on achievement live the emptiest lives of all.  Straight A's in school may be the path to an elite college and the (false?) promise of a great job, but what are we likely giving up by encouraging (even demanding) our children to pursue such a path?  The long, stressful hours we force upon ourselves and our coworkers may very well result in greater pay, additional promotions, and increased recognition, but what are the opportunity costs of such an approach?

In my opinion, the answer is warmth...the warm relationships we build over time.  The warmth of the relationship I enjoy with my son is far more important than the metrics others may use to assess his level of achievement.  The warmth of the relationships I enjoy with my Shipmates not only makes the journey that much more enjoyable, but serve as the foundation for even greater professional achievement...mission accomplishment.  And the warmth of the relationship I share with my wife is more important than anything else.

Others may measure our life by what they perceive as our achievements, what they read on our resume (or biography), or even the material goods we accumulate.  Let our measure be the warm relationships we build along the way.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Well Rounded Mediocrity

As a father, I am interested in doing my part to help my son find his path.  As a Navy leader, I take great pride in mentoring others toward realizing their potential.  Clearly, there are many similarities between the two roles and the driving force behind both is a shared commitment to enjoy the journey while building both an individual and shared legacy.  Though I take greater pride in being a father, this post will focus primarily on the role of mentor, and I am fortunate enough to play that role for more than a few young Sailors.  

As a mentor, I get asked for advice on how to go about creating a successful career; one that is upwardly mobile, filled with opportunity to have a meaningful impact on Shipmates, and builds a meaningful legacy.  That amplifying information about what makes a successful career is important, for those who don't include the last two components in their definition of success are not people I am likely to consider a protege.  In fact, that is why I value significance far more than success (click here for more on the difference).  Recently, I asked a protege what advice she was receiving from other mentors.  She quickly replied with what seems to have become the standard, "sustained superior performance" and "be well-rounded."  I must admit that I have heard both and have grown numb to such advice over the years.  "Sustained superior performance" is a way we choose to encourage others to do whatever we ask of them and do IT well (or at least make sure it is reflected positively on your performance evaluations).  I bought into that years ago and will agree that it is part of the equation, but it fails to express the value we should be placing on the accumulation of specific experiences that result in the development of the knowledge, skills and abilities we hold in highest regard.  Personally, I believe WHAT we do is often just as important as doing IT well.  The second piece of advice has shaped me over the years, but you won't catch me advocating that anyone should focus on becoming "well-rounded."  

Don't get me wrong, I know what type of person we intend to build by encouraging them to be "well-rounded."  Generally speaking, well-rounded individuals are good at many things, have varied experiences, and have minimal character flaws.  Advocating for well-rounded individuals is a way of creating cookie-cutter personas in an effort to build predictable and repeatable skill-sets shared by each person on the team.  Put in those terms, it is a way of building clones who think and act in similar fashions.  It is a way of deliberately countering any of the objectives that our diversity (of thought) initiatives are attempting to address.  In fact, it is a way of dumbing down the team by making shared mediocrity the standard.

If I was building a baseball team, I wouldn't care if my pitcher could play the outfield;  if I was building a football team, I wouldn't care if our left tackle could catch the ball at all; and if I was choosing an Orthodontist, I wouldn't care if he knew anything about fixing a broken leg.  If other professions that valued specialized expertise made being well-rounded the mandate, think about how mediocre we would be.  How much of the specialized expertise we now take for granted would have never been realized?  By promoting a "jack of all trades" mentality, we are telling the team that mastery is not something we value.  We are telling them to address their weaknesses vice play to their strengths.  We are telling them to take jobs in which they may have little interest, instead of encouraging them to follow their passion and create unique value.  Truth is, I have grown up "well-rounded" and I want to break the cycle to an extent.

To build upon a recent Seth Godin Blogpost, I don't want to be surrounded by "well-rounded" mediocrity, I want to be a part of a team that is "well-rounded" in the aggregate, yet made up of "sharp" specialists.  Right now, I have the privilege of being a reporting senior for some of the Navy's finest.  With that privilege comes the responsibility to help shape the future Wardroom and Chief's Mess.  I will make the most of that opportunity by facilitating front of the line privileges for those who have something unique to offer, who are more oblong than round (current climate will never make being sharp acceptable, at least not in the wardroom), and who are passionate about fully developing and contributing through their specialized skills. 

I will do my part to promote diversity across the team, to encourage specialization, and to build a well-rounded team made up of sharp individuals.  My hope is that others choose to use their influence to break the cycle of mediocrity that our emphasis on sustained superior well-rounded Sailors is promoting.  We can be less relevant and well-rounded or we can be pioneers and sharp.  We cannot have it both ways...

As a father, I will encourage my son to be a master of "The Golden Rule", to follow his passion, and to make a self-defined meaningful legacy his mandate.  I hope that he aspires to more than being "well rounded."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Deciding: To Kill or Create

I must admit that I enjoy making decisions. I enjoy committing to a way ahead. I enjoy turning idle chatter into deliberate action. As much as I enjoy doing those things, I enjoy empowering and observing others doing the same. In fact, one of the characteristics I respect most in people is a bias for action. I have little patience for people who talk themselves out of doing, who let themselves get stuck in the observe phase of the OODA loop, who err on the side of the status quo. Observing others has helped me to realize there is another side of decision-making that I had not considered. That is the idea that decisions kill.

The latin root of the verb decide (cid) means to cut down, to cut off, to kill. This is a concept I began thinking about while helping my 8 year old son to make what might seem trivial decisions. The decisions we were contemplating are not of importance to this stream of consciousness (though I will share one), but my "a-ha" moment is (at least to me). I finally came to realize that for many the challenge in making a decision is the idea that they are deciding what NOT to do as opposed to what to DO. They are more concerned about the possibilities that they decide against pursuing, or kill, with their decision. If we paint the wall green, we kill the idea of having a red room. If we purchase a new sports car, we kill the idea of carpooling with our neighbors. And in my son's case, if he signs up to play competitive soccer, we kill the idea of experiencing his first season of lacrosse, enjoying our already planned family vacations, and maximizing our time on the beach for the next year.

Decisions regarding time are the most difficult of all, as we can't spend the same time in more than one way. In essence, we can't do two things at once. When I was my son's age, I knew soccer was my thing. That is what made me smile most, that was where my friends were, and that is what I wanted to work hard at to reach my full potential. The time I spent on the soccer pitch was time I wasn't camping, time I wasn't studying, time I wasn't playing with the neighbor kids. I have absolutely no regrets, but my decision to play soccer killed opportunities to experience other things that may or may not have brought me equal or greater joy.

As parents, my wife and I see it as our responsibility to expose our son to as many experiences as possible. In time, some experiences prove to be of great value to him, while others give the appearance of being time not so well spent. This week, we considered the opportunity costs associated with a decision that would have lead him down the path of a specialization in soccer. We discussed the experiences he would unknowingly deny himself (i.e. kill) by choosing competitive soccer and he decided against dedicating so much time and energy to kicking a black and white ball. Just as I made a very different decision without regret, I am certain that in years to come he will be able to say the same. Though he considered the options his decision would kill, he made a decision before all options disappeared.

Making a decision is easy when we have a clear understanding of what we are attempting to accomplish, a strong commitment to our personal values, and an ability to focus on the opportunity we choose without regard to any potential regret for the path(s) not chosen. Language aside, I'll continue to believe deciding is less about killing and more about creating. Decisions are made as much by our actions as they are by our inaction. Truth is, when we are hesitant to decide, the only thing we kill is our opportunity to actively influence the outcome.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quitters and Winners

"Winners never quit and quitters never win." -Coach Lombardi

Coach Lombardi's quote about quitters is one that has stuck with me since my childhood. My parents made it clear to us that the merits of seeing things through to the end was considered a family virtue. To this day, the thought of "quitting" anything to which I have committed gives me pause. As a father, I've made it a point to steer my son toward this philosophy. At the same time, I must admit that though my default is to see things through, three of the best decisions I have made in my life involved quitting.

As a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, I was a proud member of the soccer team. In fact, as a plebe (freshman in civilian speak), I was a starting forward on the last Navy team to win the league and qualify for the NCAA Tournament (I hope another team can make that claim soon). Devoting the time and energy to be a contributing member of that team came with a academic performance. Faced with the reality that I may not be fully prepared for success both on the pitch and in the classroom, I quit the soccer team and made my grades priority one...they improved dramatically.

Upon graduation from college, I was commissioned as an Ensign with orders to attend flight school where I would realize my Top Gun induced dream of becoming a Naval Aviator. I waited and waited, and waited some more, as the Navy continued to postpone my school dates. As weeks turned into months, with nothing to do but play all day, I began to question my dreams. I researched other options in the Navy that were potentially available to me and opportunity found me in the form of the Cryptologic Community. The opportunity costs of waiting for flight school were too great, so I quit before I even started to pursue new dreams.

Soon after I reached my initial service obligation in the Navy, I decided there were more appealing opportunities in the private sector and tendered my resignation to my Commanding Officer. After a month of letting the process work its course, I received a phone call from the detailer asking me if I would reconsider my decision in favor of an opportunity he knew would interest me. After short deliberation with my wife, I was convinced that the opportunity I truly valued would be realized if I withdrew my resignation. Notice I am still proudly wearing the uniform.

All too often we see quitting as failing and a demonstration of weakness, but in reality there are many scenarios where choosing to stay the course in favor of quitting is the failure. Too many of us try especially hard to force a return on investment (ROI) as a way of justifying the time and effort we had previously committed. Certainly, these sunk costs are considerations, but should not serve as decision drivers. Over time, I have quit things because of the greater opportunities I perceived with a change in course. Likewise, I have stayed the course because I saw greater opportunity on the current path.

Life is about creating opportunity, not justifying our wake. As leaders, we have a responsibility to steer toward opportunity and, as parents, we must guide our children in charting their own course. Steering by our wake merely leads us down a path that strives to justify the decisions we made yesterday and distracts us from our mandate of creating opportunities to realize the best tomorrow possible.

As I look around , I can't help but think more people should embrace the idea that winners do quit and quitters do win! What should you quit?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Team AND Family

Often times, I refer to my family as "Team Heritage" and the team with whom I work as "The NIOC Pensacola Family." Recently, I spent some time with one of my best friends who happens to be a CEO of a multi-national company. As we spoke of leadership, he told me that last year he made it a point to clarify to his colleagues that they were a team, not a family and that they should not confuse the two. Clearly, we used the words differently. As I often do, I spent some time reflecting upon my use of the terms. Was I using the terms incorrectly? What is the real difference between a team and a family?

Let's start first with the definitions:

Team: A number of people organized to function cooperatively as a group

Family: A group whose members are related in origin, characteristics or occupation; a group of people who are closely related by birth, marriage, or adoption; a group of people living together and functioning as a single household, usually consisting of parents and their children

I've participated on many teams in a traditional, football, baseball, etc and I would agree that each experience fell into the definition of "Team". The various families with whom I am related to varying degrees (i.e. by marriage, by blood, by circumstance) clearly fall into at least one of the definitions of family provided above. But can a team be a family and can a family be a team?

As I observe other families and even parts of my own, I say with great confidence that a family does not necessarily "function cooperatively as a group." So, though I strongly believe my immediate family is a team, I do recognize that a family may or may not be a team. As I consider the current team with whom I serve at NIOC Pensacola, I will acknowledge that we are not related by birth, marriage (though a couple are), or adoption; we do not live together (unlike deployed units), nor do we function as a single household; however, we are related by characteristics and occupation. Is that enough to call us a family?

Personally, I believe the strongest compliment one could pay to a family is to identify them as a team, a group that cooperatively functions together. Likewise, the nicest thing one could say about a team is that they take care of each other as if they were family...or is it?

I've read many a list and offer the following list of attributes describing a "healthy" family:

- Commitment to each other
- Spends Time together
- Open, frequent communication
- Turns inward in time of crisis
- Encourages each other
- Trust

Given those attributes, this period of reflection strengthens my belief that a team can be a family. More than that, the best teams strive to be a family. So, "Team Heritage" and the "NIOC Pensacola Family" will remain part of my vernacular and serve as compliments to the people I care most about in my life. In fact, recent events give me additional reason to say that parts of my work team may in fact interact as imperfectly as many a family does. Following certain stereotypes, we are not immune to experiencing the self-serving sister, the cousin who insists on creating conflict, the arrogant uncle who sincerely believes he is far better than he is, and the brother who is content doing just enough to not get kicked out of Mom and Dad's basement. That said, we are a family and a family of which I am proud to be a part.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, your families, and your teams!

Note: Any perceived similarities between the stereotypes mentioned and people in my life is purely coincidental and a reflection of how readers perceive themselves or those around them...not how I do.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Everything is a Choice

We hear it repeatedly and see it daily across our respective Facebook news feeds, too many people mentioning all of the things that they "Have to do." Very little about what it is we want to do, or need to do, but a heck of a lot about what we have to do. My son is catching on to the flaws in such poor word choice, but I believe it is far more than words, it is how people truly feel. He is now quick to remind me that nobody has to do anything...clearly he listens to our conversations. My wife and I have been long time believers that everything in life is a choice and that there are no "Have Tos". Some choices we are conditioned to make without any deliberate thought, while others are calculated. Some choices we make because we truly know what we want, some choices we make because we aren't big fans of the potential repercussions of our desired course of action. For example,

We don't have to work where we do, we choose to
We don't have to send our kids to school, we choose to
We don't have to eat what is put in front of us, we choose to
We don't have to attend a given social function, we choose to
We don't have to eat well and work out regularly, we choose to
We don't have to do what others ask/tell us to do, we choose to
We don't have to endure a long commute to work, we choose to
We don't have to meet the deadline we are given, we choose to
We don't have to serve our country in far off lands, we choose to

A life of "Have Tos" is no fun, while a life of "Choose Tos" is not only fulfilling, but reflective of our authentic selves, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. I would offer that if any of us feel as though our life is tilting toward "Have Tos", we are too lazy to change things, denying our ability to control a given aspect of our life, or more comfortable having others dictate how we should live our lives.

I can assure you that everything I do is a choice, some more deliberate than others, but a choice nonetheless. Likewise, I freely admit that I sometimes make bad decisions or use flawed logic in my calculus. Life is too short to allow it to be filled with "Have Tos". Next time you think about making a statement that begins with "I have to..." replace it with "I choose to...". I'm willing to bet you'll feel differently about the action you are about to take. If not, I ask that you choose not to do it or give the decision criteria you are using some additional thought.

Everything in life is a choice; it's our responsibility to both see it as such and take ownership of the results. If we don't, we are merely living someone else's life.

Note: Prior to posting this, I searched my blog for the number of posts that included the word "choose"...32 to date and this is my favorite.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Waiting to Lead

Note: I am repeatedly reminded of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such great people. The below post (my first guest posting) comes from a Shipmate whom I have yet to meet in person. Though we haven't met, we have created a few side projects and have plans for a few more. He's a guy who cares more about IT getting done than about WHO does it, and as a result, he makes IT happen. LCDR Chuck Hall is not one who waits to lead and I can assure you in time, neither will his son. Thanks for making the time to share your thoughts, Chuck...

My son was assigned a group project at school, to be completed over a three-day weekend. On Monday, I noticed that his group hadn't had any meetings and I was curious how the project was proceeding. Shortly after dinner Monday night I inquired as to his progress. He really wasn't sure who in the group had completed what, or even how the tasks were divided. Obviously, I wasn't happy with the answer. When I asked him who was in charge he told me that no one had been designated the leader. More on that in a minute...

In the Navy we rarely lack designated leadership. We all wear our rank on our sleeves and everyone fits into the chain-of-command in one way or another. Yet situations wanting of leadership happen more often than we think. Peer groups, like my son's class, often lack a designated leader. Working groups and committees may wait for a natural leader to step forward. Even when leadership is designated, that leader may fail to lead, or produce a less than desired result. All of these situations, like that of my son's, represent opportunities to lead.

Leaders aren't always designated by higher-authority, or senior in rank or position. Oftentimes leaders are simply those who don't wait to be led. Given the opportunity they take charge, the outcome often better for their efforts. They don’t wait around to be told what to do. Instead, they understand what needs to be done and they do it. Think back a few days or weeks, or even over the course of your career, and you will probably identify an abundance of these opportunities to lead.

I just completed serving nearly four years in Naval Special Warfare (NSW). I had never before served with this community and found the opportunity and experience to be truly remarkable. Of the many things the NSW community does well, leadership is one. In my experience, rarely was a leader designated. Yet rarely was there a wanting of leadership. As I completed my tour I promised myself to take the things I had learned in NSW and apply them in future tours. Encouraging spontaneous leadership is one of those lessons.

The recently released Cryptologic Community Foundational Principles represents a call to action for those waiting to lead. The document focuses on collective ownership of what is truly our community. In its summary, the guidance challenges the community to, “err on the side of action” and “demonstrate personal initiative.” Ultimately, this document emphasizes one of the key traits I observed in NSW -- fostering spontaneous leadership.

So, back to my son and his school project. After relaying a similar message regarding leadership, I had only one question to ask him -- what are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wanted: Elephant Killers

For the unindoctrinated and according to my favorite reference Wikipedia, "Elephant in the room" is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to discuss. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have chosen to avoid dealing with the looming big issue.

I've been to my share of meetings and I have enjoyed many conversations. Working repeatedly in team settings has allowed me to gauge the level of shared commitment to what we profess to be a common objective upon the size and number of elephants in the room. One of the many things I enjoy about the current team with whom I serve is the growing number of Shipmates who take pride in their roles as Elephant Killers.

I have found that the best way to rid ourselves of elephants and ensure we are properly focused is by acknowledging the elephants that we see. Saying what we mean and explaining why we do the things we do, or feel the way we feel, is empowering and speaks to our commitment to progress. In fact, it's contagious. A culture of such honesty is difficult to build and I would be fooling myself if I said that I was ever on a team where the majority conducted themselves as elephant killers. That said, I have always respected those who are willing to say what others won't and make it a point to tell others what they need to hear vice what they want to hear. I am not advocating bullying, but I do repeatedly ask myself why so many refuse to acknowledge the obvious. Truth is I understand why, but I refuse to accept it.

I've had my ego bruised many times and on occasion my feelings hurt, but in the long run, I am better because others chose to kill the elephant. I have tremendous respect for them because I am a big proponent of continual improvement and have been known to share my unsolicited opinions with those willing, or with no choice but, to listen. I also make it a point to explain what shaped those opinions. Some appreciate such honesty, some don't, but if I didn't conduct myself in this manner, I wouldn't sleep at night.

I recently had a conversation with a senior officer who spoke my language. He went out of his way to break some news to me (not what I wanted to hear), explain why he felt the way he did, and share thoughts on what he'd like me to do about it. He didn't want me to get the news from anyone other than himself. In essence, he wanted to preemptively address the potential for birthing an elephant, he wanted to ensure our ongoing dialogue remained authentic, and he wanted to re-enforce the fact he expected the same from me. Refreshing!

Being an elephant killer comes with risk (not everyone enjoys such honesty), but the risk elephant protectors create for a team far outweigh any perceived benefits resulting from silence. I want to be on a team that helps each other by pointing out the elephants, cooperatively killing them and then thanking each other for caring enough to do so. I want to be on a team of Elephant Killers.

As for the 800 pound gorilla, that's another story all together.

Note: No elephants have actually been harmed in our continued quest to speak the truth.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Speaking Decisively

It never fails. Whenever I consider a new purchase, it is made very clear to me just how abundant that very item is. If I am shopping for a new car, the road becomes filled with the same make and model of which I am most interested. If I am researching a new electronic gadget, everyone else seems to have one. I know I am far from alone on this and clearly, this is nothing more than the result of being more subconsciously aware of certain aspects of our surroundings.

Recently, I reached my tipping point regarding the use of noncommittal language and now I find myself surrounded by it. Think about it, how many people do you know who hide their true feelings through the use of such words as "Sure", "Interesting", "I don't care", and the latest "Just sayin'"? It started when I began noticing a colleague of mine repeatedly responding to most things he observed as "interesting", nothing more and nothing less. Now, don't get me wrong, with a little amplification, that can be a powerful response. For example,

Q: I've been working on this project for two months now, what do you think of it?

A1: I've read it and your use of non-traditional language and unique graphics to creatively communicate the message was an interesting approach and it really made things stick.

A2: It was an interesting approach but something that you need to rethink. I think you missed the mark on this one.

A3: Interesting.

I would take A1 or A2 anytime over A3. A simple "interesting" without any explanation as to why we find things interesting is absolutely useless. When information is shared or feedback is invited, a thoughtful and clearly communicated response is the reciprocation of choice. I told my colleague that his standard response bothered me and that I interpreted it as his way of saying he disapproved of the information I was sharing or didn't like my idea and just didn't have the guts to tell me. I also reminded him that as a teammate, he had a responsibility to either refute or validate such an assessment.

I don't know about you, but I like to be with people who are constructively honest with each other, will tell the emperor when he's not wearing any clothes, and choose to acknowledge any and all elephants in the room. I don't want to spend time with people who choose to appease others only to share their honest opinions or point and laugh after the fact. I guess I like people who care enough to share their true feelings and speak frankly.

When someone asks us where we would like to eat dinner, why is "I don't care" a response we consider? When someone asks us to do them a favor, why would "sure" even roll off our tongue? Truth is we do care where/what we eat (at least we should) and we either want to help another or we are unable to do so. An "I don't care" doesn't help with the decision on where to eat and if we really don't care why are we even going (our only care might be that we go to a place those with whom we are eating would enjoy, but we still care)? If another person needs our help, why not an emphatic "yes" or an apologetic "sorry, I can't right now" (intentional or not, "Sure" implies at least a hint of reluctance)?

Lastly, I hear the phrase "Just sayin'" over and over again more and more...

"The door is open and it's cold outside, just sayin'."
"We're all out of coffee, just sayin'."
"The house is a mess, the bills are stacking high, you don't have a job..."just sayin'."

Odds are we're never "just sayin'", just afraid to speak directly. Why not...

"Would you please close the door?"
"Would you please make some more coffee?"
"I'm concerned about our situation as a family and think we need to do something about it."

Let's care enough to be authentic, let's care enough to speak decisively.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Creating Experiences, Accumulating Memories

The last couple of weeks have been filled with phenomenal experiences that leave me with wonderful memories. In fact, I might go so far as to say that the memories that remain are far better than the experiences themselves. That might sound odd, but it is a sentiment that seems to ring more true with each passing year. I am a long time believer in living in the moment and enjoying the journey. But as time goes on, I believe more and more that the experience is just as much about accumulating memories as it is enjoying the moment.

Within the past month I have been able to experience some things that I may never again have the opportunity to. In fact, I find myself creating experiences in a continual quest to accumulate memories wherever I can.

- I may not have wanted to go parasailing with my son (not a big fan of heights), but I cherish the memory that is him floating carelessly through the air as he tries to get me to relax

- Staying up all night with the Chiefs during their "Night Of" tradition may not have been the optimal way to spend my time during this month's reunion with my family, but the visuals I now have of the proudest fraternity alive today help me to better understand a brotherhood of which I will never truly be a part

- Standing up for four hours (and driving six hours to get there and back in the same day) to watch a premier college sporting event in person may not have been as comfortable as the view from my couch, but the memories that came with experiencing that with my parents will bring me smiles for years

- Hearing the pitter patter that comes with my son making a midnight visit to our bed may not make for a restful night, but it's a sound I know I will come to miss in time

- Life at the Naval Academy was not nearly as fun as other college experiences, but it wasn't the fun that kept me there

Time flies and with it so goes the opportunity to experience many of the things that our current life situation permits. Make no mistake that I firmly believe that we should all live in the moment, but at the same time we must do so with the end in mind. Are we making it a point to fill our memory bank with the things that will truly make us smile down the road? Are we so caught up in our stresses (perceived or otherwise) that we fail to help others to accumulate memories of their own? When it comes down to it, memories will bring us far more joy than any possessions and the memories will be with us far longer than the actual experience. Maybe Kevin Arnold (Wonder Years) said it best...

"Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose."

With each passing day, so passes an opportunity. And as those of us in the military experience with each deployment and change of duty station, so goes our time with people we have come to love. Here's to hoping that we choose to create experiences and accumulate as many meaningful memories as we can, while we can.

I must admit that though I have been making living in such a way a priority, the true inspiration comes from my brother. Some talk of new adventures, he takes them; some witness others do interesting things from the sidelines, he does them and is often at the center of the action; some wait for certain criteria to be met (i.e. monetary, health or familial milestone) before truly living life, he lives.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mistakes, Yes; Accidents, Never

Of the many life lessons I was taught as a child, there is one that keeps coming back to me. That simple lesson is...


I am not speaking in the spiritual sense of "Everything Happens for a Reason". Though I also believe that to be true, it doesn't account for personal ownership of the "thing" that happened. I was brought up with a clear understanding of the concept that I was responsible for my own actions, that there was no one else to blame for the mistakes I made, and that mistakes were a means of learning. Mistakes are not accidents, but accidents are almost always results of mistakes. The biggest difference between those two words is that we use the word "accident" to absolve ourselves of any personal responsibility, but when we acknowledge our mistakes we are taking personal responsibility. That might be the reason we are far quicker to categorize unfortunate happenings as accidents vice mistakes. The concept of personal responsibility has become so basic to many that we have little patience for those who have yet to "get it" (Click here for a humorous video on the subject).

- That car crash didn't happen by accident, mistakes made lead to it
- Earning Sailor of the Year didn't happen by accident, deliberate performance allowed it to happen
- Failing to finish that marathon didn't happen by accident, improper training and/or poor raceday decisions prevented us from realizing our goal
- The 15 pounds gained this year didn't happen by accident, poor diet and laziness made sure we bulked up
- Not being selected for promotion didn't happen by accident, the jobs we took and/or our documented performance made sure we were overlooked
- Spilling fruit punch on the couch didn't happen by accident, not paying attention to our surroundings made sure it happened
- Fumbling the football didn't happen by accident, not holding onto the ball with both hands allowed it to
- A failed marriage didn't happen by accident (neither does a happy one), a lack of commitment to each other opened the door for divorce

Simply put, I do not believe there is such thing as an "accident", at least not in the way so many of us use the word. Instead, we contribute to the creation of the conditions that allow these things to happen. All too often I hear people talk of the situation in which they find themselves as if they don't know how they got there.

I am not saying we have complete control over our lives, such logic is equally flawed. I am also not saying everything that happens is intentional or that we purposefully sabotage ourselves. I am merely acknowledging that "things" (good or bad) don't happen to us, we allow them to happen. There are many things in life that didn't turn out as I had intended (even with the support of friends, family and shipmates) despite my (our) best effort; though, the result was never an accident. Unfortunate, yes, accident no! I may have turned left, when I should have turned right; I may have asked a question when I should have made a statement; I may have said "No" when I should have said "Yes". Regardless of the result, we must own the outcome and show the person in the mirror (and anyone else who truly matters) we acknowledge our responsibility and ultimate accountability for the mistakes we make.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Authentic Followership

I have heard the term "authentic leadership" used frequently of late, and each time it is used in such a way as to describe one of the many people I have come to admire. So, it must be a positive behavioral trait, right? what does it really mean to be an authentic leader? The term leader is a gimme, but what about authentic?

Authentic: true to one's own personality, spirit, or character

The definition of authentic tells me that encouraging authenticity amongst leaders isn't always a good thing. Not all individuals in leadership are effective when they are truly authentic. Numerous leaders have been fired for being authentic, many junior Sailors have terminated their service in the Navy because poor leaders were authentic, many parents have done irreparable damage to their children because they chose to be authentic, and many bad people are in jail because they a demonstrated their authentic conduct. Evidently, this is another case where the adjective is far less important than the traits that make up the noun.

Before we applaud authenticity, we better have a good appreciation for the true personality, spirit and character we are encouraging the individual to demonstrate. I am of the opinion that it is far more important that we invite authentic followership. And, in doing so, elevate those individuals whose authentic selves represent the best of the best.

Personally and professionally, I want to spend time with people who are authentic, but only after they have revealed their true selves. I see it all too often where poor leaders are authentic to their juniors, a little less genuine to their peers, and a complete fraud to their seniors (one of the reasons I am such a fan of 360 degree feedback). Unfortunately, they are given positions of increased authority and responsibility based purely on the perceptions they have created in the eyes of their seniors, their inauthentic self. The problem for these inauthentic individuals (and the teams they lead) comes when they have little choice but to demonstrate their authentic self for all to see.

With the increase in Commanding Officers failing of late, I can't help but wonder if these poor leaders are finally revealing their authenticity after fooling the system for years. Then again, might these be great leaders who are making some poor decisions? I don't have the answer. Though, I do believe that by encouraging a culture of authentic followership we would minimize any meaningful speculation that the former is the case.

As long as we agree that authentic leadership (and followership) is about acting with passion and integrity, having respect and love for others, and inspiring each other to achieve greatness, we should encourage authenticity. For those of us in leadership positions, we might consider creating opportunities for all to reveal their (good, bad or indifferent) authentic selves and honestly document what we observe. In doing so, we would know for whom we should be blocking, while identifying those whom we should encourage to leave the team.

Let's continue to lead, follow, and parent authentically, but let's do so based upon the agreement we just made.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mine, Mine, Mine

At work, my computer, sits on my desk, next to my phone in my Office. When I am not there, no one sits in my office, no one dials out on my phone, no one sits at my desk, and no one uses my computer. It's not because I am territorial, it's just the way things are. For some reason, it's not only OK that these resources sit there doing nothing, it is expected.

At the command in which I work, we are responsible for running the very same Command Programs (Mentorship, Physical Readiness, Safety, etc) as the hundreds of other Navy Commands. In the execution of these programs, work is repeatedly duplicated within each franchise.

In my storage shed, I have numerous tools and countless home improvement supplies that I have no plans to use anytime in the near future (I really enjoy condo living). But, they sit in boxes collecting dust, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to build/fix something (should that day come).

Each day, I walk by the bike rack in our parking garage only to see the same 100+ rarely used bikes that were once "Must Have" purchases, as they continue to grow rust.

In the virtual world, we talk of "The Cloud", networked peripherals, shared software licensing, and the like. Why is it that we feel compelled to make sole proprietorship our model of choice in the physical world, yet are so quick to share resources in the virtual world?

Do we really need our own power saw if I use it 30 minutes a year? Do we really need our own swimming pool when there is a community pool down the road? Does everyone on the block really need their own lawn mower? Why does each Navy command run identical programs in isolation without sharing best practices and pooling resources?

In the physical world, we are clearly addicted to maximizing individual capacity, personal ownership and material accumulation. I can't help but think about how different this world would be if we went out of our way to create interdependencies vice duplication...

...where we actually look forward to leaning on our neighbors
...where we increase collective capacity by decreasing duplication
...where we decrease waste by sharing material goods

As football season nears, I can't help but see parallels. A quarterback needs to throw well, but a left tackle need not spend any time increasing his passing accuracy. A wide receiver needs to catch well and run fast, while a placekicker doesn't need to do either. Coaches don't spend time growing the same skills in all four players, they deliberately grow specialized expertise to enhance complimentary skill sets for the collective good. In essence, they acknowledge the game's interdependencies and tailor individual capabilities to maximize overall productivity.

True neighbors need not fill their sheds in duplicative fashion and commands truly interested in working together need not grow the same capability through exacting investment of time, training, and personnel. If we were more interested in increasing collective capacity vice duplicating redundant capacity within our personal silo, imagine how much better we would be.

Many of us who experienced a childhood without computers in our house blame the same for creating what many perceive to be a disconnected generation (i.e. virtual interaction vice physical presence). Before we argue that opinion next time, maybe we should take an inventory of our tool shed, look at our collection of material goods we rarely use, and consider the Shipmate working at another command doing the very job we are (yet never call to exchange ideas). We may just realize that we are in fact the ones promoting a disconnected model.

Personally, I believe that the "disconnected" youth of today, will make connecting our physical world the priority we clearly have not. Why not give them a running start?

By the way, if you need a power saw, a drill or many of the other tools I have "just in case", please let me know, I am more than happy to share.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Willy Wonka's Mentorship Factory

It happened again. This time it was my birthday outing to see the live musical Willy Wonka. I've seen the movie many times, and yes the Gene Wilder version still scares me. I've always enjoyed the story, but just as my most recent experience watching my son's play, The Pied Piper (Please Say "Rats!"), the story changed dramatically, or was it me who changed? This time, Willy Wonka was not about the exploration of a magical candy factory and the unfortunate "accidents" that sealed the fate of four obnoxious children. Instead, it was a story of mentorship and succession planning.

The story I saw last Sunday was about one leader's quest to mentor young men and women who he believed were worthy of his time. It was about one man's desire to nurture young adults of character to replace him at the helm. In my mind, it was no longer a chocolate factory, but a mentorship factory.

Unfortunately, each protégé found a way to sabotage the relationship Mr. Wonka was attempting to create before it even began to take shape...

- Augustus refused to follow simple rules and fell into the chocolate lake

- Violet ignored cautionary advice and swelled up like a blueberry after chewing the 3-course dinner gum

- Veruca showed poor judgement by trying to grab a squirrel and is thrown into the garbage chute

- Mike tried to use the Wonkavision machine and ended up shrunken to about 6 inches high

In a game of attrition, Charlie Bucket becomes the protégé of choice after demonstrating a willingness to be accountable for his actions, acknowledging his mistake, and demonstrating integrity and character (either that twist was unique to the version I saw last weekend or I never noticed it before).

Few of us are as eccentric as Mr. Wonka, but many of us share his desire to help others achieve their potential, to create mentor/protégé relationships, and to help ensure our organization is postured for success after we leave (Succession Planning). The challenge appears to be in identifying potential protégés who want the same. We need not wait for a golden ticket from a mentor to see them as such, and if we do receive such an overt invitation, we should be as deliberate about our response as Charlie Bucket and make the most of the opportunity. I can attest to the fact that I have reached out to people like Augustus, Violet, Veruca, and Mike only to be disappointed by their reciprocate actions. Yes, as leaders, we have a responsibility and should have the desire to help all under our charge. But, for me, the only people in whom I repeatedly invest are the Charlie Buckets of the world. The individuals who want to personally grow, who give as much they receive, and who make others want to block on their behalf (Where are Your Blockers?).

So, if you are reading this, please consider this an invitation of mentorship, a golden ticket, if you will. Reach out to your mentor of choice and commit to the role of protégé. If you already enjoy the benefit of a special mentor or better yet, a Personal Board of Directors, consider letting him/her/them know how appreciative you are for the time invested in you.

Remember, if you veer off course, watch out for the Oompa Loompas!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Biographies - WHO not WHAT

For those of us serving in or directly affiliated with the military, the summer months are filled with retirement and change of command ceremonies. At each we receive a nice program that includes the schedule of events, some background on the traditions we will witness during the ceremony and biographies of a few key individuals who will be speaking during the ceremony. Reading program after program, I got to thinking about the standard Navy biography.

I have always believed the purpose of personal biographies is to give the reader a better sense of the person about whom they are reading. There are many ways to write and meet that objective and most military men and women focus on answering these questions...

- Where did I grow up?
- What is my educational background?
- Where have I been stationed (and what deployment or operation occurred)?
- What awards have I received?
- What is my family make-up (i.e. name of spouse and number of children, if any)?

As we read the bio and listen to the individual speak, does any of the above provide us with any true insight into who the person is that we are listening to? I believe that what we do while in uniform is very different than who we are as people. Yes, certain assumptions can be made, but why force an audience to assume. Little of what we share in a standard bio even begins to speak to who we are. Because I have such a problem talking and not acting, I recently changed my official bio and the following is what is currently posted on our command web page:

"Commander Sean Robert Heritage, a native of Pleasanton, California, entered the United States Navy as a member of the United States Naval Academy's Class of 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics. A true family man, he considers himself a father, husband and son first and a Sailor second. Though he is extremely proud of the experiences, challenges, and opportunities the Navy continues to provide him and his family, he is more pleased with how he continues to evolve as a result. Those who know Commander Heritage can attest to his personal commitment to the following beliefs:

- Fear of failure is the most debilitating fear of all
- Competence is valued far more than collar device
- There is no more dangerous personality flaw than arrogance
- Over-communicating the WHY behind our actions is a necessity
- Remaining focused on helping those around oneself rise to the top is the only way to be a true leader
- In order to inspire, one must be inspired
- Being successful does not mean we are significant
- Efficiency and effectiveness don't always converge
- Erring on the side of action is admirable
- Constructively critical feedback from a 360 degree array is desired, required, and the only way to improve

Commander Heritage has served afloat, ashore, on staffs and as an Executive Officer prior to his current role as Commanding Officer of NIOC Pensacola. He has also earned Masters of Science degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the Naval War College in the fields of Information Technology Management and National Security Studies, respectively. The Sailors with whom he has served over the course of his career have accomplished much and their contributions have given Joint and Navy Commanders reason to award him with various personal decorations, which he proudly considers team awards."

Some may snicker, some may dismiss the logic altogether. Truth is, I am far more interested in who people are than I am in what they have done and what medals they wear on their chest. I am also far more interested in speaking to people who value WHO more than WHAT. If we are going to share of ourselves, why not truly share of ourselves? Why go through the motions of blindly following the standard template.

What does your bio say about who you are?

(Note: The same can be said about resumes and I will overhaul mine soon)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Seeking Inefficiencies

We see it all of the time and last week I read and heard it repeatedly, the terms "effective" and "efficient" used as if they were synonyms with the assumption that an efficient process is a de facto effective process. Yes, they sound pretty when used together and they roll off the tongue nicely. Go ahead and say it, "Our process improvement initiatives will help us to become more effective and efficient." See. Now consider the definitions...

Effective - Successful in producing a desired or intended result.
Efficient - Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort.

I offer that by focusing our efforts on being both, we make incremental improvements at best and, more often than not, we allow our goal of being efficient to trump our need to be effective. We've all heard the old adage, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." That is to say, we should be doing everything with a purpose and that purpose is measured first and foremost by its effectiveness. Sometimes we achieve greater effectiveness by seeking efficiencies, but often times we find the two driving desires may start us down a singular path but they quickly diverge, leading us toward conflicting courses of action.

Learning from a book...
Effective Actions - Read it, take notes and talk about it
Efficient Actions - Audio Book, Book Abstract or Cliff Notes

Losing Weight...
Effective Actions - Working out and eating right over an extended period of time
Efficient Actions - Liposuction, fad diets, starvation

Getting to work on time...
Effective Actions - Get up well before work, eat healthy breakfast, drive the speed limit
Efficient Actions - Get up at the last minute possible and exceed the speed limit

In this fiscal environment, our military is being asked with greater frequency to find more efficient ways to do all that we currently do, and then some. As we focus more and more on creating efficiencies, our effectiveness is diminished. Those of us who are members of "The Information Dominance Corps" are able to point to ways we are continually becoming more efficient, as we partner with other communities with complementary core competencies. The challenge is finding specific contributions that demonstrate we are more effective.

If being efficient negatively affects our ability to be effective, maybe we shouldn't do that something. Maybe we should close that business line down altogether, divert resources to other somethings, and ensure we do those somethings in the most effective way possible. At the same time, there are many instances where we should migrate toward being even more inefficient in the name of being more effective. And there is no greater example where seeking inefficiencies should be the encouraged behavior than in the area of leadership.

- Reporting seniors personally delivering mid-term counseling and eval/FITREP debriefs is not efficient, but it is effective...
- Personally training/coaching/mentoring our future reliefs is not efficient, but it is effective...
- Creating ways to personally connect with peers and subordinates is not efficient, but it is effective...
- Parents personally educating their children in favor of public education is not efficient, but it is effective...

Let's be effective using the most efficient means, but let's be effective first and foremost, as we maintain or raise our standards. It's OK to divest as we admit we no longer have the means to satisfy all of our desirements; It's paramount that we appropriately invest in our true requirements; It's OK to "waste time" for the good of the team.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Please Say "Rats!"

Over the last two months, my son has been prepring for his roles as both a rat and a child in the Pensacola Little Theater's production of The Pied Piper of Hammelin. The production has since ended, but before it did, I had the pleasure of watching it on three occassions. Though the most enjoyable part of the performance for me was watching his every move (even the times he chose to make faces on stage in an effort to get me to laugh...mission accomplished), even a simple story like this initiated thoughtful reflection on my daily life.

Early in the play, the Mayor of Hammelin Town makes it very clear to the citizens that the rats infesting the town will go away on their own if everyone chooses to ignore them. At the same time, visitors won't even notice the rats if the word is not uttered. Using such logic, he went as far as to make the word "Rats" illegal. "Don't say rats!" was the town's motto. Though most follow his direction and refuse to say "the forbidden word", a few choose to speak up and remind all that the rat problem is real and getting worse. The majority of the citizens tell these outspoken individuals to be quiet, but to no avail. These same individuals decide enough is enough and demand the mayor take action before the tourists refuse to return and the townspeople pick up and leave. The Mayor is disturbed by the unruly few who choose to acknowledge the problem and though he admits that the rats do exist, he chooses to do nothing about it, asking others to do the same..."Don't say rats!"

Those of us familiar with the story know the Pied Piper addresses and ultimately solves the problem. As I watched and laughed about how flawed the Mayor's logic was, I couldn't help but see parallel examples in my professional life.

- Do we believe ignoring a problem fixes anything?
- Do we tell those willing to speak up and make a case for meaningful action that they need to go along with our charade and pretend all is well?
- Do we merely tell our seniors of the problem without attempting to fix it at our level through personal initiative?

We need to speak up when we see rats, encourage others to do the same, and personally address the problem as much as we can before portraying ourselves as helpless victims. It is one thing to acknowledge there is a problem, it is far more to do something about it. To be so unaware as to not know we are surrounded by rats is bad enough; To know there are rats and choose to do nothing about it is far worse. We need not wait on a Pied Piper to rid us of our problem, but if we do, we must be prepared to pay him. If we are not, we might want to think about leaving town.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Work - Play Alignment

"Work - Life Balance", we've heard the phrase many times and each time my stomach turns. Either the intended message is completely miscommunicated or the primary assumption that one's work and life have to be at conflict is flawed. According to wikipedia, the phrase describes the prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) on the one hand and "life" (Health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other. Just using the term "balance" to describe the relationship between work and life demonstrates that the individual using the phrase believes that work and life are opposing forces. Consequently, their lot in life is to play the role of fulcrum, keeping the lever from touching the ground in either direction, which in essence prevents the other end of the lever from reaching the heights it could and likely should.

I have been known to publicly declare that I "work to live" as opposed to those hard chargers who give the appearance that they "live to work". That logic, is equally flawed. I have grown to acknowledge that work is part of life and my objective is to optimize "Work - Play Alignment". If life is full of "Have Tos" and "Want Tos", I'd like my "Have Tos" to look a lot like my "Want Tos". In essence, I strive to be "at play" when I am "at work" and there are times when my wife believes I am "at work" when I am home "at play". When I am not at work, I choose to surround myself with people I enjoy, doing things that make me smile, and creating both meaningful and shared memories. At this point in time, I feel pretty good about stating that to be my reality. As I think about how I spend the bulk of my days (at work), I realize that I am surrounded by people whom I enjoy, while I do things that make me smile and add many good times to my memory bank. Weird? Evidently, my work and play overlap quite a bit.

Each week I send out a book abstract to my Shipmates at NIOC Pensacola. Last week, I sent one out on the book Life Matters. One of the results was a nice exchange with a valued colleague on the term "balance" used in this context. He offered the "Yin Yang" model where life is the entire circle, "Yin" represents work life, and "Yang" depicts personal life, acknowledging the two forces were both complementary at times and opposing at others. That visual works much better than a fulcrum and reenforces that life is the sum of work and play, not the counterbalance to work.

Those who seek "Work - Life Balance" either don't enjoy what they do for a living, are not satisfied with their personal life, or are ambivalent all of the way around. Please don't be content playing the roll of fulcrum in an unbalanced life. Instead, make your work a reflection of your passions, surround yourself with people you enjoy, and give yourself and those around you reason to smile (note: It is possible to do all three without changing your current employer). I learned long ago that "Who Begets What", so when given the choice, I choose to start with WHO. Fortunately, my work and play have never been better aligned than they are right now. I know that when I move to the next duty station, I will need to proactively approach both aspects of life to reach the level of alignment (not balance) my family and I have grown to appreciate. If I am unable to do so, it won't be the play that is sacrificed, the work (or at least my approach to it) will need to be modified.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Succession Planning

As I just about reach the midway point in my current tour of duty, I acknowledge I am having a "Mid-tour Crisis". I assess the progress we have made over the last year and my immediate response is that there is not enough time to fully develop some of the experiments we currently have underway, let alone the ones we want to implement. After an initial panic, I took the following steps:

1) Asked the Admiral for another year so we can weave some of the successful experiments into the culture before departing...He politely declined.

2) Called an impromptu Captain's Call to ask for help in dealing with my crisis...The team committed to specific experiments we would fully develop during the rest of our time together

3) Began some deliberate thought about succession planning

Last Wednesday, a Sailor told me that he was excited about all of the side-projects we have underway, but was growing a bit concerned about what might happen when I leave. Fortunately, the Executive Officer, Senior Enlisted Leader and I have been equally concerned so I was able to tell him what we were doing in the way of succession planning. This is what I had done prior to the query...

1) Consulted the list of Officers who will be considered to take Commander Command and ranked those who would best fit NIOC Pensacola

2) Called the individual at the top of the list to gauge his interest...easy sell

3) Wrote an unsolicited letter of recommendation that I will send to the Command Screen Board at the appropriate time

We are now going through a very similar process with the intent of ensuring the right Senior Chief is chosen to relieve our current Senior Enlisted Leader.

As my last tour of duty was drawing to a close, I had the opportunity to choose my relief and it made all of the difference. I had poured my heart and soul into the job and very much appreciated the opportunity to recommend the officer I felt was best equipped to relieve me. Fortunately, the Community Leader agreed with my recommendation. The result is continued progress through a shared personal philosophy and common vision, as two people collectively lead over a period of 5-6 years.

I have seen it far too many times, being lead down one path only to have the next leader point us in an opposing direction. Recently, I saw a friend spend his time in command creating a culture of openness, collaboration and inclusivity, only to have it completely undone by his relief in short order. The result was yet again stagnation, frustration, and validation that too many leaders choose to shape the team they lead to reflect their personality, instead of waiting to see what type of leader the team needs and be that leader.

I love the team with whom I serve far too much to let that happen. I may be fooling myself into believing I can influence the decision on who I will begrudgingly "hand over the keys" (I would stay forever, given the opportunity), but I would be an even bigger fool not to try. As your time in your current job draws to a close, please consider the type of individual who would thrive in your current position and the type of leader your team needs. Why not prioritize the list of names and recruit them one by one? Then, talk with someone who might be able to influence the decision and lobby on their behalf.

The way we currently place people is rather sterile. We look at pieces of paper that we choose to believe document performance and assess potential. Truth is they do, but the accuracy is suspect and often times the metric of choice is relative seniority amongst peers. Nowhere do we assess personality, personal philosophy or specific leadership attributes, nor do we ask the individuals currently serving in the position for their input. Using a sports analogy, sometimes the best athlete available is not the best fit for the team currently making their draft selection. In our case, sometimes the best person on paper is far from the best person for a given job. I want to help ensure the best Senior Chief and the best Commander for NIOC Pensacola are "drafted" in place of the Senior Chief with the best relationship with the detailer and happens to have the right PRD and the Commander who "looks good on paper". Our community is far too small for us to ignore the intangibles.

All decisions are a result of the data points provided to the decision maker. If we truly care about the outcome, we will make the time to influence the decision by providing additional meaningful data points. The screening board may laugh at the recommendation I wrote and the concept of lobbying on behalf of a peer is likely foreign to far too many. But if one is truly committed to the institution and loyal to the team, the potential for ridicule is of no consequence.

The question and concerns brought to my attention by the interested Sailor are valid. I was glad he cared enough to ask and I am pleased to be a part of a Command Triad that cares enough to have an answer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Innovative Treadmill

I have often wondered why we in the Navy are so quick to use the word "innovative" (and derivatives thereof) in our daily vocabulary. In doing so, I am convinced most don't realize how meaningless the word really is (or we made it)..."characterized by, tending to, or introducing something new." There is no assessment of the value of this new process, idea, product, etc.; just that it is "something new". We see innovations each and every day and often times they amount to nothing more than new ways of doing the same thing. This is why you will never hear me use the word (unless I am using it sarcastically) and I cringe at the site of the word in performance appraisals. I believe that the characteristic we truly need to promote is that of entrepreneurship. I have seen many definitions for this word, but it amounts to "A process through which individuals identify opportunities, allocate resources, and create value." The key difference being that of CREATING VALUE.

The command at which I currently work believes so strongly in the entrepreneurship trait that it is one of our four command values and we proudly acknowledge "fear of failure is not authorized." I believe we all are Chief Executive Officers (CEO) at some level...command, department, division, workcenter, team, collateral duty, process owner, or self. As such, we have a responsibility to celebrate our role as entrepreneur by working "on" the business as much as we work "in" the business. The book E-Myth Revisited does a great job of describing the three roles we play in our professional lives...Technician, Manager, and Entrepreneur, where technicians work "in" the business at one end of the spectrum and entrepreneurs work "on" the business at the other end. Here is a quick summary about how each person looks at time and work:

Work - Directed by the manager; follows standard operating procedures
Time - Focused in the present moment...what can be done today

Work - Achieving results through others...turns the vision into action
Time - Both long and short term considerations

Work - Developing a vision of where s/he can take the business
Time - Focused on the long term

I firmly believe that each one of us regardless of rank or position has a responsibility to assume each role. The trick is recognizing how much time we should spend assuming each one. As a commanding officer, I spend most of my time focusing on the entrepreneurial role, some of my time in a managerial role supporting the vision from higher authority and little time responding to the tasking of the day as a technician. On the other end of the spectrum, our most junior analyst spends most of the time as a technician, finds way to work with peers to create managerial opportunities, and when given the requisite strategic context is able to devote a small portion of the day to an entrepreneurial role.

I continue to see evidence of my peers, seniors and juniors embracing all three roles to varying degrees, but the reason I have been giving the concept of working "on" the business versus "in" the business so much thought is I see a mismatch. I see too many senior officers unable to shed the technician mindset that may have made them a great junior officer; I see Petty Officers, Chiefs and junior officers all focused almost entirely on a managerial role; and I see some of our greatest entrepreneurial minds being held back (by both themself and others) by a collar device. Over the course of a career, we are expected to enter as technicians, grow into managers and ultimately become entrepreneurs (though the military clearly uses different lexicon) with personal initiative being the primary means of evolving (i.e. little deliberate investment in professional development). The problem is our best technicians do not necessarily grow into our best managers, and the concept of entrepreneurship is lost on those in our most influential leadership positions.

I ask that we think twice before continuing to use the word "innovative" as a prevalent part of our daily vocabulary, as our inaction has made it meaningless. Let's get off the "innovative" treadmill that does nothing more than find new ways of delivering the status quo. Instead, let's embrace the role of entrepreneur, create some unique value and acknowledge that much of what we do today is merely keeping ourselves busy under the false pretense that we are making progress. Please do not be afraid to fail and let us find ways to reward those who demonstrate they are not risk averse, while we weed out those who are.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Opportunity, Mentorship and...

Each week we welcome new Sailors to our command, and I am impressed by each addition. Monthly, I get the opportunity to meet with the newest Information Warfare Officers to join our community. The high quality of person we continue to attract to our specific line of work within the Navy ceased to amaze me long ago. Though an infrequent event, last week I had the privilege of chairing three Seaman-to-Admiral Boards and was once again impressed by the caliber of Sailor pursuing the personal evolution from enlisted Sailor to Officer. The word evolution might imply to some that an Officer is somehow better than an enlisted Sailor, which is not the case at all. From a pure capability and potential standpoint, the differences between our officer and enlisted ranks continues to blur (at least in the Information Warfare and Cryptologic Community). As I personally witness such convergence, I got to thinking about why one person becomes an Information Warfare Officer Ensign and another a Cryptologic Technician or Intelligence Specialist Seaman. Furthermore, what makes the enlisted Sailor shift gears and decide to pursue a commission?

There was a time when I would simply answer the Ensign benefited from additional opportunity and mentorship. Opportunity from the standpoint that they had the resources to make the bachelors degree required by the military for direct accession into the officer ranks a reality. Mentorship because they had parents/mentors to guide them through the process of starting life after high school. I still believe opportunity and mentorship to be what largely influences our initial transition into adulthood, but the most important element is missing...desired employment. I say most important because the other two in isolation imply that those who choose to enlist didn't benefit from opportunity and mentorship, which in many cases is absolutely false. It also implies that given the choice everyone would choose to be an officer...another falsehood.

I became very aware of the important role desired employment plays in the decision during my Executive Officer tour. I take great pride in reaching out to talented young Sailors who I believe would make great officers. Back in 2001, I took one particular Seaman aside to tell him about the Naval Academy, why I thought he would enjoy much success there, and that he would make a great officer. After listening to what I had to say, he responded with what amounted to thanks, but no thanks. He politely told me he loved what he was doing and wanted to contribute in specific ways while enjoying certain experiences only available to enlisted Sailors. He respected the role of officers, but did not want to be one. That same (not quite as) young man is currently a Chief serving at the White House and recently approached me about migrating to our wardroom. If he is commissioned, he will have done it by choice after he experienced and contributed to his satisfaction as a rightfully proud member of the enlisted ranks; not because his XO attempted to lure him before he accomplished his rather specific professional objectives.

In my specific line of work, I have every reason to believe that many of our enlisted Sailors would make great officers. I refrain from encouraging them to make the transition because of the lessons I learned through previous "cherry-picking" efforts. I also admit that our most technically proficient Sailors would be wasted talent in our wardroom of today (another discussion at another time). Those who migrate to our wardroom should be doing so because they want to alter their employment, they want to lead larger teams, and they want to grow in ways not already afforded them. Many people are lured by the increased authorities, privileges and pay of a Naval Officer...don't be fooled! Yes, we are paid more, return more salutes than we initiate, and have more authority (generally speaking), but our employment and resulting contributions are what makes us different, no more or less important.

As I consider the Sailors who proudly choose to stay members of our enlisted ranks, I recognize they, too, are taught to enhance their administrative skills and seek out additional collateral duties if they want to promote to Chief Petty Officer and beyond; all along pulling them away from fully developing and leveraging their rating specific technical expertise. There is virtually no way for Sailors most passionate about their technical roles to be appropriately employed, promoted, and monetarily compensated over the course of a career. In the traditional "move up or move out" military model, those who are employed as technical experts are rarely promoted to Chief and beyond; those who are promoted are asked to make administrivia the priority and leave the doing to juniors; and those who see no way out of the cycle are lured by the disparate compensation offered by the civilian world.

In essence, we are quick to create and grow technical expertise, only to make it clear that upward mobility has more to do with administration disguised as leadership than it does mastery of designator/rating specific core competencies. Truth is, we need our Chief Petty Officers to be technical experts who operationally lead, and our Officers to be operational leaders who are technical experts.

At his point, I have veered off-course a bit. However, since I am here, I will conclude by sharing my sincere hope that we commit to making Chief Petty Officer the pinnacle of technical expertise and giving our technical experts every reason to want to become part of our valued "Goat Locker" (some of our best would rather not promote in favor of staying technically focused). At the same time, we must openly acknowledge the primary difference between officers and enlisted Sailors is our respective employment, not our intellect or potential. Lastly, we must admit that in many cases, upon commissioning, we are moving someone away from both their strengths and passions while we think we are doing both them and the Navy a favor. I know more than a few cases of commissioning remorse.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Celebrating Life...Dealing with Loss

A week ago Friday, I had the pleasure of participating in my first American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Like so many other great things associated with where I work, this idea was not mine. A core of Sailors have turned our command's participation in this event into a newly formed tradition and their excitement made me want to be a part of it. My father is a cancer survivor and both of his parents lost battles with the illness years ago, so like just about everyone at this venue, cancer has touched my life. I was told that in previous years enthusiasm waned in the middle of the night, so I chose not to be there for the opening ceremonies and instead arrived rested for the 0130 - 0500 hours. Clearly, we miscalculated as plenty of energy remained in the air. This was definitely a celebration of life, where survivors were there to enjoy more than a few victory laps and give hope to those still fighting, while pictures, candles, and stories, ensured those who lost their fight with the illness were present in spirit.

I had the pleasure of walking laps with numerous Shipmates (some walked more than 25 miles; my distance was much shorter), though I am convinced most were sleepwalking by the time I arrived. I had an especially enjoyable conversation with the mother of one of our Sailors who had beaten cancer a few years back. She and her husband made the trip from Virginia and arrived just in time to see the opening ceremonies. In fact, it was her son who partnered with a couple of others to create this opportunity for the command. She was so thrilled by her son's involvement in this event and the fact that there were so many Sailors participating. We spoke of her battle, but we mainly spoke of what this event means to her and others who have been directly impacted by cancer. It was her opportunity to reflect on the many people with whom she spent time (who have since passed away) in various waiting rooms as they battled the illness together - an annual reunion, if you will. It was this conversation that brought me back in time to just three days prior. Specifically, the moment when our Executive Officer called to inform me that one of our Sailors had taken his own life. I suddenly was sitting with a group of people celebrating life and cherishing every moment, yet thinking of a young man who felt things were so bad he had no reason to live.

I drove home that morning thinking more and more about my conflicting feelings. I am not a grief counselor and, fortunately, I have not personally had to deal with much loss in my life to date, so I am as little help to myself, as I am to others, when navigating the stages of grief. During that drive home, I became angry. I was angry because I was reminded about the impact the loss of a loved one has on those left behind. I was angry because I saw how much our Sailors valued life and cared about people whom they never even met. I was angry because we are left grieving in our own way because one of our own saw no way out despite being surrounded by so much friendship.

The last two weeks have been trying. We have individually, and in small groups, reflected on how we might have prevented one of our own from taking his life. We looked internally to take personal responsibility and most have since concluded that we were not at fault and did everything in our power to take care of a Shipmate. It is my hope that the memorial our First Class Petty Officer Association organized for Wednesday will help the rest of the team get to that point. I also hope it helps me to get past my anger and embrace my sadness. For this Friday, I, along with the deceased Sailor's best friend at the command, will be attending the funeral. It is there where we will witness first hand the void this young man's decision has created for his parents and extended family. I have always thought that suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do. It pushes the pain to those who care most about the individual and leaves us to pick up the pieces. As I reflect upon the cancer survivors at the relay, proudly wearing their purple and celebrating each day as a gift, as well as the memories of so many who would love to have had just one more day on earth, I cannot fathom why another would just throw away the most precious gift. We will all experience death in time. My hope is that none of us choose to leave this planet by our own hands. Our day will come soon enough, so let's continue to enjoy life for as long as we are able, and on this Memorial Day, let's give thanks to those who gave all so we could do just that...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chasing Collar Devices

Promotion board result season is upon us, and yet again, the questions fill the air as members of our team attempt to do their own analysis of the results. Despite the numerous flaws in such analysis, individuals will use their "findings" as reason to either validate or alter their desired career path. I mention flaws in the analysis because none of us have the decision inputs that the promotion board did. Yes, I will acknowledge that many times the information we have may be more relevant, as generally speaking many reporting seniors do a poor job of truly documenting performance, holding juniors formally accountable (conduct), and accounting for the personality traits that, if incentivized, would truly build a prolific team (Multipliers vs Diminishers). Our approach to Fitness Reports doesn't do us any favors (ranking based on relative seniority amongst peers, trying to be "The Good Guy" for everyone, deferring the reality check to the promotion board, etc), but that is not the point of this post. My confusion lies in what really amounts to an annual quest to identify the jobs we should ourselves take as we refine our path to obtaining the collar devices for which we so desperately yearn. Yes, there are plenty who continue to value perceived success (rank) over measurable significance (making a meaningful contribution) and that in itself remains our biggest challenge.

Over the last two weeks, I have heard the following statements:

- Training is broken but I would never take orders to the schoolhouse because people do not promote well there
- I'd love to be an OIC, but promotion rates tell me we don't value that job
- Not all COs made Captain, so we must not really value command
- Those who repeatedly do "Cyber Jobs" are clearly accepting risk when it comes to promotion

A valued colleague recently assessed that...

...people continually ask what it is we value as a community. Unfortunately, when they do so, it is not because they want to know how they might accumulate meaningful experiences so they are able to grow into one of our MVPs (while helping to mentor others along a similar path), they merely want to know what jobs they need to take in order to get promoted.

I look forward to being a part of a community filled with passionate multipliers who without hesitation choose to conclude:

- Training is broken! I want to be a part of the solution and am seeking orders to the schoolhouse. At the same time, I am building a team of interested contributors with whom to do it.
- That billet (pick one) has been neglected for years, I am going to turn that platform (and every job is a platform) into something significant and a billet for which my potential reliefs will be standing in line
- It's not the billet that dictates the promotability of the incumbent, but the contributions of the incumbent while in the billet (and, more accurately, over their preceding tours)

I would also go as far as to state that the individual "accepting risk" is the one "checking boxes" as a means of chasing collar devices only to not see his name on the promotion list. The individual following her passion, leveraging her strengths and seeking the greatest opportunity to contribute in meaningful ways is doing anything but "accepting risk" and will enjoy a meaningful journey, while building a lasting legacy regardless of what a promotion board decides.

As my mentors have taught me, it's not what we get as a result of our journey, but who we become in the process. We are so focused on building Admirals, we fail to invest in the development of the kind of Lieutenant Commanders we need. We seem to be so interested in posturing ourselves for success, a newly established peer award resulted in 13 nomination packages from a field of more than 1,000 peers who had the opportunity to celebrate the contributions of a valued Shipmate. It is this culture that gave me reason to think long and hard about retiring at the end of this tour. More than that, it is this culture that is reason I am more committed to this team than ever.

To the masses who continue to do what we do because we believe in it, because we love our Shipmates, and because we share a vision for how things could be, we salute you (note: If this is you, please e-mail me so we can create a meaningful side project to champion together). To those of you motivated primarily by collar device, please consider joining us in making our legacy one of quantifiable significance vice questionable success...until then, please stop wasting your time over-thinking the promotion results.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Experiencing, Sharing, Multiplying...

Those who know me are well aware of the fact that I work both directly and indirectly with incredibly smart, creative people. In fact, I often celebrate the fact that I am rarely (if ever) the smartest person in any given room. It is that acknowledgement that all but ensures I leave a meeting, conversation, or briefing smarter, or at the very least more informed, than when I arrived. The same is true of any room with access to the internet. I am a student of ideas and very much enjoy the insights on many different aspects of life others choose to share. I learn so much by reading blogs, links shared by friends and repeated use of search engines. In an effort to reciprocate, I choose to share some of the things I experience, observe and learn in my life via this blog and a few other collaborative forums). I do so in part because I know how difficult it is for many (including myself) to publicly share. Believe me, I question myself with each and every post, yet I hit "PUBLISH POST" three times a month in hopes that others will choose to respond by sharing their ideas and making the collective smarter. In essence, I share ideas not because I think my ideas are any better than anyone else's, but because I know how important it is to share and appreciate when others do the same. It should come as no surprise that my parents raised me to be a proud proponent of "The Golden Rule" and a believer in "The Law of Reciprocity"...there is great power in those two guiding principles.

On occasion, colleagues have thanked me for, built upon or delved into deeper discussion of a post, while at the same time admitting they don't feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with a wide audience. These individuals have intellect far deeper than I, ideas far more creative than I, and communication skills far more eloquent than I. Though some even make it a point to write down many of their thoughts, they do so with the belief that their ideas are not for public consumption and that there is no audience for their ideas. There was a time when I felt the same way, but things changed (at least in my mind). I didn't share because I thought doing so would give others reason to perceive me as self-absorbed or even arrogant (two of the largest character flaws in my opinion). Then I found myself complaining that others in my professional life were not communicating, were not making it a point to share their unique insights and some even relished in the misconception that withholding information increased their importance. In essence, I saw that I was beginning to view people who were not contributing to the conversation in the same way I thought I might be viewed if I chose to publicly share. Tipping point reached.

Since then, any time made to share thoughts with any audience who is interested in listening (and yes, even a few who aren't) has been time well spent. I am reminded of a book I recently read, Multipliers - How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Since sharing this book with my colleagues at NIOC Pensacola (and beyond), I have exchanged both letters and e-mails with the author, Liz Wiseman (interesting how one's network changes and grows when we share of ourself), and she has even sent me books to help spread the message. The premise of her book is captured in the title and between the covers, she does a great job of contrasting "Multipliers" and "Diminishers". As unfortunate as it is, I have run into just as many (if not more) "Diminishers" in my life as I have "Multipliers". To use her vocabulary, "Multipliers" are...

- Talent Magnets: Get access to the best talent because people flock to work for them knowing they will be fully utilized and developed to be ready for the next stage
- Liberators: Create an environment that requires people's best thinking and work, resulting in bold thinking and best effort
- Challengers: Define opportunities that challenge people to go beyond what they know how to do
- Debate Makers: Engage people in debating the issues up front, leading to sound decisions that people understand and can execute efficiently
- Investors: Give other people the investment and ownership they need to produce results independent of the leader

I did not know it at the time I created this forum, but Liz has helped me to know I continue to share for three reasons:

1) I want to be a true "Multiplier"
2) I feel a responsibility to help create a Multiplying Culture
3) I REALLY don't like "Diminishers"

Though there are people in my life who I consider "Multipliers" despite their unwillingness to publicly share of themself, I don't know of any "Diminishers" who make the time to share. For my fellow "Multipliers" out there who have yet to reach your personal tipping point that will result in a desire to both share great ideas and encourage others to do the same, consider...

Not all good ideas are shared, not all shared ideas are good, but what good is an idea if it is not shared?

Note: If you are interested in a copy of "Multipliers" or would like me to send one to a colleague on your behalf, please be one of the first five to send me a note at